This is probably the single most common accident while travel: water damage. There’s a lot you can do to prevent water from damaging your camera while traveling, but hey, accidents happen.
If the camera has any water in it at all, your first step is to turn it off. Remove the batteries if possible to do so without getting more water. While doing all this, keep the camera tipped so that the lens faces groundwards. This will allow the water to drain in the way least likely to damage the circuitry.
Next, rub it down with a towel. Those nice fluffy ones you find in hotels will do well, as long as they’re clean. Once it’s as dry as you can possibly make it, leave it out in a warm, sunny, ventilated place where it can safely dry out.
Water damage is a dangerous thing to work with, so unless you’re a competent DIYer, it’s probably just best to let your camera company deal with anything that can’t just be dried—or buy a new camera.
For more information, check out this article on dealing with water damage in cameras.
Sand & Dirt Damage
Lens error is a common calamity for cameras—usually caused by that wonderful golden sand you just spent the day frolicking on. While it may be scary for photographers to see their baby not even respond to their touch, there’s still hope.
Mostly, you need to try and remove the dirt from inside the camera. If at all possible, try and locate a vacuum to literally suck the dirt out. Also, try gently tapping the lens barrel with the lens facing the ground at different angles to try and knock any grit loose.
Here’s more on what to do if you get sand in your camera.
This article explains the details of the techniques behind fixing a lens error if it is caused by sand.
Dropping, bumping, knocking it about—all are possible causes of shock damage. The symptoms can vary greatly, and not all of them are curable while you’re out and about. However, there are sometimes things you can do.
If you have a lens error caused by some lens barrel pins gotten off track, then your likely fix involves a little more prodding. Try gently tapping the lens barrel while holding it at a variety of angles to try and bump them back into place. Check out the same lens error article as for sand damage for more details.
You might be able to work around the damage in the meantime. For instance, with a cracked or scratched lens, you can learn how to take good pictures despite the flaws - think damage reduction.
Otherwise… well. You’ve probably broken your camera pretty thoroughly, and there’s not much you can do while you’re traveling. You could purchase a cheap point & shoot for under a hundred dollars as a stand-in until you get home.
For bringing it back, make sure that you store all the parts in a padded, dry bag, preferably a carry on, as a damaged camera is even more vulnerable to further damage. Once home, you can either get your camera repaired, either through the warranty or as a DIY job, or if all else fails, spend some time researching your options for a new camera and purchase.
Know Your Warranty & Prevention
Give your warranty a thorough reading before travel. Will you be able to get camera help while abroad? Does it cover accidents that happen during travel? Carrying a copy around with you will make sure that you’ll be able to get the care you need.
Also, consider purchasing insurance for your camera, or including your camera in your home insurance, especially if you’re planning on being a bit rough with it. Accidents can and will happen, and if your camera is of the especially expensive variety, it’s better not to end up with a hole in your wallet.
That being said, your chances of having to resort to all this are considerably reduce with a few simple techniques and accessories. Check out other articles in this series for good measures on preventing damage in the first place, so you can keep on doing what you want to do while traveling - like photography.