Call it the tech-savvy traveller's nightmare: when you arrive at the airport for your flight, you're told that, for security reasons, you must check your usual carry-on bag -- including all of the sensitive electronics it contains.
Even if you weren't one of the thousands of travellers hit by this nightmare-turned-reality during the most recent terrorism scare (initially, passengers departing from or passing through the United Kingdom had to check all of their electronic items), you probably wondered how you'd handle that situation.
I travel with what amounts to my own electronics store -- a notebook, a portable hard drive, a digital SLR camera with a couple of lenses, a smartphone, a digital audio player and a slew of memory cards. And as a frequent traveller, I subscribe to the carry-on creed: the very thought of checking baggage containing electronics sends shivers of panic down my spine.
How to cope?
I called several makers of electronics gear to get their tips on how travellers can best deal with today's travel challenges. The answers I got were sometimes expected and sometimes surprising.
These tips are intended as a guideline, so you can prepare yourself for the unexpected with worst-case travel scenarios in mind. When possible, you should continue to carry your electronics on board with you. If your notebook falls out of the overhead bin, at least you'll know what happened -- and who to blame.
Protect your electronics
No matter how well you pack, checking electronics equipment always carries some risk. For example, if you travel to America, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can rifle through bags at will, and when the TSA's baggage handlers do so, they do not necessarily repack things the way they found them. Other issues include such mundane considerations as theft, baggage loss and delays -- things that plagued the airline industry long before modern terrorism took to the skies.
You can keep up to date with travel advisories at the Federal Government's www.smarttraveller.com.au and don't forget to check with your airline before leaving for the airport to find out whether its baggage rules have changed.
Be prepared for anything
"The one thing I'd say is to always pack with the expectation that you may have to check something at the last minute," suggests Steve Heiner, long-time photographer and senior technical manager at Nikon. Heiner's suggestion applies to many devices besides cameras.
Ideally, your sensitive devices should be in a padded bag that can fit inside your carry-on suitcase. Says Heiner, "I typically carry a small shoulder camera bag that I put my iPod and mobile phone in, and a larger backpack bag that I can put the camera bag into. Sometimes I have a bag loosely packed that I'm already checking, so that if I need to, I can drop my camera bag into it. It adds an extra level of shock protection, so I don't have to worry about damage."