How do you select the best lenses for travel?

Recently, at a presentation of a travelogue to Norway, the photographer told us he traveled with just one lens.  His preference?  An 18-300.  I SHUDDER! (oops, pun…)  Listen folks, I’ve read a lot of “my 3 favorite lenses” articles and while I don’t always agree with the choices, I think 3 lenses is a good number.  I’d take my cherished 24-105, my 70-200 and my 50 or 11-16.  Ok, that’s basically all the lenses I have but since travel photography is my thing, they were all chosen - and used - with good reason.

Here’s my issue with an 18-300:  That sort of extended focal length usually has a variable aperture that starts at 3.5 or higher and can go up past 6.3.  That means it doesn’t perform all that well in low light.  Combine that with the probability that the lens’ sweet spot is somewhere in the middle range of the focal length and well, I’d rather carry multiple lenses.   It takes some planning but here’s how I do it:

On the plane, and anytime I’m traveling from city to city, I carry my large Kata backpack, stuffed with cameras, lenses, accessories, chargers, a hard drive and my Macbook.  In my suitcase, I pack a smaller bag for day trips.  Each morning at my hotel, I load my small bag with the gear I think I’ll need.  

These are my rules of thumb:  

— Beaches, seascapes, landscapes, and any broad vista, I bring my 11-16, and probably my 24-105.  

— More up close and personal places, like villages, cities, markets and fairs, I use my 50 or 24-105.  Ditto for historical places like Pompeii or the Coliseum.  A tilt-shift lens would be a great choice for cities, too (but I don’t have one).

— For wild life, including sea life, I’ll grab the 70-200, and maybe even carry my crop sensor 70D, instead of the 5DMIII. You multiply the focal length by 1.6 when using a crop sensor camera so my 70-200 is effectively a 100-300 on the 70D.  I find this lens really heavy so I might choose to carry only this one lens for some day trips.  

— If I think my day might bring a macro opportunity, I’ll throw the 500D Close Up lens in my day bag, with a step up ring if I’m carrying the 70-200, since the thread size on that lens is 67, and my Close Up is 77. I don’t do a ton of macro, but this lens functions like a filter, so I can add or subtract it easily.  If you don’t want to carry a dedicated macro, you can carry extension tubes, too but I chose this method so I don’t have to remove a lens and expose my sensor to the elements.

So yeah, one lens might do the job.  And you don’t have to think much, or change lenses.  But what’s the FUN in that?  Do your research.  Make a plan.  Love your lenses.