Podcasting on the Road: Tape, Technology and Hats

Gary Arndt from Everything Everywhere

After posting about the internet’s best travel podcasts a few weeks ago, I asked Gary Arndt to share his experiences with creating a podcast on the road.

Shooting a podcast at the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. By Gary Arndt.

When I first started my trip, my focus was to do podcasting, not blogging. A year and a half later, and I’ve done much more blogging than podcasting. While I have been able to put up several episodes, I still find the workflow of producing a podcast by myself, on the road, to be a daunting task. In this article I’m going to go through some of what I go through to produce a solo video podcast on the road.

The Trouble with Tape

When I started my trip in March of 2007, I really wanted to get a video camera which didn’t use tape. At the time there was only one prosumer level model which didn’t use tape, and because it was so new, most video editing software wasn’t able to handle the way it encoded mpeg4. I wound up buying a Sony HC3, which was a fine high definition video camera, but used tape.

Tape turned out to be a much bigger problem than I had expected. If I was only traveling for a short period of time, I could shoot all the tape I wanted and edit it when I got home. Because I wasn’t going home however, I had to carry around all my tapes without any backup, and eventually find a way to get them all back to the US. On top of that, I would have to rip all the video off of the tapes which is a very annoying process. (An hour tape would take about an hour to encode, and you’d wind up with one enormous file which you’d have to then split apart). I shot about a dozen hours of footage during my first six months traveling in the Pacific and found someone back in the US to do the editing for me.

Doing a podcast on the road is one thing. Doing a podcast when you have no one to help you is quite another.

The workflow was really slow and not sustainable. The quality of the footage I was getting was OK, but getting things out the door was taking way too long. I eventually put my podcast on hiatus and focused on my still photography.

Better Technology

While I was traveling, however, technology improved. About nine months into my trip, I was able to buy a new video camera in Hong Kong. I purchased a Sanyo Xacti HD 1000. It can shoot in full 1080i HD at 60fps. The best part however, is that it saved everything to SD memory, and each clip was its own mpeg4 file. You could access clips randomly as if it were its own drive. The video quality isn’t quite as good as my previous camera, but eliminating tapes more than made up for it.

If you listen to the first podcast I shot with my new camera, you can tell that the built in sound quality is poor. I had a lavalier mic I had with me, but I had to buy a 3.5mm to 2.5mm adaptor to get it to work. You’d be amazed at how hard that was to find. I’m using that now with all my podcasts, and sound quality has improved.

The biggest thing you need when doing a podcast on the road is a laptop capable of doing video editing. I carry a 15″ MacBook Pro with me. I have never found an internet cafe with video editing software on its computers, nor will the computers at most internet cafes support editing even if they had the software. You need something powerful enough to replace a desktop computer as video editing is one of the most processor and memory intensive things you can do with a computer.

Wearing Many Hats

Doing a podcast on the road is one thing. Doing a podcast when you have no one to help you is quite another. Lots of simple camera angles where you could record yourself eating or walking down a street are pretty much impossible. Even mundane things can be challenging. If I want to put myself in front of the camera I have to use a tripod and find a place where I can get away from large groups of people to shoot. Someone grabbing the camera and running off with it while I’m shooting is a real concern if you are doing it on a busy street. Most of my podcasts consist of me in front of the camera, then other shots edited in on top of the audio or after the monologue.

Editing has been the most difficult thing for me by far. I have material over two months old on my computer I have yet to get out the door as well as footage over a year old I shot on my old camera which just needs to be stitched together. Editing is by far the most time consuming and difficult part of the entire process. I started with Final Cut Express (which I later removed because I needed drive space….bad move), moved to iMovie08 (aka Apple’s Vista. A bad piece of software), and am now using iMovie HD, the previous version of iMovie.

I do a lot of still photography in addition to video. It is very difficult to try and do still photos and video at the same time. One thing I’d like to do a lot more of is incorporating still images into my podcasts and perhaps doing some slide shows. I’ve done one slideshow so far, I think it worked rather well. (The presentation was from Yakushima, Japan.)

My ideas for episodes are much greater than my ability to produce them at this point.

Going Forward

Despite the problems I’ve had, I’d still like to put more effort into my podcast going forward. I enjoy podcasting more than plain old blogging, and I think I’m much better at talking than writing. (20 years of academic debate experience will do that). Tapeless high def video camera are becoming the norm. There are cameras on the market which save to flash memory which much better video quality than my Sanyo. I might get a new camera in the next few months.

The biggest thing going forward will probably be to get some help. One option is to find someone to travel with me who could help in some function with the podcast, either in front or behind the camera. Another is to find someone who is a reasonable good video editor who I can send clips to. Either of these options would improve things dramatically for me.

If podcasting during your trip is something you’d like to do, the one thing I suggest is to plan your workflow. Doing video is an order of magnitude more difficult than doing still photography, especially if you are traveling solo. If you are willing to make the investment in time and equipment however, the end result can be quite rewarding.

About the author:

Gary Arndt is a travel writer, photographer and podcaster who has been travelling solo for 18 months. You can view his work at his travel blog Everything-Everywhere.com or subscribe to his travel podcast on iTunes.

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Discussion »

  • #1Craig

    Amen, Gary!

    We’ve been doing the audio podcasting thing since February ’07 and weekly video podcasts over the last three months. It’s really hard work!

    Still, the people sending us clips and the emails we get help make it worthwhile. God knows there’s little money in independent podcasting :)

  • #2jamie

    Here’s how new I am to podcasting: I thought podcasts were only audio.

    We just shot a bunch of stuff on a weekend in San Francisco with our kids. It would have been funny if it hadn’t been so damn frustrating.

    I went in with a plan (and loose script) which totally had to be thrown out the window (too windy here, lighting too low there), mangled the transitions, and looked like a total dork (I’m your polar opposite: I write better than I talk). I had someone to shoot, but no one to keep the kids (who had supporting roles) from running into traffic.

    Learning curve was pretty much a vertical wall. Still, I was sort of intrigued by it all. Will post the results on my site soon.

  • #3Peter Daams

    Great post Gary. It’s obviously a labour of love for those taking the time to document travels like this. I think I might have to try this some day. :)

  • #4maryam in marrakech

    OMG, so complex. I have done a few podcasts but always with someone to help and no editing!

  • #5soultravelers3

    I am just now finding this. Oh boy, do I hear you Gary! I broke my camera 3 days into our open ended world tour, so I only had a video camera ( that took stills) and took all my picture like that ( almost all by myself…video & photos for almost the first 2 years.

    We have taken tons and tons of great video and photos, but the editing process and time it all takes just does not allow us to get it all out there quickly.

    We have managed to get 26 videos up on Youtube ( barely a dent) and almost a million views for our first one. We have not had time to figure out how to make them official podcasts.

    We do have 2 adults with talent, but one has to keep an eye on the kidlet and homeschool her too as we roam ( oh yeah, we take a violin and piano with us too! lol) …so being more than one person doesn’t always add up to more time.

    I had a friend ( Bill Bowles) who did a fantstic podcast as he roamed the world, but it was a pure all-hard-work type of thing ( he was a professional cameraman by trade) with top of the line equipment. He made it clear that it was a work trip for him and he spent all of his time on the work.


    That is just not sustainable kind of lifestyle for us or most extended travelers. Perhaps the technology will keep changing, but editing is one of the most important things and that takes time.

    Luckily our audience does not mind waiting until we get to it, sounds like yours are fine with that as well. Why do travel if you are working the whole time?

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