Giving you a totally different perspective to handheld photography, the development of drones into almost everyday items for travellers has been phenomenal. You’re as likely to hear the distinct hum of a drone at a stunning beach as you are an iconic landmark. When we started our round the world trip back in 2019 it wasn’t even a consideration on our packing list but now, it’s one of the first things in our bag. But what if you aren’t sure which drone to buy? We asked some of the world’s leading bloggers about their favourite drone for travelling, to help you purchase the right UAV for you.
What is the best drone for travelling?
Not keen on reading this entire article and just want to know the best drone for your bucks? Here’s an overview:
- Best drone for travelling: Professionals – DJI Mavic Pro 2
- Best drone for travelling: Beginner – DJI Mavic Air
- Best drone for travelling: Lightweight (under 500g) – DJI Mavic Air
- Best drone for travelling: Video content – DJI Mavic Pro 2 Zoom
- Best drone for travelling: Photography – DJI Mavic Pro 2
- Best budget drone for travelling – DJI Mavic Mini
You might notice this article is heavy on DJI recommendations and that’s for the simple reason that DJI is the undisputed leader across this field. If you’re considering a cheaper alternative we have listed some options at the bottom of this piece but for even the casual drone operator there is a DJI product which should suit your needs.
The best drone for travel – things to consider
Before we get into the thick of it all, its worth thinking about what you’re looking for in a drone, and the purchasing considerations. Is budget your main consideration? Are you a hobbyist or a budding professional? Do you need to pack light? Here are a few things to think about before investing:
Weight, size and shape
If you’re someone who wants to travel light, it’s worth considering a smaller, more lightweight drone like the Mavic Air, Spark or Mini. With the Air coming in at 430g, it’s a great compromise for those wanting lighter luggage but still a good enough image and video quality for most.
It’s also worth considering the countries you’re keen to fly it in. If you’re just a recreational drone user and don’t want to go through the hassle of registering it in countries like the USA or United Kingdom, then a Mavic Mini could be your jam. It was created with these regulations in mind since it comes in at 249 grams, placing it just a touch under the 250g threshold in these countries.
You should also think about the size and shape of your drone. Most of the recommendations in this list have foldable arms, making them far more compact. But drones like the Phantom and Inspire are fixed body meaning they are a bit bulky and use need a dedicated backpack just to carry them.
Safety and skills/experience
Each drone in this line-up comes with different safety features, depending on your own experience level. For instance, while we were initially keen to test out whether we truly had use for a drone by buying the Mavic Mini, the device doesn’t have sensors on the back, front or sides. That means that unless you’re a really confident operator, there is a good chance you could nick a tree or building during your flight.
Image and video quality
This is where you’ll want to ensure you know what you’re looking for. If image and video quality are crucial in your decision, you’ve immediately ruled out the Mavic Mini – this drone does include image and video but the quality either isn’t up to scratch or you’ll need to do some pretty creative editing.
For the Spark and the Air you’ll get passable image and video quality that should be fit for Instagram and web content but won’t be anywhere near the professional quality you might expect.
If crystal clear, high definition pictures and films are your thing, then you’ll need to go higher up the Mavic ladder of products.
Probably one of the most crucial factors when you’re looking to drop some dollars on an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is the price, especially if this is your first foray into drone flying.
At the cheaper end of the scale are the Mini and Spark which are relatively budget-friendly. However, because of their lack of sensors you could find yourself losing that precious drone which, unless you take some serious insurance, means an entirely wasted investment. We’ve spoken to many a travel blogger and photographer who bought a cheap drone that’s now on the bottom of the ocean somewhere…
At the top end, you could get a Pro, 2 Pro or Phantom which are hellishly expensive but you’re in a much better position in terms of crashing it into something unexpected.
This is less of a consideration nowadays since you can simply buy back-up batteries and spares but if its super important for you to have a long flight time, then something like the Hover Passport (only 10 minutes flight time) isn’t for you.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
By Alesha & Jarryd from NOMADasaurus
Being able to create content with a drone opens up a whole new world of possibility for travel. From a photography and videography perspective, there is often a limit as to how many different angles one can shoot from. With a drone, that limit is now pushed beyond levels ever seen before. The main reason we love travelling and shooting with a drone is that it allows us to showcase these unique perspectives and highlight the beauty of this world.
We started off travelling and shooting with a DJI Phantom 4, and while we loved the quality of the footage, it was just too bulky to travel with. We then bought a DJI Mavic Pro. The portability was fantastic, but we were always disappointed with the quality of still photos it produced. Eventually we upgraded to the DJI Mavic 2 Pro, and we absolutely love it. This drone packs away into a small side bag or our large camera bag without an issue, and the 1-inch Hasselblad sensor captures extraordinary still and video images.
It’s easy to fly, with upgraded GPS and collision sensors all around the drone, making it perfect for beginners. The biggest cons we’ve found is that it can struggle in high winds, but that is to be expected from a drone of this size. The pros far outweigh the cons, making it a great travel camera.
|Incredible image quality||Expensive|
|Solid flight range and time||Lack of changeable lenses|
|Performs well in low light||Hyperlapse video is not stabilized|
DJI Mavic Pro
By Emy & Johan from With Salty Passports
After crashing our previous two drones beyond repair, both of them DJI Sparks, we decided that we needed a drone that’s more stable in the air. Hence the Mavic Pro. Not only did we get a more stable drone but also one with better battery and better camera reigniting our love for drone photography.
With the Spark we barely had time to find a good position before it was time to land it again. Now, every battery lasts us more than 15 minutes of fly time, plenty of time to both take photos and record videos.
Thanks to its foldable design this little flyer is as acrobatic on the ground as in the air. We trust our new drone so much that we sometimes even let go of the controller and swim out to get a cool floating shot (do not recommend this to anyone).
One last tip if you end up going for the DJI Mavic Pro, is to make sure to get the Fly More combo. It’s needed to get the controller and once you start flying, you will need the additional batteries.
Oh, and after crashing a drone per year we are starting to feel that insurance (DJI Care Refresh) may be a good idea. Note that this may not be possible if you buy a secondhand drone.
One problem we have had with the DJI Mavic Pro is really heavy glare in the water. We recently bought CP/ND-filters to combat this.
|Foldable so can be made smaller||Glare and glitchiness on images|
|Solid flight time||No 4k video|
|Great picture and video quality||Not as good as the Pro 2|
DJI Mavic Air
By James from The Travel Scribes
Want to go smack bang in the middle of the range? The DJI Mavic Air is probably just the tonic, one of the reasons why it usually wins ‘best overall drone’ in this kind of round-ups.
As a novice drone operator, I wasn’t really sure which drone to purchase – I wasn’t professional enough to invest in a Mavic Pro or Pro 2 (and my budget didn’t allow it), and I wasn’t confident enough to fly the Mini or the Spark without the obstacle avoidance features.
That’s meant I went middle of the range, and purchase the DJI Mavic Air, which I love.
The Mavic Air is the perfect size for us, as backpackers who don’t want to carry too much equipment around. While I bought the Fly More Combo (with the extra batteries), I’m still able to package up the drone and slide it into my carry-on bag for safekeeping.
The image and video quality are good, although not excellent. I’m impressed by the video footage since its smooth, thanks to the 3 axis gimbal and supports 4k up to 3fps and 1080p at 120fps.
Image quality is great with dynamic range and resolution, but has some pixellation issues when importing it into programs like Adobe Lightroom.
Like other cheaper DJI drones, there is a significant amount of glare off the water and with sun, so we have to be smart about which time of the day we use it in, and low light can be a big consideration.
The flight time is a respectable 21 minutes which usually gets us what we need, although we tend to use a spare battery for a second (or third flight) as we use the first flight just to get our bearings.
And, we feel pretty secure with our Mavic Air and think it’s one of the best drones for beginners like us. The obstacle avoidance is great (although sometimes we have to be careful using some of the smart modes), and – touch wood – we haven’t crashed it yet!
|Small and portable||Passable flight range and time|
|Good picture and image quality for price||Image quality not on par with Pro models|
|Comes with obstacle avoidance and sensors||Issues with glare|
By Gemma & Campbell from Highlands2Hammocks
Photo credit Highland2Hammocks from the beautiful Bukit Cinta
When it came to taking our travel photography to the next level, we chose to go with the DJI Spark drone. This small, portable and highly affordable drone camera was at the time one of the best-rated on the market in 2018. Even today, the Spark drone is thought of as one of the best beginner cameras on the market and for very good reason.
Starting with the price tag, the Spark is one of DJI’s lowest-priced drone cameras on the market. It is, therefore, the perfect place to dive into the world of drone photography and see how it goes. This, combined with the Spark’s travel-friendly size, made it a no brainer choice for us as a new travel camera.
When it comes to flying the Spark, we found the usability insanely simple and easy. As our purchase came with the Bluetooth controller, the controls of the drone are very similar to that of video games, so operating the drone was second nature to us.
The wide range of modes that come with the Spark also allows you to use advanced tracking features, such as autonomous flight and video capture. These features (although sometimes temperamental) are also very easy to use.
The drawbacks of the DJI Spark drone, when compared to the more expensive drones on the market, are namely the battery life and the temperamental controls. The batteries on the Spark are rated for 16-minutes of flight time, which is a few minutes shorter than the larger drones on the market.
The Spark also has some quite unfortunate connectivity issues that can cause it to disconnect whilst the drone is in flight. This seems to be less of a problem in the other drones that DJI offers, however, it is still a common problem throughout the market. Luckily, each drone has a GPS controller and if it becomes disconnected it will make an effort to return to you automatically.
With all of this in mind, the Spark is definitely a drone that we would recommend to beginner photographers looking for a new perspective for their content. It’s the best budget travel drone which is also simple to use and delivers fantastic results.
|Very small and portable||Short flight time|
|Great for beginners to learn||Lack of 4k video|
|Cost effective price point||Not available directly through DJI - being discontinued|
Note: As of early 2020, DJI are no longer stocking the Spark on their site.
DJI Mavic Mini
By Lee from The Travel Scribes
It has to be top of the list here, as the DJI Mavic Mini drone is an amazing option for those just starting out plus anyone who doesn’t want the bother of registering their drone in countries like the USA.
First launched last year (in 2019), the Mavic Mini is a bit of a game changer. You get the DJI technology and many of the perks without the huge price tag, making this a very attractive drone to buy.
This drone can literally fit into your pocket, with a size of 140mm x 82mm (folded) and a weight of just 249 grams, making it the most portable and lightweight in the range, and just under the 250g registration benchmark in countries the US.
The image quality is okay but at only a 12MP camera you aren’t getting anywhere near even the Air in terms of visuals. And the video footage is stable thanks to the 3 axis gimbal but there are no options for 4k.
One of the biggest cons of the mini is the lack of sensors beyond the downward vision, meaning upward or sideways flight really needs your full attention, else that drone can easily go amiss…
|Ultra compact and lightweight||Degraded image quality (12 MP camera only)|
|Ultra affordable||Lack of 4k video|
|Stable footage with 3 axis gimbal||Lack of obstacle avoidance/sensors (downward vision only)|
Going head to head: Travel drone specifications
|Size||140×82×57mm||168×83×49 mm (folded)||198×83×83 mm (folded)||214×91×84 mm (folded)
|Flight Time||30 minutes||21 minutes||27 minutes||31 minutes
|Gimbal||3-axis (tilt, roll, pan)||3-axis (tilt, roll, pan)||3-axis (tilt, roll, pan)||3-axis (tilt, roll, pan)
|Video||2.7K, Full HD||4K, 2.7K, Full HD, HD||C4K, 4K, 2.7K, Full HD, HD||4K, 2.7K, Full HD
|Max Photo Resolution||12MP||12MP||12.35MP||20MP
|Obstacle Avoidance||Downward Vision Only||Forward, down and backward vision||Forward and downward only||Forward, down, back, up and sideward vision
|Recommended Price*||399 USD / 369 GBP||919 USD / 769 GBP||1149 USD / 899 GBP **||1599 USD / 1349 GBP
Other drones for travelling to consider
If you really can’t stomach a DJI (and we don’t know why you wouldn’t), then the closest competitor is definitely Parrot, with their signature model being the Anafi.
If comparing to a DJI product it’s probably closest to the Air, as it is pretty compact and lightweight (its 100 grams lighter than the Air), takes great photographs (21 MP resolution) and has premium video performance, recording up to 4K at 30fps.
That said, the Anafi has no obstacle avoidance (hello crashes!), and user reviews often mention that the UAV is particularly difficult to fly, with the software being a little on the thin side and weather conditions like wind really affecting the performance.
|Strong video and image quality||Really difficult to operate
|Lightweight and portable||No obstacle avoidance
|Solid flight time specifications||Doesn't work well in adverse weather
Parrot Bebop 2
While we’re on the subject of Parrot, let’s delve into their entry-level offering: The Bebop 2.
This is an affordable option for those wanting to dip their toe into the drone arena and it is also quite lightweight (like the Anafi), portable and surprisingly stable.
The Bebop punches above its weight with its flight time – 30 minutes – and gives good performance in terms of distance as you can usually operate it for up to 2 km or 1.5 miles.
The downside is on the image and video quality. Depending on conditions, the images come out okay but it uses a fisheye lens, giving you slightly distorted images. Video is smooth but there is no 4K capability and you can suffer from a lot of glare and glitchiness on the resulting footage.
|Affordable entry-level drone||Poor video and image quality
|Portable and lightweight||Intelligent flight modes cost extra
|Easy to fly||Glare and glitchiness
Hover Camera Passport
With the world’s fascination with selfies, it’s no surprise that there is a drone made specifically to capture pictures of yourself.
This incredibly portable and small drone has auto-follow technology which can be controlled with just hand gestures and a built-in flash for that perfect picture of your face. What’s cool about this drone is that you can easily catch it yourself since it has a carbon fibre cage around it – if you’ve ever caught a DJI drone by hand you’ll know what we mean!
With stills at 13MP and 4K video this is a solid drone option but doesn’t have the intelligent flight modes of DJI products. It also only has a 10 minute flight option and can go just 65 feet making this truly a selfie drone rather than one to capture those sweeping landscapes.
|Very portable and lightweight||No real distance and limited flight time
|Fantastic for selfies and facial recognition||Expensive for just selfies
|Can be caught by hand||Limited stabilization options
GoPro Karma *only available second-hand*
While this product isn’t strictly on the market anymore, the GoPro Karma is a good option for GoPro travel photography fans and can be bought second-hand on Amazon.
Now this drone is a little different in that the GoPro Karma doesn’t have an integrated camera but is a system where you add your GoPro camera to the drone body.
With about 18 minutes of flight time it doesn’t offer the longest duration but can fly up to 3km away. Like DJI products, the Karma has a 3 axis gimbal system giving you slow, smooth footage from your GoPro and of course ‘inherits’ all the specs from your existing GoPro Hero.
Unfortunately the Karma doesn’t have any obstacle avoidance but does have some nifty features including 5 preset modes and a ‘passenger app’ which allows someone else to connect while you’re flying to take pictures on your behalf.
Other professional drones
If you’re reading this piece, we’re guessing you’re not a full-time drone operator but, what the hell, let’s still tell you about two of the professional drones for either your personal interest or just because you’re keen researchers like us…
DJI Mavic Phantom
The Phantom is actually a series of drones, including the Phantom 4 Pro, Phantom 4 Advanced and the Phantom 3 SE. Essentially Phantom falls into that niche between professional creators and full-time drone operators, making it an unusual proposition.
This is professional grade aerial photography and videography with amazing stability and reliability plus five different obstacle sensors, making this an incredibly safe drone with heaps of intelligent features.
The down side? Other than the price of course is that this drone is not very portable at 1.375 kg and without foldable propellers, making it tricky to pack.
|Superior image and video performance||Fixed body (not foldable)
|Extended range and flight time||Expensive
|Solid intelligent modes and performance||Limited features compared to some consumer drones
This is a purely professional drone that is the first in the world to integrate an HD video transmission system, 360 degree rotating gimbal and 4K camera. This drone can go fast (up to 94 km per hour), has a dual battery system which allows you up to 30 minutes in the air and can even fly in icy conditions, since it comes with a self-heating technology.
The Rolls Royce of drones, the Inspire is for the eminently professional filmmaker, and the best drone for photography on the market.
Now this is definitely not an exhaustive list of all the drones for traveling and photography on the market. We haven’t even scratched the surface with other options including the Yuneec Typhoon H Pro, the ZEROTECH Dobby, the Pocket Drone Quadcopter and the JJRC H37 Elfie.
|Best in class video and image quality||Expensive
|Fast speed and flight time||Needs purchase of a controller separately
|Excellent battery life with dual battery||No side or back sensors
What did you think of our rundown of the best travel drones? Have we missed something important? Please do let us know in the comments or get in touch!
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