5 Reasons to Shoot Film When Traveling

5 Reasons to Shoot Film When Traveling

1280 720 James Tocchio

Got a trip coming up? Are you the kind of person who shoots both film and digital cameras? Then let me make a suggestion; the next time you’re traveling, leave the DSLR at home and only shoot film.

I know what you’re thinking – “But how will I upload my photos mid-trip? How will I make my friends jealous of my adventures? What about x-rays!?” Calm down and trust me. As both a photographer and traveler, leaving your digital camera at home and shooting nothing but film will be one of the most rewarding choices you’ll ever make.

Not convinced? Here are five reasons to pack film and forget hi-tech (for just a little while).

Reason 1: Film cameras are less distracting.

Digital cameras are distracting. They’re complicated, intense, and have giant display screens, and all of these things suck our attention away from where it should be. With a digital camera, we’re adjusting ISO, selecting shooting modes, and twiddling through menus while we should be spending time enjoying and exploring the people and environments around us.

And what happens after we take the shot? No matter our self control, we’re reviewing the photos, with our necks craned and eyes glued to the back of a camera. Zooming in to see if the gondola oarsman is in sharp focus. Checking the fifty frames we shot of the sprinting cheetah to find the one that’s the most exciting. Deleting extraneous photos to free up space on our memory card.

Worse than this chimping is what happens when we get a moment of down time. We’re using our technical marvel’s Wi-Fi mode, transferring our photos to our iPads, tweaking our exposures in VSCO, and sharing to FacebookInstagram, and everywhere else our envious friends’ eyeballs may fall by day’s end.

This is exhausting, so give it a break. Or rather, give yourself a break. Use your vacation to disconnect from the social rat race. Instead, take some time to look around you. Wind the advance lever. Shoot a shot on film. Lower the camera, and move on to the next experience of your trip.

Reason 2: You’ve got a phone, don’t you?

Reason number two is a compromise position, but I feel it makes the case for shooting film even stronger. Chances are good that on your next vacation you’re going to bring your cell phone. And chances are even better that your cell phone has a pretty decent digital camera built into it.

Now, I’m not saying you should use only your phone to take photos on vacation. As in my previous point, I think you should detach as much as possible from social media and technology. That said, there’s no denying the fun and excitement of sharing with people back home what you’ve been up to during your trip. So, for those few moments when you want to share an experience across your social networks, or send a photo via text to your best friend, use your phone.

But remember to quickly put it away, dig into that authentic creme brulee, and take the vast majority of your vacation photos on film.

Reason 3: Less economic risk.

If you’re shooting film, that means you’re shooting a film camera. And unless you’re sporting some kind of Plaubel or Hasselblad, film cameras are typically less expensive than their digital counterparts. That means you can fumble it into the Blue Lagoon, drag it along the Road to Hana, or bounce it down the steps of Machu Picchu without stressing that you’re out a couple thousand bucks. Pick up a fifty dollar Pentax K1000, load it with film, and worry not that you’re photographic investment is going to take a beating.

And if you’re the kind of tourist who likes to hoof it through the dangerous side of town, carrying a beat down Minolta could make you less conspicuous than someone whose face is aglow from a brightly lit LCD display. Yes, shooting film could keep you from being robbed at knife point, which, for most tourists, is something to avoid.

Reason 4: Safer storage of memories.

Here’s another purely practical reason to shoot film when traveling. The number of times I’ve lost, damaged, or accidentally formatted (yep) my memory card can’t be counted on two hands. They’re tiny, fragile, and easily lost. On the other hand, saving your precious memories on a number of rolls of film offers redundancy. Even if something happens to one roll of film, you’ve still got the others. Sure, there are hazards unique to film (such as the mentioned x-rays), but I’d rather store my memories in a number of rolls of film than put my proverbial eggs (photos) into a single basket (SD card). You get the idea.

Reason 5: Delayed gratification.

We all know digital is a better medium for taking photos. I’m not arguing that it isn’t. Shooting a DSLR gives us photos that are sharp, beautiful, and ready for viewing in an instant. But is that what we need when traveling? I don’t think so.

Imagine you’ve shot only film during the entire span of a recent trip. You’re traveling back home, by plane or car or bus, and you’re sitting there with that feeling of unique nostalgia that only comes when on the homeward leg of an amazing trip. You know you’ve taken a few hundred photos, and some of them you distinctly remember taking, but there are quite a large number that you simply can’t recall.

What’s on that film? Were the shots any good? Did you make anything worth keeping? Will they come out well? The anticipation is fantastic, and it only gets better from here.

A couple weeks later you’ve gotten your prints or scans back from the lab. You flip through, and frame after frame you’re rewarded with an awesome sense of discovery – or rather, rediscovery. A fleeting scene captured as you streaked by in a taxi. A meal you’d forgotten you ate. An unusual person who’d crossed your path only momentarily. All captured on film. You relive those moments, many of which you’d completely forgotten, as each frame brings its own unique memory. Small moments that you’d whimsically captured are gifted back to you weeks after the memories and tan lines have faded.

Sure, digital can do this too. But there’s something far less magical about it. Only film can give us that sense that we’ve frozen a moment in time, and that moment is now ours forever.

And that’s my take on it. From my own experience (I recently took nothing but Portra and a Rollei 6008 to New York City) I can tell you that shooting film on a trip is the best way to capture a time away. Give it a shot, and let me know if it worked out.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • I couldn’t agree more. When we recently went to Hawaii, I took nothing but a Nikonos (we planned on snorkeling) and 10 rolls of Velvia. I was not disappointed. Sure, I got the exposure wrong a few times, and focusing a Nikonos is a guessing game at best. But the best photos from that trip–everything from landscapes to portraits to underwater shots–are incredible, with the look and feel that only comes with film.

  • Those are five reasonable reasons to shoot film.

  • I don’t know how many of us who shoot film will agree hear five reasons as a driving factors to shoot film. For me the one and only reason of shooting film is the asethic value.

  • Excellent. The only time I shoot digital is if the client needs it right now. I can’t get enough of film.

  • Bo Belvedere Christensen November 14, 2016 at 5:37 am

    So far I only shoot Black and White film as I want to develop myself and haven’t had the courage to delve into Colour film processing.
    Therefore, I still carry a digital compact camera (a Fujifilm XQ1) with me on travels. But for most important pictures like awesome landscapes and portraits I use either a Canon AE-1 program (35mm camera) or a Mamiya 645 (120 Roll film camera), so actually I couldn’t agree more to your views. But I do like the quality of the XQ1 compared to the camera in a camera phone.
    Another point is that afterwards I feel more like I have frozen the moment by looking at the negatives than by looking at the digital scans. And if i like to make a larger enlargement, I can always make a new scan in higher resolution. Especially from the 4,5×6 cm negatives there is just so much detail hidden to be recovered 🙂

  • I am afraid I will be shooting both digital and film on my trip to Myanmar (Burma) leaving later this week, to do a classic car rally up in the far north east of the country (Shan State) in a 1969 Mercedes 280SL, heavily modified for extreme/rough road rallies with air suspension, truck wheels and 8 ply tyres, etc. As well as my enormous digital Leica SL with 24-90/f2.8, I am going to take a Leica CL and either its original 40 Summicron C or a 35 ASPH Summicron. Why the CL? Well it is just about the smallest film camera I have, apart from two 8 x 11 mm cameras, a Minox C and a Sharan Rolleiflex and with those you are limited to either very slow film or small enlargements. The CL is easy to use with a coupled TTL meter.

    After reading about it on this Blog, I am taking 6 rolls of Fomapan 200 with me, which I am very impressed with. It has the detail of FP4 with another stop of speed and is I think a tad contrastier than FP4. It avoids the occasional grittiness of the 400ISO films or the over smoothness of the chromogenic films like XP400. I have searched around in various drawers and found an e39 yellow filter. From a boat trip in Myanmar earlier this year, I know the sky can often be quite flat and pale. Also there is often a combination of dust and low lying mist, which makes it quite hazy. A yellow filter helps a bit with both of these problems. Now I just have to decide on the 35 ASPH or 40 Summicron. The 35 is technically by some margin, the better lens but the 40 might just give the better feel with B&W film. Must remember to put a spare SR43 silver oxide button cell in my bag for the PX625 mercury battery replacer in the CL. Chances of finding an SR43 cell in Shan State are low. I am taking an inverter with me to charge our digital camera batteries in the rally car.


  • I’d disagree slightly, only slightly though, and say take digital at the same time but not a bulky DSLR. I did this when I went to Italy earlier in the year, my mirrorless Olympus EM5 at the same time as my film OM1, but then again the camera on my phone is a bit rubbish. The film shots were for a project, the digital ones a different project, this is what came out; https://the6millionpman.wordpress.com/category/projectsongoing-series/nine-days-in-italia/

  • If you get stuck in your photography process it sometimes could help changing gear or technics but there is no guarrantie for it allthough.
    I have been gone through this phase myself starting analoge photographie again because digital workflow get stuck in boring meaningless pictures.
    But to be honest all depends on the 15cm behind the viewfinder and cameras or systems dont matter.

  • I took a Nikon N2000 and 5 rolls of T-Max 400 with me to Ireland in September. I also took my usual digital point-and-shoot, a Canon S95. I took both because omg the processing costs of shooting only film. As it was, processing and scans of those 5 rolls was $42. I shudder to think about cost had I shot only film.

  • I was with you, all the way, until I got to this bit:

    “We all know digital is a better medium for taking photos. ”

    The best medium for taking photos is the one that suits the photographer and how they work, and delivers results they like/want/need (depending on their situation).

    That may be film with a $5 Praktica, a Hasselblad or even a Linhof, or it might be digital with a phone, a DSLR or a digital Hasselblad. Any of those will be, potentially, the best solution—depending on the photographer. You are entitled to your opinion about which medium is best but please don’t speak for me—I may not agree with your point of view.

  • Yes! The only digital camera I own is on my phone. So I only ever take that and my film camera away with me. I love the fact you can’t remember all the pictures you took, you may remember some because you think they’ll work great but sometimes you look back at them all and find that the ones you forgot are the best 🙂

  • Jeremy H. Greenberg November 15, 2016 at 7:50 am

    All legit reasons and I can concur that they are all valid. Film & Phone is the winning combo. !

    • Randle P. McMurphy November 16, 2016 at 11:02 am

      Not sure if I get your Point – dont you edit your pictures ?
      Because this works best on a digital Workflow based on RAW Shot files
      Using Film the Scanner is the Limit
      Using a Phone the files are…

  • “We all know digital is a better medium for taking photos. I’m not arguing that it isn’t.”

    Huh?! This seems at odds with virtually everything I’ve read on this site previously and how much you love film and film cameras!

    • James – Founder/Editor November 15, 2016 at 6:41 pm

      I knew this line would raise some eyebrows. I do love film and when I’m shooting for fun I will always shoot film. But most of my photography is digital – work, things for family and friends, events, product shots. I was just admitting that digital is a better way to take a picture so that I could hopefully avoid the article being written off as romantic and impractical.

      • “I was just admitting that digital is a better way to take a picture”

        There you go again. Not an absolute at all. It might be for you, but you phrase it as if it is sacrosanct.

        It isn’t.

        • James – Founder/Editor December 2, 2016 at 11:46 am

          Okay I hear you. How about reading any of the other hundred-something articles about how much we love film and we’ll call it even.

          • This is a really old post, but I’m new here. I actually agree with both of you. James, there are really numerous articles on here about film cameras and your love of film is undeniable.
            But I also agree with the posters countering the line about digital cameras. I don’t think digital holds a candle to film photography other than it’s more convenient and infinitely cheaper to buy an SD card to use indefinitely than to buy film and processing.

            Great site, though. I’m happy to see folks doing their part to prove film isn’t dead.

          • Thanks pal! We’ll keep at it.

  • Wonderful article.
    Only one thing I would change, the word jealous to envy. Jealous is used incorrectly when envy is the correct word. Jealous means feeling or showing suspicion of someone’s unfaithfulness in a relationship. The reason folks use jealous to replace envy is they do not know the difference between those words so they use that which they are familiar with. The masses using a incorrect word does not make its usage correct. When any word is used incorrectly it perpetuates a lack of knowledge for word usage and grammar.

    All that said, I very much enjoyed your article. It is spot-on.

    • James – Founder/Editor February 16, 2017 at 8:08 pm

      adjective: jealous
      feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages.
      “he grew jealous of her success”
      synonyms: envious, covetous, desirous; More
      antonyms: proud, admiring

  • I’m currently on a two week trip, and made this exact decision for all these reasons. Plus one more, at least for me: my Pentax ME Super is much smaller and lighter than my K-5 dSLR. For a long trip, portability is key.

  • I’ve just come back from a week in Lisbon. Took a three camera kit. Nikon FM2n loaded with Ilford Delta 3200 for nights, Nikon FE loaded with Ektar 100 plus an iPhone 7. The iPhone got pickpocketed so I was left with the two Nikons. Also I accidentally loaded a roll of Lomo 400 B&W into the FE thinking ot was the Ektar having set the ISO at 100. What I got back was fabulous 3200 grain for night time street shots, wonderful coloured Ektars which no digital sensor can match and over-exposed 400s which were easily adjustable. Overall much better shots than I could ever expect with a heavy and power-hungry digital SLR. Everything about this article is spot on. One other there is certain magic with a film shot which a digital can never replicate.

  • Reason 4 is mostly false. You do know that color film will fade over time. I’ve learned that the hard way.

    • Some color film. The old Ektachrome I had some issues with. But I have color pics from the 1950’s that have not lost any color. Of course you keep them out of the sun.

  • Dan (@Danvil3351) January 8, 2018 at 4:41 pm

    I’m down at the Gulf on the border between Florida and Alabama for the month of January 2018 and I left my Fuji digital camera at home. I brought a Fuji GA645 medium format, Nikon F2AS and a Canonet QL17 GIII with me and an assorted collection of color in B&W film in 120 & 35mm format. The Fuji can be used like a medium format P&S or Aperture Priority or manual camera, the Nikon F2AS is fully manual but does have a meter and I use my Canonet in manual mode without the meter. I love the look of film and all of the filters from VASCO or and one else can’t look as good as film in my eye. I’ll also have the negatives for decades and don’t have to worry about a disk drive dying and losing my images. Looking forward to seeing my results when I get back home in early 2/18. I like your site and it has lots of good information for us film shooters.

  • It was partly to avoid theft/robbery and partly to avoid battery dependency that I spent the past 15 years taking an all manual SLR abroad with me. A Nikon F plain prism with 24/35/50 lenses and a Weston Master V. Most of the time, nobody takes any notice of the ancient kit and the camera would make a bloody good weapon if anyone f@&£s with me. Thankfully, no-one has, even in run down urban areas of third world countries.

  • There is this thing as well that you feel you are making the photograph, of course in part is an illusion as there is the lab and the process to scan for the most of us, but without filters and digital aids nor post-processing you are naked with you and your composition. Said that I use a little Sigma for compositions in equivalence to 50mm and a little Fujifilm DL super mini for 28mm for wider shots.

  • A year ago we went to Europe for three weeks and was all set to take one or two film cameras and iPhone. At the very last minute I switched to crop sensor DSLR, pocket Sony digital. Why, I was worried about putting film through scanners. We went on a cruise for part of our trip. Every time we got on and off the boat my camera had to go through a scanner. How do you all get around this problem. Back 15 years ago all I took were film cameras and did not have problems. But there were a LOT less scanners back in 2000 than today.

  • James, BTW, I absolutely agree with all five of your comments when it comes to still photos for pleasure. I use a number of favorite films all the time and some new ones too. As long as I use a good lab nearly every time I get my photos back I wish I had used more film. But those pesky Xray /scanning machines worry me.

    • I know they make the lead bags, but I’m not sure how well they actually work. I think the only way to really get peace of mind, if we’re worried about x-rays, is to ask for hand inspections.

      • James – They do make lead bags. They work. If interested google this topic and you will see the comments that made me not take film cameras to Europe. I do think that if you only go through security once in each direction and have slower speed film you will be OK, maybe. I have been lead to believe by comments that in Europe it is harder to get hand inspection. But I want to point out that I did not try. I use film all the time in the US but do not take it through x ray scanners. I think if you go to a country with film cameras, buy the film in that country, and develop before you get home that would be the best way.

        • Every time I have asked for a hand-inspection of my film bag, I have been flatly turned-down. Sometimes, but not often, they say “no” nicely.

          However, I am told that x-rays are really only an issue with proper high-speed film — 400ASA and below are not affected.

          Of course, I’m not sure what repeated exposure to x-rays will do.

          When I travel with film, I use a Filmsafe bag or a small Hama “Film-Safe X” container that holds four rolls of 35mm .

          Have never had a problem with airport machines causing fogging.

  • I was only thinking about this very thing this week, while longing for another trip to Paris and Berlin, that the freedom of shooting film is all the above reasons, and ONE more: No cables, no chargers, no spare batteries, no extra SD cards, SD card readers and no backup hard drive. That is a lot of free space in my suitcase.

  • Jay Dann Walker in Melbourne May 19, 2021 at 6:14 pm

    This article reads as well and is as timely now as it was five years ago – to the current generation of ‘digi snappers’ we film users must seem as quaint and quirky as dinosaurs, but there are many advantages to travel with film cameras. Weight (or lack thereof) being probably the most important one to those of us who are no longer young and able to carry packs of gear, like the gentleman who posted about his sojourn in Mexico with his three cameras. I did wonder if he took along a porter to carry his camera bag…

    Film and digital photography are two entirely different beasts and it is high time more photographers of both ‘persuasions’ accepted this fact and went along with it. We can use one for something and the other for other things. They function best together as travel companions and not antagonists.

    The Covid crisis of the past year has seen most of us very confined to areas close to home (or in some cases entirely at home for many months). Thankfully, in most Western countries this now looks to be coming to an end, and in the next six months we may (touch wood here) be able to travel to places we haven’t seen for too long.

    At age 70+ (in fact closer to 75) I travel super light. This means one small bag (left in my hotel room) with the basic necessities and a backpack for my laptop (left in my room safe) and as little camera gear as I can get by with. A Panasonic Lumix GF1 satisfies all my digital needs. I use it for color snaps of the ‘tourist postcard’ sort and for images to email home and to friends.

    With film, I shoot only B&W. HP5 or XP2 . For two months in Southeast Asia, I take 20 rolls in a metal K-ration can. Often I shoot more. I can buy fresh films in shops in Bangkok or Singapore, altho’ in some capital cities like Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta it isn’t easy to find film.

    Cameras are a personal choice. For limited travel to at most 2-3 places during my entire trip, I take a Contax G1 with 28-45-90. The G1 is all-electronic and (like its owner) no longer young, so I take a backup Contax. The entire kit weighs very little and goes into a small padded bag in my backpack.

    For more stenuous journeys, a Nikkormat FT2, two lenses (28-85 for me, or a 60 macro, a 24 in place of the 28 or a 180 for long shots of markets sellers or jungle beasts) and a Gossen meter.

    As a minimalist option, a Rolleicord Vb, a 16 exposure kit, a lens hood, one or two filters and 20 rolls of Ilford XP2 120 film would do for me.

    I usually take only one camera. If my G1 malfunctions or expires – I can go back and reshoot next time, ha!

    The are many advantages of going light with film. Less weight, less gear to carry, older cameras/lenses so if something is damaged/stolen it can be cheaply replaced. Only basic electronics. Film is a slower process, more Zen. Time to contemplate and observe and not hide behind a camera and machine-gun pixel-pictures.

    I take a mobile phone for communication. The ergonomics do not suit me and I dislike the images. Of course YMMD.

    The greatest advantage of pairing ‘analog’ and digital lies in the opportunities and options the combo offers. In using both we have the best of both worlds and most of us are delighted and happy with the versatility of the two mediums.

    Sadly, we have to accept that the world has changed and many things we’ve enjoyed in the past are now not the same. We must do our travel while the going is still good. For me, film is the way to maximise the experiences of new cultures and places.

  • “… if you’re the kind of tourist who likes to hoof it through the dangerous side of town, carrying a beat down Minolta could make you less conspicuous than someone whose face is aglow from a brightly lit LCD display. Yes, shooting film could keep you from being robbed at knife point, which, for most tourists, is something to avoid.”

    Hi James,

    I’m not on board with your assertion that carrying a film camera is the safer and less theft-friendly option is very realistic. If you are around people who steal (which is pretty much everywhere), most any camera around your neck, in your hand, or up to your eye will make you conspicuous, and thus, a target. I don’t think that a few dirtbags roaming around seeking opportunities to relieve people of their valuables would pass you by because of your beat down Minolta. If you are out in public and have a camera, or phone, wallet, or purse, you are a potential target for theft, period. Go ahead and leave that beat down Minolta unattended in a busy airport and see how long it lasts.

    It’s not all about economic risk. As for me, if I were concerned about getting jacked while walking around with my camera, I would be more worried about losing my FM2n or F3 than my D7200. That FM2n has been with me through thick and thin since the mid-1990s and losing it would be like a mule kick to the chest. In fact, I bought a D700 back in about 2009 and paid over $2,000 US for it. I enjoyed using it and even pampered it a bit because of its high cost, but even then I wouldn’t have traded my FM2n for it. Shooting film has a personal connectedness with me that I don’t get with digital. I still have and use the D700, and even in 2021 it’s a fine camera – but it will never be an FM2 or F3 or Spotmatic F.

    The other four reasons for shooting film are spot on.

  • I am a film shooter and only a film shooter. My plans call for buying and processing film in-country as a way to get around X-rays. Hand checked film in the US will work, but elsewhere not so much..At Heathrow I’ve had a guy unceremoniously chuck my film into the the Xray machine, and the same in Mexico as well. I think film sales and processing abroad is a niche market that could and should be encouraged, perhaps including mailing of negatives home.

  • I don’t think all the assertions in this article hold up as true anymore, in 2022, 6 years after this article came out. Prices for film cameras, vintage lenses ens, and film itself are considerably higher now than in 2016. I would argue that for traveling you could spend at least as much for a K1000 2-lens kit as you could for a used Nikon D3200 or D3300 with kit zoom lens, which you can find for $200-250. Certainly the newest, flashiest digital cameras cost way more than vintage film gear, but if you need one of those rigs for whatever reason, then shooting your trip on film likely isn’t a consideration. I think an update might be useful.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio