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There is an oft-quoted line that goes something like this.
“If there’s a fire in the house, people will grab the kids, then the pets, then the photo albums.”
So what about if you’re traveling? Chances are your camera won’t catch on fire, but maybe you’ll leave it behind in your hotel room, or someone will decide they want to take it from you. How do you safeguard those irreplaceable photos without worrying about them 24/7?
My friends say I’m a bit of a photo bug, and I’m often asked how I manage it all. This is the solution I’ve used for the past few years, and how you can use it too.
I call it “The Doubles.”
What You Need
- Camera (I hope)
- Memory cards (more than a couple)
- Laptop (and an external hard drive won’t hurt either)
Step 1: Don’t Erase Your Memory Cards
First off, be sure to copy all the new photos you’ve taken to your laptop each day. Don’t remove them from your memory card. Remember: memory cards are cheap and small, so travel with several.
When the card is full, swap it out for a new one, but don’t format (delete the images) the older card. Just keep it in a nice, safe, waterproof bag.
Now you have two copies. One on your laptop, one on the memory card. I typically have these memory cards in my daypack, and my laptop back at the guesthouse. Two separate locations nearly all the time.
Bonus points: Create a third copy onto an external hard drive if you travel with one.
Step 2A: Send a Copy Home
After I’ve filled up all of my memory cards, which typically takes about 6-12 months), I buy an external hard drive and copy my complete photo library onto it from my laptop.
I then ship this drive to a friend or family member back “home,” which takes about 2-3 weeks from most parts of the world.
Once it arrives, I have the recipient verify that the files are OK, and they copy them onto a computer. Once that’s done, only then do I start reusing my memory cards one by one.
Now there’s three copies: one on your laptop, one on the external hard drive, and one on the computer back “home”
Bonus points: Have the photos copied to a RAID-like backup device such as a Drobo (or in my case a home server) when they arrive home.
Step 2B: Backup to the Cloud
You may have a cloud backup solution already. Mozy, Crashplan, and Carbonite are all popular choices, and even Dropbox or Google Photos can work. If you don’t shoot much, or you’re using a smartphone, the cloud can be a great way to back up your photos.
Update: we’ve since covered the best cloud backup services for travelers in a lot more detail.
Whenever you’ve got some internet access, your photos will automatically back up to the cloud for you.
If you’re like me though, you can shoot a couple of gigabytes of images in a day without a sweat. Even using the paid plans with vast (in some cases, “unlimited”) storage, you’ll likely run into a bigger problem: finding an internet connection fast and reliable enough to upload all your photos each day.
Still two copies, one on your laptop, one online
Step 3: Don’t Stop at Home
Once you get home, there’s no excuse for stopping caring about your photos any more just because you’re not shooting parades in Rio anymore. Even now, keep at least two copies at all times.
While you still have a copy on your laptop, make a second copy onto an external hard drive, and take it out of the house. Give it to a family member or friend, and have them stick it on a shelf or in a drawer. Failing that, a safety deposit box will do fine. If something happens to your computer or your home, you still have a safe backup offsite.
Still two copies, one on the computer, and one on an external hard drive offsite.
Bonus points: If you’re more serious with your photos, make another backup for the backup. In my case, it’s a home server with RAID and desktop computer.
I know first-hand about hardware failures and worst case scenarios from my years in the technology services industry. You don’t want a hard drive failure, fire, theft, or any sort of malware to leave your photos nothing but a fading memory.
Data recovery is expensive, and I’m sure you’d rather spend $2000 on your next adventure instead of on trying to recover some of your photos from a past trip.
Whether you shoot with a $100 point & shoot or a $4000 DSLR, remember your photos are once-in-a-lifetime. Treat them right!