In our experience backpacking with a DJI Phantom, we have picked up a few necessary pieces of advice for traveling with a drone that we’d like to pass on to make the experience as easy as possible for you. The worst plan for traveling with a drone is just winging it. Travel is unpredictable, and traveling with a drone is no different.
Save yourself the annoyance, frustration (and legal fees?), and read our tips for traveling with a drone!
- 1 1. Get Yourself the Perfect Drone Bag
- 2 2. Look into the Drone Laws of Your Destination
- 3 3. Pack the Drone in Your Carry-On Luggage
- 4 4. Take Care of Your Drone Batteries
- 5 5. Set aside extra time for your flight
- 6 6. Don’t Forget the Essential Accessories
- 7 7. And Bring Some More Things for Cold Temperatures
- 8 8. Trust Your Gut
- 9 Like this post?
- 10 You Might Also Appreciate…
- 11 Do you have experience traveling with a drone?
1. Get Yourself the Perfect Drone Bag
The first dilemma of traveling with a drone is figuring out the best way to pack it. The travel case required for a larger drone may be a different story, but for packing a DJI Phantom, we’ve found the perfect travel drone bag for our needs: The Think Tank Airport Helipak.
We’ve already gone into great detail outlining the benefits of this bag, especially for traveling with a drone, so I won’t take too much of your time talking about that here. If you’re interested, feel free to check out our review of the Think Tank Airport Helipak as the best travel drone bag.
In summary, the bag is everything we need for packing a DJI Phantom: lightweight, organized, customizable, durable, comfortable, water resistant, inconspicuous, plane-friendly, spacious, and thoughtfully made. As travelers who are constantly on the go through various terrains, an awkward hard case is simply not portable enough, making it out of the question for us. The superb construction of the Think Tank Airport Helipak backpack allows us to bring everything we need while traveling with a drone, keeps all our gear well-protected, and allows for comfortable wearability no matter what travel conditions we’re enduring (which can be quite strenuous at times).
Better yet? The price is right.
Think Tank has reduced the price of the Airport Helipak, and no matter what you buy, every $50 or more order purchased through these links will get you free shipping plus a free gift. You’ll save a good $130 off a comparable DJI branded drone bag, and without the conspicuous DJI logo that just lets everyone around you know that you’re carrying an expensive piece of equipment (the last thing you want to advertise while backpacking with a DJI Phantom!).
2. Look into the Drone Laws of Your Destination
Perhaps the most irresponsible thing you can do when traveling with a drone is neglecting to research the drone laws of your destination. The last thing you want to do is to be arrested, pay a massive fine, have your drone confiscated, or even be deported because you didn’t take the time to look into the drone laws. Guys, IT HAPPENS.
Certain places require a permit or permission from local authorities, while other places will outright ban the use of drones. In Nicaragua, for example, drones will be forcibly taken from you and held in customs until you leave the country (while you front the fee to store it). Drones are also heavily restricted in Seoul because of its proximity to North Korea, and drone users are legally restricted to flying in places like drone parks. The entire region of Washington D.C. is also very much a no-fly zone.
The drone laws may vary, not just from country to country, but also city to city.
Thus, it is ESSENTIAL you research detailed drone-flying regulations about the specific places you hope to fly. No matter where you are, it’s safe to assume you may NOT fly on or around military bases, or within 5 miles of an airport. Also, certain resorts will have a strict no-fly policy for the privacy of their guests, and historical/religious sites may also restrict drones.
Remember, these laws are constantly changing and growing. Forums are always a great place to find information from fellow drone-flyers, as well as this Ultimate Guide to Drone Laws, and these more specific resources for Drone Regulations in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia & New Zealand. You should also read up on the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems resource and check out this Fly Safe page.
3. Pack the Drone in Your Carry-On Luggage
While this may be out of the question for larger drones, we wouldn’t recommend anything else but packing a DJI Phantom in your carry-on luggage. Just like I would never check in my DSLRs, I always avoid adding the additional risk of checking in the drone. I prefer to have an expensive piece of equipment such as a DJI Phantom under my eye at all times, and checking it in while flying on an airplane can open doors for it to be lost, damaged, or even stolen.
But besides security, there’s the issue of safety. You will absolutely have to carry on the drone batteries and we’ll discuss why in the next section.
4. Take Care of Your Drone Batteries
The LiPo batteries (lythium-polymer) that power a DJI Phantom should always be handled properly while traveling with a drone.
LiPo batteries should NEVER be checked in. The nature of LiPo batteries makes them potentially dangerous when handled improperly, and can start a fire. For this reason, you must carry-on all LiPo batteries onto the cabin, where you and airline flight crews can better monitor the batteries and have quick access to them if a fire were to occur.
In addition to carrying-on your LiPo batteries, you should always follow these guidelines for battery-care while traveling with a drone:
- Keep your batteries separate from your drone in your carry-on bag. If anything does happen to the batteries, you want to ensure your drone is still safe!
- Prevent a short circuit. Store each LiPo battery in its own plastic bag, reducing the chance of electrical arcing and moisture reaching the battery’s connectors.
- Store batteries in a fireproof LiPo safe bag. Since you’ve already put each battery in its own plastic bag, you can feel free to store batteries together in one LiPo bag.
- Research Airline Restrictions. Standard regulations enforce a limit of two lithium ion batteries over 100 watt hours (Wh) per passenger. However, there is typically no limit for most batteries under 100 watt hours.
5. Set aside extra time for your flight
Arrive to the airport a bit earlier than you would if you weren’t traveling with a drone!
When taking a drone on an airplane, it’s highly likely that it will take you more time to go through security. There’s nothing worse than the anxiety of rushing through an airport to avoid barely missing your flight, and there’s no reason to add even more stress to that when traveling with a drone.
What can you expect when taking your drone through airport security?
Your drone batteries will likely be inspected.
When I first started taking my DJI Phantom on airplanes, I always got stopped to have my batteries inspected. It’s fairly painless—security personnel verify what the batteries are used for, then look over and read the labels on the batteries. I’ve never had a problem, but it does add a bit of time which you may want to account for.
Your drone bag itself may be inspected.
Recently I haven’t had anyone stop me for the drone batteries—only for the drone bag. It might be because our drone bag gets a bit dusty when traveling (we often put it on the ground to launch the DJI Phantom off of), but the last several times we’ve gone through airport security, a sample has been taken off the outside of our bag for testing (presumably for bomb residue?). In these cases, they didn’t even open the bag. When this happens, our boarding pass is taken and scanned along with the sample, pending the test results. Also quite painless, but again, it does add a bit of time that you’ll want to account for.
You may be able to save time by taking out your drone batteries ahead of time.
Just like a laptop, you can take your drone batteries out before you scan your bag and put them in a separate bin. This isn’t necessary, but it may expedite the security process in the event that your batteries do need to be inspected.
6. Don’t Forget the Essential Accessories
Traveling with a drone is the worst time to be ill-prepared and not have the proper accessories. You’re likely not going to have time to go drop by a store (if there is even one around) that has what you need, so do yourself a favor and pack the essentials ahead of time.
Here are my essential accessories for traveling with a drone:
- Extra propellers. They add very little extra weight and can be very difficult to find depending on your destination.
- Rain cover. This has been a life-saver for us countless of times while traveling with a drone! Our Think Tank Drone Bag already comes with a high-quality rain cover, but if your drone case doesn’t, you’ll want to get something like this.
- Gimbal protection. Super important to have your gimbal lock and lens cover to protect your drone. Something like this Neewer DJI Phantom 3 Lens Cover and Gimbal Lock will do the trick for the DJI Phantom 3, and is much easier to install than the flimsy plastic gimbal lock used in the original packaging. For the DJI Phantom 4, this PolarPro DJI Phantom 4 Lens Cover and Gimbal Lock is also a fantastic option.
- Extra drone battery(ies). We don’t always have a reliable power source when traveling, so backup power is essential.
- Small Repair Kit. When you’re traveling you may not be able to find a place to make repairs or buy the tools to make them yourself, so make sure you have it with you. This Owoda Screwdriver Set for DJI Phantom will keep you covered if you feel comfortable making your own repairs while traveling with a drone.
- Phone/Tablet. OBVIOUSLY.
- Back-up portable charger for phone/tablet. For the same reasoning for bringing extra drone batteries.
- More than enough SD cards. Virtually weightless and extremely important, so throw in as many as you want! We recommend these SanDisk Extreme PRO 64GB SDXC Flash Memory Cards.
- Multi-Battery Charger for Your Drone. When you are able to find a power source, you likely won’t have time to switch out the battery manually. With this DJI Phantom 4 multi-charger, you can connect up to 3 batteries. This DJI Phantom 3 multi-charger allows you to connect a whopping 4 batteries at the same time, and have them charge overnight while you sleep!
- TSA Locks. There are many times while traveling in which we can’t have our drone with us, and locks are essential to having some piece of mind when storing our drone bag in someone else’s hands. We prefer to have a few cable luggage locks and some shorter alloy body TSA locks on hand at all times.
Flying a drone in cold temperatures is a whole ‘nother ball game, like here at the Harbin Ice Festival in China!
7. And Bring Some More Things for Cold Temperatures
Cold weather travel will certainly bring more obstacles for traveling with a drone. With cold temperatures slowing the chemical reactions of your LiPo batteries, the batteries will drain faster, have complications with voltage, and may not even be warm enough to start up your drone in the first place. But, traveling with a drone in the winter can be done. And with the incredible winter shots you can get, it’s totally worth it!
Having brought our drone to the coldest city in China for Harbin’s Ice and Snow World (the largest ice festival in the world), we’ve learned every essential you need to know for traveling with a drone in cold weather. You’ll need to account for shorter flight times, decreased battery life, problematic voltage, and so on, and their are several essential accessories you MUST bring when traveling with a drone in the winter (such as hand warmers, scarves or beanies, touch-screen gloves, and a portable charger for phone/tablet). For every important detail of what to bring and what procedures to follow for cold weather drone travel, check out our Travel Drone Tips: Flying a Drone in Cold Weather.
8. Trust Your Gut
Arguably the most important rule for travel in general, trusting your instinct is just as important, if not moreso, when traveling with a drone. Travel itself brings so many obstacles and surprises, and a drone can often compound these issues. Preparation is, first and foremost, the most essential thing you can do to maintain your sanity when traveling with a drone. Save yourself the hassle of dealing with airports that won’t let you through with your drone, with police that confiscate your drone, and cold weather that wants to knock it out the air by being as prepared as possible. But even with all the preparation in the world, you may still come across an issue while on the road in which the most important thing to rely on is your instinct. You may climb your drone to the top of the mountain only to meet the nastiest wind that would smash your drone into a cliff if you tried to land it. Do you still attempt it? You need to assess the conditions and use your own judgement. Trust yourself, because at the end of the day, that’s your drone baby you’re putting at risk!
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Do you have experience traveling with a drone?
Let us know in a comment below!