The Benefits of Traveling with Minimal Gear and How to Do It by Jennifer Stamps

Film image of Barcelona - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film
This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase, Shoot It With Film may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Written by Jennifer Stamps

Buying, acquiring, and enjoying new (or new to you) gear isn’t uncommon. There are thousands of cameras out there, and they are all -at least- slightly different from each other.

The desire to collect and shoot with all the film cameras is totally normal. But, if you’re like me, it can also be overwhelming at times…particularly when traveling. 

Packing an instant camera, vintage medium format camera, 35mm Rebel (or something similar), a manual focus 35mm camera, a toy camera, and a point and shoot camera seems to be the norm amongst film photographers.

And I’m not here to tell you that you shouldn’t do that. But what would happen if you tried a different approach? What if you paired down your gear by half, or more?

How would that change the way to shoot? How would that change the way you explore a new place? How would that change the way you experience your vacation? 

Film image of Paris - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film

My Experience

Once upon a time, I had a one-camera, one-roll-per-day rule while traveling.

You might have heard me tell this tale before, but I went on a European road trip for 12 days with one Holga 120N and 12 rolls of 120 film. That’s it. I can almost hear the gasps from behind your screens.

Does that seem extreme? Maybe. Ok, yes. I know that’s extreme. But for me, it felt like a wonderful challenge and a great way to explore new places while taking time to enjoy my family vacation.

Wanna know something? Some of my most favorite photos that I’ve ever are from that trip.

I loved the freedom so much, that I did it again a few years later – only that time I limited it even more – I only brought black and white film with my Holga. Again, some of my most favorite images. 

Film image of Nice - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film
Film image of Amsterdam - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film
Grab your free copy of the Shoot It With Film magazine!

One camera? Really? Just one?

Remember how I said I only traveled with one camera and one roll per day? Well, this winter, that rule failed me. Big time.

I brought my Diana Mini with me to Taos, Colorado for a ski trip with my family. I was so excited. It’s small, lightweight, and can easily fit around my neck or in my pocket on the slopes.

I was even planning on holding it while heading down the mountain for some fun slow shutter shots. It was going to be great.

Until it wasn’t.

My Diana Mini broke. On the top of the mountain. On day one.

How on earth can a fully mechanical toy camera break? It stopped advancing film (which apparently is somewhat common for the Mini – of course it happened to me on vacation).

Since then, I’ve expanded my one-camera rule. Live, learn, adapt. Right? 

Film image of France - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film
Film image of Paris - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film
Film image of Paris - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film

So What Now?

Now, I don’t have a rule; however, I am still very mindful of the gear I bring because I need those constraints.

I don’t want to walk around Paris with five cameras. I’ve done it. It stresses me out. (Which is why I created my previous rule in the first place).

I found myself carrying heavy gear, multiple lenses, worrying about rain, and trying to take the same photo with every camera, because, well, of course they all have different film stocks and the cameras are all different. 

Instead of bringing only one camera on the tip, now I think about where I’m going, what we’ll see, and what we’ll do.

Is this a new place? A place I know and love? Is it just me and my husband (slower paced) or is our daughter coming too?

Film image of Nice - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film
Film image of France - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film

For example, this summer, my family and I visited Amsterdam and France. The key factors for this trip: summer, familiar places, kiddo in tow.

Since this trip was going to be lots of movement and walking, I wanted lightweight gear that didn’t require a lot of time to set up.

So instead of my awesome (crazy-heavy) Nikon F2 Photomatic and Mamiya 645s, I opted for point and shoot cameras (more or less). I brought my Holga 120s, Polaroid SX-70, and SnapSights! underwater 35mm camera (find on eBay), since we were going to the beach.

I rarely walked out of the hotel with more than one camera. I thought about what we’d do that day and what type of photos I wanted.

Did I want to be able to take dreamy, plastic-y photos? Holga 120s was my choice. Did I really just want to walk around with a nostalgia piece around my neck and have an instant souvenir? SX-70 was the camera for me. The SnapSights! underwater camera was only for the beach.

Film image of San Diego - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film
Film image of San Diego - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film

Artistic Benefits of Limiting Gear

By committing to less gear than you normally would bring on a trip, you’re giving yourself the challenge to work within those parameters.

In my experience, creativity loves restrictive parameters. You’ll start finding new and creative ways to compose your photos. You’ll see things you might not have seen before had you been fiddling with gear in your bag.

Bonus tip: if you limit the number rolls you take, you’ll be even more selective with what you photograph. Do you normally bring unlimited film? Maybe try one or two rolls a day?

Film image of Barcelona - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film
Film image of Barcelona - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film

Personal Benefits Limiting Gear

Less stress.

You don’t have to worry about stolen or damaged gear and extra bags. You don’t have to think about it while you’re trying to enjoy your vacation. You just leave in the morning with the one camera you committed to for the day, and you’re off.

And my personal favorite: you get to enjoy the vacation more. You’ll enjoy the sites more and enjoy time with those you travel with more.

Film image of Paris - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film
Film image of Paris - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film
Film image of France - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film

Not Ready to Fully Commit?

I get it. Really, I do.

Maybe for your next trip, you pack your normal gear but leave all but one camera in the suitcase. You have them there – in case you feel like you need them. But challenge yourself to use only one.

If you fear your photos will all look the same, challenge yourself to try something new: light leaks, double exposures, expose both sides of the roll, slow shutter, shoot from the hip.

You might be surprised by how many ideas you’ll start to get with your new-found limitations.

Film image of France - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film
Film image of France - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film

Your Turn

I want to challenge you. Next trip you take – honestly, even a photo walk in your hometown – think about the gear you bring. At the very least, be mindful about what you take.

No judgement if you can’t commit to one or two cameras. But maybe take one less camera and see where that takes you!

Film image of Barcelona - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film
Film image of Paris - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film
Film image of Paris - Traveling with Minimal Gear by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film

Thank you so much, Jen! Jennifer is a regular contributor here at Shoot It With Film, and be sure to check out her other articles, like The Joy of Using Vintage Cameras and 5 Ways to Experiment with the Holga 120N.

You can also check out more of Jennifer’s work on her website and Instagram.

Leave your questions about traveling with film and taking minimal gear below in the comments!

Shoot It With Film Magazine Issue 01 Promo Image

Jennifer Stamps

Jennifer Stamps is a regular contributor for Shoot It With Film. Find her other articles here, such as Olympus OM-1 35mm Film Camera Review and 5 Film Cameras Under $50.

Tags:
Blog Comments

I tend to only take 2 cameras with me on any outing, it’s far less stressful than have a bunch and wondering which one to use!!! I tend to take a 35mm with either a wide angle or short zoom and an Instant.

I learned the one-camera rule backpacking in the Grand Canyon. A 50-lb pack doesn’t leave much slack for multiple cameras. Digial cameras can be an advantage–no film weight–but I mstly preferred fim. I’m 87 now, aged out of backpacking. But I still car camp, and I still carry only one camera.

I’ve been musing about exactly this question. I’ve got a 10 day trip to Yukon coming up. Last time I took two digital cameras, to point at different parts of the night sky for the northern lights that were projected to be (and were!) awesome. Plus I didn’t have film then. Now I do. Thinking I’ll take the GW690 instead of the second digital. Yukon colours are going to look awesome on Kodak Gold!

Considering that I’m traveling back in the same countries/cities often I decided to bring only one camera and a different one each time. Pe I been in Paris twice recently and Once I brought a polaroid sx-70 and the other time a Nikon F with a 50mm. Next week i will be in Paris afain and i will bring a Mamiya 6 with a bunch of film rolls and a 50, a 75 and 150 mm lense.
Small tip when you go to Paris don’t forget to bring the film rolls, in the France capital are crazy expensive: i paid 90 euros for 3 rolls!

Find the Nation Photo shop for instance in Paris, with VERY normal prices for all kinds of BW and color films. There are others as well. With delivery at your location as an option.

Awesome tips! I just came back from California where I brought my Yashica Mat 124G, Nikon FE2, and Fujifilm X100V (digital). I’m going to the UK in a few weeks and just made the decision to leave the Nikon at home and this reinforces that for me. It was just too much … Great article and work, thank you.

Absolutely! My Olympus Trip with 1 Portra 160 in it for a 2 days to the Netherlands. Had a smartphone for the unmissable shot that would not fit a Trip. Or the Mamiya Press Universal or Super 23 with only 1 lens or maybe 1 extra lens, when walking around the woods here in France or in the small towns. Or only the 501 if I want to go square. When a MF camera is in action, no smart phone with me! Take only one, handle only one, and do it well! Or come back to the same place with another lens, or another body or another film.

I now only take one film camera as I’ve been overwhelmed in the past by choice and in turn not enjoyed the moment. Because my holls usually involve a lot of walking I now just take my Olympus OM2n with 50mm and 24mm lenses. In addition to that I use my camera phone if it’s called for. One camera is truly liberating and at times challenging! But now, never stressful.

Some of my fav travel shots I took with a 90’s era Minolta point n shoot. Nothing to think about but what’s in the frame. It’s a load off my mind compared to the normal gear calculus. Sometimes it’s nice to slide a camera (that isn’t my phone) out of the pocket and take the shot while it’s there.

One more tip for reducing stress while traveling that worked for me — camera insurance. I used to worry about bringing my precious whatever with me and would miss shots. Pros don’t, they’re insured. Now I know that if I drop my camera in the Seine I’ll be sad but able to replace it. Obviously it doesn’t work for every camera (vintage film, for example), but worth the peace of mind when it does.

Hahaha, I remember the days when when I took only one camera and lens plus perhaps a dozen films on a month long trip to China and Tibet. It was all I could affort. Praying it wouldn’t break down or the Chinese x-ray machines wouldn’t ruin the film!

Great article,

For me it’s simple as I only have one film camera and 3 lenses. To keep it super simple minimalistic, I can use one lens and live with it for the day. Next time swap it out for another.
You’re never going to be always happy with just one choice so it forces you to adapt. Plus I always have the phone as backup.

FW

This is an excellent rule! And one I have been following for years. My two favorite travel cameras are either my Rollei or my GA645. The trips where I broke this rule were stressful!

Leave a Comment