How to Backup Your Travel Photos using Google Photos

I've been using Google Photos way before it was cool. Back in the day, we didn't have a nice app that automatically backed up all your photos. You had to do it yourself, on your computer, uphill both ways. Now, look at you with your shiny Google photos app. You are spoiled and you don't even know it. Why is that you ask? Well, I'm going to show you just how powerful google photos can be. It will become your one stop shop for photo backups.
 
Now, before you tell me how great iCloud is or any other cloud based backup solution is, check out some of the powerful features this app (and website) have! In this review, I'm going to assume you already have a Google or Gmail account. And of course, as always by using this app you are giving someone else (Google) access to all your photos. Only you can decide if you want to take that risk. At this end of this review, I'll talk in more detail about some of the potential risks you run by using it.

 

Offline backup

The core use of google photos is primarily centered around backing up your photos and videos. When you first setup the app, it will ask you a few introductory questions. Specifically how high of a resolution do you want to save your photos at and if you want to do it over wifi only or anytime your phone is connected to the internet.
 
Let's talk size. Specifically, file size. Google gives you two options: High Quality and Original. For a detailed breakdown of the difference in sizes see this blog post at the Huffington Post. Google gives you unlimited image uploads if you choose high quality and the images are downsized to 16 megapixels which is what most new phones today are shooting anyway. This is the option I recommend unless you really really insist on having the originals take up space on google photos and you eventually plan on paying for storage. Google gives you 15 gigabytes for free by default and if you choose the high-quality option your photos won't go against that 15 gig limit.
 
If you just want to feel secure at night that your photos are safe, and don't want to pay for it, choose the High-quality option. In regards to the second question about uploading with cellular or wifi, that is completely up to you. When traveling, it's unlikely you will have an unlimited internet connection. I highly recommend you choose wifi (you can always change this later in the settings).

T-mobile has been a huge help in traveling abroad!

I recently got an unlimited data package with T-Mobile so I just switched from wifi to cellular (at least for my photos, my videos still require wifi since they are so big). The video is compressed a little bit, and I believe it does go against your 15 gig limit, so keep that in mind.
 
Backing up your photos on the fly works great in the US, but the best part is that even overseas I am able to use T-mobile just like I was back home (Data and Text). This takes a lot of fear away because, with my phone, I can google away almost any problem I run into, and I can back up my photos whenever I want, not just at the hotel.

The iPhone App does not backup your photos automatically, you need to open the app occasionally to back it up

Now let's talk about Android and IOS differences. Android allows Google to constantly work in the background. What does this mean for you? Well if you have android you never really need to open the app unless you want to look at your photos. iOS, however, does not allow the app to work in the background so to backup your photos you need to open the app and leave it running while it backs up.
 

Free up space

The next feature we are going to talk about is the Free Up Space option. Many of my friends opted to go for less space on their phones because data capacity is one of the biggest differences in phone prices. This is good because they are able to afford a newer phone but when it comes to storing photos and video on your phone, you're liable to go over your space limit quickly. This is where free up space comes in handy.
 
The free up space option is located in the google photo main menu (top left), so very easily accessible. This option will check your phone and delete photos and videos from your device that it knows has already been backed up to the cloud. This frees up more space for new photos. It's a little scary the first time you do it, but I recommend visiting photos.google.com first on your computer and making sure everything important you want to be backed up is there before deleting everything.
 
If you're on an iPhone, your photos will be sent to your trash can in the regular photos app, so the photos aren't actually deleted. You will be prompted after hitting the free up space option to delete everything in your trash can. And just like that, your phone is fresh and clean for more photos.

Restoring photos back to your phone

If you're a flight attendant like me or just can't bear the thought of not having your favorite photos available offline, then simply download those photos back to your phone. The process is very easy, simply open google photos and find the photos you want. Then, hit the options icon on the top right-hand corner (signified by three dots) and select the download option. These photos or videos will promptly be downloaded right back into your device.

Timeline View

Like I mentioned earlier, I've been using Google photos for a long time. This means that all of my photos can now be found on the Google Photos app and the website. Google has done an awesome job of making the timeline (known as the Photos tab at the bottom) easy to use.
 
You can scroll down and quickly see all your photos. As you scroll down, months pop up on the right side so you can move even faster through time. It has allowed me to view my photos in a way that feels natural and makes it easy to browse.

Facial Recognition

This has to be one of the coolest and scariest features of google photos. Google will begin to automatically group people in special albums for you to go through and label later. It's amazing how accurate it is.
 
You access this feature by hitting the search bar then hit the arrow next to everyone's faces. Then you can drill into each person and label them for easier searching later.
 
A great example of how you can use this is for Father's Day. I simply searched for my dad, selected my favorite photos, and then told the app to make a movie out of all the photos. It's amazingly easy and intuitive to use.

Travel Tips

Ok, so now you know a bit more about Google Photos, but what does this have to do with travel? Once again, a prepared traveler is a happy traveler. Most of your apps that you log in to nowadays back up to the cloud, which is great, but without a doubt, the most precious thing on my phone is the memories that my camera takes. Photos of my beautiful wife, photos of our dogs, and photos of our travels. These are all precious memories to me and as long as they are safe, I travel with peace because I know if my iPhone was stolen or broken tomorrow, I would still have my photos.
 

My Travel Photo Routine

So here is what I do when I travel. As soon as I arrive at our hotel, I ask for the wifi password. It's so common now to have wifi at your hotel that even when we went to Thailand to the Phi Phi islands we were able to connect using their wifi. After my iPhone is connected to their network, I plug in my iPhone to charge and then open the google photos app. I then will either take a nap or relax while my photos from the journey are backed up. When they are backed up, I then continue to use my phone like normal.
 
Every night when I get to the hotel, before bed I open the app while I'm charging my iPhone. This allows my photos from that day to be backed up. That way, if you lose your phone for whatever reason you are still protected.
 
If you are using an android, you don't even need to open the app. It all happens in the background. On the iPhone, you know your backup is complete because the assistant tab will show at at the top the words "Backup Complete." If it's not done, it will tell you how many photos are left to backup.

Time hop feature

If you've ever heard of the Timehop app, then This feature will be familiar to you. I've actually completely stopped using time hop because this makes it redundant.
 
Every day, you can open your photos app, and the google photos assistant will give you photos from the past.
 
I love opening the app and seeing photos from many years ago. It reminds me of friendships I've had and places I've been. It truly is a wonderful automatic feature.

Auto edit feature

This was automatically created using videos and photos from my trip!

Much like the time hop feature, google will take bits of your videos and make GIFs out of them. Not just GIFs, but movies as well. Keep an eye on the assistant section and you will see all kinds of cute little things that it makes.
 
If you like them, you can save them to your cloud account. If you don't just hit the X and it will remove it from your assistant. It's just another awesome automatic way it improves your memories.

Search - the powerhouse of Google Photos

Google is of course very well known for its ability to find things you are searching for. They have taken that power and supercharged it for Google photos. Google uses a system called google deep dream to scan your photos not just for faces, but for objects and animals.
 
Once your library is on the cloud, take a moment and play with it. Search for Dog, and it will find all photos that it thinks has dogs in it. It's not perfect and it can't find everything but it's surprisingly good and it makes finding old photos a breeze. So far, here is a list of things you can search for:

Locations

Most phones now automatically insert the GPS coordinates of where your photo was taken directly from the photo file. Google uses this to help you find your photos.
 
For example, if I wanted to look at my photos taken in Belize, I could just search for Belize, and google would automatically find any photos taken in Belize. You could even narrow it down to the town you took the photos in. However if you manually back up photos from other devices such as older GoPros, since those cameras don't have a GPS it won't be able to locate them. Photos from your phone, however, will show up.

Colors

Sometimes I want to find a photo that had a lot of a certain color. Simply type the color and see what pops up. It's not perfect but it works well. Search for things like Red or Blue. 

Dates

Type in a date and it will find all the photos from that date or time range that you enter. This is very handy because sometimes all you remember is approximately when you took a certain photo and using the search tool you can be vague or specific on the date.

Objects

Not all objects are supported of course but a good majority are. Search your photos for things like chairs or box and it will find them.

Animals

This works surprisingly well, however it thinks my Pomeranian dog is a cat. A somewhat understandable error, but it goes to know that it's not 100% accurate. However, it's still amazing how easy it is to find pictures of your pets.

Phone type

If you know you took a photo on a particular type of phone, you can type in the model and it will search for that phone model in your photos within the Meta data.
 
I don't use this very often, but it is handy to have when you are searching for GoPro footage since it doesn't find location tags. With a search for GoPro, you can find all your GoPro video's in one place.

File types

This is a little more advanced, but if you know you are looking for a JPG or PNG or GIF, you can use this feature to search for those pics. 

Desktop backup

I'm not going to touch on this feature very much, other than to say it's an awesome tool to centralize all your old photos.
 
If you have backups on your computer of your photos, simply install the desktop app, and point them to your old photos, and watch them quickly get backed up, and tagged for easy searching on your phone.
 
It is simple and easy to use, and automatic. I highly recommend you use this to backup all your computer photos. To download the desktop backup tool, click on the image.

Auto share with individuals

 
I'm very thankful for this feature, as I have stopped using Facebook for everything, and only post every once in a while. However, photos of my family I like to share, and Google Photos automatically knows who the people in my photos are and will prompt you to share it with them via the google photos app. If they have the app it's automatic, but if they don't then you simply enter their email or phone and google photos will share a link with them they can use to see the photos.
 
Additionally, you can choose one person to auto share your entire photo library (or photos of specific people) automatically. This one requires a lot of trust, but if you are married, and are tired of sharing photos with your significant other because of the hassle, then this feature is for you. Your significant other will get a new option to view your library whenever they want, allowing them to download or copy the photos they like at any time. I use this feature with my wife, but for those of you that are not as comfortable with their significant other having access to everything, you can choose to only give them access to photos that Google Photos recognizes as them. 

Photo Scan

This is a separate app, but I just wanted to talk about this one in the spirit of consolidating your photos. If you have family members with old photos you want to scan, Google Photo Scan is probably going to be your best friend. It uses your phone to quickly scan high-resolution photos of old photos you have lying around. Again, being prepared isn't necessarily for traveling.

I know this one was a long post, but google photos has become such a big part of my phone now, I can hardly imagine life without it. Being able to quickly find photos from years ago and viewing them on both my desktop and phone has been a godsend. And not having to worry that I will lose my photos if my phone is damaged on trips has been amazing as well. I hope that my preparedness will help you get yourself prepared for whatever adventure you decide to go on! And remember, a prepared traveler is a happy traveler!

About Author

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Angel M
A Spanish speaking Puerto Rican Flight Attendant, Angel has been traveling since he was five years old. That love of travel has led him to many corners of the world, and that list of places grows every day! His love of technology and travel led to the creation of this website. By day a Flight Attendant and by night a web developer, Angel has over 10 years worth of web development experience. He loves riding motorcycles in exotic locations! He is married to the love of his life, and together they travel the world, in search of new adventures!

Comments

August 8, 2017
Awesome post! Every time I thought you had left a feature out, you talked about it! I love using this feature as a teacher! Makes it so much easier to create an album and share it with my students' parents. They can even add to my album with their pictures!
December 17, 2017
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