5 Tips for Traveling with a Drone
If you’re a seasoned traveler, chances are you’ve seen a drone at a popular attraction at one point or another. Drones are everywhere these days, and travel photography and videography is becoming one of the most popular uses of the flying cameras. And while they can be obnoxious if in the wrong hands, they can also be used as a valuable tool to document your travels.
Many travelers these days bring a nice camera with them on their travels, whether it’s a DSLR, a GoPro or both. They’re great ways to share your travels with others. Now a drone should be considered in your camera arsenal if you’re someone who is serious about traveling.
There are some things to think about if you’re deciding to take the plunge into the drone world. Flying drones is an extremely fun hobby for many, and a serious profession for others. So if you’ve ever thought about adding a drone to your travel list — or maybe you’re just thinking that now for the first time — here are five tips for making the most out of traveling with a drone.
1) Learn about local drone regulations before you travel
It’s important to note that every country has its own laws regarding drones. In the United States, you can’t fly your drone higher than 400 feet above the ground. You also can’t fly over people and you can’t fly within five miles of an airport without prior notice.
Many countries have a set of rules that align closely with the Federal Aviation Administration’s laws, but that doesn’t mean your home country’s rules are necessarily the same as a foreign country.
It also may depend on what you are using your drone for during your travels. If you are flying for commercial purposes, that could present a whole new set of challenges, or perhaps additional paperwork. Again, be sure to check before you leave for your trip.
There is, unfortunately, no perfect, centrally localized list of each country’s drone rules. Websites like PetaPixel and UAV Coach do their best to keep pilots up to date with international regulations, but the rules are always changing. Your best bet? Go straight to the source: contact the local transportation or airspace authorities of the country you’re visiting.
2) Consider portability when looking into drones
One thing to remember is that you’ll have to carry your drone with you as you travel. Depending on how much luggage you’re already bringing, the thought of adding a drone can be daunting.
Luckily for you, drones with high-quality cameras are becoming smaller and more portable than ever. DJI, which dominates the consumer drone market, introduced the Mavic Pro a year ago and just recently unveiled an even smaller version of its popular drone: the Mavic Air. Each is capable of taking 4K video and high-quality photos despite their small stature.
Both the Mavic Pro and Mavic Air are small enough to put in a backpack, including the drone’s controller. They both weigh less than two pounds, so they shouldn’t weigh you down much at all if you’re backpacking through Europe or navigating the islands of Southeast Asia. The Yuneec Breeze is a slightly cheaper option for a portable drone, although you sacrifice camera quality with the lower price tag.
Speaking of traveling with your drone, be sure to note that drones use lithium batteries, which means you’ll need to carry them onto the plane with you when flying. Airlines won’t allow lithium batteries to be checked, for safety reasons. You may get stopped when going through the security line at airports as they take a closer look at the drone, but at this point, drones are commonplace enough where they may no longer raise an eyebrow.
3) Practice before you travel
As excited as you may be to take your new toy on your trip, it’s important to know what you’re doing first.
Drones are being built to fly safer than ever, and their controls and features are increasingly intuitive for drone pilots. But that doesn’t mean they’re fool-proof. If you need examples, drone video website AirVūz has hundreds of examples of drone videos of fails and crashes from pilots of all experience levels.
If you’ve never flown before, watch tutorial videos and read your drone’s instruction manual before taking to the sky. When you do your maiden flight, make sure it’s in a wide-open space with little to no potential obstacles for you to fly into.
As you continue to fly and gain experience, play around with all of the different features your drone offers. That way, when you’re finally ready to travel, you’ll know how everything works. You’d hate to get to your destination and have your drone crash on the first day because you didn’t know what you were doing.
4) Scout your locations
Regardless of whether you’re lugging around a big drone case or you have a portable drone in your backpack, you don’t want to necessarily have to carry it around more than is necessary. That’s why it’s important to have an idea of where you want to fly before you actually do it.
Many pilots will use Google Maps to see satellite images of locations they might be interested in droning. That will give you an idea of the scenery, potential hazards, and cool things you’ll want to capture with your footage.
Scouting your location ahead of time also means knowing if a certain spot is drone friendly. In other words, will the resort you’re staying at allow you to fly on the premises, or will you have to find another spot to launch from? It’s not always easy to know these things ahead of time, but do your best to research the places you hope to fly at. And be sure to be respectful of other travelers when you’re flying. You wouldn’t want a drone buzzing over you as you’re relaxing on a beach or trying to see a popular attraction, and neither do other tourists.
5) Get inspired!
It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole of cool drone videos on YouTube or AirVūz. Drones have been mainstream for several years now, so tons of people have been flying them, and that means they’ve also been making videos. By now, you’ve seen drones used in TV commercials, movies and plenty more. But have you watched aerial footage with a critical eye? If not, it might be a good (and fun) idea to watch a bunch of drone videos before you take off on your travels.
If you’re new to making videos, you can pick up tips from other cinematographers as you watch their footage. Each person has a different style, so don’t feel like you have to copy someone else’s editing techniques or flying patterns. Develop your own style but don’t be afraid to get inspired by the work of other drone pilots. Watching other videos can also inspire you to see something on your trip that you maybe weren’t planning on. Seeing the world from the sky gives a whole different perspective to things, so your eyes might be opened when watching aerial footage.
Above all else, have fun flying and fly responsibly. Drones are changing the way we see the world, and they can soon change the way you see yours as well.
Tyler Mason is a commercial drone pilot and freelance journalist based in Minneapolis. He began flying drones in late 2015 and has been a writing about college and professional sports in the Twin Cities since 2011. Tyler also enjoys traveling with his wife and has visited three continents in the past three years.