How to Organize Your Vacation Photos (While You’re Still on Vacation)

You’ve just returned home from your vacation to Mexico. You’ve shaken the sand out of your shoes, unpacked all your travel clothes, and you’re just starting to think about going back to work tomorrow.

Before you head back to your office, you sit down at your computer to share some of your trip images with your sister  – and that’s when you realize that your vacation photos are a bit of a mess.

How to Organize Your Vacation Photos (While You're Still on Vacation)

Some of the photos are in your phone, and some in your kids’ phones. The rest are in your digital SLR camera – and you’re not even sure where that camera is. You’re looking for one specific photo from your snorkeling expedition, and you can’t find it anywhere.

So you push the whole thing out of your mind, and decide you’ll deal with your vacation photos another day.

Months later, your lovely vacation memories and images are still in a big, messy virtual pile. Your photos are scattered across several devices, and when you sit down to try to organize things to put everything into a vacation album or a slideshow, you can’t remember:

  • The name of the place where you went snorkeling (and you still haven’t found those photos to share with your sister)
  • Why everyone is laughing in the photo you took at the Mexican restaurant
  • Why this vacation was so incredible. You know it was special, but your memories of specific moments are already fading.

And because your memories are fading and your photos are disorganized, you throw in the towel and decide not to create the album at all.

Next time you take a vacation with your friends and family, this cycle repeats itself, until you’ve got cameras and smartphones full of photos of moments you can’t remember, (can’t find the ones you want), and those images will never see the light of day.

I’ve got good news, though – if preserving your vacation photos (and stories that go with them) is important to you, there are things you can do to prevent this from happening again.

You can actually take a few simple steps to protect and organize your vacation photos and preserve those memories while you’re still traveling.

And the best part is – this method doesn’t have to take a lot of time, and it can actually be fun.

Step One: Do Your Homework Before You Leave the House

The first step in this process involves finding a system to back up your vacation photos during your trip. This actually happens before you even start packing your bags. You need to do a little bit of homework about the technology you will be using, so you are comfortable with uploading and backing up your photos while you’re on the road.

Many of us take vacation photos with our smartphones, but a digital SLR camera often takes better photos – so we bring both. So you want to find the best way to backup your travel photos from your camera by uploading them to a secure location like your computer, tablet or online storage site.

The steps of this process will vary depending on your mobile device, your laptop setup, and your chosen online storage/sharing site, so my recommendations will focus more on the best practices and key features to consider for making your decision.  

What’s most important is that you get the photos copied from your camera or phone, so the images are all in one central location and you have a backup copy of the photos should your phone or camera gets lost or stolen.

The bare minimum you need to know how to do is upload your photos to your laptop or tablet. In most cases you can use your charging cord and connect your camera directly to the device. I suggest making a vacation folder/album (ex. 2016-Mexico) and uploading them to that location on your device. This will keep them organized so you can easily find them for the next step.

If you want to go one step further to secure your photos (or you don’t plan to bring your laptop or tablet with you), you can upload the images to a reputable online photo storage service. There are a lot of choices for this – my recommendation would depend upon the devices you have. What’s most important is that you pick a reputable tool that has been around for a while, not a new service that just hit the market yesterday.

Here are some potential choices for online photo storage and backup:

If you’re using an online service like one of the tools listed above, you will need to:

  • Download any necessary applications to your smartphone well before you pack your bags.
  • Practice uploading some files so that you aren’t trying to learn while on your trip.
  • Know whether the app runs in the background or requires you to open it for your photos to upload.
  • Know whether you need wifi to run the application (most do). If you need wifi, look at your trip itinerary and figure out where (and when) you’ll have access to a network.

Again – let me stress that there are many variations of this process (smartphone or digital SLR camera, Mac or PC, laptop upload vs. online storage).

It doesn’t really matter what your process is, as long as you know it works and you understand how to upload your photos easily and save them to one specific location. There’s nothing worse than sitting in a hotel room pulling your hair out over technological frustrations when you should be relaxing and enjoying your vacation.

The photo upload process should be really fast and stress-free, so I can’t stress enough how important it is to practice doing it at home until you can implement it quickly and easily.

The other super-quick thing you want to do before you leave home is take a quick moment and put a large (gallon size) Ziploc bag into your suitcase. This will come in handy later.

Step Two: Uploading and/or backing up your photos while you’re on your trip

While you’re on your trip, upload your photos using the process you figured out ahead of time. Make sure you upload to a vacation album/folder. You should do this every couple of days, at a minimum — if you go too long between uploading sessions, the process can get time consuming because you’ll need to upload a lot of files at one time.

Review the photos quickly as you go through the uploading process, and delete the ones you know you don’t want to keep (like duplicates or blurry shots). Your photos should be listed in date order which should help as a reminder – at least of the photos you took each day. This can also help to remind you of photos you still want to take – such as the hotel where you’re staying or other things you can capture while you’re still on vacation!

Again, this process shouldn’t take a long time – about 10 to 15 minutes every couple of days should do it.

Step Three: Preserving the stories and memories from the trip

Gather the physical reminders. While you’re on the trip, throw all your memorabilia – all your ticket stubs, programs, maps, scraps of paper, brochures, paper menus, stories or quotes written on napkins, funny sayings or jokes from the trip, etc. – into your gallon-sized Ziploc bag. Anything that will trigger a memory later should go into the bag.

These mementos will help you remember all the details of your vacation later, when you’re putting together photos to display.

Jot down the memories and stories. The other thing you should do while you’re on the trip is take a few minutes each evening to write down what you did that day.  Then write down the basic itinerary of the day (whether you went to a museum, the beach, a relative’s house, or some other attraction) and jot down any quick memories or stories from the day.

If your kids are traveling with you, enlist them to help you with this process. Ask them to help remember the funny or interesting things that happened that day, and write it all down. This can fun for all of you!

This doesn’t need to be a long or complicated process, and you don’t need to sit along in a room writing out long and eloquent journal entries. You can make your list on a napkin or the back of a placemat at dinner. Make a fast and efficient list, put the date on the top, and throw that list in your memory bag, too.

Step Four: Double check your photos when you get home

Within a day or two after you return from your trip, take a couple of minutes to make sure you’ve uploaded and/or backed up all the photos, and that you’ve got your memory bag in a safe place.

When you’re ready, you can display your photos by putting them in albums, frames, videos, or slideshows. You’ll have a lot more fun with this process (and it will take far less time) because of the work you did to protect and organize your photos ahead of time.

Use the items in your memory bag (like ticket stubs, quotes, and itinerary notes) to piece together meaningful collections full of wonderful stories and memories. You can even scan some of those items and include those images in your albums, frames, or videos.

For more information on designing themed albums around your trips or other adventures, check this blog post: 9 Steps to Designing a Themed Album.

Headache-Free and (Easy-to-Share) Vacation Photo Collections

Imagine being able to come back from your vacation, unpack your suitcase, and put your feet up, knowing your great trip memories are safe and secure.

Your photos are protected, your stories are preserved, and the memories of this trip will now last a lifetime.

Feels good, right?

And it only takes a few steps to make this vision a reality. Follow this process, and you’ll go from having messy, disorganized vacation photos to creating organized vacation albums full of heartwarming images, funny stories, and wonderful memories.

Do you need help with organizing and displaying your vacation photos from previous trips (or developing a plan to protect and organize your future trip photos)? That’s our specialty here at Picture This Organized! Get in touch with us to discuss your project.

7 thoughts on “How to Organize Your Vacation Photos (While You’re Still on Vacation)

  1. Great post, Julie. I’d like to point you to an indispensable tool -PicBackMan ( ) – for backing up your memories on the go, automatically. It is a multi-service bulk uploader for photos and videos that allow you to automatically keep all your photos and videos backed up on the service or services of your choice including Flickr, SmugMug, Google Photos, Amazon S3, Box, Dropbox and more. We would love to hear your feedback.

  2. lets you sync your photos as you take them and guarantees permanent storage! Have been using FOREVER for a long time and can’t imagine ever going back.

  3. Great post! Don’t forget to set the correct time on all your cameras before you start shooting! Smart phones normally do this automatically.

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