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

I am going to travel for 2 weeks and want to have duplicate copies of my digital travel photos made daily before I get home. If you recommend triplicate copies, I'd definitely entertain the idea because I am a coward when it comes to facing the risk of losing data.

What do you think are the best and safest ways to do so? Is bringing a laptop and download the pics daily the most optimal or are there more convenient and better gadgets?

I think I'll take perhaps 30GB +/- 10GB of photos and videos a day. And again, this is a 2-week trip. Plus I don't plan to return to this destination again for the rest of my life.

  • 5
    I would suggest not taking 30GB of photos per day. Problem solved.
    – dpollitt
    Jan 5, 2013 at 6:25

7 Answers 7


That volume is huge. Unless you take 420 GB of memory cards, the laptop is not going to be your backup, it is going to be your primary copy.

This leaves you with a choice of media for your actual backup:

  • Cloud storage is unfeasible because transferring 30+ GB takes more than a day with most services and in most part of the world even with the best internet connection possible.
  • The easiest would be to get a portable hard-drive. If you can afford it, get an SSD because it is much more sturdy. One drop and a standard hard-drive is dead.
  • The most reliable though is to use optical disks. At 30 GB that would fit in a double-layer Blu-Ray (or 4 DVD-DL). This makes it easy to make your backups in duplicate.

The advantage of optical disks is that they have no value, unlike your laptop and portable storage, so that are not a target for thieves (just do not leave them in the laptop or camera bag) and the best is to mail a copy to yourself every few days. This is the only easy way to get both duplication and distribution of data. The downside is the time to burn. A single-layer Blu-Ray takes 1 hour to burn plus an extra hour to verify integrity on my machine and my source data is on an ultra-fast SSD.

Yes, I am paranoid too about data loss. With 30 GB daily, I would be even more paranoid!

  • 4
    Wait,CDs/DVDs/Whatever disks are reliable? What the hell kind of disks are you using? Disks are freaking horrible. One tiny piece of grit (on the top), and you'll punch through to the metalization layer, and you're stuffed.
    – Fake Name
    Jan 5, 2013 at 6:33
  • 1
    I had a bit of grit get in one of those giant CD binders, and it destroyed something like half of the disks. The critical thing is that the only thing protecting the metalization layer on most disks is a lacquer coating. As such, if you get a scratch on the top of the disk, it generally irreparably damages it.
    – Fake Name
    Jan 5, 2013 at 6:34
  • @FakeName Anything can be damanged but good optical disks are very reliable and much more than a HDD with moving parts. I have seen considerably more high-end HDD fail than optical disks, plus you lose more at a time when a HDD dies. I have dropped optical disks many times and never had one get damage. I have seen corruption (0.2%) after 10 years which is why I aim to refresh the whole set every 5 years, plus I am that paranoid, so they are all burned in duplicates using two different brands of disks.
    – Itai
    Jan 5, 2013 at 17:27
  • 1
    @FakeName My experiences echo yours, optical discs are incredibly unreliable in my experience it doesn't take much to burn a coaster where you thought you had viable data, or at least to discover you had afterwards once you got home. Jan 5, 2013 at 19:07
  • 1
    Spinning disks can take a lot more abuse than they used to, especially when powered down. If dropping is a concern, beer can coozies make excellent shock protectors for a couple of laptop-sized removable drives.
    – Blrfl
    Jan 6, 2013 at 15:00

I doubt that backing up (an average of) 30 GB per day to cloud storage will be feasible. What I would do:

  1. Bring a laptop with at least 500 GB of drive space free, and an external drive.

  2. Each day, copy the day's results to the computer's hard drive, then cull at least your photos (I don't shoot video, so don't know how realistic it would be to edit down your videos each day). This will need to be done anyway, and it should greatly reduce your total data size. Going through the exercise each day may encourage you to be more careful with your shooting as well.

  3. After the cull, copy the data to the external drive.

  4. Store or carry the external hard drive in as safe a place as possible, but separately from the laptop. If carried, have a different person carry it if possible, and at least store it in a different bag from the laptop. If staying at a hotel with a safe, have them store the portable hard drive for you in the safe when not in use.

I've lost data on optical disks so many times that I don't trust them for important data backups. That said, I haven't used blu rays for backup, and reliability may be better today. In any event, your worry with duplicate backups will not be so much physical reliability, no matter what method you use. It is untrue that a single drop will always kill even a cheaper mechanical drive; important details include whether the drive or enclosure has shock-absorbing features, and whether the drive's heads are parked during a drop. For reliability with a mechanical external drive, just make sure not to abuse it when it's actually in use during a backup, use a drive enclosure with shock-absorbing features, and just put it in a reasonably safe place when not in use.

Another option: buy ~400 GB of memory cards (with SDHC Class 10 cards, this will cost under $400). Each day, cull as before and consolidate if you like to save money on cards, or just leave the data in place on the cards. Copy to the computer and/or an external drive (they even sell portable hard drives with built-in card readers that would let you skip the computer, but I'd still go with a small laptop if you can). Keep all the memory cards in a small wallet in a safe place, separate from the backup.


If you are not keen to bring a computer, you can use one of these puppies:


And at the same time have enough memory cards with you that you don't need to delete them. If you use exclusively high quality memory cards that is designed for extreme conditions such as Sandisk Extreme pro, you will be pretty safe with those unless you lose them and the backup station is just a precaution.


Go to this web page "Digital Safari Equipment Tips"


Scroll down to the last third of the page. There is a section "Downloading and Storing Photos" - which will explain how to use ~ 15 card readers and several hard drives to store all data in parallel using a special-purpose downloader program


Safest way? Don't delete anything from your memory cards until you're home. If that means taking 30*14 gig worth of cards, then so be it.

Keep your cards separate from your camera gear. If your gear is stolen, you really don't want your cards--especially the filled ones--disappearing, too.

Compact flash is very reliable compared to other media. If you're shooting 30 gig a day, it will take some doing on your part to ensure you have a readable backup of each and every image before re-using the cards. If you're shooting 30 gig a day, I'd question how much time you'll have left and what mental state you'll possess in order to be meticulous enough to ensure you're not losing images.

A few years ago, I looked into portable backup solutions. I decided my best course of action was spending that money on even more CF cards so I didn't need to reuse any until I was safely back home. Might not be everybody's perfect solution, but it has worked for me flawlessly.


Take the laptop with you and, if possible, make a back up to a cloud storage. Otherwise you can also take a look at some on field back up systems with harddrives or SSD in the according size (for example something like this: http://www.hypershop.com/HyperDrive-COLORSPACE-UDMA-s/64.htm).


I suggest you do not clear the memory cards until you return, 7 or 8 64GB cards are not cheap but also not so expensive, probably cheaper than 500GB (30GB * 14 days + a little extra) of good SSD drives.

The memory card are great because they are small, light and extremely durable.

You'll probably want a card wallet to store all those cards, preferably don't keep the cards in the camera bag and never never keep the cards in the laptop bag (because if two copies are in the same bag it's too easy for them to be damaged/stolen together).

So, your memory cards are the primary copy - now for the backup(s)

You said you are bringing a laptop, make sure you have more than 500GB of free hard drive space and copy images from the card to the laptop as often as possible - this is your first backup.

If you want a 2nd backup buy one of the slim external hard drives that are powered over USB - the good thing about them is that they are very small and can fit in a (big) pocket.

Do not store that hard drive in your camera bag or your laptop bag, that hard drive has to be in your pocket or the hotel safe (if you can use one).

The big points are:

  1. Try to keep the original copy on the original medium (at least until you can verify you have adequate backups, preferably longer) and memory cards are not that expensive.

  2. Each copy has to be stored in a separate location so that your original and backup are not damaged or stolen together.

  3. Choose small and light backup devices you can carry with you, if you have a large device you will have to carry it in your laptop bag - making it not-a-backup (see point 2)

  4. Copy to backup as often as possible

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