Use Your Camera To Navigate, Travel Lighter

Almost everyone carries a camera when bike touring but have you ever thought to use it for more than snapshots?

Here are two unconventional but useful tips for using your camera while traveling:

1. Take pictures of maps You’re in a city and you spot a great city map on a sign. It’s much more detailed than the map you have. Whip out your camera and take a picture. You can do this for maps you look up on Google as well. Just photograph the computer monitor. When you’re not sure which way to turn, whip out your camera and review the file. Easy peasy.

2. Document important papers – You never know when you might need a copy of your passport or proof of insurance but carrying too many photocopies and sheets of paper around can weigh your panniers down faster than a rock collection. Instead, take a photo of the documents and then upload a copy to a secure, online storage area. For example, you can attach the documents in an email and send them to yourself. That way they’ll always be accessible when you need them but you don’t have to carry any heavy paper.


  1. John
    4th April 2010 at 5:50 pm #

    It’s so simple once someone says it out loud.

  2. Doug Nienhuis
    7th April 2010 at 5:38 am #

    Great tip!

    I’ve been using my digital camera almost constantly like this, and not just on bike trips. Whenever in the past I used to get out a pen and paper and write something down, now I just photograph it. The opening hours of a store, a movie I might want to rent later, a street name I want to remember, a business card of the hotel where I’m staying, etc.

    On bike tours and other trips, I take pictures of the train station, for example, so I can show taxi drivers where I want to go if they don’t speak English. I take pictures of bus schedules and train schedules and everything else you can imagine.

    I even found taking a picture of my rear derailleur has been useful. Sometimes, when I take my bike out of its box and try to put it back together, I’m tired and for the life of me I can’t figure out how the darn thing is supposed to go on the bike and how the chain is supposed to fit. Now I just whip out my camera and look at the picture of how it was before I took it all apart. This works for all kinds of mechanical devices.

    I take pictures of my address book, my important documents as you suggest above, even the pages of my camera manuals and other technical sheets and information. I have all of these pictures uploaded to my Flickr account where I can refer to them anytime I want and from anywhere.

    I’ve even taken pictures of dishes that I like in different countries. Then when I can’t remember their names in the local language and I don’t want to go through the long and complicated “body language” process all over again (going to the kitchen and pointing at ingredients), I just show them the picture! It works beautifully.

    I’ll even shoot little video clips of places and record myself saying where this video was taken or what it is of with all the relevant information. It’s a lot faster than writing everything down.

    I keep finding new ways to use my digital camera, so your tip here is a very good one.

  3. friedel
    7th April 2010 at 6:30 am #

    Doug, what a wonderful list of ideas for using your camera in creative ways! You have thought of even more than we did… I’m taking notes 🙂

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