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Backing Up Travel Photos On The Go

How to backup travel and vacation photos in the field using an iPhone, Wireless Hard Drive, Android Tablet

By , 30th July 2017 in Tutorials

With an awesome holiday coming soon, I'm going to be taking lots of once in a lifetime shots and I don't want to run the risk of losing any precious photos. Airline baggage restrictions mean I cannot take my laptop, so how can I backup all my photos securely whilst on holiday?

I looked at several options before travelling and found that my preferred method actually didn't work that well, a high tech solution was unreliable and the old fashioned method worked the best! Here is what I found testing various options for backing up travel photos on the go.

Backing up Photos using iPad/iPhone and SD Card reader

I thought this option was going to be the best, and it used the least equipment and was the cheapest. The idea was to use the Apple SD Card to Lightning cable to copy photos from the SD Card to the Cloud over Wi-Fi. This tutorial uses my iPhone, but the method is the same for any iPad or Mac running iOS 10+ and a similar method can be followed for Android smartphone and tablets.

The airline does not allow me to take my laptop, and it's too large and heavy to travel with anyway. I still need a way to backup my photos from my SD cards to a hard drive, or better yet the cloud. That way I can be sure that if anything happens to my SD cards, camera or phone, my photos are safe in cloud storage.

I'm using the Lightning to SD Card adapter sold by Apple. Other products may exist. Android users can get a USB OTG (On The Go) adapter and then plug in a memory card reader of their choice.

You can then import the photos from the SD Card to your iPhone or iPad Photo application, and from there use the Apple iCloud or Google Drive applications to sync photos to the cloud when you get back to the hotel or find a wireless hot spot, or using your 4G connection if you have the data allowance.

Apple Lightning to SD Card Reader
Apple Lightning to SD Card Reader
Using Apple Lighting to SD Card Reader to backup holiday photos
Using Apple Lighting to SD Card Reader to backup holiday photos

This method seems to work quite well, but unfortunately, on my Apple iPhone I cannot upload directly from the SD Card, the photo must first be imported to the phone's storage. This can be a problem if, like mine, your phone does not have much storage space. Depending on how many photos you have to import, you can break this into batches. The import process will allow you to delete photos from the SD card once they are imported, which would save re-importing images already added, however, this does increase the risk of photo loss.

I found that uploading one days worth of photos to the cloud (around 30GB!) took too long, indeed it took nearly 3 days. Clearly, this isn't a good option for large numbers of photos, and you can forget uploading video. In theory, it should sync, but I was never able to actually upload a complete video, it would always time out after uploading 60-70%. Due to either a timeout or incorrectly reporting a successful import, I actually lost a few videos which were incomplete when I downloaded them from the cloud. Good job it was just a test.

WD My Passport Wireless Pro

The next option I tried was the WD My Passport Wireless Pro, which is a portable hard drive that can be used to stream media to mobile devices like iPhones and iPads. It can also be a cost-effective option for backing up photos while travelling since the drive features an in built SD Card reader which allows photos to be copied from the card directly to the hard drive without using a computer.

WD My Passport Wireless Pro Unboxing
WD My Passport Wireless Pro Unboxing
WD My Passport Wireless Pro Unboxing
WD My Passport Wireless Pro Unboxing

Simply insert an SD card into the reader and press the button to begin the copy process. You can also connect smartphones and tablets wirelessly to view photos and monitor the copy process.

WD My Passport Wireless Pro Unboxing
WD My Passport Wireless Pro Unboxing

If that wasn't enough reason to buy one, it also features a built in 6400mha power bank which powers the drive on the go and can also be used to charge phones and tablets.

My strategy will be to use lots of low capacity SD Cards, probably one per day. At the end of the day import each SD Card to the hard drive and store that SD card safe. This allows me to have two copies of my photos, one I'll keep on my person, the other will kept safely in the hotel room.

There are only two downsides I can see with this device. One is the hideous USB3 cable which comes provided. It is only 30cm long so plugging it into a wall outlet involves moving furniture around or finding something to prop the device on whilst charging. Longer replacement cables are available but quite expensive.

Secondly, the device is unsupported in Linux which means I have to spool up my old Windows installation to transfer files off the drive.

Unfortunately, the unit I ordered for my holiday was delivered faulty, and the replacement did not arrive in time for my holiday, so I've not actually been able to test this in the field yet. I shall update once I have given it a complete test.

Android Tablet and USB Hard Drive

The final option I tried, and the one I will take on holiday, is my old Android tablet, the Asus Transformer Prime T201. I've had this for several years now, the past few in a box in the cupboard since I've upgraded to an iPad. I was recently reminded that the tablet features a full-size SD Card reader and USB sockets, so I wondered if I could use this tablet to copy files from the SD Card directly to a 2.5" laptop hard drive in a USB caddy. I actually had all the parts I needed lying around, so I was able to connect up a 250GB laptop hard drive to an old SATA to USB controller and surprisingly Android detected it as a USB Mass Storage Device and mounted it as a partition for me. Next, I inserted my SD Card and low and behold a simple drag and drop was all that was needed to transfer the photos to the hard drive.

ASUS Transformer Prime TF201
ASUS Transformer Prime TF201

I think keeping a copy on the hard drive and a copy on the SD card, one per day or two, should provide enough data redundancy to avoid losing photos. Obviously, I'll have to go careful not to throw around the hard drive in my bag but this should be a good solution.

Do you have any tips for backing up photos in the field? Have you used the Lightning SD card readers? I'd love to hear your tips as well! Please share in the comments below.


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