The first time I’ve travelled on a plane with my drone, I’ve asked myself a lot of questions. Is it actually allowed to travel with a drone? Can I put it in my carry-on bag or should it be in my checked suitcase? Can I travel with it to any country? With those flying quadcopters becoming so popular now, there are obviously some rules and regulations to be aware of before travelling with them.
In this post, I’m giving you travel tips and guidance to safely take your drone with you and get the most of it on your next trip.
Check the laws at your travel destination
First of all, you need to be aware that each country has its own laws for the use of unmanned aircraft like drones. It is not legal to fly a drone everywhere and some countries banned or planned to ban drones altogether. Fortunately for us drone pilots, many countries are just not very regarding. They allow recreational flights as long as it doesn’t bother anyone.
Nonetheless, you should always do your best and check the laws at your travel destination. Be careful, if you attempt to visit a country where drones are not allowed. You will probably get it confiscated and it won’t get returned to you. Yikes! In some spots, drones are only allowed if you register for a permit, in order to fly and record images and this even for private use.
In short, you better make sure to visit the official government website of the country you plan to visit and ensure it’s allowed to fly. They are usually pretty clear about the drone regulations and how you can use them. And I recommend to do it at least a month or two before you travel as it might take some time to register your drone if needed.
Also, make sure your airline company allows you to travel with a drone. While most airlines are fine with them, but you better check ahead of your flight, especially if you travel with a larger drone.
Travel light and ditch the “just-in-case”
When you travel with a drone, you will need to make a certain amount of sacrifices on your luggage space depending on the size of your device. A small DJI Mini is definitely more space-efficient than a DJI Phantom quadcopter. However, they are not fulfilling the same purpose. If you’re reading this article and you haven’t bought your drone yet, then you must consider its size, weight and also all the accessories you might need before you purchase one.
If you travel by car, you will probably have much more space for a larger drone. However, when you take a drone on a plane, that means you get constrained by the airline luggage size and weight. And it will definitely force you to renounce carrying some non-essential belongings, such as the infamous “just-in-case” gears. Travelling lightweight is always much nicer though. I can’t recommend enough to leave at home anything that won’t be useful during your trip, to leave enough space for your drone and accessories and limit your luggage weight. I’m telling you more about what accessories you should bring below.
Get yourself a comfortable drone travel bag
It’s important to invest in a convenient travel bag and not just any random bag. Having the right bag makes a huge difference to travel comfortably with your drone. When I did my first solo trip, I had a large shoulder bag with about 8kg of photography gears in it. It was a real pain to travel with it, due to the heavy weight on a single shoulder plus my main suitcase. A mistake I’ve quickly fixed by replacing it with a comfortable backpack.
So what’s a good drone travel bag you would ask? Those quadcopters are very fragile creatures with quite some moving parts. The camera and its gimbal but also their small motors and propellers can break easily. You want a bag that will protect your drone from shocks, but also rain and dust because let’s face it, it won’t be sunny every day out there. You also need to consider its portability, a bag that is lightweight and easy to travel with especially if you plan to take a plane with it. A drone represents a rather expensive investment you want to keep safe.
They are usually very common for smaller drones, like the DJI Mavic series or Parrot Anafi. Those drones are great as they can be folded. It makes them easier to carry with you on a small shoulder bag. You should prefer a small shoulder bag, lightweight and easy to carry around for a day. They can also fit in a regular backpack or a suitcase while still protecting your drone decently. Those small shoulder bags cannot fit all the accessories you might need, so in addition, you should also get yourself some individual pouch bags for your batteries, charger and other accessories. This is the solution I personally prefer, it’s the most modular approach for small drones and equipment. You can just take what you need with you and leave your cable pouch at the hotel for example.
Backpacks or soft shell bags
Backpacks are fairly common for larger drones such as a DJI Phantom or even FPV drones with goggles. Those drones cannot fold so you’ve got no other choice than a good backpack for them. A great backpack should have many pockets and compartments that can be customized to fit your accessories. Of course the drone itself but also the remote, spare batteries, charger etc. The bag should also have additional space for personal items or even a water bottle. If you have a small or foldable drone and you plan to travel with a DSLR camera and lenses, then a backpack would definitely be a good choice too!
Hardshell bags or cases are the most protecting ones for your drone. They have superior impact protection and keep your drone fully secure. However, they can be very bulky and not easy to travel with on a plane or a train. In my opinion, the only reasons I would recommend to travel with a hardshell case is to travel either by car with plenty of storage space or to carry a larger professional drone and ensure its protection is guaranteed.
Prepare your drone flights in advance
When we travel to a new place, we are often not sure what to expect in term of landscape or weather. And generally, we don’t know where are the best locations to fly a drone. It would be a shame to miss opportunities as we usually don’t travel back to those places. This is why before sending a drone in the wild, I recommend to make some research about the places you want to fly and prepare some kind of a flight plan, or at least a list of great spots. This can help you to be more efficient and record the footage you really want.
It is important to know about the area and the terrain, the weather, the sun position to get the best shots. It is also crucial to ensure it is allowed to fly in the area you planned to. For example, there can be an airport close or a restricted area close-by. Drones are often considered a nuisance for some people. You should try to drive responsibly and preferably away from people.
Apps and websites to help you plan your flights
To find great spots, I recommend using map apps such as Google Maps with the Satellite view or even Google Earth to get a nice 3D render and spot places that could be interesting to fly over. Taking note of the buildings, trees or power lines around a certain place can be useful too. Mapping apps are also great to simply browse through them and maybe discover a beautiful lake you didn’t expect to be there. I also use Pinterest to see if anyone previously spotted charming locations by simply searching for drone or photo spots.
For the sun position, I have used now for many years the app Photopills. This fantastic app allows you to predict the position of the sun at the destination and visualize exactly where and when it will set. It is very helpful to prepare your flight when you want to catch an amazing sunrise or sunset while taking into account the surrounding. There is also an augmented reality mode to see the sun trajectory.
Last but not the least, I use a No-Fly zone map to ensure I am allowed to fly in a certain area. The one from the DJI Fly app is very good if you have a DJI drone. If your drone app doesn’t come with a No-Fly zone map, you might want to download Drone buddy to have access to it. This app also gives you interesting advanced details about the weather at your destination. You can also access the No-Fly zone map directly from the DJI website.
Bring with you some extra accessories
Any gear you travel with requires accessories and drones are no exception. There are a number of accessories to consider getting in order to improve your flights. When it comes to choosing accessories to travel with, they are not the same as the ones we use staying home. This list is not exhaustive yet make sure to consider the size and weight of the accessories you chose to take with you before your travel.
Make sure you have extra propellers
The propellers are one of the most fragile parts of the drone, they can be easily break even with a stupidly small crash. I wish you to never encounter a crash but it is safer to always have spare propellers in case it happens. It would be a shame not to be able to fly again during the rest of your trip!
Multiple SD cards
You might be tempted to purchase a large 512GB SD card to be fine during your entire trip. I do not recommend this. Let’s just imagine for a second the SD card just stops working, gets corrupted and cannot be read anymore? Or worst, you crash your drone and lose it completely? You’ll also lose all the recorded videos on it! What a disaster! This is why I personally prefer to use multiple SD cards of smaller capacities. I can swap them every day or so and keep them with me. If one of them stops working yes I will lose the videos in it, but at least not everything. If you can, I recommend to backup the SD cards and transfer the footages to an external drive which are usually more reliable. I do this with my iPad I always carry with me on my trips.
Extra batteries and a car charger
Most drones today have a fly time of around 20 to 30 minutes and the battery time goes very quickly! I’ve experienced being out of battery in front of beautiful scenery and it’s just so annoying not to be able to fly. At least one or two additional batteries should provide enough juice to enjoy your drone as much as you can. Unfortunately, most drone batteries cannot be charged from power banks due to their need for more power. If you’re on a road trip, I recommend getting a car charger to revive your batteries while you drive to your destination.
Sun hood for the screen
There will be many occasions where the sunlight is just too strong to see what’s on the screen. If like me you use your phone connected to the drone’s remote controller, the device display will certainly get difficult to see with a very bright surrounding. A sun hood is a very cheap investment and a super lightweight accessory that can save you from searching a corner of shadow in order to see clearly. For remote controllers with an integrated monitor, you might not need one if it has a super-bright display.
Camera filters to improve your shots
To record or picture more advanced images, you can use camera filters. They help improve image quality in different ways. I usually bring with me a CPL Filter which polarizes my images the same way it does with polarized sunglasses. It can improve image saturation and reduce the reflection and glare on the images. I also bring a few ND filters which can create great cinematic effects or long exposure shots. If you want to learn more about drone ND filters, I’d recommend you to have a watch of this great video which can apply to any drone.
Get your drone ready for the airport
In most cases taking a drone through the airport will go as smooth as butter, considering you follow basic ground rules before jumping on your next flight. Passing the airport security with a drone has never been a problem for me and I’ll explain to you how it usually goes.
Keep your drone in your carry-on bag
Well, we all know how our checked luggage is handled by airports. Loading and unloading the bags with a drone in there can definitely damage them. I wouldn’t dare to put my drone on my checked bag, I always keep it with me on my carry-on to make sure it stays intact. If you have a hardshell case though then it should be all good to leave your drone in your checked luggage.
Any spare batteries must stay in the carry-on bag too. Those are not allowed by airline companies in checked bags. Some airlines can even require you to secure the batteries in LiPo Guard cases as they are considered a fire risk. Make sure to check your airline guidelines. You can also protect the battery terminals with tape or plastic protection to avoid short-circuit if you wish.
Arrive early to pass the airport security
While most of the time the airport security check goes well, there might be some airports that are stricter than others. This is why it’s better to arrive earlier than usual in case there is any issue – you wouldn’t want to miss your flight because you got stuck at the security gate. As usual, they ask you to remove all electronic devices from our bags and this includes the drone and the batteries. The batteries are usually what comes to the attention of the security so it’s better to make sure they are well visible in the bin and easy to inspect. Despite all the precautions taken, don’t be surprised if your bin gets put on the side. The officers probably just want to check everything is normal.
Enjoy your flights!
It is so great to be able to travel to different countries with a drone. You can bring home a lot of beautiful images of amazing new perspectives. If you follow the government rules and best practices, everything should go just fine! Enjoy your flights!
I’ve travelled to Sardinia in October 2020 with my DJI Mavic Air 2 drone and this is the film I’ve created with my recordings.