Professional Filmmakers Travel Guide

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.

So here it is, the first of two blog posts taking you through my best tips for travelling filmmakers, photographers and the occasional holidaymaker.

Let’s start with what to think about before you set off…

Before You Travel

When travelling often it’s good to consider a few upfront items which make your life easier. These are not specific to each trip but it helps to have them in place for peace of mind. 

Mobile Phone Plan

First of all, working as a freelancer or in a production company requires communication – either email or phone – and social media access at most times. It pays to have a mobile data and call plan which you can rely on not to cost you the earth in most countries. Since the introduction of the EU standard to prevent carriers from charging more for access in the EU, most providers offer data and calls in the EU at no extra cost. The tricky issues come when you are outside of the EU. This is where Three mobile takes the lead. Their ‘Go Roam’ program offers the same EU benefits in 71 countries worldwide, including some of the most well-trodden places such as the US, Australia, New Zealand and China. Be careful though; they have a fair use policy which means you can only use 19GB of your monthly allowance abroad, even if you have ‘all you can eat’ data. 

Top Tip
Set up text alerts to tell you when you hit certain milestones on your data usage. Also, it’s worth noting that free calls and texts are only to other UK registered numbers.

Three’s mobile data plans start at about £10 per month for sim only deals; although my favourite is the £20 per month plan with unlimited texts, calls and 100GB of data which can be used for tethering too.

Three Mobile Go Roam

Travel Insurance

The next thing to consider is world wide annual travel insurance. Travel insurance policies can range hugely in price depending on the level of cover required. Activities such as extreme sports and dangerous activities cost more, due to the higher risk. It’s also worth checking the small print as some of the cheaper policies limit the number of days abroad at once. Often it’s a good idea to have a general travel insurance policy which covers you for flights, personal baggage (not equipment) and medical cover. Then, when you are doing a particular activity which is not covered, such as skiing, purchase the required cover on top either as an upgrade, or as a new policy. When it comes to equipment insurance, you should have your own, or company insurance in place which covers your kit when on your person in transit. However, this type of policy won’t cover your equipment when it has been checked in, so make sure you keep all your valuable kit (your RED camera brain, or those Cooke anamorphic lenses) on you in the cabin inside a good quality case. I’ll come on to recommended cases later. 

Top Tip
Try and put all your electrical equipment in one bag – if you are travelling as a group. This will help speed things up at baggage security as you will only have to empty one bag for the scanners. Always ask if you need to take certain things out of your bag; it will save unloading for no reason. Some airports are funny about batteries and others don’t bother.

Worldwide travel insurance typically costs in the region of £50 – £100 depending on your level of cover and sports insurance, with off piste coverage, can be about £10 – £20 per week.

Barclays Travel Pack Plus

Airport Lounge Access

This may seem like a luxury at first but once I had used them a couple of times it became a staple part of my travel itinerary. I prefer, wherever possible, to get to the airport three hours before my travel time. It means I’m not rushing through security and often the queues are shorter if you’re early in the morning. Having the ability to then go into the lounge, reserve an area just for you and either crash out or make full use of the complimentary breakfast or dinner with coffee or a beer, is really relaxing. You feel safe in your surroundings, there’s always power access, Wi-fi and free newspapers or magazines. Plus, it’s really great value for money if you get on a program such as Dragon Pass or Amex gold/platinum rewards.

  • Dragon Pass is a service you can sign up to through your bank or individually. It’s a subscription which gives you discounted access to many airport lounges worldwide. There’s multiple choices of lounges in every major UK terminal and often at least one in every major airport worldwide. Typically, access for general walk ins tends to cost £30-£50 per time but this comes down to about £15 per time with Dragon Pass. Plus, your subscription will normally give you a certain amount of complementary visits per year; I get 6 annual visits with Barclays Travel Plus Pack.  
  • American Express offers different rewards depending if you’re a normal or business customer and if you’re on Gold or Platinum. Normal Gold comes with a minimum of two free uses a year and Platinum has unlimited. Gold Business doesn’t offer any free passes but Business Platinum offers two primary card holders on the same account unlimited access per year with the ability to take a friend in too.

Top Tip
Pre 7 am, in my experience, there is no need to book. However, after 7.30 am the lounges get busier and to ensure you get a space it is worth booking in advance online. There is normally a small charge for this but it can come with some perks such as priority security passes.

Typical subscription costs to a service like dragon pass through a premium bank account like Barclays costs £18 per month. This also covers your worldwide travel insurance, car breakdown with RAC and discounts at airport parking.

Amex Gold costs £125 per year with the first year free. Amex Platinum costs £575 per year with the first year free. Both of these have other benefits which I’ll come on to later. Depending on your subscription and provider the maximum you can expect to pay is £15 per visit to the lounge. Once you have had a coffee, some food and a beer or cocktail, you’re already way past the cost of paying for the equivalent in the main terminal.

Aspire Lounge at Gatwick Airport

Practice Sleeping

This might sound like a weird one but most travel film makers and cinematographers will agree, sleep becomes the most valuable commodity whilst travelling for work. Often flights are at awful times and shoots don’t wrap until the late hours so catching any sort of sleep helps immeasurably. Until recently I couldn’t sleep unless I was horizontal, in a soft bed, in the dark and quiet. Basically unless I was in optimum sleeping conditions, my body wouldn’t shut off. Over the last two years I’ve been trying to train my body to shut down, wake up quickly and sleep in uncomfortable positions. When at home, I’ll try to take a 30 minute power nap in an armchair or in the back of the car if someone else is driving. I’ve felt it help a lot recently and I’ve been able to sleep in lounges, cars, buses and planes. 

Top Tip
A few things that can help are cheap face masks, like the ones you get on long haul flights, a basic pair of foam ear plugs and a soft coat or jumper to use as a pillow. My Etihad mask has seen a lot of miles (pun intended).

Joe O’Brien getting his beauty sleep back from Kala festival.

To help put this article together I spoke to some friends and colleagues in the industry, here are their top tips:

“Always pack a spare cable for everything important, especially items that would be hard to replace or source on location.”
Claudiu Voicu, Director

“Checkout the hotel or accommodation’s marketing material and offer to refresh it for room upgrade or free stay.”
Joe O’Brien, DoP

“If you need to keep recharging on the go, take an inverter to charge drones batteries and laptops in the rental car.”
Oli Hutton, DoP

Keep an eye out for the 2nd part in this mini series coming soon – sign up below to receive it in your email inbox!

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