Traveling for Geeks: Storing Digital Photos (Which Storage Media?)

It is so easy to consume memory with your digital camera! How to store the photos en route when your memory is full?

There are many options for storing digital photographs on the road, each with their pros and cons. The best choice depends on a number of factors.

In this article I will discuss some of the options. I hope this will help you decide how to manager your digital images on your next trip.

Here are some of the major choices you have for mobile digital storage:

(Have I missed any? If so, please add your comments!)

Except for the first option, all methods assume that you will either use internet cafes (easy to find almost anywhere in the world these days) or will otherwise have access to someone else’s computer.

Your Laptop

If you are planning to bring your laptop anyhow, this is a natural choice. Otherwise, it is an expensive, bulky, theft-prone option, and not recommended.

If you do bring your laptop, I highly recommend that you back up your photos and other important data in case of theft or hardware failure. DVDs are a good choice if you have a DVD burner in the laptop, otherwise CDs assuming you have a built-in CD burner.



This is probably the easiest and cheapest option, and you can buy CDs as you go.

If you really want to hedge your bets, you can make a second copy of the CD and mail it home. Consider the reliability of mail, which is pretty good at best, and a guaranteed waste of time in some countries. Don’t depend 100% on mailed CDs unless you can send them by registered mail (unlikely for international mail).

CDs will start to take significant room in your backpack if you are space-conscious and take a lot of photos. And the jewel cases are prone to breakage. The best way to deal with this is to get a small CD wallet that holds 5 to 10 CDs (more if you need that many). This is the most compact and light storage for CDs, and provides the best protection for them.

Another potential problem with CDs is they are not very reliable, especially when burned on old and dirty equipment. This problem is compounded if you use different a different machine each time - which is highly likely.



DVDs are similar to CDs in many ways. They are probably cheaper when you consider how much they store (and the purchase price is often the same or less).

Most of the section about CDs applies to DVDs, with some additional considerations.

Firstly, DVD burners are less common than CD burners. You will probably end up filling a DVD over a period of time, probably on different computers (just like CDs, only more so). So in addition to the problems of using different computers and possibly different software each time you add to the DVD, you may not even have the equipment available to you everywhere you go. This will become less of a problem as time goes on.

Additional Memory for Camera


I think having at least two memory cards is a good idea, so that as soon as you fill up one, you can swap it, then transfer the photos to other storage.

This might be all you need - enough memory cards with enough capacity to last your whole trip. Backing up to CD or one of the other methods is still a good idea, to protect yourself against loss, hardware failure etc.

USB Flash Drive


This is not really the best option for storing your photos. There are other reasons to bring a USB flash drive, and you could certainly use one to store your favorite photos as you move along. It is rather an expensive option though. If you are bringing one anyhow, and don’t have quite enough memory for your camera, this option could help.

Micro Hard Drive



A micro hard drive consists of a 1″ hard drive in a case. It is very compact. At this writing, I have seen them up to 8GB in size.

I’m not convinced they are the way to go. Mini hard drives (discussed next) are nearly as small, have a much greater capacity, and cost less.

This is not a bad choice, but if you are considering this, a mini hard drive is probably a better choice.


Mini Hard Drive


A mini hard drive consists of a 2.5″ laptop hard drive in a case. These are very compact and of extremely high capacity. They are also very inexpensive for what you get. They are probably more reliable than CDs, on the other hand, if the hard drive fails, there go all of our photos. If you really want the best chance of protecting your photos against most foreseeable circumstances, you could use a hard drive, and mail CDs or DVDs home.

Upload to a Server

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This is a so-so option. It would be a great option except for the connection speeds you are likely to encounter make it only just barely particle. I tried this on my last trip. My file transfer lost ground on my shooting capacity, so I eventually burned CDs too.

The advantage to using a server, is that you won’t loose it! Uploading your favorite and best photos is entirely particle, and has the added bonus that you can share them with family, friends, and strangers too if you like.


On my previous trip, I used a combination of plenty of memory for my camera, server upload, and CDs.

On my next trip, I will have even more camera memory, and a mini hard drive. I will probably also upload my favorite photos to a server.

If you want the least complicated approach, use CDs. If you want the greatest capacity in the smallest package, and want to have all of your photos easily accessible, use a mini hard drive.

Do you have anything to add? Do you have a different opinion on anything you read here? Leave a comment!



[…] To read about storage technology suitable for travelling, visit this link. […]

Doug’s Travels » Archives » Traveling for Geeks: Storing Digital Photos (Which Storage Media?) / December 7th, 2006, 12:20 am / #

[…] In an earlier article on this site, I discussed ways to store your digital photographs while travelling. One of my suggestions was to bring a mini hard drive, and transfer the photographs at an internet cafe. […]

Discover Doug » Archives » Review: Macally PHR 250A USB enclosure for 2.5 inch hard drive (field test) / January 16th, 2007, 5:39 pm / #

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