How to Organize and Back Up Your Travel Photos

9 min read
One of your most valuable memories of your travels are your photos and videos.

Most of us are traveling around with both a smartphone and a camera on hand. Always snapping shots can build up to quite a few photos you want to keep safe. If you’re anything like me, you might shoot your photos and videos in RAW which means they take up A LOT of space. Adding to that, I have my phone in my hand most of the time and am continuously snapping away for Instagram, Instagram stories or Snapchat (are you following me yet?).

All of these photos and videos add up to a lot of data bytes, because in the end, that’s what it’s all about. Any traveler worries about their precious memories getting lost or maybe even stolen. Therefore it is very important to keep track of where these photos are and to back up your travel photos as much as possible. I’ve heard so many horror stories about people losing all their photos after a hard drive drops on the floor, an SD-card breaks (they do break!) or your laptop crashes. While I struggled with backing up my photos in the beginning, I have now found a system that works perfectly for me.

Backing up and organizing your travel photos while traveling can be a hassle!

Therefore you need a good system. This will save you loads of time and give you peace of mind. Trust me, I’ve spent several days just organizing and backing up my travel photos. Once you figure out a system that works for you, don’t change it. I repeat, whatever you do, KEEP TO THE SYSTEM. It will save you soooooo much time!

When it comes to backing up your photos, there are many different ways to do so. Some are more suited for traveling through certain areas while others are simply not an option. More on that later in this post!

How to organize your travel photos

Before you can even think about backing up your photos you have to come up with an organization system. Those who know me might think I’m anything but organized (I lose everything all the time), but when it comes to my photos, I have got it down!

There are two ways to organize your photos before backing them up

I have recently switched organizations and with recent, I mean this week. For the past couple of years, I have been organizing my shots according to this very simple method and it worked absolutely fine.

It’s so easy, but here we go. You start off organizing all your shots by year and then by country. This works perfectly if you plan to visit a different country every year or if you don’t pass through the same country several times. Here’s an example:


As I traveled more and I visited certain countries multiple times over the years, I realized my system needed to be updated. For example, if I wanted certain photos of the Northern Territory I would have to go through the years of 2015 and 2016. It became hard to find certain photos and I completely had to rely on my memory to locate a photo from a certain road trip in which time was a vague memory.

So I changed my system! I am now using countries as the main division and consequently organizing it by years. In that manner, you don’t have to remember in which year you visited a certain country and you can find all the photos in the same folder.


How to back up your travel photos while on the road?

Back up photos via the Cloud or WIFI

I’m a big fan of doing everything digitally and I had figured out a whole system before I left. I had synced up my Dropbox account and had set up a Google Photos backup. I probably had a couple of more backups that I now forgot about because I never used them.

While traveling I couldn’t use any these nifty WIFI connected backup systems! Why? Because there was often no WIFI!

Living in a Western European country such as Belgium, I didn’t even consider the state of the WIFI in other countries such as Australia, Japan and New Zealand. Even with countries with an excellent internet connection, I could only access said internet while staying inside the hostel. Only then would I be able to sync my photos to the net. Even with a fast connection, the bandwidth just didn’t allow for all my iPhone photos to get onto the cloud. The photos on my camera were even bigger and therefore this was absolutely not an option.

To conclude, syncing and backing up photos via WIFI was not an option while actively traveling.


Back up your travel photos via SD-Cards

Buying several SD-cards while traveling and keeping these as a backup of your photos is an affordable and very common method used by several travelers.

The only problem with this method is that SD-cards can break. They are also very small and therefore can easily get lost. I have lost over three SD-cards and broke one in half. Let’s say this is not the way to go.

If you are very good at keeping track of all these SD-cards, then go for it!

Pro-tip: don’t store all of your SD-cards in the same location.

The good thing about the SD-card method is that you can even transfer photos from your phone or tablet onto an SD-card. With non-Apple products this is super easy since you can probably insert an SD-card into the appliance itself. With Apple product you can buy a nifty tool that connects the two pieces.

Back up your travel photos via Laptops and iPads

Several people use their iPad as a back-up for their photos. Most of the time, these photos get stored in the iCloud and will therefore also be found on your iPad. While this might work for iPhone photos, I don’t think this is the most sustainable way to back up your photos. iPads or iPhones (or other smartphones) have limited memory space. Meaning that your system will have to stop at some point and you will have to find another system anyway.

Keeping photos on your laptop is another method used by many people. It is easy because you don’t have to think about any other appliances. However, storing photos on just your laptop cannot be called a back-up. If your computer crashes you lose everything. Besides, storing a bunch of photos on your laptop will make it super slow. Your laptop is perfect for organizing your photos and then copying that same format onto an actual backup.


Back up your travel photos via External Hard drives

I love using external hard drives for many reasons. The first reason is that it doesn’t require any internet connection, yeay! Secondly, I don’t need to keep track of five different SD-cards or tools that are waiting to get lost.

Using external hard drives is not the cheapest method for backing up your photos as you travel. I, however, think it is the best method for me. It has worked for me during two years of traveling and I have not yet lost any information. To start this method, you will need two external hard drives.

Here is my method

External Hard drive number ONE

This is my ‘working’ hard drive. It is divided into two sections.

One part of the external hard drive backs up my computer when it is connected. I make sure to do this every two weeks. In this way, I know that I’m likely to keep the photos safe I have not yet moved onto external hard drive number one.

The second half of the external hard drive is dedicated to saving all my photos, videos and the documents from my computer. I follow the exact same structure as I use on the computer. It just makes it so much easier to find a photo.

This means that external hard drive number one contains an actual back-up of my computer AND all the RAW and JPEG files from all my travels plus all the videos. I connect this drive when I’m working in Lightroom as my Lightroom catalog is also on this drive. In other words, this drive is protected with my life as it contains almost everything.

However, this is not a back-up.

Yes, if I can’t find a photo on my laptop, I can almost always find it on this first external hard drive. If this external hard drive crashes or I drop it, I could lose everything.


Enter external hard drive number TWO!

This second external hard drive is really the way to back up your photos while traveling. All the photos I have taken during trips you can also find on this hard drive. Meaning that everything on this hard drive should be a double.

Next to the actual backup of all your photos, you can use this second drive to store heavy documents that are not that important. Files you can save only once. A good example would be movies and tv-shows you want to watch while traveling. If they get lost, it’s not really a disaster and saving them on only one external hard drive saves you space to back up your computer on the first hard drive.

Pro-tip: Store your external hard drives in different locations. In this way, you will still have all your photos if anyone steals a bag. 

Which external hard drive should you invest in?

1. SIZE: Both my external hard drives have the capacity of 1 or 2 TB. The more the merrier when you are taking about 1000 RAW photos per country.

2. SPEED: The better the connector cable between your computer and your external hard drive, the faster your data will be transferred and the less time you have to wait. Try to find the newest USB connection, USB 3.0 is your friend! There are also wireless external hard drives on the market, but they are definitely a higher price category and might not be as fast.

backup your photos while traveling

3. RELIABILITY: The dangerous part of an external hard drive is that most are still made with a spinning disk inside. If your drive is connected and the drive falls, there is a good chance that you lost a lot of information. The new SSD is a flash memory drive that isn’t susceptible to shocks as much as the traditional hard drive. The technology of these are unfortunately still quite new and therefore much more expensive for less storage space.

Pro-tip: Don’t save money on external hard drives by buying them across the world in a fake electronics store. These drives contain all your precious information, you don’t want to get stuck with a dodgy fake electronic hard drive that could erase all your information at any time!

Here is a short-list of brands I tend to use a lot and trust with my photos and documents. If you buy one of these you are on the right path to backup your photos while traveling!

1. LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt & USB 3.O 2TB

The LaCie is a popular hard drive for many photographers and people that care much for their photos. It has a bumper around the hard drive which means it should be no problem if it drops to the floor. At around 200 USD it is not the cheapest option, but it will last you. If you have some extra cash to spare, go for the SSD hard drive!

2. G-Technology GDrive USB Portable Hard Drive

Covered in a hard plastic case, this external hard disk proves to be water, pressure and dust resistance. The only downside to me is that I can only find a 1TB drive. Oh and it floats in water as well. at about 130 USD, you can buy it on amazon here.

3. Transcend 2 TB StoreJet M3 Military Drop Tested USB 3.0 External Hard Drive

Recommended by fellow bloggers Along Dusty Roads, I haven’t tried this hard drive myself. It comes in at only 100 USD for 2 TB which is really good value compared to the other ones. Buy it here.

4. Toshiba  2TB USB 3.0 2.5 Inch Hard Drive

A basic external hard drive at around 110 USD, I have two of these. I have been traveling around the world with them for the past two years and haven’t had a problem yet. They don’t have any drop protection (which in my case is quite dangerous), yet they are still very much alive! Highly recommended. Buy it here.

5. Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB  USB 3.0

I have no experience with this external hard drive but many review sites love it It is slim, light and handles 2TB of data easily. It comes at about 80 USD which is super good value for money. You can find it here.

That’s it for my system!

Yes, it does require a bit of time transferring photos from your memory card to your computer to hard drive number one and two. For me it is the best method because you can let your computer run in the background while working on other things AND you are not reliant on the internet. While traveling, the internet is not something you can rely on and therefore I have chosen for this way.

If you have a different method that works for you, please comment below. I’m a bit of an organization geek and would love to hear about how you back up your work.


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