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How I ALMOST Lost Over 3,000 Wedding Photos and 10K Worth of Photography Gear On a Plane

Have you ever flown with over 10K worth of photography gear in carry-on only? Well, I did.. and I'll tell you my secrets and WHAT NOT TO DO!

So I finally got asked to do a destination wedding. I had to fly with my gear for the FIRST time! I did my research before even packing. I studied people like Jasmine Star and Sam Hurd to see what they brought on a wedding. I looked through Amazon to see if I needed to buy any special suitcases or travel gear.. Alas If I wanted to spend $600!

RULE NUMBER ONE: NEVER, NEVER check any precious items on the bottom of the plane. I knew that much. But I had no idea that even planes that do carry-on still will check your bags last-minute if they have to!

I get my carry-on suitcase packed- 3 cameras and five lenses, two flashes and two video lights, one softbox and one tripod. I fit most of my stuff in a camera backpack. And then I put the backpack into a large carry-on with the rest of my gear. This was my first mistake.

I hop on the first plane to South Carolina. No problem. I just put my large carry-on suitcase above me. But then I got on a lay-over to Kentucky, (By the way, try to avoid changing planes at all costs, especially if you are supposed to be somewhere. Just don't do it...) I had to RUN from one terminal literally half-a-mile to the other side of the airport. I barely made it to my gate.

Then I found out that the little hopper plane from SC to KY was so small that only 40 people could get on it. I had to check my bags right before getting on!

I didn't think anything of it on the way there. I thought to myself, "It's right below us, and they give it right back when I get off, so no problem." I am so glad that my husband in a last-minute decision decided to change up our suitcase arrangement on the way home.


So we shoot the wedding. I have over 25 memory cards in a memory card wallet in a hip pouch. (Don't laugh. I use a hip pouch every wedding for security reasons. I NEVER lose memory cards then!)

So I have all my memory cards and I save them all night to my laptop and an external hard drive right before I board the plane.

I am so glad I did.

On the little hopper plane to SC, they ask to take my bag. My husband takes out my camera bag with over 10K worth of gear and my laptop and then I put my clothes and my external hard drive in my suitcase. They ask to take the suitcase and put it under the plane.

I already had my laptop and my camera gear, so no problem.

Then there was turbulence. It was the rockiest ride ever. Even the landing felt as if we were literally skidding across the run way. People on the plane were a little nervous. I even heard one man say, "That's the worst landing I've ever had in my life." Even the flight attendant got on the loudspeaker and apologized, trying to make a joke out of it.

Because of the rocky ride and turbulence. We didn't have a walking bridge to unload it (you know, one of those covered things they bring out for you to walk into the airport?) We had to walk outside in the rain. Of course, I thought that our stuff would be right there when we got in, but no.

Our bag with the external hard drive, and my flashes was left at the plane.

Uh oh.

I ask the lady to see if I could go back. It was like there was a lock-down or something. She had to make a few calls for me to even wall outside again (escorted) to POINT to my bag (over 300 feet) away and tell the guy that it was my bag.

By the way, ALWAYS put your name on the bag or a tag of some sort! Because there was NO NAME, they thought it was a suspicious bag. Like I had weapons in it or something.


Then I get back inside the airport. The woman tells me that my bag will be in baggage claim OUTSIDE the terminal! I'll have to go through security AGAIN!

I only had 1 hour to board my plane to South Carolina. So I tell my husband to RUN to the baggage area, over 1/2 mile away and go through security again. I almost run, with a stroller (We had our 6 month old with us) and two bags to our terminal!

I wait by the phone. Five minutes left to board and my husband is not there! Finally he comes when our zone is called. No bag.

"They lost our bag," he says.

Okay, I'm about to have a heart-attack. But then I remember that I took out my camera gear backpack the last minute and my computer.

The only thing that was important was the external harddrive- OHHH.... and the 25 memory cards with their WEDDING PHOTOS!!!!

OHHHMMYYYYGGOOODDD!!!! Now I'm freaking out.

I never, never only keep a single copy of anything. Ever since I was in college and I lost a 25 page paper three days before it was due- never again!

Breathe, Breathe....


We get back to Norfolk (our town's airport) and we head straight for baggage control center- AKA the place that people come get to complain about their bag being lost or stolen. Great.

I describe my bag- a green bag with vintage flowers on it. (Thank God that it was a different looking bag and NOT black!).

Of course my name and phone number aren't on it.

(Never again).

The ladies take my statement and tell me that they will look, but it might be a few days before I get it back!

I am so sad. But then I look back to the baggage claim area.

And I saw it.

I ran- while baby carrying my 6 month old over to the baggage claim area and get my bag off the belt- right before it turns the corner!

My bag was there- all in-tacked. But my hard drive- too jostled around in the baggage claim area. Never will work again!


Well. Now I know. Lesson learned.

I am so glad that I learned to travel lightly! I am so glad that I didn't take my usual gear- two camera bags and four light stands and such! This would have been even worse if I checked all of my gear earlier on!

So I'm not going to lie- traveling with two video lights, 30 different kinds of batteries, flash units and a WHOLE bag of laptop chords and camera equipment- it did raise some eye brows at TSA!

In fact, I was the loser being held back through security to do a special check with all my gear and I had to verbally tell them what everything was. How embarrassing!

I am so glad that I left EXTRA time in my schedule for going through security.


In conclusion:

1. Don't check any backs. Make sure that you are putting your most precious things at your feet or above your head- not UNDER the plane!

2. Double or TRIPLE save everything before you board. What If I had only saved to my external harddrive? I could have LOST everything!

3. Simplify your gear. Don't take too much. Only take what you need. Make sure that when you are traveling to not have everything important all in ONE bag!

4. Give yourself extra time. Never rush traveling. Always have your documents and ID ready at every stop.


So don't almost lose an entire wedding from being stupid. Don't do what I did.


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