Everything You Need to Know Before Traveling With a Drone
As of August 2021, there were more than 850,000 drones registered in the United States by the FAA. According to Philly By Air, more than 500,000 of those are registered for recreational purposes, meaning a whole lot of people are now having fun flying their new toys all over the place.
Ready to take your drone on the road? Here's everything you need to know about traveling with a drone.
Related: More travel photography tips
Yes, you can take a drone on a plane — but there are a few rules.
As DJI explains, yes you can take a drone on a plane as either a piece of carry-on luggage, or as a piece of checked luggage, depending on its size. But, no matter what, you must take out the drone's batteries and put those in your carry-on bag.
"This is because bags aren't stored in a pressurized environment, and temperatures won't fluctuate as strongly in the passenger cabin," DJI notes. "Also, with your bag in an overhead compartment, airline staff can respond quickly in an emergency."
Be aware of your battery size.
While you can bring both your drone and batteries on a flight, the batteries need to be under a certain size. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, if your drone's batteries come in below 100 Wh, you can carry as many as you want on the flight, however, if your batteries are between 101 and 160 Wh, you can only bring up to two per flight.
"These limits allow for nearly all types of lithium batteries used by the average person in their electronic devices," the FAA's website explains. "With airline approval, passengers may also carry up to two spare larger lithium-ion batteries (101–160 Wh) or Lithium metal batteries (2-8 grams). This size covers the larger after-market extended-life laptop computer batteries and some larger batteries used in professional audio/visual equipment."
Check out all the local flying laws before you depart.
There's nothing worse than diligently packing up all your gear, getting it on a plane, and arriving only to be told: "no flying allowed." Before you depart on your trip with your drone in hand, make sure to research local flying and photography laws, and apply for any necessary permits before it's too late.
For example, the Pilot Institute notes that the National Park Service does indeed allow people to fly drones in the park, but (and it's a big but), only if "it is done in the aid of scientific studies or research." Sorry, but you can't legally fly one in a national park just to get a sick Instagram shot.
As the policy states, "Launching, landing, or operating an unmanned aircraft from or on lands and waters administered by the National Park Service within the boundaries of [any park] is prohibited except as approved in writing by the superintendent." So please, just don't even try it.
And outside the U.S., things can get even more strict. For example, if you attempt to fly to the country of Morocco with a drone, it will be seized at the airport.
"Anyone caught in Morocco with a drone must expect the drone to be confiscated," Drone Traveller explains. "In addition, a fine of 1,165 Dirhams (about 110 Euros) must be paid. If you declare your drone upon entering the country, you can hope that you will get it back when leaving it."
Moral of the story: research, research, and research some more on your intended destination's laws. The same goes for attractions and theme parks like Disney World, which absolutely does not allow the use of drones.
In the United States, FAA rules apply, too.
The Pilot Institute importantly adds, no matter where you fly in the U.S., there is still a set of rules put forth by the FAA that you must follow. This includes rules for both recreational flyers and commercial flyers.
"This means that drone flight over crowded areas is still prohibited, as well as over moving vehicles," the Pilot Institute adds. "If you're flying under Part 107 rules and don't have the appropriate waiver, make sure to ground your drone once night-time comes around."
And, regardless of if you're a commercial or recreational flyer, make sure to carry any necessary credentials or permits at all times in case you're asked for them by officials.
See all the FAA rules and regulations for flying a drone here.
Can you still have fun with a drone on your travels?
Though the above seems daunting, the answer is yes! You absolutely can still have fun and take fantastic images with a drone all over the globe. TL;DR: Look at your airline's drone policy, pack your batteries correctly, and get a local permit if you need. Then, read up on a few drone photography tips and see a few photos for inspiration, then go forth and take the best images of your life.