Time and again, friends, colleagues and random strangers will ask me about which digital camera or camcorder they should buy. Predictably, it's usually right before one of them is going on a big vacation. In my opinion, this is the absolute worst time to buy a brand new and expensive piece of technology. Here's why.
First off, I want to clarify that I don't mean you shouldn't bring an expensive, high-end camera when traveling, either for business or pleasure. By all means, if you're an avid photographer (no matter what skill level), then you want to capture the memories the best way you can. I treasure my vacation photos, and I'm certainly not going to settle for some low-res rubbish on a camera phone. (For reference, I currently travel with the Olympus PEN E-PL1 Micro Four Thirds camera for its compactness combined with high-quality shooting and HD video recording.)
Nevertheless, the biggest reason not to buy a camera right before departure is you're probably not going to know how to use it properly. Even if it's a point-and-shoot camera or a mini-camcorder, each model comes with its own preset functions, confusing settings and different buttons. You don't want to be fumbling around in front of the Great Wall of China trying to figure out how to zoom in and out, do you?
You should be completely comfortable with your camera, especially when you're in a setting that isn't your element. I cringe a bit every time I see a tourist walking around casually with a heavy DSLR sporting a long, pricey-looking lens hanging around their necks as if it's not going to attract any attention. This might be safe at Disneyland, but it's not in most cities around the world - and especially not at night. It's best to keep your camera in your bag, even if you want to make it readily available. But you won't be able to shoot anything in a reasonable amount of time if you don't know how to use your camera the way you want to, so learn how to use the darn thing first. I'd recommend at least a few weeks with a variety of shooting situations, such as daytime, nighttime, indoors, parties, etc.
Finally, this might not have much substance, but if you buy a brand new gadget right before taking off, it's like you're asking for it. I don't like to be superstitious, but it just seems like something bad is bound to happen, whether it be a theft or the camera gets broken. Definitely the latter has happened to me, even when the camera was over a year old. That's mainly because I'm a butterfingers, but it could also happen if you're not very familiar or used to holding the device. So again, you want to be old friends with your camera or camcorder.
At least if you lost something that was a bit old, you won't be kicking yourself for spending a few hundred dollars (or more) right before an expensive vacation for nothing.