Drones are the new must-have accessory for your travels. It’s easy to understand why: they allow you to shoot each destination from a unique perspective and offer the chance to get some pretty incredible shots and footage. I’ve tried and tested the leading drones on the market to help you to choose the best travel drone for your trip.

So, you’re in the market for a drone. You’ve seen the images, you’ve watched the footage and now you’re ready to take the plunge and buy one for yourself.

But which one? Fast-developing technology has meant that you have a lot of choices when it comes to buying a drone that captures great photos and video at a reasonable price.

As a professional travel writer and a photographer, I know how important it is to have equipment that is portable, lightweight and excellent quality – these are the qualities that I think are essential when you are looking at which drone is best for travel.

I opted for the DJI Mavic Pro, and then bought a DJI Mavic Air when it was released at the beginning of the year. I also have a DJI Phantom 4, but, while I think it’s probably the best drone for photography, it’s not very portable so I don’t personally tend to travel with it that much.

The Best Travel Drone: At a Glance

I pick the DJI Mavic Air as the best drone for travel. It’s a lightweight and compact drone, weighing in at just 300g and measuring 168×184×64 mm when fully unfolded – so just a bit bigger than the size of a large smartphone.

What’s more, unlike other small drones, the DJI Mavic Air doesn’t sacrifice on quality or the number of features available – in fact, it comes with more bells and whistles than some of its more expensive and larger (but older) counterparts.

At the time of writing, the DJI Mavic Air cost £768 on Amazon and £769 in most other stores.

Check Prices for DJI Mavic Air on Amazon.

Check Prices for DJI Mavic Air on John Lewis.

Things to Consider When Buying a Drone for Travelling

So what should you be looking for in your perfect travel drone? I’ve set out a checklist of things you should consider before parting with your hard-earned cash. I pick up each of the points in the individual drone reviews that follow this section.

Portability

I think this is the biggest concern. You can have the best drone in the world, but if you can’t transport it easily, it’s no good for bringing with you on your travels. It really is that simple.

Look for drones that are either really small (like the DJI Spark) or which fold up to a compact size (like the DJI Mavic Pro and the DJI Air).

The DJI Mavic Pro when folded

As I spend a lot of my time on the road hiking and carrying a lot of travel gear, bringing the smallest drone that provides the highest quality is a must. If you are less bothered about this, then you can also consider bulkier drones such as the DJI Phantom 4 Pro.

Battery Life and Flight Time

Drones are power-hungry creatures. You should take a careful look at a drone’s flight time on a fully-charged battery before you buy it. There’s no point in opting for the smallest and lightest drone if it means that you have to bring lots of spare batteries in order to capture the video footage and the photos you need.

Similarly, you should check the battery life of the remote controller. Most will last for several flights but check the stats before you buy.

Flight Range

How far can you fly the drone away from you? This figure varies a lot, so is one to pay attention if you plan on doing a lot of long-distance flights. Be aware of the local laws though: for example, here in the UK it is illegal to fly a drone out of eyesight and many other countries have the same regulation in force.

Obstacle Avoidance

Unless you are an absolutely flawless drone pilot, having good obstacle avoidance on your drone just makes sense. Most drones come with some form of obstacle avoidance but some are better than others.

Is the Drone Ready to Fly?

It may come as a surprise but not all drones come ready to fly straight out of the box. All the drones I’ve reviewed in this article do come ready to fly (RTF) but if you see the drone marked as Bind and Fly (BNF) or Almost Ready to Fly (ARF), know that you will either have to partially assemble the drone or buy the controller separately.

It’s quite unusual for camera drones to come as BNF or ARF but there are some out there.

Does it Have a Live Video Feed?

You can rephrase this question as will you be able to see what the drone “sees” on your phone or a controller? First Person View (FPV) is a must if, as I assume, you are planning on using your drone for photography or videography purposes. Again, all the drones I’ve reviewed do have live video feeds.

Can You Film in 4K Video?

You’ll hear a lot of fuss being made about 4K video. But what is it exactly and do you need to buy a drone with 4K capability?

4K is essentially ultra high-definition video – a 4K camera has to have at least 8 million pixels, a whopping four times more than normal 1080px HD camera which comes in at two million pixels.

Sure it’s clear and razor sharp, and the footage is incredibly beautiful… but processing and editing 4K footage is difficult if you don’t have a computer or device that’s up to spec.

I don’t tend to shoot video in 4K, opting for 1080 px, which still looks great on computers and smaller devices but puts less load on my computer when I’m editing.

If you’re a professional or semi-professional videographer, you probably want to ensure your travel drone is capable of shooting in 4K. That said 4K capability is pretty much standard across all camera drones now.

How Easy is it To Fly?

Drones have come a long way when it comes to how easy to fly they are. If you’re an inexperienced drone pilot, choosing a drone that can be partially operated through a series of gestures and comes with additional features such as return to home mode is very helpful.

Spares and Repairs?

I get it, nobody wants to think about crashing their soon-to-be-purchased brand new shiny toy, but a lot of people do crash their drone, and you may be one of them. Having a drone that has an easy repair process (generally through the manufacturer or their official partners) and that it’s easy to buy spares for makes the whole ordeal a lot less stressful.

Best Overall Travel Drone – DJI Mavic Air

What makes the DJI Mavic Air so special? It combines the best of two of DJI’s other travel drones – the DJI Mavic Pro and the DJI Spark. The Air boasts the small size and light weight of the DJI Spark but the 4K camera and longer battery life of the DJI Mavic Pro (though the battery isn’t quite as robust as the Pro’s). It folds up to the size of a smartphone – so is incredibly portable.

DJI is at the forefront of the camera drone industry – they have created four out of the five drones featured on this list. They’ve earned a stellar reputation for constantly evolving their technology to make it better – nothing demonstrates this better than the DJI Mavic Air, which they released at the beginning of this year.

Price

Priced at around £769, the DJI Mavic Air is slightly cheaper than the DJI Mavic Pro – in fact, I think it’s the best value drone available on the market today.

Gimbal

The three axis gimbal allows you to capture high quality images and video that is smooth and sharp. It’s not as sophisticated as the gimbal on the Mavic Pro, but is far better than the one on the Spark.

Performance

Smaller drones can sometimes suffer from not performing well (or indeed at all) in even slightly windy conditions, but DJI are careful to stress that this isn’t a problem that the DJI Mavic Air has. I’ve tested this out and it’s true – despite its small size, the drone works well in light to moderately windy conditions, with consistently steady video footage and complete drone flying control.

Controller

DJI have gone for a complete overhaul with the Air’s controller.

The changes, which mainly centre around removable joysticks, should be good news for travellers as it means that the controller folds up smaller and is more portable than those of its predecessors.

Design

As I’ve mentioned, the DJI has foldable arms, meaning it packs up super-small. It has a recessed gimbal, which goes some way to protecting it from getting damaged in transit and will help protect it as much as possible if you have a crash.

Unlike other DJI products, the Air comes with a USB 3.0 port for transferring content.

Transmission

DJI have opted for wifi only transmission on the DJI Air. This essentially means that the drone has a much shorter distance range (2km rather than 4km) than the Mavic Pro. As I mentioned earlier, it’s against the law to fly out of sight in a number of countries, so it’s up to you to decide whether the shorter distance capability really poses a problem or not.

Essential Stats

  • Weight: 430g
  • Size – Folded: 168×83×49 mm (L×W×H). Unfolded: 168×184×64 mm (L×W×H)
  • Flight Time: 21 minutes
  • Max Speed: 68.4 kph (Sport mode). 28.8 kph (P mode)
  • 8GB Internal Storage
  • Forward and backward obstacle sensors
  • HDR photo shooting
  • F2.8/ 24mm equivalent lens
  • 7 intelligent flight modes including active track, tap fly, cinematic mode and more.
  • Return to home function.
  • ISO Range 100-1600.
  • Three-axis gimbal

Pros

  • Excellent value.
  • Comes with 8GB internal storage – handy if you run out of space on your memory card.
  • Increased number of gesture controls than the Mavic Pro – you can take off, land, shoot video and photo, as well as a number of other things, without having to touch the controller.
  • Can fly at 20mph when being operated by smartphone rather than the 7mph of the Mavic Pro.
  • Backward as well as forward obstacle sensors.
  • Small size
  • Gesture controls for basic drone flying and photography

Cons

  • More limited gimbal range than the Mavic Pro
  • Doesn’t perform as well in limited light thanks to shorter ISO range of 100-1600. Professional videographers and photographers will probably want to look to one of the more expensive, larger models.

Summary

A game-changer from DJI, the Mavic Air is the best drone for travel thanks to a light weight, tiny size but hefty performance.

Close Second – DJI Mavic Pro

Until the DJI Mavic Air came along earlier this year, the DJI Mavic Pro would have had my vote as the best drone for travelling. It still has a lot going for it, and enough differences to the DJI Mavic Air to warrant consideration.

There are two versions of the Mavic Pro – the standard and the Platinum version. The Platinum version is quieter, can fly longer (30 mins vs 27) but is more expensive.

DJI Mavic Platinum

I don’t think the extra features would justify me upgrading my current Mavic Pro, but if you are buying your first travel drone, you can decide if you think it’s worth the extra cost. I’ve reviewed the standard Mavic Pro here and not the Platinum.

The Mavic Pro is a great option if you are looking for a drone that can perform in a range of conditions, has a large number of automated intelligent flight modes and yet is still very portable and easy to travel with.

The biggest thing for me about the DJI Mavic Pro is its wider ISO range. If you’re not particularly bothered about capturing high-quality photos or videos on your drone, skip ahead. Otherwise – read on.

The DJI Mavic Pro outperforms the DJI Mavic Air when photographing in low light conditions, thanks to its wider ISO range of 100-3200 (compared to the Air’s 100-1600). This makes it easier to capture those sunrises and sunsets, or any image/ video where the lighting is less than ideal.

Now, I’m not saying that the DJI Mavic Pro is the best drone for photography – that title goes to the DJI Phantom 4. In truth, the Mavic Pro still struggles in some lower light conditions and can come out with a grainier photo than you’d want, even when you control the drone camera manually.

That said, it is much more flexible than most of the other drones on this list, meaning that those with the expertise and know-how have a good chance at capturing the perfect shot, even when the conditions are less than ideal.

Price

The DJI Mavic Pro is only a fraction more expensive than the DJI Mavic Air at around £799 for the unit.

With all of these drones, it makes sense to buy the fly more package, which comes complete with two extra batteries, a carry case, multi-way charger and more. This costs around £1039.

Fly more package

Gimbal

The gimbal on the Mavic Pro is one of the best, with a wider tilt, roll and pan range than the gimbal on the Mavic Air.

Performance

For me, one of the biggest pluses of the DJI Mavic Pro is the flight time. With a Mavic Pro, you get a flight time of 27 minutes – six minutes longer than the Mavic Air. That might not sound like much but is a lot of extra footage and can be invaluable during one of those magic moments where conditions are perfect and you’re filming footage gold.

It’s also a remarkably steady drone. I’ve flown the Mavic Pro in all but the windiest conditions and it’s generally fine, with smooth and steady footage. The system is very good at alerting you when there’s a high wind velocity and if it’s too windy to operate the drone safely. Mostly though, it’s not been a problem.

Controller

The controller for the Mavic Pro is a bit bulky. Although the phone attachment arms and the antennae fold in, the body of the controller is still quite big.

Design

In Goldilocks terms, the Mavic Pro is just right. Larger than the DJI Spark and DJI Air but smaller and far more portable than the DJI Phantom 4 Pro. Despite its slightly larger size, the DJI Mavic Pro is still a good travel drone – it is still very portable and easy to transport.

Transmission

The transmission is another area where, on paper, the DJI Mavic Pro outpaces the DJI Mavic Air. The Mavic Pro uses both wifi and radio frequency transmissions, resulting in a flight range of 4km rather than the Mavic Air’s 2km. Essentially, it’s up to you to decide how you plan to fly the drone and the local laws, but it is something to consider.

Essential stats

  • Weight: 734g
  • Size – Folded: 198×83×83 mm (L×W×H). Unfolded: 305×244×85 mm (L×W×H) – about the size of a water bottle.
  • Flight Time: 30 minutes
  • Max Speed: 65 kph (Sport mode). 36 kph (P mode)
  • Forward obstacle sensing
  • HDR photo shooting
  • F2.8/ 28mm equivalent lens
  • 11 intelligent flight modes including active track, waypoints, terrain follow and more.
  • Return to home function.
  • ISO Range 100-3200.
  • Three-axis gimbal

Pros

  • Very portable
  • Performs well in a wider range of light conditions
  • Wider gimbal range – more flexibility when filming and taking photos
  • Large number of intelligent flight modes – allows you to experiment more while filming
  • Long flight time
  • Long distance range

Cons

  • Forward obstacle sensing only – not backward
  • Larger and heavier than some other drones
  • No internal storage
  • No USB-C connection

Summary

Still a very strong contender for the best travel drone, the Mavic Pro is many travellers’ drone of choice and has enough points of difference to stand up to the similarly-priced Mavic Air

Best Travel Drone for Photographers – DJI Phantom 4 Pro

First things first, the DJI Phantom 4 Pro is relatively large and is not foldable. Truthfully, it’s more difficult to travel with than the other drones on this list, needing a lot more room and a dedicated backpack to be transported in. Oh and it’s more expensive and heavier too.

Why am I still recommending it as one of the best travel drones then? Quite simply, the DJI Phantom 4 Pro is really the best travel drone for photographers (and videographers). One big contributing factor is the much larger 1 inch CMOS camera sensor.

The ISO range is much bigger as well – up to 6,400 for video and 12,800 for photos in manual mode – allowing you to capture the best possible pictures even in the lowest light conditions. Add to that you can also control the aperture (f.2.8-f.11) in addition to the ISO and shutter speed controls found on the other drones and you can see why this is the best travel drone for photographers and videographers.

Sunrise - taken on DJI Phantom 4

Taken on a DJI Phantom 4

Now, the DJI Phantom 4 Pro is not going to be right for most of you people looking for a travel drone – it’s just too bulky, heavy and expensive to do the job.

I don’t travel with my Phantom 4 unless it’s a trip where a large part of the focus is on the aerial photography and video – I find it a bit too heavy to hike with for long distances, and it needs to be transported in its own separate backpack, meaning there’s little space for all the other photo gear I never seem to be able to leave the house without.

But if you’re a photographer or a videographer looking to travel with a non-pro level drone that will still capture the best photos and videos possible – the DJI Phantom 4 Pro deserves to be considered.

Price

The DJI Phantom 4 Pro is the most expensive drone on this list, despite also being one of the oldest. It costs around £1370 for the drone alone. There’s something in the old adage of “you get what you pay for” though – the price is justified by the drone’s higher specs.

Gimbal

Spec-wise, there’s nothing between the gimbals on the DJI Mavic Pro and the DJI Phantom 4 Pro – you can expect the same pan, tilt and roll capabilities on both.

Performance

The DJI Phantom 4 Pro does perform better than the other drones when it comes to photo and video quality in pretty much every condition you can throw at it, video resolution and still size. It’s widely acknowledged as one of the best drones with a camera on the market today.

The Phantom 4 Pro is capable of flying faster than the Mavic Pro – reaching an impressive 72 kilometres per hour in sport mode and 50 in P mode. It’s a lot of fun to fly, but as with all drones, you must exercise caution – particularly when flying it at speed. In terms of transmission and flight time, it’s pretty much on a par with the Mavic Pro.

One fairly big downside with the Phantom 4 Pro is that you can’t control the drone without the controller. This can be a bit of a pain if the controller runs out of juice and you want to take a few more videos or stills, but as mobile control of other drones is severely limited anyway, you wouldn’t really be missing out on much.

Design

Design-wise, the thing that really differentiates the DJI Phantom 4 Pro is that it does not fold down. So you have to transport it as is – no small undertaking considering that it is nearly 30 cm square and almost 20cm deep.

It also weighs nearly 1.4kg, almost double the weight of the Mavic Pro and even more when you are comparing it to the Spark and Air.

Transmission

Again, the DJI Phantom 4 Pro uses both radio frequency and wireless transmission, allowing for a much greater distance range than the Air.

Essential Stats

  • Weight: 1388g
  • Size – 289.5 × 289.5 × 196 mm (L×W×H)
  • Flight Time: 30 minutes
  • Max Speed: 72 kph (Sport mode). 50 kph (P mode)
  • Forward and backward obstacle sensing. Time of flight sensors on each side.
  • 1 inch CMOS sensor
  • HDR photo shooting
  • F2.8-11 / 24mm equivalent lens
  • Return to home function.
  • 9 intelligent flight modes including active track, waypoints, tripod mode and more.
  • ISO Range 100-3200.
  • Three-axis gimbal

Pros

  • Excellent photo and video quality
  • Performs well in low light conditions – captures perfect sunrises and sunsets.

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Bulky – does not fold up
  • Expensive
  • No internal storage
  • No USB-C connection

Summary

Probably one to skip unless you really want a top-of-the-range photography drone and don’t mind sacrificing easy portability to achieve it.

Best Travel Drone for Beginners – DJI Spark

I have to admit, I hesitated a bit about including the DJI Spark in light of the release of the DJI Air. But the fact remains that the DJI Spark is currently priced at £470, compared to the Air’s £770.

£300 is no small difference – and the DJI Spark is a very good drone if you are looking for something lightweight, portable and with reasonable performance at a much lower price. That’s why I’ve chosen it as the best travel drone for beginners.

The Spark might not have the clout of its bigger, more expensive brothers – you’re looking at a flight time of 16 minutes, no 4K video (it’s max 1080p), lower photo and video quality and shorter max transmission distances (when compared to the Mavic Pro and the Phantom 4 Pro – it’s actually the same as the Air). But it’s a nifty little drone that measures just over 14cm, so easy to transport, and you can get good photos and videos with it.

It all boils down to what you are going to use the drone for. If you are looking for something that you can carry around with you during your travels, doesn’t cost as much and enables you to take some cool aerial snaps and videos to share with your friends, the Spark is your drone.

Taken on a DJI Spark

Taken on a DJI Spark

It will struggle in low lighting, the max flight time of 16 minutes is relatively short and lack of 4k means using it for pro videos is out. That really might not bother you at all and I’m a big believer in not buying the highest-spec piece of tech when you really don’t need to at all.

Price

£470. It’s the cheapest DJI drone out there.

Gimbal

2 axis gimbal – tilt and roll. Both have a smaller range than on the Mavic Pro and Air.

Performance

The Spark performs pretty well on sunny, windless days. The photo quality is more than adequate for social media sharing – but you would struggle to print the stills at larger sizes. It’s actually a lot easier to photograph with the DJI Spark as it’s always in focus – unlike the Mavic Pro where you have to tap the screen to adjust the focus or run the risk of blurry photos.

The two-axis gimbal doesn’t really cause any problems – DJI use digital stabilisation to replicate the third axis and, for the most part, it works well. It can seem a bit jerky in some modes but is barely noticeable in most.

Being a smaller drone, the DJI Spark does struggle quite a lot on windy days – more so than the others that I’ve reviewed. Just something to be aware of.

Controller

The DJI Spark doesn’t come with a controller in the basic package – instead you can control it with your smartphone or ipad using the DJI Go app. But this limits what you can do with the drone, including in fundamental areas such as flight distance and speed. You are better off buying the Fly More pack, which comes with the controller, spare batteries and more.

One distinguishing feature of the DJI Spark (which has now been picked up by the DJI Air) is Gesture fly – the ability to fly the drone using hand and arm gestures. It’s really fun to try some of the gesture controls (which are not available on the Mavic Pro and Phantom 4 Pro) and the small size means that you can take off and land from the palm of your hand.

Design

Size is key here. Even without foldable arms, the DJI Spark is very portable, fitting into a small case for your travels. It’s also the lightest drone I’ve reviewed, at a tiny 300g. The arms do not fold though, so the Air actually ends up much smaller when collapsed down for transportation.

Transmission

The DJI Spark has a max transmission distance of 2km.

Essential Stats

  • Weight: 300g
  • Size – 143×143×55 mm (L×W×H)
  • Flight Time: 16 minutes
  • Max Speed: 50 kph (Sport mode). 21 kph (P mode)
  • Forward obstacle sensing.
  • 1/ 2.3 inch CMOS sensor
  • HDR photo shooting
  • F2.6 / 25mm equivalent lens
  • 5 intelligent flight modes including active track, tap fly, tripod mode and more.
  • Return to home function
  • ISO Range 100-3200 on video and 100-1600 for photos in manual mode.
  • Two-axis gimbal

Pros

  • Small
  • Lightweight
  • Very portable
  • Affordable
  • Gesture fly

Cons

  • Lower photography and video performance
  • No foldable arms
  • Not great in windy conditions

Summary

A great drone for beginners who want reasonable levels of performance at an affordable price.

Best Budget Drone – Yuneec Breeze

It was all beginning to sound a bit too DJI heavy back there. DJI does dominate the amateur drone space, there are other contenders out there too. The Yuneec Breeze is a good entry-level drone with some impressive specs and an affordable price.

It’s the cheapest drone on this list, currently retailing for an eye-popping £299 on Amazon. That’s a good few hundred cheaper than the Spark and you get 4K video too.

So what’s the catch? There are a few – the biggest one being no stabilising gimbal. It’s down to you to create silky smooth video and, believe me, it’s much harder than it looks. Despite having flown drones for quite a long time, whenever I’ve tried the Yuneec Breeze, I haven’t been able to achieve the same smoothness that I can with the DJI models, including the Spark.

There is digital stabilisation, but it only works in 1080p mode, so most of my 4K footage is jerky AF. If you have to shoot in 1080p to get smooth video, suddenly the Spark’s lack of 4K doesn’t look so terrible after all right?

Another thing to consider with the Yuneec Breeze is the lack of obstacle avoidance. It doesn’t fly as fast as the other drones I’ve talked about in this article, but I do think obstacle avoidance is a very big plus, especially for first-time drone pilots.

Price

Spectacularly low £299 at the moment.

Gimbal

None. I was amazed how much of a difference this makes to video footage and to some of the photos too. You can lessen the effect by using some of Yuneec’s pre-programmed flight modes, but even with digital stabilisation, you can still see the difference.

Performance

Most of the criticism I’d level at the Yuneec Breeze’s performance relates to the lack of gimbal, so I won’t repeat that here. When you can get smooth video and sharp images, the quality is good and definitely high enough for sharing on social platforms.

Controller

There’s no separate controller for the Breeze – you have to operate it through your smartphone or tablet. I miss the tactility of actual joysticks when you fly through an app, but it is easy to navigate and control.

Design

Small and compact drone – larger than the Spark, but the Yuneec Breeze is light and small, so still very portable.

Transmission

100m. This is very short in comparison to the other drones.

Essential Stats

  • Weight: 300g
  • Size – 143×143×55 mm (L×W×H)
  • Flight Time: 12 minutes
  • Max Speed: 5 metres per second
  • 1/3.06 CMOS sensor
  • No obstacle sensing.
  • Intelligent flight modes including selfie, orbit, journey and follow me.
  • ISO Range 100 – 12800.
  • No stabilising gimbal
  • 16GB internal flash drive

Pros

  • Affordable price
  • 4K video
  • Small and lightweight

Cons

  • No gimbal stabilization – difficult to get smooth footage
  • Short flight time
  • Slow maximum speed
  • No obstacle avoidance

Summary

The Yuneec Breeze is definitely an option if you are looking for a cheap drone with a camera. However, unless you are really constrained by budget, you’re probably better off spending a bit more and buying the DJI Spark.

Some of you may be wondering why I haven’t featured the much-discussed Go Pro Karma in this list. I sat on the fence about it – but as I haven’t used the Karma, I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to review it.

Additionally, Go Pro is actually in the process of retiring the Karma – so while you can still buy existing stock, they’re no longer manufacturing new ones. Overall, Go Pro never quite cracked the drone market – and DJI’s drones are generally of a higher spec.

So there we are, the best travel drones for 2018. I hope that it has helped you to make your choice.

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