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How can I backup my RAW photos while travelling without Internet access?

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The last month I have been traveling by back-pack, and will be doing much more of this over the next 6-18 months.

What are the best options for storing the photos I take, in a secure location while on the road?

The obvious solution is to upload them all to a centralized location (possibly even to Facebook, or Google+ if I didn't mind losing quality), but that takes a very long time, with the sort of Internet connection that is usually available on the road (128kbps upstream is common).

Some options I have considered:

  • Upload as many photos as possible, over the typically slow bandwidth I have available. On a busy photo day, this probably means only uploading 10-20% of the photos I've taken while I sleep (with high-quality JPG, forget RAW completely)

  • Carry extra storage on my person. I could carry an external USB hard drive or SSD, or extra flash memory for my camera. I'm concerned about the storage being lost, stolen, or damaged, though.

  • Periodically mail a SD card home, whenever I fill one with photos. Possibly after making a backup that I keep on my person, in case the SD card should be lost in the mail.

What have other world travelers done during extended travel to keep their photos safe?


If you're taking so many photos that you're worried about filling multiple storage cards, then I think that cloud storage from the back woods is out of the question.

In my opinion, flash storage is so cheap now, particularly around the 8-16GB SDHC form factor, that the best option is to go with this. You'd need to be wary of losing the cards. But flash memory itself is remarkably robust. I've put flash cards through the wash and drier multiple times with no ill effects. So if you can find a way to pack them to ensure that they don't get lost (they're awful small), I'd be pretty confident of their survival.

  • It looks like the cheapest SD storage I can buy (per gb) right now is about $6.68 (free shipping) for a 16gb SanDisk microSD card. I could stock up on a pocket full of those to store my photos.
    – Flimzy
    Apr 17 '12 at 18:07
  • @Flimzy - if using Flash backup have at least two. Note that no-name or less known name cards may use suspect spec ICs that have been rejeted by major makers. This is not to say that cheap cards may not be good OR that brand name cards will not fail - but it's a guide that should not be wholly dismissed. Apr 18 '12 at 2:45
  • @RussellMcMahon: Indeed, however, in a write-once scenario, which this will be, I suspect even the cheap brands will likely hold up. Especially if I made duplicates of every copy.
    – Flimzy
    Apr 20 '12 at 5:25
  • @Flimzy - That's how Murphy works: 3 copies - no failures. 2 copies some failures. 1 copy many failures :-). I used to buy Transcend flash cards due to their better than name plate write speeds, good price and good reliability. A while ago something seems to have happened. It may be clone product but as they are coming through the local dealers I have no way of discriminating good from bad. I will not be buying any more of them. I'd be as wary of using them for 1 time backup as for N time. With multiple copies maybe. Apr 20 '12 at 11:16

Each to their own. I am somewhat more obsessive about not losing photos than some people. My aim is to never lose a photo while travelling. Apart from card failure prior to transfer I never have. I have managed to "lose" 2 out of the 3 copies of all the photos I had with me on one trip and still lose no images. [Almost all camera cards and 2 x portable hard drives vanished without know cause somewhere between or in Shanghai and Brunei. Still had netbook copy. Loss of the main portable HDD copy is usually "impossible" as I carry it in a zipped pocket (see below) but on this one occasion I was beyond beyond tired and had stupidly left it in a bag.

I have traveled extensively on business in recent years. A camera (or several) is a constant companion. I usually carry an SLR plus a small pocketable video+stills camera (Sanyo XACTI). The following relates to use of the camera as a professional recording tool as part of my job (electrical engineer) plus far higher volume of everything I come across while away.

I carry multiple camera cards and swap them occasionally during the day to avoid total loss due to card failure. SD cards can be read by netbook directly. For CF cards I carry a CF-only to USB cable-less reader on my person as this is most reliable and stupidity proof.

I carry a "netbook" with me almost at all times (even when "tourist wandering".) If I stop for a break I may upload a card or cards on the spot. Occasionally in my backpack while wandering, but not so often. I have a (DOS level) program which incrementally copies new files while leaving the old on card and reports files uncopied, files on card, free space on card. Very simple application based on DOS batch files and XXCOPY [!].

At end of day I copy down any cards to netbook that are not yet copied.

I carry a 500 GB 2.5" USB powered hard drive. This is usually in a belt bag or maybe in my backpack. When flying I zip it into a pocket in my clothes. (Cargo pants leg front pocket works well if you are not socially traumatised by such garb).(Theory is that if I can run smoldering from the burning aeroplane my photos will survive -and if I can't then I won't care).

I copy all files incrementally from netbook to portable HDD. ( XXCOPY /bb /s /h ... sufficeth). If paranoia and disk room allow I may make multiple HDD copies occasionally (on same HDD). On occasion HDD may be updated from netbook during day.

I try very very hard to not delete camera card files until I have a netbook + portable HDD copy made so I have at least 2 copies available.

Typical photo rate while wandering is 500-1000 per day typical with 1000+ on some days. (Multiple shot sequences can add up). Depending on camera and mode hat can add up. RAW+JPG on APSC can be say 20 MB (more on some) so say 20 GB a day. If 500 GB portable drive holds just this data and one copy that's ~= 50days.

As I said, "somewhat obsessive. " Works for me.

Note: If free internet is available limited rate upload is possible but usually slow. Skype gets through if anything does. Their file transfer rate is slow but they manage connectivity better than almost anything else.

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