Traveling with an Instant Camera FAQs

February 24, 2024

Instant Camera

Traveling with an instant camera is totally worth it—even if traveling with a bulky object can be cumbersome!

With our digital age making photography almost too easy, it’s sweet to experience that quiet intentionality that photographers experienced back in the day. 

After having an instant camera since 2014, the magic of having an on-the-spot keepsake is still there. There’s something magical (and somewhat stress-inducing, lol) about holding your breath, composing the shot, clicking, hearing the printer whirr, and waiting for the reveal of your treasure. Who needs 100 trigger-happy shots of the same thing on your iPhone when you can have that 1 beautiful, purposeful photograph that tells the story with an instant camera?

Today, the magic is definitely still there, but I do try to use it more regularly for everyday moments of joy vs. waiting for big, special occasions. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still pretty frugal with polaroid film, haha. About $1/shot ain’t cheap, fam.

Traveling with an Instant Camera at Beverly Hills Hotels

Traveling with an instant camera can bring up a lot of questions, but I gotchu! Here are some answers to your frequently asked questions on how to travel with an Instax camera on a plane, on the streets, locally, or abroad! 

Table of FAQs:

  1. Is traveling with an instant camera worth it?
  2. Where can I travel with my instant camera?
  3. Can you take an instant camera on a plane when traveling? 
  4. Can you take instax film through airport security? How do you take your instant camera safely through TSA?
  5. How do x-rays affect undeveloped instant camera film?
  6. Which instant camera should you buy for travel? What is the best instant camera for travel?
  7. Are instax cameras waterproof?
  8. What are some ways to keep your gear secure when traveling with an instant camera?
  9. When traveling with an instant camera, what are some “to do’s” and what “not to do’s”?
  10. Where do you store both undeveloped and developed instant camera film while traveling?
  11. How to carry around your instant camera?
  12. Is flying and traveling internationally with an instant camera different?
  13. So you went traveling with an instant camera—what now? 

Q1: Is traveling with an instant camera worth it?

A: Yes! I’ve traveled with an instant camera since 2014, and it’s fairly easy to learn, especially compared to a DSLR camera. I’ve enjoyed all the memories I’ve captured, and they are still as vibrant as when I shot them. The only time I may have regretted traveling with an instant camera was when I chose *not* to use it, because I was being frugal with film. 

Traveling with an instant camera also allows you to make “instant friends.” Many have never used one before and are always eager to learn about it! I love making someone’s day by taking two polaroids—one for me and one for them. 

Caution: Instant cameras do add weight and bulk and should be something you consider if you’re looking to travel light. Some locations (the country, property, establishments) may also have rules against photography so make sure to research before traveling or have a safe place to store it away (bag or in your accommodations).

Q2: Where can I travel with my instant camera? 

A: Personally, I’ve traveled with an instant camera my first time in LA, Washington DC, New York City, Oahu, Utah, Wisconsin, Spain, France, Italy, and around my hometown Greenville, SC. I usually come home with a couple of shots and either tack them on my polaroid wall, insert them in my polaroid album, or decorate a simple scrapbook journal

You’ll need to do your own research to learn which locations (country, property, establishments) restrict cameras and instant polaroid cameras. 

Q3: Can you take an instant camera on a plane when traveling? 

A: Yes, you can most definitely take an instant camera on a plane! As with all luggage, you will need to get it checked through airport security, most preferably via hand check at TSA. Do not check your instant film or instant camera batteries in your luggage (even when they ask at the airport gate for volunteers to check their carry-ons for free)! 

Q4: Can you take instax film through airport security? How do you take your instant camera safely through TSA? 

A: Yes, if you follow these steps, you should have no problem taking your instant camera safely through TSA. 

Before the Airport:
  • Before arriving at airport security, take your instant film out of its box, but do not open the individual film package itself (Fujifilm Instax Mini film is usually in a silver pouch).

    Keep your full packet of film unopened and the instant camera empty; do not load it with film just yet. This allows  you to keep your instant camera in your personal carry-on or even your checked baggage since the instant camera is essentially just a piece of plastic and checking in an empty instant camera causes no negative effect.
At the Airport:

Heads Up! When your airport gate calls for volunteers to check their carryon to create space in the plane cabin, make sure there are no instant camera films and batteries in your carryon if  you’re considering checking it in! 

  • Make sure to ask TSA politely to inspect your packs of film by hand. If film is already inside your instant camera, ask TSA for a hand-check as well. This prevents the x-ray machines from ruining your film.
  • Some film photographers recommend using a lead-lined bag in your carry-on for your instant camera, instant film, and other film cameras. Lead-lined bags were originally used back when film photography was most common. The ability of the lead-line bag protecting your film depends on the strength of the x-ray machine, the thickness of the lead, and the speed of your film.

    I’ve never tried a lead bag before but even when using one, do not place your polaroid film in checked luggage. I’ve read that checked luggage x-rays are much stronger than carry-on x-rays and will keep ‘zapping’ your lead bag until it gets through—nobody wants spoiled film!  

instant camera film Hacks:

Hack 1: Ever since covid, I’ve experienced TSA loosening up a little bit, not requiring me to take out any of my electronics, liquids, and snacks at airport security (PRAISE). It really varies per airport and of course, some still follow regular protocol.

One investment to consider if flying frequently is TSA PreCheck which is about $78 for 5 years (as of Feb. 2023)! This allows you to go through an expedited airport security line and keep your shoes, belt, light jacket on and 3-1-1 liquids and laptop in your bag. This is a great airport travel hack for creatives since this can lessen airport stress as you get your instant camera and instant film hand-checked (yes, you still need a hand check for these!). Make sure to check the TSA website for travel regulations as they are constantly being updated.

Hack 2: Consider ordering instant film and having it delivered to your destination so that you can avoid going through TSA with new film (try finishing up the current pack in your instant camera).

Q5: will airport scanners ruin instax film?

A: According to The Darkroom photo lab where I’ve gotten a Kodak film camera roll developed, TSA x-ray scanners won’t affect film under ISO 800. Fujifilm Instax Mini Film is right at ISO 800 and always needs to get hand-checked. Instant film by Polaroid, Fujifilm, Instax will have foggy, muddy shadows after being scanned by TSA x-ray machines. 

Note: I have never been denied a hand-check for my instant camera at airport security, but I did get denied at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in Washington DC which is right beside the Washington Union Station, a major transportation hub in the US capital. I’m not sure how powerful those x-ray scanners were, but my film turned out normal! 

Q6: Which instant camera should you buy for travel? What is the best instant camera for travel?

A: A couple of different instant camera brands (that aren’t instant print digital cameras) are Polaroid, Leica Sofort, Lomography, and Fujifilm Instax which is what I currently use. 

My instant camera collection has consisted of: 

  • 1 polaroid printer (Fuji film Instax Mini Link Smartphone Printer)
  • 5 instant cameras in total:
    • Polaroid 300 (discontinued)
    • Polaroid Sun 600 (antique thrift)
    • Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 (second-hand): I upgraded to this pastel blue Instax after having my bright blue Polaroid 300 for a couple years because of the color (lol, I know), and I actually preferred the Polaroid 300’s more consistent output! I’m not sure if buying it second-hand was the issue. 
    • Fujifilm Instax Mini 11: I bought this Instax camera for my full-time 9-5 so that we could start our own “Wall of Fame” with our clients! 
    • Fujifilm Instax Mini 70: Just after a few months with the Instax Mini 8, I sold it and upgraded to the Mini 70 which I’ve now had for almost 4 years. 

The Instax Mini 11 is the newest model from my collection (released 2020), but I actually bought it refurbished from Amazon a year ago, and a lot of my recent polaroid prints have been so blurry (camera shake)! Because of that, I’ll have to keep my Instax Mini 70 as my top favorite for now (released 2015) mostly because of its bells and whistles. 

My Favorite Instant Camera:

Features: The Instax Mini 70 has a timer mode, a small mirror to take selfies with, a tripod mount, and 6 instax modes for different scenarios

Batteries: This instant camera automatically turns off after a little while to save on battery life which is helpful, because it takes 2 pricier CR2 lithium batteries instead of conventional double AA batteries. 

Polaroid Prints: The instant photos I’ve developed from my Instax Mini 70 have been crisp with high contrast for the most part (I brought it to work one time and my coworkers immediately liked the color output much better than the output of our refurbished office Instax Mini 11.) 

Appearance: The design is lightweight, sleek retro (looks like an old film camera and is not pastel), and less bulky than the popular Instax Mini 11. Mine came with a wrist strap. 

Other Options: If you’re looking for instant photos that are bigger, consider looking into the Fujifilm Instax Square or Fujifilm Instax Wide (more rectangular) series. 

If you’re nervous about not being able to preview what you’re printing, consider looking into instant print digital cameras like the Instax Mini Liplay or Instax Square SQ20 as they both have monitors in the back. Kodak and Minolta also have some instant print digital cameras but the printouts do not have a polaroid border. 

Even though I have a polaroid printer where I can print anything from my phone, I still prefer the anticipation that comes from a regular Instax. 

I brought my Instax camera on a kayak.

Kayaking in Lake CauseyWe kayaked and cliff-jumped at the top of this cliff!

Q7: Are instax cameras waterproof?

A: No, Instax cameras are not waterproof. If you would like to take polaroid photos in the water, I recommend using your smart phone in a waterproof case and printing water photos using the Fuji film Instax Mini Link Smartphone Printer,

To bring your travel polaroid on a boat, I recommend purchasing a dry bag, which will protect your instant camera if submerged (the bag will also float!).

For slight rain, you can use a ziploc bag, grocery store bag, or rain jacket to avoid your instant camera from having water seep in. It should be fine with sprinkles of rain. 

Q8: How do you travel with expensive camera equipment like an instant camera? 

A: When traveling, I think instant cameras are definitely less of a “hot item” for theft compared to digital cameras and phones, but you might as well keep your instant camera safe too. 

In Hotels: 

I don’t recommend leaving your camera gear or electronics in your hotel, but if you do, use a padlock or built-in lock on your suitcase. Wrap your gear in clothes to conceal them. 

In Public Bathrooms:

When traveling, where can you put your camera bag in a public bathroom? Using the hook behind the bathroom stall door is the most common, but that is easy access for purse snatchers. (Not sure how hard heavy backpacks would be to snatch vs. small purses, but those snatchers be muscley, though.)

If the stall is wide enough for you to haul your luggage into (at least your carry-on), simply place your bag on top of the suitcase

The best option imo as a female traveler is wearing the backpack in front of you like a baby carrier. If it’s a smaller backpack or purse, you can hang it on the stall door handle; just make sure to hang it on the part that doesn’t unlatch (usually the non-horizontal piece in the US). 

Polaroid at Tandem Coffee
In Restaurants or Cafes:

I think what’s more of a priority with bringing an instant camera to a restaurant is keeping it dry from spills. However, some ideas to keep your camera equipment secure—

In high-traffic restaurants or cafes, I’ll hook my bag strap to my chair and have the bag between my legs with the zipper facing towards the center of the table. 

I’ve eaten with the bag on my lap before, but my bag is pretty bulky so I only do this for smaller snack times. If eating on an excursion while sight-seeing, I’ll have the camera bag between my legs.

If you’re sitting at a booth, you can place your camera bag wedged between you (or your friend) and the wall. You can place a jacket on top. 

Public Transit (bus, train, subway, walking, etc):

Use a lock for your backpack (yes, I’ve walked around with my backpack padlocked on me, haha). That gives me peace of mind when walking around in a new city.

Sometimes when walking and definitely when sitting, I’ll place the backpack in front of me almost like a baby carrier. This also works when it’s starting to rain. 

Note: I practice these precautions mainly because of the professional gear I have on hand, not just my instant camera (hehe, I know, I’m a bit wild.)! 

Q9. what are some “to do’s” and what “not to do’s” with instant cameras? 

A. Read the other questions listed to get a more thorough explanation, but here are some quick tips about traveling with an instant camera! 

The MET New York in PolaroidsTake an iPhone photo holding your polaroid! 

To do:

  1. Actually use it! Instant camera film is expensive (about $1/shot), but if you’re going to go through the hassle of TSA, you might as well enjoy its benefits! Plus, using up your whole pack of instant films on your adventure means that you won’t need to worry about having your travel polaroid camera hand-checked again (or worse, getting denied and having them put it through the x-ray scanner). 
  2. Take an iPhone photo of you holding your polaroid print! The background can be the subject you just photographed, an activity you’re participating in, the people you’re experiencing it with, a texture—the possibilities are endless. It’s a bit of photo-ception and honestly cliché, but I love it! It gives a sense of the space or size of whatever you’re experiencing. 
  3. Calculate ahead of time how many photos you think you’ll take on a trip so that you can pack an extra pack if needed. Film packs usually come in sets of 10 shots. 
  4. Same thing goes for your batteries; consider bringing an extra set of batteries. I usually pack 1 set of battery replacements on bigger trips. If you forget to bring an extra set, you can also try flip-flopping the batteries around to cheat the battery life. . 
  5. When needing a new film pack, make sure to pick up any package wrapping and empty film canisters. Dispose of them properly

Don’t do:

  1. Do not pack your film in checked luggage.

Heads Up! Sometimes, your airport gate calls for volunteers to check their carryon to create space in the plane cabin. If you’re considering checking it in, make sure there are no instant camera films and batteries in your carryon.

Q10: Where do you store both undeveloped and developed instant camera film while traveling?

A: For undeveloped instant film, do not leave out in the heat or locked up in a hot car. Keep your instant film in a cool, dark place. 

Once you’ve taken a photo, store your developed film polaroids in an envelope or the back of a journal. Here are dotted journals and sketchbooks I’ve adored (p.s. journaling gives me lifeee): 

Murals in Greenville, SC

Q11: How to carry around your instant camera?

A: I carry a full camera backpack whenever I travel (RIP my back). I’ve tried totes, cross body bags, and purses before. Having a backpack keeps an organized space for my other camera gear and necessities (battery packs, snacks, eyeliner, lol definitely not a minimalist). 

However, if you’re just adventuring around town, this Instax case will do the trick. I love color, but I prefer neutral crossbody bags over these pastel Instax cases. Neutral colors keep your camera less conspicuous. 

Q12: Is flying and traveling internationally with an instant camera different? 

A: I’ve only flown internationally with an Instax into Spain before, and I don’t remember encountering an issue. 

Although Hawaii is part of the USA, Hawaii definitely had stricter regulations than other domestic states in the mainland. I’ve read encounters where hand-checks have been denied internationally. I recommend you read your destination’s specific regulations (airport, the location, property, establishments).

Q13. what do you do with your travel polaroid prints? 

A: This part is so much fun!! Here are some ideas to do with your travel polaroid prints from your travels. 

  • Store photos in a polaroid album
    • Large polaroid album: I like how large and shabby chic this one is. You can write on the pages which is great for personalization. However, I do recommend adding some sticky tack on each polaroid print as they tend to slide out. 
    • Small polaroid album
  • Scan them into your computer. I scan my polaroids at 300 dpi or higher. Our printer (HP OfficeJet 6950) can scan up to 1,200 dpi which I’ve done before for crispness for the web. 

However, scanning at this size does make the file size larger. If you’re able, choose to increase sharpness for web and social media using a program like Photoshop, Lightroom, Apple Photos. 

Phew, that was a lot of questions! Traveling with an instant camera can be hard. Hopefully this robust list answers most, if not all, your polaroid camera questions for your adventures! Let me know if you have any other questions or suggestions below!

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—Just Abby Joy

just abby joy

just abby joy



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