How to Make a Travel Video That People Actually Watch

By Shawn Forno
An old fashioned film camera held against a blue background.

Traveling is hard. But making a great travel video doesn’t have to be.

When you’re on the road you miss weddings, parties, and birthdays. birthdays. Plus, watching your bank account shrink with each plane ticket purchase doesn’t help much. Sure you get to see exotic locations, experience incredible people, and blah blah blah. None of that matters to your friends back home, because they weren’t there.

What’s worse, talking about your trip and sharing your experiences makes you sound annoying.

But what’s actually the hardest part of traveling is coming back and feeling alone. Because without an outlet for sharing your travel experience, the transition back to “normal” life can be jarring. It’s unavoidable.

So, how do you share your latest exploits without a hacky sack falling out of your mouth every time you talk about it? Simple. Don’t talk about your travel. Show people how awesome it was by making a great travel video.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, likes to watch videos. So, read on for a few tips on how to capture, edit, and create better video of your next vacation that will even impress even your snobbiest friend. The best part is that all the simple gear you need will easily fit inside your carry on travel backpack. But first…some technical video nerd stuff!

Frame Rate: the Important First Step for Great Travel Videos

An example of 24 fps.

Frames Per Second and Frame Rate: Break the 24 fps Speed Limit

Before you close this window, I promise this is not going to be a nerdy technical section. Frames per second is a simple tweak you can make to your camera settings. Heck, I’ll even show you how to do it on your iPhone. Just stick with me.

It’s important, because if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth…like…millions, depending on your frame rate.

Standard film and—eventually once technology advanced— video format used to be 24 frames per second (fps).

Twenty-four pictures every second is fast enough to capture most action, but still allowed directors to shoot content without chewing through miles of expensive film and/or digital storage space. Sure, your hands might blur a little while you walk, but no one really notices.

However, we have better options for travel videos these days.

The proliferation of cheap digital cameras (especially on smartphones) and juiced-up editing software, as well as inexpensive, plentiful storage devices, lets you shoot in whatever format you want. HD, slow-mo, whatever. You just have to pick your fps, and 60fps is the clear winner.

An example of 60 fps video.

60 FPS is Perfect for Travel Video

Doubling your frame rate —especially for action shots and moving targets (which hopefully comprises most of your travel footage)—makes your travel video smoother, more professional, and just plain easier to watch. Believe me, viewers notice high fps rates, even if they don’t know exactly what’s so good about them.

“But I’m not an AV geek like you,” you whine. “I just want to point my phone at stuff and have it come out looking amazing.”

Ok. Cool. Your phone has four different fps settings, and you can change yours in, like, 10 seconds.

Changing the FPS on your iPhone

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Scroll down to Camera.
  3. Near the bottom of the next page, change Record Video to 1080p HD at 60 fps.

Ta-to-the-da. You are now a professional videographer.

60 FPS and Storage Space

The jump up to 60 fps makes video files larger. So if you travel without a backup HD or if your phone is crammed with apps, 60 fps might not be for you. You can toggle back and forth between fps speeds but, honestly, once you go 60fps you never go back. Just buy this Wirecutter recommended (hey, just like the Outbreaker backpack!) 2 TB portable hard drive for about $60 and keep shooting beautiful HD video.

FPS Storage Capacity

We’re all about size guidelines here at Tortuga, so here’s a nuts and bolts guide to fps rates and storage space:

One Minute of Video is about:

  • 60 MB: 720p HD at 30fps (the smallest iPhone option choice)
  • 130 MB: 1080 HD at 30fps (default setting)
  • 200 MB: 1080 HD at 60 fps (smooth like butter)
  • 375 MB: 4k (oh man)

I don’t advocate shooting 4k video on your iPhone for a few reasons, but mainly because it triples the size of every single video. That becomes a storage problem pretty quickly. Another important reason to use 4k with caution is that it’s tough to edit unless you have a workhorse of a computer.

Editing 4k Video Isn’t Worth it Most of the Time

The number “1080” in 1080p indicates the number of horizontal resolution lines in a single frame of video—in this case over a thousand. 4k video has 4 times as many resolution lines as 1080. That means it looks fantastic but will also annihilate any graphics processor and dinky RAM in a computer setup that can’t handle that much visual information. What I’m saving is your travel laptop won’t do a good job.

Get used to watching that video render for days if you edit 4k video on a rig that can’t handle it. Just FYI.

1080p HD at 60fps is the sweet spot for great travel video. Nuff said.

Technical chops are important for making quality travel video, but those can be compensated for with a few clicks. Literally. So, from here on out, the tips are about how you actually shoot great travel video.

Consistency is Key: Make Travel Videos People Watch

A great travel video should do one thing really well. 

Is your video about the lemurs of Madagascar, the bbq trucks at SXSW, or getting wasted in Thailand with your friend Jaden? Don’t try to summarize your whole trip or show every single thing you did. Pick one topic or one gimmick, and commit to it. Travelers aren’t typically great with commitment, but the best travel videographers are defined by it.

Matt Harding, for instance (from Where in the Hell is Matt? video fame) practically reinvented the amateur travel video genre with his “Where the Hell is Matt?” video from 2005. If you watch it today, 11 years later, the resolution is crap, the shots are shaky, and the framing is a mess, but the story it tells is still amazing. Millions of people loved watching that guy get down—myself included.

Dancing in front of the Taj Mahal.

What’s more interesting is that he got better over time (his follow up videos in 2008 and 2012 are fantastic). Practice makes perfect, and his simple idea—dancing in exotic places—grew to include better locations, more people, and a refined shooting style. The guy practically invented TikTok!

Stride gum liked his first video so much, they gave him $5o,ooo to travel and shoot another one. That’s a darn good travel video if you ask me.

A man flipping in front of changing scenery.

Nathan Barnatt is a dancer and video producer that uses consistent framing as the foundation of his epic, viral dance music videos. Most travel videographers can learn a lot about reaping the rewards of consistent shots from him.

Timelapse footage of Iceland.

More Travel Video Tips: Transitions, Gear, and Editing

Joshy Washington (not a typo) took weeks to shoot this entrancing “hyperlapse” (An informal definition of a hyperlapse is a time-lapse with a moving POV. Think of all the cool time-lapse shots from Breaking Bad.) video of the bewitching Icelandic countryside. Vimeo made it a “Staff Pick” and Matador still features it on their Iceland travel page.

Caution: Landscape video takes a lot more work and technical precision. But, if you have the patience and editing chops, let the landscape be your travel video star, and you might get to ride its coattails to fame.

Transitions: Spins, Hi-Fives, & Pans

Most travel video shots are short—typically less than 3 seconds, and hopefully no longer than 5-10 seconds—which means that in even a short video 2-minute video, you’ll transition dozens of times. The way you get from shot to shot can make or break your travel video.

So, how do you keep your short clips from turning into a jump cut nightmare? Simple. Shoot every second of footage with a transition in mind.

Start and end your videos with this visual cue, and editing will be a snap.

Aussie traveler, Craig Lewis used a simple high five transition at the end of every video clip he shot to make his frantic switches between completely different locations the star of his video—not a distraction. Every time he hi-fives the camera (and the viewer), it builds anticipation for the next crazy fun locale. It’s an awesome transition device, and one that you should steal immediately.

An example of high-five transitions.

A Note For Perfectionists: If you notice, Craig starts the second and third clips featured above with his hand moving away from the camera, but not the first and fourth. And that’s totally ok. You didn’t even notice until I pointed it out, did you? Transitions are really fast, and don’t have to be perfect. You just have to try to be consistent.

Spinning is another transition option, but use it with care. Spinning for every single shot in a travel video can give viewers vertigo. Alex Chacon does it well, because he spins super duper slowly.

An example of slow spins.

I like to mix my transitions up with slow pans (turning the camera left, or right) in either direction. Below is a clip from a video I made for Iceland’s Secret Solstice Music Festival. I pan right on three clips, then pan left on the fourth. The subtle movement makes a transition feel less like a cut and more like a rolling moving canvas, and changing directions isn’t jarring.

An example of panning video.

Monopods, Tripods, & Gyro Rigs, oh My!

Ah, the gear question. The success of first GoPro and later iPhone lens attachments has created a weird ecosystem where video accessories—not ability—is all travel videographers worry about. 

It’s not the accessories that make a great video. I’ve written at length about the camera gear you need for great travel video, but really the only thing you need to create great travel video is a camera.

A nice travel tripod or GorillaPod is great, but I’ve shot amazing time-lapse footage with my phone and a pile of rocks. Don’t spend hundreds of dollars on carbon nanofiber tripods that simply take up space in your carry on bag. Start small, with a cheap desktop tripod, and challenge yourself to get interesting video using this limitation as fuel for more compelling framing and story-telling.

Because you’ll be thinking about the tech and not the story, gizmos and gadgets will make you a worse videographer, not a better one.

Shoot without top-shelf gear until you realize that a certain shot demands a certain piece of hardware. Then go buy it, not before.

Is Hand Held Video Okay?

Hand held video is okay, especially with travel videos. I shot that entire Iceland video with just my hands—even the pans. But, in general, more stable video is better.

Put the camera down or use a tripod for time-lapses. But other than that, auto-stabilization software and programs like Instagram’s Hyperlapse are pretty great at keeping your shot watchable. If you use your iPhone to film, Hyperlapse is amazing. Just don’t get addicted.

Jeeps are bouncy, rafting is wild, and no one expects you to keep a perfectly steady hand as you flee from a bull in Spain. That being said, do your best, because too much shaky video will turn people off. Just keep shooting, and you’ll get rid of that jittery hand eventually.

Pro Tip: If your hands shake a lot, you might want to give up coffee. Seriously. Street performers like Amanda Palmer, talk about how you can’t be one of those living statues if you drink coffee. You’ll simply shake too much.

Editing Doesn’t Have to Suck

Editing your baby is the last very, very important step. And while there are several schools of thought about length, style, and the like, I’ll give you my observations of some of the standards for great, watchable, and, more importantly, sharable travel video below. Take them with a spoonful of salt.

Honestly, I love editing video more than filming. It’s fascinating to see my pile of garbage footage transformed into something watchable.

Ideal Travel Video Length: 2 Minutes

Travel video should rarely exceed 3 minutes, but honestly, aim for 2 minutes. If you’re Werner Herzog, you can break this rule, but that’s exactly the point: Herzog is a filmmaker, and you’re just a traveler with a camera.

Even the most stunning 4k video gets tiring without a great narrative, and editing together clips from your European trip is hard work, but it’s not a film. It’s a travel video, and there is a difference.

Limit your travel video to 2 minutes so that you don’t have to write a script and block every scene. That’s not a travel video. That’s a production. If you want to shoot above three minutes, go to film school. That’s not sarcastic. I’d love to see your film when you graduate, but not before.

Music: Almost as Important as Video

Music is essential when creating a great travel video. Seriously. Every single video I used in this article is cut and edited to a great song. Choosing a killer song is the cornerstone of the editing process, and if you find one with a steady beat, a breakdown, and rising action, all you have to do is find images that match these emotions and clip them to fit. Problem solved. Epic travel video created.

Pro Tip: The FMA Archive has thousands of songs that you can use for *gasp* free. Browse by genre and “most interesting,” and scroll through some straight-up jams.

Sound Matters a Lot… Or Not at All

Quality audio isn’t paramount to every production, especially if you’re just gonna slap a song over the audio, but if you do like to talk to the camera, invest in a Rode Video Mic Pro Mini Shotgun Mic. It captures great sound when you point it at something or someone, it draws power directly from your camera (so no extra chargers or batteries), and it’s small and light. Love this little guy.

A man dances in public places.

Final Travel Video Idea: You Have to Not Give a Crap

If you really want a great travel video that will tell a story, make people laugh, or inspire them to see the world, you have to look like an idiot while you film it. Seriously.

The perfect shot might involve talking to your camera in front of a crowd of strangers. You might have to dance in the middle of a grocery store in a pith helmet. You might have to sit at an awkward angle on a traffic strip median for 30 mins to get the perfect time-lapse shot or wake up at 4 am to get to a temple roof in time for the sunrise. Great travel video requires you to look like a fool. Embrace it!

That’s what editing is for. That’s when it all comes together. Forget about everyone else and how stupid you look, because if you follow through on what you know you need to get the shot, it’ll all be worth it when people finally click “play.”