A digital checklist for travel journalism: It’s not all about the smart phone

Steve Madgwick takes an inventory of the technology needed to put together a travel story on the road. 

If you believe the hipster-laden adverts from whichever tech company is coolest this week, all you should need to be a connected travel journalist these days is its newest smart device.

I have a smart phone, of course, and I beg to differ. For a one-week assignment to Thailand I am carrying a virtual Lilliputian office of quality gear, transition technology and old school, just-in-case back-ups.

Sure the iPhone and Galaxy in theory have most of what you need as a travel journalist – camera, video, notetaker and internet access – but they still fall short of ticking every box for preparing your story and photos for a quality glossy magazine like International Traveller.

Following are some of digital must-haves that makes it feel like someone has stuffed a bowling ball in my carry-on luggage.

First on my list is a speedy-Gonzales laptop, preferably with photo editing software (my choice: a Macbook Pro). It’s a comfortable way to type out your 2,000-word travel feature on the road rather than thumb pecking it into a Galaxy or iPhone. To your bag, add a charger (which, of course, is not compatible with my iPhone so add one more) and a durable hard-shelled protective case.

An SLR camera is essential, with a couple of lenses (especially a wide angle lens for heart-melting sunset shots). Okay, so smart phones have increasingly exceptional cameras, capable of all kinds of witchcraft, but in the short term they will not replace the depth of field that a quality camera and lens combination can offer.

So, add to your bag, two batteries the size of a baby fist, yet another charger and a memory card reader or compatible USB cables. You probably want to throw a spare memory card in just for good luck as well.

I also like to carry a quality point-and-shoot (Cybershot) as well, for those I-don’t-or-can’t-drag-out-the-SLR moments. Add another charger and two batteries as well.

Next I prefer my dictaphone for interviews, which has a superior microphone and playback options compared with my iPhone’s voice memo facilities. Pack a couple more batteries (rechargeable if you are an eco warrior).

I also rely heavily on writing notes the old fashioned way (yes, as in notebook and pen) so stow a notebook and at least two (stolen) pens, one of which will inevitably leak.

Of course, then there is your smart phone that fits snugly in your pocket at all times: which takes care of the various social media responsibilities that publishing embraces, particularly effective for Instagram.

Add to this, one international SIM card (in my case) or one you buy locally from a Tuk Tuk driver you are unlikely to see again. Oh, ensure that your phone has been unlocked or it will be simply a dead weight. Remember also to bring along the special microscopic pin to change the SIM card.

Consider also a USB memory stick, a dongle (you have to take internet however you can get it in places such as Thailand) and whatever electricity adaptors that you can force into the local sockets. I have three variously pronged contraptions that always shoot out a reassuring blue spark every time I plug them in.

If you lose your iPhone on holidays, you only lose some holiday snaps. If it’s your only device as a travel journalist you may lose your story – and therefore your pay for that month if you a freelance writer. Try explaining to your editor that their cover feature was accidentally flushed down a Koh Samui toilet.

So, for a while longer at least, the travel journalist is a virtual digital pack mule.


Comments (3)
  • Susan Wetherbee says:

    Loved Steve Madgwick’s ‘digital checklist for travel journalism’ … very fresh and clever!

  • Very amusing story and so true. Just add a mighty tangle of cables and a hotel room flashing liking Battlestar Galactica as everything recharges.

  • Roger Skinner says:

    Hmm well I carry an SLR, a compact waterproof camera and relevant chargers and laptop connection leads, a laptop with Photoshop CS5 with relevant leads and two 5ooGb portable hard drives.