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How to Back Up Photos When You Travel

When it comes to data, one is the loneliest number. Without a backup, data of any kind is susceptible to corruption, mismanagement and even complete loss.

And your travel photos are data. We don’t always think of our travel photos this way, but that’s precisely what they are — lines of ones and zeros, bits and bytes. Because this data includes some of your fondest memories, it’s essential to back up your travel photos, both during your trip and after you get home.

Our rule of thumb: Make sure you have two copies of everything, and don’t keep them in the same place. To help you follow this rule, we offer a few strategies for backing up photos and storing them securely.

How Big Are Photo Files?

Before we start, let’s look at photo file sizes, as the amount of storage you need affects almost all your options for backup. You can store approximately this many JPEG files (the most common photo file format) on an 8GB card:

– 2,288 images on 10-megapixel camera, which averages 3 MB per photo
– 1,634 images on a 14-megapixel camera, which averages 4.2 MB per photo
– 1,040 images on a 22-megapixel camera, which averages 6.6 MB per photo

As you can see, even your standard 8 GB card can still handle more than 1,000 photos at some of the very highest resolutions available today. That’s why you should consider leaving all your photos on your cards for the duration of your trip. This offers you at least the first of your two essential storage locations.

Memory Cards: Use Them as Portable Drives

Although we sometimes think of them as “part of the camera,” the memory cards in your camera are simply task-specific portable drives; in fact, many people often use camera memory cards to transfer files quickly and easily — and also for simple storage.

One solid tactic is to travel with multiple smaller cards, and then one very large card (64 or 128 GB). As you fill up your smaller cards, transfer all the photos to the giant card while leaving them on the smaller cards as well. Then change cards and repeat as each card fills up.

You could also do the same with only two large cards, one to take all the photos, and one to back them up. Doing the math, if you have two 64 GB cards and a 14-megapixel camera, you can take around 15,000 photos before running out of space, even if you have two copies of every photo. (If you are taking more photos than that, or are shooting in RAW format producing much larger files, you are likely an advanced or even pro photographer, and don’t need to read this article.)

Another idea: If you aren’t going to be able to follow through on the backup options that follow, to keep any data loss to a minimum, you might consider traveling with multiple memory cards and using one per day of your trip. That way, if you lose one, you haven’t lost every photo from your trip.

Back Up Photos to a Laptop

If you are traveling with a laptop, many of your problems are solved; you simply copy your photos to the laptop as a main backup, then leave as many photos on your memory cards or camera as possible. This is the quickest and easiest way to have at least two of every file.

Back Up Photos to a Portable Drive

Bringing a portable hard drive can be a great lightweight alternative to a full laptop. You will need to get the photos from the camera to the hard drive, of course; we address this challenge below.

Back Up Photos to the Cloud

One critical problem with the tactics above is that all your photos are still with you — they may be backed up on multiple devices or drives, but if you lose ALL your stuff, whether by theft, handling mishaps, fire or water damage, or other happenstance, you still lose everything.

The only way to safeguard against this is to have copies of your data/photos on a remote computer, or what is commonly referred to as “the cloud.”

A remote computer might be the server for your own website if you have one; you could upload your photos by FTP or the like to a folder on your server, and then download them when you get home as needed.

For cloud storage, there are a large number of services to consider, some free and some paid.

Free services:
– Google Drive (up to 15 GB)
– Microsoft OneDrive (up to 5 GB)
– Dropbox (up to 2 GB)
– Apple iCloud (up to 5 GB)
– Amazon’s Cloud Drive (unlimited storage for Amazon Prime members)

Paid services:
– Amazon (for non-Prime members)
– Dropbox
– CrashPlan (I use this service to back up three TB of photos at present)
– Mozy
– Carbonite

Additionally, some cellular providers offer storage, such as Verizon Cloud. The trick for travelers using these services is that they require considerable bandwidth and solid data transfer speeds to get everything uploaded, and also take some time to complete uploading, so you can’t just send files up from anywhere. Some also require that you use their proprietary software, which means you need to have your own computer with you.

For services that permit Web uploads, be sure to log out and clear caches and passwords if you are using an unsecured computer or Wi-Fi connection.

How to Get Files from Your Camera to a Drive or the Cloud

If you have a laptop with you, this is easily solved, but if not, it can be tricky.

Many libraries will allow you to use their computers to transfer files via SD card slots and/or USB ports. In this case you use these computers the same way you would your own (while being cognizant of the security issues mentioned previously).

Additionally, several companies now offer portable card reader/drive hybrids that can read directly from your camera without the aid of a computer; this one from Nexto offers 500 GB of storage that you can back up and even view right on the drive.

Similarly, many tablets are now starting to offer similar functionality; for Apple devices, you can get widely available Lightning to Card Camera readers or Apple’s iPad Camera Connection Kit.

Backing Up Photos from Your Smartphone

Backing up photos from your smartphone is often the easiest method possible, as most devices offer some kind of direct interface to storage options, usually via apps (iCloud, Dropbox, etc. all offer this functionality).

Built-In Camera Wireless

Many cameras now feature built-in Wi-Fi, which often comes with a file transfer app that will let you get your photos off your camera and onto a device like a laptop, tablet or phone. I own the Olympus TG4, and Olympus offers an app to do just this; I prefer the less clunky wired backup, but the Wi-Fi option works just fine.

Backing Up Photos After You Get Home

Once you get home with all your photos intact, just dumping them onto a drive can create a lot of data chaos, so you will want a strategy for putting your images into more permanent storage as well. The most common approach is by date; an example might be a folder structure that goes Year –> Month –> Date. From there some folks will add some extra information, like so: Year –> Month –> DateLocation. For archiving my personal photos, I typically use a weekly structure in which each folder holds all the photos taken in a certain week. Later, if I go looking for a photo from the day we went hiking in Berlin, I can usually find the photos within a couple of minutes.

Many programs also offer considerable keywording options; if you are organized enough, this might work well for you.

Obviously, have a double backup at home is as important as it is on the road, so you will want a long-term solution for your photos. The same principles apply to your home backup solution, in particular having one local version and one outside (usually cloud) version of everything.

A Few Final Tips

Before leaving home, make sure you have enough storage to handle all your photos by clearing out out space on your cloud service, transferring and deleting old photos from a portable drive and the like.

Back up regularly (daily if possible). This makes the task more manageable as well as safer, because the more time you leave between making backup copies, the more files are vulnerable to loss.

Write your name and some contact info on your memory cards; this way, if someone finds them, there is a chance you might get them back. You could even make the first photo on the card a picture of your contact info, so people will see it right away if they put the card into a reader.

When doing wireless backups, make sure your devices are using Bluetooth or some other local version of Wi-Fi, and not your data allowance! Using the hotel Wi-Fi overnight is often the best option, as you can get a clean (and free) connection and have little competition for the Wi-Fi routers.

Photos from your travels can enhance your later recall and enjoyment of your trip (they call them “memory cards” for a reason), and hopefully these tactics help you hold onto the bits and bytes)of your photo memories.

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