Travel Gear & Cameras Travel Tips Traveling with a Drone

Traveling with a Drone: 8 ESSENTIAL Tips to Avoid Insanity

Traveling with a Drone: 8 Essential Tips to Avoid Insanity
Traveling with a drone can be a royal pain in the you-know-what—that is, without a few helpful tips for packing the DJI Phantom (or other drone) and moving around with it. After all, not everyone has a shockingly small DJI Mavic or a GoPro Karma (and even those who do will find many of these tips helpful). Since we picked up our own drone, we’ve learned a heck of a lot carting it from country to country. We’ve carried the drone through the pouring rain while Sapa trekking in Vietnam, to the many beaches of Jeju Island (including this spectacular Hidden Beach), up the colorful Daedunsan Mountain, to a Jeju tangerine farm, and ’round the magnificent island of Bali, to name a few places.

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!

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.

Think Tank Airport Helipack Drone Bag DJI

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 giftYou’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 arrestedpay a massive finehave your drone confiscated, or even be deported because you didn’t take the time to look into the drone laws. Guys, IT HAPPENS.


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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, AfricaAsia, and Australia & New Zealand. You should also read up on the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems resource and check out this Fly Safe page.

 

Backpacking with a Drone DJI Phantom

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.


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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.

 

How to Travel with a Drone

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.

 

Beast mode

A post shared by L A U R E N + B E N 🌏TRAVELERS (@televisionofnomads) on

 

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.
  • 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.
  • 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 beaniestouch-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.

Traveling with a Drone

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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Traveling with a Drone pin

 


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18 Comments

  • Reply
    robert sparks
    February 1, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    no. 9: extra drone.

  • Reply
    Raymond Carroll
    February 4, 2017 at 11:35 am

    Great tips. I’d love a drone. I was in Koh Samui in July 2016 and I saw a few guys flying them down at the beach. My son and I got talking to one of the guys and he showed us the footage he had taken – it was amazing! Great wee gadgets. Good post. I have bookmarked this post as I am off to Nepal in October and may invest in one of these for that trip. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Cassandra D'Alessandro
    February 4, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    Wow! I love your photos. They are so beautiful. Thanks for the tips for the drones. I got one for Christmas and too be honest I don’t have a clue how to use it. This was vey helpful 🙂

  • Reply
    Linger Abroad
    February 4, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    I can relate to all of these tips. I have a DJI Phantom that I took around Europe and I pretty much had to cover all of these. The trickiest one is definitely no. 2 with the drone laws. I had a time while in Scotland flying in what I thought was a good wide open area, but was approached by a local with a shotgun and notified me that it turned out to be on private land. While he was pretty cool about it, despite the openness of the country, some land owners may not like a drone hovering around. It was also a bit cumbersome to carry my drone around and I may look into getting a Mavic for convenience.

  • Reply
    Julianne
    February 4, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    Wow, what a comprehensive guide! I’ve never used a drone before, nor do I own one, but I can tell by reading your post that you really know what you’re talking about. Your point about knowing the laws about drones in each country and/or city you travel to was especially interesting — while it makes sense to me that D.C. would be a no fly zone, I hadn’t thought about places like Seoul or Nicaragua. Kudos on a great post!

  • Reply
    Global Girl Travels
    February 4, 2017 at 10:51 pm

    Drones are so handy indeed. You can take photos and videos from another perspective! It is so great for traveling and capturing the best photos and videos. It definitely is important to check regulations so you are not penalized or get arrested for defying laws, as you said.

  • Reply
    Samantha Lorenz
    February 5, 2017 at 12:51 am

    I’ve long considered taking a drone on our travels because of the unique perspective it would offer. I had no idea you’d have to do so much to protect the batteries! We had a battery bank of ours confiscated in Shanghai so I’d definitely have to study up on the regulations before committing, but I bet you get some amazing footage with it!

  • Reply
    Lynne Sarao
    February 5, 2017 at 8:22 am

    I don’t have a drone yet, but I absolutely love the photos you’re able to take with one so I’d love to look into getting one eventually! I’m going to pin your tips for when I do. Great stuff!

  • Reply
    travelwithtarah
    February 5, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    Been really debating buying a drone lately, this is super helpful! Thanks!

  • Reply
    Eulanda
    February 6, 2017 at 7:25 am

    Really great tips! We bought a practice drone for Christmas, and will be upgrading after we complete our flight course. These tips will definitely come in handy when we start travelling with it.

  • Reply
    Clare
    February 6, 2017 at 9:57 am

    I had no idea it was so complicated travelling with a drone. I can understand that it must be hard carrying it to all the places to get the perfect shots. I had no idea about the different laws in each country or the hassle of taking it through the airport!! Maybe one day I would like to get one though I need to learn to pack lighter to be able to fit a drone in too 🙂

  • Reply
    Sebastian
    February 7, 2017 at 12:22 am

    Esential infos, thank you!

  • Reply
    Gillian
    February 7, 2017 at 12:23 am

    Wow, great tips! Especially checking the laws. First need to get a drone though 🙂 But I am saving this page for when I do!

  • Reply
    Mike Clegg - Travel and Destinations
    February 7, 2017 at 12:53 am

    Absolutely top post and super helpful. I have considered buying one for a while but have always been unsure about the transportation issues.

    I know you’re not allowed to fly them near airports but it’s interesting to know the extra legal implications that you mentioned.

    How do you go about packing your DSLR bag AND the drone into hand luggage? Can you normally fit all that in one big hand luggage case?

  • Reply
    Sylvanmist
    February 7, 2017 at 1:52 am

    Sounds like a headache to take it with you, but this guide of yours does help! Thanks for the info 🙂

  • Reply
    kylie cre8tone
    February 8, 2017 at 11:26 am

    The guide is good.. Let’s go travel..

  • Reply
    Mike Lee
    August 31, 2017 at 12:04 am

    This is such a cool article and one that really helps me because I have been anxious about travelling with a drone till now. Learning about the drone laws has to be the most essential part of any trip and most people just assume that they are allowed everywhere. Great tips and very helpful, will be going through them again before the next trip.

  • Reply
    Tom
    September 10, 2017 at 8:30 am

    This is a really helpful article! We’ll go Long time travelling soon and we take our DJI Spark with us, so thank you for those helpful tips.

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