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Tech Needs for Traveling with Your Gear Abroad

Large international airport teminal

Traveling for the job has become quite common for video producers of all levels. You have to go where the gig is. But when your travels take you to foreign parts, it's not just the language you'll need to understand. What do you do when you need to power your gear or charge your batteries?

by Jeff Chaves

Congratulations, you've landed that great opportunity! You're going overseas for a video production. The bags are packed and you've got the passport and tickets ready. You've even read some articles on the right way to pack your gear.  Then it suddenly dawns on you, "They don't use US standard 110 volt power over there do they? How can I charge my batteries? Should a bring my light kit? Can I take all this gear with me? Is it going to be a problem going through customs? What else do I need to know before my video production assignment abroad?”

Breathe. We've got some answers.

Know About the Country

This may seem obvious, but take the time to research the country before you go. Start with the tourism office for wherever you're going. They will often have a contact for media. The tourism office will have information about what media restrictions they may have and what to be aware of when you get to customs. There may even be fees involved if you're transporting a lot of equipment. The additional cost you pay to the airlines may not cover everything.

Another good site to check is the CIA Factbook. It sounds imposing but the CIA lists any travel restrictions and information about any conflicts that might be happening. Even if you are the Indiana Jones type and don't mind walking into a skirmish, it's good to know before you go.

It may also be important to find out about cultural issues. Tourism offices can help with this too. It may sound strange in our day and age, but there are places where video cameras, even small ones, are not welcome. Never assume that everyone wants to be on TV. A lesson in local customs and courtesy can go a long way to helping you get some great shots.

The Power Abroad

One of the bigger challenges, once you get in country, is power. A majority of countries on Earth use 220 volt electricity not the 110 volt that we use in North America. The tourism web sites mentioned above can give you information on the power and plug type needed.

Fortunately, many products today are sold around the world so finding adapters for established countires in Europe or Asia, for example, is fairly easy. But what about developing nations or extremely rual territories? If you are traveling to Africa or Central/South America you may want to think about different gear. There are battery packs available for the new crop of DSLR cameras. These use standard alkaline batteries to replace the standard battery pack. One drawback could be that batteries are generally more expensive overseas. If you're relying on battery power, you may want to read up on Battery Care.

Electrician's multi-meter
An important tool that could save your gear and your project is a good multi-meter. This is an electrician's tool that shows the exact level of power in a plug or your batteries. Make sure to get one that goes up to or above 240 volts. You may find that the power in that old church or castle is not really 220v at all. It's very likely that power was added centuries after that old building was first constructed.

That goes for hotel rooms, as well. Many newer and upscale hotels will feature a US plug is the bathroom. These are designed for your small electronics like a razor or blow dryer. Be cautious because these plugs, although 110v, may not have the amperage to handle one of those multiple-battery chargers. (We blew the breaker on half the floor of a hotel one night this way.)

Light Work

Unless you are going to do all of your shooting outdoors, you're going to want to consider bringing some lights with with you. The good news is that this is easier than ever with LED lights. Many of these new fixtures can be run entirely on alkaline batteries or rechargeable packs. They do provide quality light that is lightweight and very portable. If you're not familiar with LED start here with some basics on lighting technology

What you may not know is that your current light kit may be easily switched to a different voltage. For example, Lowel lights are manufactured so that all you need is a 220v lamp and a different power cord. Check with your light kit's manufacturer to see if the power can be switched.

A Little Research

Before you head out to the airport for that international shoot, make sure you do a little homework. This can make the difference between a foreign epic and and epic failure.

Jeff Chaves is the Chief Creative Officer of Grace Pictures Inc., which he co-owns with his wife, Peggy. He got his start as an Army Broadcaster in the 1980s and spent 12 plus years working on broadcasting. Jeff left broadcast television to pursue full-time ministry.

Jeff
Chaves
August 21st, 2013

Comments

JoshuaPaul's picture

I became a member because I was intrigued by this article. I travel with a team and a good amount of gear to 7 or 8 third-world-countires a year shooting documentary footage.

 

I think it's important to note several very important things to defend against corruption and possibly losing every piece of equpment that you own to an African or Asian airport.

 

Before leaving the US, we take every piece of equipment to customs with a spreadsheat which includes sereal numbers. This prevents you having to pay certain taxes or getting hassled by security men with guns in airports abroad.

 

Also, don't travel with Pelican hardcases. They are great, they are cheap and they are durable but they also show that you have expensive gear and you will be tied up in customs and possibly lose a day of shooting unless you are willing to slip the security a few hundred bucks in cash to leave you alone (that's all they want anyways)

 

They won't tell you those things on the CIA website.