Choosing the Perfect Travel Camera

An essential piece of gear every traveler carries is a camera. We all want photos and video to document our adventures and to spark memories in the years to come. Plus, of course, sharing them with your friends and family back home. A camera can be a big expense, however, and there are so many options out there. How do you know which one is the best one for you? This guide will break down what to think about and make recommendations (in various budgets!) for each category. Plus, my pick for the best overall travel camera (the one I use!).

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1. Size (& Weight!)

Cameras can vary widely in size, from a few inches you can fit in any pocket, to larger bodies with multiple lenses that fill their own bag. Their weight tends to vary proportionately with their size. These can factor into both luggage size & weight limits for your suitcase and for what you are willing to carry with you day to day. From personal experience, I’ve found that even middle-ground cameras became a hassle to lug around with me throughout the day and to fit nicely into my bag. As a carry-on only traveler, I’ve gone extremely small and minimalist with my camera choices.

You’re probably going to have your phone with you whatever else you pack. If the phone camera is a good one, you don’t need to pack an additional camera at all! If you do want a separate camera, however, there are some pretty tiny ones out there that still take quality photos. If you’re into photography and your travel mode allows for more gear (a road-trip or group travel, for example, where you can leave things in a vehicle), size may not be a concern for you.

Best Carry-On Only/Minimalist Cameras

iPhone 11 ($$$)

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  • Dual wide-angle cameras, ƒ/1.8 aperture
  • Night Mode for low light
  • Smart HDR to balance dark areas
  • 4K, 60fps video

Huawei P30 ($$)

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  • 3 rear cameras:
    40 MP, f/1.8, 27mm (wide)
    16 MP, f/2.2, 17mm (ultrawide)
    8 MP, f/2.4, 80mm (telephoto)
  • Front Camera: 32 MP, f/2.0, (wide)
  • Video: 2160p@30fps

Motorolla Moto G7 ($)

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  • 12MP + 5MP dual rear cameras
  • f/1.8 aperture
  • 8 MP front-facing camera
  • Screen flash for low light selfies

GoPro Hero 7 ($$)

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  • 4K60 Video
  • 8x Slo-Mo Video
  • 12MP Photos
  • HDR, burst shooting
  • Voice Control

Canon Elph ($)

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  • 20.2MP
  • 12x optical zoom
  • DIGIC 4+ Image Processor for low light
  • 1080p HD video
  • Wifi enabled

2. Manual Controls

How much of a photography geek are you? Do you want to be able to change the f-stop, aperture, and ISO? Do you want a light meter and manual focus? You can certainly get better quality photos if you have the knowledge to manually adjust every shot. To get top quality, though, you’ll have to go up in camera size and budget. Many point-and-shoot style cameras are more budget-friendly and have certain manual setting options. These can be a good compromise, especially if you have zero photography knowhow (but want to learn) or want to be able to occasionally just point and shoot quickly on automatic.

Best Cameras with Manual Controls

Sony a6400 ($$$)

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  • 24.2MP
  • Expandable ISO 100 – 102400
  • 0. 02 sec (“real-time”) autofocus
  • Time-lapse, slow/quick motion 4K HDR videos
  • 180° tiltable LCD screen for selfies

Panasonic Lumix G ($$)

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  • 16MP
  • Micro Four Thirds sensor
  • Save frame, extracts high-resolution photos from 4K Ultra HD video
  • High-speed autofocus

Canon Powershot G7 ($$)

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  • 20.1 MP
  • DIGIC 7 Image Processor for low light
  • f/1.8 (W) – f/2.8 (T) aperture
  • 1080p Full HD video
  • 180° tilting screen for selfies
  • RAW mode / JPEG mode

3. Travel Activities

What will you be doing on your trip(s)? Are you a traveler who likes to be outdoors and active? Think about what features might complement your travel activities. Road-trippers might want a time-lapse video option for some cool shots of long drives. If you’ll be around water, having a water-resistant camera is important. Or a fully-waterproof camera can be taken into the water with you for super-cool shots when scuba-diving, snorkeling, or just splashing around. Solo travelers might want a timer, app or remote to let them snap full-body photos of themselves at a distance. Group travelers might want wide-angle capabilities to fit everyone in.

Best Action Cameras

GoPro Hero 7 ($$)

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  • 4K60 Video
  • 8x Slo-Mo Video
  • 12MP Photos
  • HDR, burst shooting
  • Voice Control
  • Waterproof

Insta360 ONE ($)

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  • 4K 360° video
  • 24 MP
  • Invisible Selfie Stick instantly disappears
  • Bullet Time, you move through the center of a scene while the ONE orbits around you
  • Cinematic Editing
  • Multi-View split-screen layouts
  • Waterproof

AKASO EK7000 Pro ($)

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  • 4K/25fps, 2.7K/30fps, 1080P/60fps videos
  • 16 MP photos 
  • Built-in Electronic Image Stabilization
  • 2.4GHz wireless wrist remote control
  • Waterproof

Action cameras also have tons of mounts, clips, and straps available separately in order to attach them to helmets, bags, heads, chests, wrists, paddles, handlebars, car hoods, gear, wherever you want to get that super cool, hands-free angle!

4. Ease of Photo Printing/Posting

Too many amazing photos end up just living on the memory cards in our phones and cameras. If you want to actually get your photos physically out there, you might want a camera that enables that. Of course, a phone camera is easiest for posting your photos. You can do it right from the same device. For immediate printing, though, there are some fun Polaroid-style cameras available. Some even print photo stickers to paste into a travel journal, album, or scrapbook with ease. These cameras are definitely budget-friendly, but keep in mind you do have to purchase special film or paper for them.

Best Polaroid Cameras

Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 ($)

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  • Brightness auto-adjust
  • f=60 mm, F=12.7
  • Double Exposure Mode, 2 images are produced on 1 film sheet
  • Bulb Mode, the shutter remains open to photograph a light trail
  • Macro Mode
  • Kids Mode

Polaroid Snap ($)

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  • 10-megapixel sensor
  • MicroSD card slot to also save photos digitally
  • Selfie mirror
  • Self-timer
  • Prints have adhesive backing to stick anywhere

5. To Drone or Not to Drone?

That is the question. Drones have become fairly compact and lightweight, making them easier to bring on more kinds of trips. They can give you a really cool angle and perspective on your destinations, often one you can’t even see yourself from the ground. They are more cumbersome to carry around than a pocket camera, however, and require more effort and space to use.

You also need to consider that drones have been banned in a lot of popular tourist areas, usually for security or safety concerns. Some countries have banned them entirely or require a special license to use them, so be sure to check the laws in your destination. If the amazing perspective of drone photos and video outweighs the hassle of carrying them and perhaps not being allowed to use them, then go for it.

Best Travel Drones

DJI Mavic Air ($$$)

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  • 3-axis gimbal
  • 32MP sphere panoramas
  • 4K 30fps video
  • Slo-Mo mode
  • HDR photos
  • ActiveTrack
  • 21 minutes flying time

DJI Spark ($$)

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  • 12MP Photos
  • 1080P/30 Video
  • 2-Axis Stabilized Gimbal Camera
  • Top speed of 31 mph
  • 16 minutes flying time
  • 3D obstacle-detection system, Fly Home & Following modes

Holy Stone HS720 ($$)

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  • 2K FHD Camera with Image Stabilization
  • 2048 x 1152P high-resolution images and videos
  • 90°adjustable lens
  • 26 minutes flying time
  • Fly Home & Following modes

Holy Stone HS110D ($)

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  • 120° wide angle
  • 720P HD FPV camera
  • Altitude Hold
  • Headless Mode
  • Smartphone app control
  • 3D flips
  • VR headset compatible

Overall Best Travel Camera

Personally, I own a GoPro. I think this is the best overall option for travelers. It is so versatile. Known for outstanding video, GoPros also take great photos with several feature modes, wide & narrow angles, and MP options. The only drawback is a lack of manual controls. They’re very small, however, making them a cinch to pack and carry around. Plus, they’re extremely durable and can stand up to the rigor of travel. The waterproof feature is amazing for all kinds of weather and activities. And the number of optional mounts, clips, and straps available make them perfect for whatever activities you might take part in anywhere you go. While they’re not the cheapest camera on this list, they are far from the most expensive. A good budget choice.

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