Photo: On the road to Pindaya.

Cameras and travel photography forum

Best way to keep a DSLR and compact camera safe while backpacking through south east asia?

Posted by hotbox99 on 20/10/2009 at 23:20

Hi, a friend and I will be backpacking through south east asia for 13 weeks starting this November. We plan on using busses and train to get around and stay in not too pricey accommodation such as hostels.

I enjoy taking good quality pictures while travelling and plan I plan on taking my Canon 400D DSLR camera for high quality shots and my Olympus Stylus 850 Shock & Waterproof compact camera for when the terrain gets a bit more rough and rocky! I’m worried about keeping my cameras safe from theft on busses and in hostels and to a lesser extent damage, while backpacking/travelling. The DSLR is also the main worry of course.

Anyone have any good tips for backpacking in this region with two cameras? Keeping them safe? Certain situations to be extra careful, etc ??

#1 hotbox99 has been a member since 20/10/2009. Posts: 1

Posted by DLuek on 21/10/2009 at 02:07 TF writer

Just make sure you have a really solid camera bag that's waterproof capable, and keep that with you at ALL times. Never let that bag (or any bag containing valuables) end up stuffed with a bunch of other luggage in the lower compartment of a bus or left unattended on a train. If you go to sleep on a bus or train, keep the bag in a place where someone would have to wake you up in order to get to it. When on a motorbike, make sure the bag is very well secured (keep in mind sometimes they'll ride up, cut the strap and snatch right off your back). In short, the bag will become like another limb of your body, so get ready to become more intimate with a piece of luggage than you ever imagined!

If you're doing something where you don't want the bag (and camera) with you, leave it with a guesthouse that has a safe big enough for it or somewhere else that you know is secure. Try not to leave it unattended in a private hotel/guesthouse room too often, even with a locked door, as cat burglary can be a problem (and obviously never leave it in a shared room).

With the SLR be very careful of water damage. If you're around for Songkran, do not think you have a "safe" place to shoot from because you will be hit! (Sadly I speak from experience here!)

I went for 4 and a half months this year with both a valuable SLR and a smaller camera in/on many guesthouses, trains, busses, taxis and motorbikes in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, and other than the Songkran incident none of the things I mentioned above ever happened. Just be extra cautious, and you'll be fine.

Good luck

#2 DLuek has been a member since 19/6/2008. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,176
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Posted by idreamofdurian on 21/10/2009 at 09:53 TF writer

yah, I love my DSLR but haven't it on a trip longer than 3 weeks. :o

Definitely take some dessicants to stuff in your camera bag. Rainforests are baaad for cameras. Also, if you don't have one, get some cheap UV filters to protect your lenses from scratches, sand, etc. You can buy them on ebay for < $5 US apiece.

#3 idreamofdurian has been a member since 5/9/2008. Location: Singapore. Posts: 576
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Posted by mcnb on 23/10/2009 at 00:40

I am ultra-careful with my camera but had it stolen on an overnight train in Indonesia. I had a ticket on an all-reserved Executive Class train, so the thieves buy their tickets too and work the train. I had the camera in a camera bag (mistake!) and I was sitting near the window, with the bag on the floor and my leg through the strap. Between me and the aisle I had a giant backpack on the floor and my daughter in the other seat. Everything including the bag was covered with TWO blankets and the bag was between my foot and the wall. During the one hour I slept, someone managed to reach through a very small space under the seat and unzipped the bag. They took the time to replace my DSLR with two small water bottles so the bag would feel heavy! It was unreal.
Someone must have seen me use the camera before I boarded the train and then worked with someone else. The train security searched bags (there were no stops before the destination) but of course it was long gone.
A case where I really don't know what else I should have done besides have the camera buried in the backpack. About the most important thing I can recommend is (and I forgot this ONE time!): I always remove the memory card while packing the camera away so that if it is stolen at least you still have your photos. Another option is to have 2 cards so that you only lose one.

#4 mcnb has been a member since 23/10/2009. Location: Singapore. Posts: 2

Posted by AdamZee on 12/1/2010 at 05:25

I didn't want to make a new topic involving this same information so hopefully I can't get my question answered here.

I have a Canon 450D (Canon XSi) with two L series wide angle and zoom lenses. I am debating and trying to find out if moisture would be a problem with this camera body. I am traveling in June-Aug and from what I have read I can expect things to get wet. I want to get the Canon 7D due to it's rugged and moisture resistant body. Is this a waste of money or would I benefit significantly by upgrading? I have other reasons to upgrade but moisture is a big one. Thanks for any help!

#5 AdamZee has been a member since 12/1/2010. Posts: 6

Posted by Tilapia on 14/1/2010 at 02:25

The 7D is a better camera, but I would guess that you would treat it the same as the 450D if you were to upgrade. You'd do your utmost to keep it dry, moisture-resistant or not.

I'll add to all of the good advice given above. If you're going to be doing a lot of lens-swapping, you should definitely consider investing in a good quality sensor cleaning package. There is a company called VisibleDust that has a few different packages, including one travel package. If you get dust on your sensor from changing lenses, and all your photos are loaded with spots, you'll be spending ages tidying them up in PS or whatever software you use.

Good luck.

#6 Tilapia has been a member since 21/4/2006. Location: Canada. Posts: 1,499
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Posted by AdamZee on 15/1/2010 at 12:06

Thanks for the help Tilapia. I would definitely treat it the same as the XSi, I am just wondering if it will hold up better to the moisture. I am not sure if the inside would get foggy,damp,wet with the lens on if I stayed with the XSi? I will look into that cleaning kit as I am a little anal on keeping my camera clean

#7 AdamZee has been a member since 12/1/2010. Posts: 6

Posted by Indoluso on 15/1/2010 at 18:22


So what's the conclusion? Is it not a good idea to take an expensive DSLR to the humid climate of Indochina in July/August? I'm planning to take it, one of the goals of my trip is to take photos with it! I have a waterproof bag and I'm going to buy some more dessicants (are these the little bags with some stuff which absorbs humidity that you place in the bag?)


#8 Indoluso has been a member since 22/12/2009. Posts: 133

Posted by Tilapia on 15/1/2010 at 22:54

Definitely take it.

I've never had camera trouble related to humidity at any time, or in any country in SE Asia. The biggest enemy I've encountered has been dust, especially in Cambodia.

#9 Tilapia has been a member since 21/4/2006. Location: Canada. Posts: 1,499
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Posted by Indoluso on 15/1/2010 at 23:45


Thanks for the good news!

#10 Indoluso has been a member since 22/12/2009. Posts: 133

Posted by shaydan_01 on 19/2/2010 at 05:23

I start my 8ish month trip across Asia in Cambodia in April this year. I've just finally purchased my first digital SLR camera (yay!!) and am 100% on utilising it as much as possible on this trip so thanks for all of the advice above… it is very helpful.

Idreamofdurian… or anybody else - I am wondering if the UV protective filters ate the best thing to invest in for preventing dust from getting into the lenses or is there something else that is more effective. I dont mind paying a little bit as I want good quality photos and obviously starting my trip in hot dry season in Cambodia I am a little worried about this.


#11 shaydan_01 has been a member since 16/11/2009. Location: Australia. Posts: 80

Posted by Tilapia on 22/2/2010 at 21:20

You should always have a filter of some type on all of your lenses to protect them from scratches, dust, etc. It's a lot less expensive to replace a scratched filter than to replace a scratched lens.

I carry a UV filter, a circular polarizer, and a couple others for different shooting conditions (Haze, Yellow, Neutral Density.) The circular polarizer can be very handy for less than ideal shooting conditions, such as in the middle of the day when the sun is high and the sky gets bleached out, and it's excellent around water and for shooting through windows.

Make sure that any filters you get are of good quality. Poor quality filters negatively affect an image's definition. And if you get a circular polarizer, mess around with it before you go on your trip. They can be tricky to use sometimes.

#12 Tilapia has been a member since 21/4/2006. Location: Canada. Posts: 1,499
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Posted by bkurien on 14/4/2010 at 03:22

What did you guys do to unload photos during your trip? I have a 7d and video would probably take up most of my memory card.

I was thinking of buying a portable HD and my card reader and transferring whenever I was able to get to a computer. Would this work?

Any suggestions?


#13 bkurien has been a member since 14/4/2010. Posts: 1

Posted by travellingsarah on 14/4/2010 at 13:47 TF writer

Posted from within Vietnam.

Re original query on keeping cameras safe... I know this is probably obvious to everyone else and I was completely stupid, but don't put cameras (or any other variables) into checked-in luggage on flights. We kept our DSLR and compact camera safe on buses and trains and then the compact got stolen when we flew Malaysian Airlines to Singapore. And yes, definitely keep your memory card separate.

#14 travellingsarah has been a member since 23/3/2010. Location: Vietnam. Posts: 681
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Posted by mcnb on 14/4/2010 at 14:36

On a related note, I thought I would add that if you are hauling around expensive equipment you may want to look into getting insurance coverage. In the United States we had my DSLR listed as a separate rider on our renter's insurance policy so when it was stolen in Indonesia (see above), I got full replacement value with no deductible.

It took the sting out of the $1,600 loss. Be sure it's on a separate policy/rider than other coverage that has a high deductible, get replacement coverage and list everything separately that is likely to be stolen with the camera body, such as zoom lens, flash, filter, memory card, etc.

Of course you can probably only draw on that insurance once. If it happened again they'd probably cancel my policy.

#15 mcnb has been a member since 23/10/2009. Location: Singapore. Posts: 2

Posted by travellingsarah on 14/4/2010 at 14:44 TF writer

Posted from within Vietnam.

Definitely - but make sure you check the claims conditions carefully as my camera wasn't covered because it doesn't cover checked-in valuables and I didn't have proof of ownership / value. So take receipts / manuals etc.

#16 travellingsarah has been a member since 23/3/2010. Location: Vietnam. Posts: 681
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Posted by Tilapia on 14/4/2010 at 21:24

Hi bkurien,

I took one of these ... Colorspace Hyperdrive

It wasn't this exact model, but an earlier one. I paid around $250 for 250GB. It accepts CF cards, SD cards, micro SD cards, has USB and a few other ports. It worked great and allowed me to see and sort through my images without having to use my camera and its screen. It's a portable hard drive with a colour screen, but is only the size of a calculator.

There are other similar devices out there.

Another thing you could do is just take a few large size cards and just keep them safe and sound once you've filled them. That would be a more economical option.

#17 Tilapia has been a member since 21/4/2006. Location: Canada. Posts: 1,499
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