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CNN photojournalist shares travel secrets

Story Highlights

• In 2006, veteran photojournalist traveled to more than 20 states
• He travels with gadgets such as iPod, DVDs, GPS device
• He says it's critical that those who depend on him know where he his
• Preparation for travel is important, he said, "but still expect the worst"
By Manav Tanneeru
CNN
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Whether driving over fallen trees on highways to uncover the devastating effects of a hurricane or getting on a flight at a moment's notice to keep up with a breaking story, Chris Davis, a veteran photojournalist, is not the average business traveler.

Yet the wisdom he has accumulated from the many journeys during his career of more than 15 years may provide helpful insights to the pinstriped business traveler navigating life on the road.

Davis, currently based out of CNN's Midwest Bureau in Chicago, Illinois, was one of the company's most traveled journalists last year.

In a telephone interview, he said that in 2006, he traveled to more than 20 states. He covered wildfires in California and the mining tragedy in West Virginia. He traveled as far south as Kentucky and Texas, and north to Michigan and Wisconsin.

The traveling became so frenzied and blurring that Davis has begun keeping a notebook of his trips.

"It's a whirlwind. It's kind of like 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles,' " he said with a laugh, referring to the 1987 movie in which a man encounters a stunning amount of bad luck as he struggles to make it home to his family for the holidays.

Davis is a married father of two children -- one is 13 months old and the other just turned 3 -- with another on the way in December. The demands of home life, never far from his mind, have begun to color the unpredictability of his job, he said.

"As soon as I hear of anything brewing, I get my wife, Renee, in the loop," he said.

When news broke of the shootings on the Virginia Tech campus in April, Davis said he immediately thought he'd be covering the story, even though he was hundreds of miles away and working for a bureau not responsible for the region.

About noon on the day of the shootings, he was told to catch a flight. "I told my wife that I'm going, we're getting on a plane and I don't know when we are coming back," he said.

He was at the scene in Virginia by 5 p.m. and began covering a story that shook parents across the country.

"Being a father now, I know what every one of those [victims'] fathers and mothers ... had to deal with that day," he said.

Technology eases life on the road

Davis also rushed to the Gulf Coast region following Hurricane Katrina's devastating rampage through the area in August 2005.

He traveled from Louisiana to affected areas in Mississippi such as Gulfport and Waveland just after the storm, when many area roads were dangerously littered with tree logs and other storm-strewn debris.

"One thing I couldn't get at Wal-Mart was a chainsaw, or else we could have gotten through more logs," he said somewhat regretfully.

However, Davis had enough supplies during the coverage of Hurricane Katrina to live out of his car for about two weeks, he said.

Not all of his travel stories are that dramatic. Many are mundane and involve the rigors endured by many business travelers.

He arrives at the airport an hour before the flight just like everyone else and travels with DVDs to wait out the seemingly inevitable delay. In many cases, he makes a home in the motels and hotels that dot highways and has made it a personal challenge to find good Chinese food wherever he goes.

Davis said emerging technology has made travel much easier. He carries pictures of his kids in his iPod and hopes to set up a video camera on the next computer he's issued from CNN so he can talk to home.

He also now carries his own Global Positioning System (GPS) to map locations -- both familiar and obscure -- that he visits for stories.

"You look at business people everywhere, and it's starting to become the norm," he said. Years ago, a GPS device was a luxury, but "now it's a necessity," he said.

Davis said the constant travel has taught him a few lessons about the road that may resonate with many business travelers.

Some realizations are seemingly obvious, such as the importance of communication. "You have to make sure that people who look at you as an asset are filled in on what's going on with your delays and what not, so that there are no surprises," he said.

Other realizations, though apparently obvious, seem more hard won. After encountering hurricanes, flight delays, canceled reservations, wildfires and after crisscrossing the country dozens of times, he's learned to take nothing for granted.

"The more you are exposed to [the road], the more you realize that it's so volatile," he said. "Things could change, so basically you have to prepare and prepare, but still expect the worst."


Chris Davis and Anderson Cooper covering Hurricane Katrina

CNN photojournalist Chris Davis (third from the right) with anchor Anderson Cooper and New Orleans police officers in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

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