Over the past 3 years I’ve been traveling around the world with my drone. This amazing piece of equipment has allowed me to capture stunning photos and unbelievable footage wherever I go. Thankfully, it’s fairly easy and not too expensive to use one yourself and I’d like to share my experience with you in this guide to the best drone for travelers.
Any respectable travel blogger knows that good visuals are vitally important to any successful project. Whether you’re writing articles, uploading to YouTube or writing for magazines, it’s impossible to get away from the need for complimentary visuals.
As a professional travel blogger, I’ve spent over a decade doing all of this with my trusty arsenal of good travel cameras. Over the past few years, however, the consumer drone market has changed things. What used to be a “fun toy” is now a serious tool.
Let me be very clear before we get started: you do not NEED a drone.
Owning the best drone for travelers that money can buy will not automatically solve all your problems. In fact, as you’ll find in this article, it will present quite a few new problems. Like any camera, a drone is a tool that is only as good as the one who uses it.
However, with the dropping prices of quality consumer drones and the unique perspective they bring, it’s insane not to consider investing in the best drone for travelers. Below, I’d like to share my tips and recommendations to help you understand what you might want…and why.
Note: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means that at no extra cost to you, I may be compensated if you choose to purchase some of the products mentioned. Rest assured, I only share what I personally use, and I appreciate your support of this free website!
Traveling with a Drone | Size Matters
The biggest concern for any traveler is obviously the size and weight of what you pack in your bag. Smaller and lighter = better.
I remember a few years ago when I was cavorting across Asia with a massive DJI Phantom 4 in my bag. Ugh. The drone wasn’t heavy as much as it was just bulky. I transported it in a padded bag that was pretty much the size of a computer printer.
At the time I was elated to be hauling that “small bag” around but now I look at that and just shake my head. It was HUGE.
All of that changed in late 2016 with the announcement of two new drones: the GoPro Karma and, just one week later, the DJI Mavic Pro.
Problems plagued the Karma and it was discontinued in January 2018. Somehow DJI, on the other hand, has been able to not only improve the Mavic Pro but introduce other similar drones in the travel category such as the Mavic Air and the DJI Spark.
But before I share my opinion on the best drone for travelers, you need to consider the headache that it will be to use a drone while traveling across the globe.
Important Tips for Using a Drone While Traveling
Flying around the globe with your drone is a bit different than just sitting at home and flying one in your backyard. There are a number of things that you need to consider – things that I’ve had to learn the hard way.
Tip #1: Research Drone Laws in Each Country You Visit
The adoption of consumer travel drones has happened so quickly that most governments around the world are still racing to catch up in regulating them.
The important thing to remember is that each country has laws governing when, where and how you can fly drones…it is YOUR responsibility to know the laws before you travel.
- Register Your Drone: You must register your travel drone in every country you visit while traveling. It’s your responsibility to research what needs to be done and failure to do so will result in the confiscation of your drone. Let’s take China for example. The drone regulations in China say that any drone over 250 grams (~.55 lbs.) must be registered with the CAAC, China’s governing body. Registering can be done online easily, but failing to do so could get you in trouble.
- Know the Flight Restrictions: Every country has set up “No Fly Zones” or “NFZs”. This is true of the United States, China, Europe, Thailand and many, many others. These NFZs usually restricts usage around airports and major government offices. In China, though, these NFZs could limit your ability to fly in entire cities. Check the DJI NFZ map for your destination before you fly your drone.
- Understand Other International Drone Restrictions: Technically, if you’re doing commercial photography, you need to register with the country where you’re flying. There are also restrictions on max altitude within each country.
You can certainly take your chances and just fly your drone without any regard for registration or flight restrictions. Keep in mind, though: the risk here isn’t just the confiscation of your travel drone (which is costly). You also run the risk of being taken in by the local police.
Tip #2: Remove Drone Batteries Before You Fly
People often ask me about flying with a drone and my answer is pretty much always the same: it’s easy. I’ve never had any trouble flying around with my drone and I’ve never been given any special attention because of it.
Drones by themselves do not set off alarms at security nor do they raise any red flags at customs in most countries.
The most important thing to remember is that you can’t check luggage that has those big drone batteries in it. I’m usually putting my travel drone in my carry-on anyway, but in those cases where it’s easier to check it in with my luggage, I take the batteries out and put them in my carry-on.
Tip #3: Bring a Portable Phone Charger When You Travel
Here’s an example for reference: I have four Mavic Pro batteries that give me about 20-25 minutes of flying time each. When I use my iPhone as a monitor for my controller, I’m only able to use three Mavic Pro batteries before my phone goes dead. Sometimes I only get two.
The solution? I carry around a good portable phone charger. While I’m changing batteries on the drone or making other adjustments, I always have my phone charging to make sure I have enough juice to continue shooting as long as I want. A good portable charger only costs about $30-$45 and fits comfortably in your pocket.
Just make sure that you keep the charger battery full 😉
Tip #4: Study Good Travel Drone Photography / Videography Techniques
Getting good aerial photos and videos doesn’t just happen once you buy a quality drone for travelers. You really need to put in the time to learn drone photography from the pros.
There are entire courses that can be taken online and in person. At the very least, do some research on YouTube. Spend time watching other good travel bloggers who use drones as well as videos from people like Peter McKinnon who tell you how to make your drone footage more cinematic.
As I was learning, I spent a lot of time watching these types of videos and then went out to my local park to practice the various maneuvers and shots I liked.
It took time to learn it, but in the end the practice paid off.
Tip #5: Be Respectful & Safe Traveling with a Drone
This should be a no-brainer, and yet I’ve run into far too many travelers who disregard other people’s safety when flying their drone while traveling abroad.
Taking off in the middle of a crowded tour site just isn’t a good idea (and it’s usually not legal). It’s not safe and it doesn’t respect the privacy and experience of the other tourists.
My recommendation: I always prepare my travel drone and take off a considerable distance from any other people. There are two reasons for this:
- I want to respect other travelers – their travel experience and their safety.
- It limits problems. While flying my drone, there are times I’ve had people come up to me and tell me that it’s not allowed. The thing is…it is allowed, but they don’t know that. I can avoid these confrontations altogether if I take off away from any crowds and then fly in for the shots. People see the drone but don’t know where it came from.
Best Drone for Travelers 2019
Unfortunately there’s not much competition when it comes to a high quality drone for travelers. There’s DJI and then there’s…well, that’s about it.
You can talk to me all day about Parrot drones, Yuneec drones and other brands. They just don’t cut it. This is especially true when you’re traveling internationally. You want to buy a travel drone where you can easily find parts and extra batteries when necessary.
If you’re in the market for a quality travel drone that is built for easy travel, you only have a few options to choose from, all from DJI. Thankfully, they’re amazing drones.
DJI Mavic Pro 2
Widely considered the best travel drone on the market today, the Mavic Pro 2 captures pro-grade footage while providing unbelievable flight control. There are two version available: one that excels in picture quality (Hasselblad) and one that offers optical zoom (Zoom).
If you have the budget, this is the drone I use and recommend.
DJI Mavic Air
As with anything that is labeled “Air” nowadays, the DJI Mavic Air is a more compact version of the Mavic Pro travel drone. It’s so small, it can fit into most jean pockets, which is unbelievable. The camera isn’t as good as the Mavic Pro 2, but it’s still better than the Spark and most other drones.
The Mavic Air is a great combo of quality and value.
DJI Phantom 4
Although not as new and flashy as the Mavic Pro or Spark line of travel drones, the Phantom 4 still offers travelers a number of advantages. It is more stable in flight, easier to land and offers excellent image quality for both photos and video.
If you have the space, the Phantom 4 will get you the highest quality for the cheapest price.
Last but. not least, the DJI Spark is pretty much the smallest drone you’d want to use while traveling and still get good photos and video. It’s slightly harder to maneuver than it’s bigger brothers and the video quality doesn’t measure up, but it’s good enough for simple videos.
It’s also the cheapest option of this bunch, if that’s important to you.
Final Thoughts | Best Drone for Travelers
Regardless of whether you’re a professional travel blogger or just an aspiring photographer who is taking an epic trip around the world, investing in the best drone for travelers is going to make a world of difference.
Take the time to choose which drone fits your style and then do your research into local drone laws and regulations. Remember that a drone is just one of many tools in a travel bloggers toolbox and the more you can learn how to use it, the better.
Is there anything else you would add to this drone for travelers guide? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!