Hi, I’m Sam Wordsworth, a 27-year-old filmmaker from Nottingham. I am lucky that my job takes me all around the world...
I was travelling back from a few long days in Norway in June and I realised, as I stood in the security queue, that I had actually become a rather ‘good’ traveller. I wasn’t exactly sure what I meant by this at first but as I continued to stand in the queue (behind a lady who had brought her entire bathroom with her) I had a lot of time to think about all the things I have learnt over the years. And then I thought, I should write about it; not only because people may find it interesting or useful (pushing it I know) but because it may benefit me by reducing the number of people who forget that their deodorant is an aerosol and their 500ml bottle of Chanel perfume is definitely a liquid over 100ml.
This is the second of two posts about travelling as a professional filmmaker, you can read the first here.
Planning Your Trip
First things first, always book your own travel wherever possible. Do it on a credit card which gets you points (Amex is great for this), and build in enough time for delays, bad weather and sleep. Booking on a credit card instantly gives you a certain level of protection from flight cancellations or carrier insolvency, as well as racking up mileage or points which can be spent on future upgrades or in your Amazon shopping basket. See my first post for details about Amex costs.
There are certain items which I would never travel without but it’s amazing to hear how many people forget them. First of all, a world travel adaptor; you need power for those batteries and laptops! However, you don’t need to carry a load of them for each plug. Take a minimum of two 4 or 6 way UK extension leads. That way you have some redundancy but you’re not carrying too much weight and you can make best use of the minimal and randomly placed power sockets in hotel rooms.
If you travel a lot then it’s worth having a spare travel wash bag ready to go with the essentials. Next time you go through the airport security, grab a bunch of the clear plastic bags for liquids so next time you’re packing, you can put all your liquids straight into a bag ready. It saves a good 5 mins at security. Also, take basic medicines like paracetamol, ibuprofen, rennie, dioralyte and berocca – there’s nothing worse than a killer headache or hangover when you don’t know where you’re nearest pharmacy is.
When packing the camera kit, there are a few key things to consider. Obviously, you want to keep your most expensive and integral parts of kit in your hand luggage or your additional carry on bag. That way, if your hold luggage goes missing you can still do the work with the bare basics. I’d much rather have to buy new clothes than a new RED Gemini.
There are other things to consider too, for instance don’t keep camera tools in your cabin bag. I’ve lost so many allen keys and screwdrivers at security because they’re an ‘offensive weapon’. I tried arguing that I could do more damage with my tripod than a 2mm allen key but it didn’t do much good.
Other things that need to go in hand luggage are lithium batteries. For instance, any camera batteries, V locks, drone batteries etc. One thing to note is that you can take as many batteries as you can carry if they’re below 100 watt hours but anything above that is restricted to two per passenger. Luckily, most V Locks and drone batteries, like the DJI Inspire 2 TB50 batteries, are just under the 100 watt hour mark meaning you can take as many as you can carry. It is also a good idea to make the batteries safe by covering the terminals so that they cannot short out.
Another good little device to pack is a backup hard drive which does not need to be connected to a computer. I have seen a number of different ones on the market but the best in my opinion is the DJI Lacie Copilot BOSS, and the GNAR Box 2.0. Both give you the option to copy SD cards and other cards through their access interface like the DJI CineSSD. It means you can back up on the go and clear cards immediately to get more room. One caution though, don’t be tempted to use these drives as editing drives. They have their own mini computer onboard to handle the file transfer, but that can mess with the file permissions if you start playing around with the files on Premiere Pro or Lightroom. Recently, we nearly lost a full day’s worth of photos from Snowboxx festival due to this mistake. Luckily, LaCie recovered the drive for free and sent us a brand new one but it was a faff and caused plenty of stress.
Use the transport to the airport which is most convenient to you and your situation. For instance, if you have a ton of kit then driving and parking, using the meet and greet service, saves a lot of hassle on departure and arrival. However, if it’s just you and your rucksack then consider train or even coach (yes coach!) travel. The beauty of this means you can get some work done en route or, more likely, binge watch Netflix. Coach travel is a bit of a dirty word and it can be a slower journey but if you’re on a budget, it is actually a very efficient way to travel. National Express and Megabus both run services from most major cities and towns to the UK’s airports. It’s a one stop solution meaning you can sleep till your destination. They all have charging ports and Wi-fi these days which makes working on the go a lot easier. Additionally, it’s often the only travel service which will get you to the airport for those early morning flights without having to book overnight hotels.
If you’re struggling to get your weight down to the limit, check if your airport has self scanners at check in. The budget airlines at both Luton and Manchester have them and I would guess that many others do too. These are great for sneaking a few extra kilos in as you can hold the bag on the scale to get the right weight. Once the label is on, there’s no more checks. Also, if you’re using oversized baggage such as bikes or skis, these are always checked in at a different desk. The guys on these desks are airport staff, not airline staff, so they generally don’t really care about the weight, so long as it passes their security scans. I often pack all my ski clothes into my ski bag, along with the tripod, easyrig and walking boots.
If you’re going to use the lounges (see my previous blog about benefits) before your flight then try to give yourself enough time to really enjoy them. Most places will allow you entry up to 3 hours before your flight so that means arriving at the airport 3.5 hours before to get through security. The lounges can often be busy during peak times so it’s worth choosing one beforehand and reserving your space. This usually costs about £5 but it comes with the added advantage of priority pass to get through security much quicker. No more queuing behind Dorris, her three screaming kids and the guy who needs to empty his entire bag at the scanner.
Wear something comfy and stretchy but also not too thin. Air con on long distance flights can be pretty chilly. Take an empty plastic bottle with you through security, UK based airlines are obligated to give you free tap water. Even Ryanair will fill your bottle if you hand it to them; saves you a fiver on an overpriced miniature bottle of water.
If you’re travelling with two people and you have the option of booking your seats on the flight, try to book the window and the aisle seat on the same row towards the back of the plane. This little trick often has the effect of keeping the seat between you free as most airlines with morals (so not Ryanair) won’t split people up unless they absolutely have to. If the flight happens to be full and you get a person sat between you, then just kindly ask them to swap. No reasonable person would pass up the option of an aisle or window seat over a middle one.
Another little trick for inflight entertainment when on budget airlines: Most carriers like Jet2, EasyJet, TUI etc, have a magazine pouch just above the table tray on the seat in front. These are usually the perfect width to fit the flip case lid of an iPad or similar tablet down it and hold the screen in place at eye level. Hey presto, your own personal inflight TV! It’s such a simple trick but the number of people (mainly male technophiles) I’ve had giving looks of admiration at the simple solution is pretty funny.
If you find yourself on a production with a substantial amount of kit and people, it’s always worth considering driving if it’s in Western or Central Europe. We often drive to the French Alps, Germany, Croatia, northern Italy etc. It can take longer to get there but you have the flexibility to take the route you want and don’t have to justify every kg of kit. Here’s a few tips for travelling by road.
Sailing the high seas – the most common crossing is the Dover the Calais ferry crossing and the channel tunnel. However, some lesser known ones are the overnight ferries such as Hull to Holland or Belgium, and the Portsmouth or Southampton to France or Spain. Both are economical and easy to use but each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
The P&O North Sea crossings from Hull give you great access to Northern Europe and an overnight stay meaning you can get straight on the road and drive all day. However, they’re significantly more expensive than Dover Calais. One thing is a must, book the all you can eat buffet dinner and breakfast. It’s seriously worth it.
The latter is the cheapest access to Europe and should set you back between £60 and £150 each way depending on number of passengers, size of car, time of day etc. It’s always worth booking the flexi ticket, one up from the budget. It gives you a four hour leeway either side of your selected crossing meaning you have eight hours to catch the ferry. There’s nothing worse than missing your crossing because the M25 is slow or they closed the Dartford crossing.
If Dover Calais is proving expensive check for Dover to Dunkerque. It’s a smaller port and comes out slightly further north in France but it really doesn’t make a difference, and the crossings can be cheaper.
One tip is to get the evening ferry, after 10pm they’re cheaper and quieter. Often they have large hammock shaped sofas which are amazing to crash out on if you get there first, so don’t hang around in the car deck once you’ve loaded on.
The channel tunnel is equivalent in ease to the channel ferry crossings but is quicker. The trade off is luxury and cost. It’s slightly more expensive to travel via the tunnel, and because you’re basically trapped in a steel railway carriage under the ocean, there’s not much to do except wait.
Lastly, the ferries to Normandy and Spain are a little slower and more expensive. They should be considered if driving time is limited and the client is picking up the bill. They leave you refreshed and ready to drive but the crossings are less frequent and spaces are limited for vehicles.
To help put this article together I spoke to some friends and colleagues in the industry, here are their top tips:
“Be careful with local food, it’s easy to overindulge in the local cuisine but if you get food poisoning then it’s more than just your trip you have ruined, it’s the client’s money. Maybe stick to trusted food vendors and fast food from well-known brands”
Ben Hale, Cinematographer
“Packing well and keeping things organised goes a long way. Pack exactly what you need and shed any unwanted weight. I shot a documentary while camping for two weeks in the mountains. All my kit for this trip lived in a 48L f-stop bag and stayed safe from the elements and organised.”
Troy Edige, DoP
“Expect some kind of delay at security! Electronics and dense items are what show up most on their scans, and generally we travel with a whole load of them. When they are questioning expensive kit, explain what it is and ask if you can move it for them.”
Tom Clare, Photographer and Producer
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