One of the things that has changed in the past year is that we now travel with a drone. It offers new and exciting ways to capture elements of our trip that were previously inaccessible. They are an awesome tool for travelers, and we’ve been using our DJI Mavic Air drone more frequently and have been excited about the footage we’ve managed to capture. Though when we first started using a drone, we were really nervous about traveling with it. We kept worrying that it would get confiscated, or even worse, that we would end up in a foreign jail for violating some local laws.
Below is a list of tips that we’ve compiled since we started traveling with a drone. We hope this helps to not only make you a more confident drone traveler, but also a more responsible and informed drone operator.
Drone travel tips:
1. Check and follow local laws:
Some places are notoriously strict about flying drones and will even confiscate them at the airport. Your best bet is to look online, and also in specific forums where people have shared their experience.
Also, check to see if your destination country has any apps to help. When I visited England, they had a free app that helped to identify restricted areas, and it seemed to be more up-to-date than some of the US-based airspace apps.
If you plan to take your drone on a cruise ship, be aware that most cruises prohibit drones from being brought on board. Some friends of ours recently went on a cruise through the Caribbean, and they had their drone confiscated by the cruise ship during their trip. I recommend checking rules before you go.
2. Keep your drone & batteries in your carry-on bag:
You’ll want to make sure to keep your drone and batteries in your carry-on bag when traveling on planes. Since drones typically use Lithium Polymer, or LiPo batteries, they cannot be in your checked-in luggage due to the risk of fire.
3. Use a LiPo bag:
This isn’t a requirement, but it’s more of best practice when traveling with LiPo batteries. The bags are meant to contain any fire that could occur from your battery. It’s also recommended that your batteries be discharged to 50% or less when traveling. That’s difficult to do, so we recommend getting a LiPo bag and use it when flying. The chance of your battery catching fire is low, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Plus, if you drone get scrutinized at the airport, I think it helps to show good intention and responsibility with the LiPo bag.
4. Take out your batteries during airport security:
The batteries are likely to cause the most concern when traveling, so it helps to have it out when going through security screening.
5. Load updates and maps at the hotel:
There’s nothing worse than getting ready to fly your drone and realizing that you need to update to the latest firmware. And what’s even worst is getting that message when you don’t have a fast and reliable internet connection. Our recommendation is to boot up your drone in your hotel before starting your day and ensuring that you have the latest firmware loaded. Also, you may have to try it with every battery as some firmware updates get loaded onto the batteries.
6. Be discreet and respectful:
There are a lot of negative feelings toward drone operators, and sadly, a lot of it is based on people flying drones in inappropriate places. Our advice is to avoid crowds and try to not gather attention to yourself. And be considerate to those that may not want to hear you flying a drone overhead. A tip is to fly early in the morning if you want to avoid crowds in places and catch the sunrise.
7. Be cautious of extreme weather:
Cold weather can really affect the performance of your drone, especially when it comes to the battery. If you plan to fly in cold weather, you may want to warm the battery beforehand or allow the drone to hover to warm up before going full throttle on the controls. Hot and humid weather can also cause your drone to overhead, so be mindful of the temperature and know that weather can change the way your drone will lift and fly.
Also, while flying in conditions like fog may seem like a great opportunity, it can cause a lot of moisture to build-up on and in your drone, not to mention limit your ability to see your drone while flying. So we recommend avoiding flights during foggy conditions.
8. Stay focused:
One of the biggest distractions when flying a drone is to have people ask questions. A lot of times, people will want to ask you questions or engage you in a conversation while in flight. We recommend keeping your eyes on your drone and controls, and asking to speak to the person after you land. Keeping line of sight of your drone is not only good practice, but is the law in most places.
9. Practice flying and master controls before traveling:
We highly recommend getting comfortable with your drone before attempting to fly it during a vacation. You’ll want to have a strong understanding of the controls before launching it in situations that are less predictable or comfortable.
10. Pick a clear and open spot to fly:
There have been so many times where we wanted to fly our drone, but we either couldn’t get enough GPS satellites or there were just too many hazards nearby (e.g., trees). When selecting a place to fly your drone, take the time to examine options. We recommend flying from open places to reduce the chance of hitting an object or losing signal.
Also, be extremely careful when flying over water. And if you plan to fly from a moving home point, like a boat, set your home point to update to your location rather than the starting point and give yourself extra time. Landing on a boat is extremely tricky, so I would not recommend it unless you have experience doing so.
11. Consider using a landing pad:
This is something that we recently found extremely useful. Unless you have a smaller drone like a DJI Spark that allows you to safely land in your hand, I would suggest using a landing pad. Landing on sand, dirt, or grass can cause long-term damage to the sensitive internals of your drone, especially if the environment is wet. Folding and portable landing pads are inexpensive and worth carrying with you.
12. Use a flight checklist to minimize flyaways:
Aviators love to use checklists to ensure consistency and routine. We recommend using the same technique with your drone, even if you know what you’re doing. Things like locking the home point, checking for compass interference, and ensuring enough GPS satellites can save you from an accidental fly away.
We’ve posted a checklist that we use when flying. We use it on every flight, and there have been many instances where we have canceled a flight plan based on something that could not be completed or verified on the checklist.
If you do get more serious about drones, I do recommend getting your FAA Part 107 license. You don’t need it as a hobbyist, but if you want to do any commercial work, then it’s definitely required. I just got mine after taking the Drone Pilot Ground School Course by UAV Coach. Taking a prep course isn’t required to pass, but the course not only helped me to get a 95% on my test, but I actually felt that I learned the concepts being taught. If you’re interested, use TRIPASTUTE50 to receive $50 off the prep course.
Do you have any tips while traveling with your drone? Or do you have any crazy stories while trying to fly one when abroad? If so, please share your experience below in the comment section.