Drones 101: Here's What You Need To Know Before You Start Flying


Iyesha Maria •  Mar 10, 2019

Move aside fancy cameras and smartphones, drones are the in thing now. We know you’ve seen those epic drone videos and photos on your Instagram feed ?.

Credit: Giphy

Why get a drone? There’s more to it than just pretty Instagram photos. Drones give you a whole new perspective in comparison to photos taken by standard cameras and phones.

Credit: @jevanleith on Instagram

How do you show a forest’s stark difference of winter ❄️and autumn ?, with train tracks dividing the two?

Credit: @chelseamayerphotography on Instagram

Or the magnificence of a humpback whale surrounded by dolphins ??

Credit: Pedro Menezes on Unsplashed

Maybe a pattern you wouldn’t know existed unless seen from above ☂️?

Credit: @adamjohnston on Instagram

Even for man-made wonders. Sometimes you don’t see the beauty of an architect’s design unless you see it from a different view.

But how do you show these magnificent views with a standard camera or a phone camera? You can’t.  Not unless you fly a helicopter over it. That is the beauty of drones - it shows you a bird’s eye view, giving you a complete change of perspective.

We’re not dismissing cameras or phone cameras. They have their own purposes too. Phones are the most portable of cameras and standard cameras still take amazing landscapes, macro and portraits. They each have their own pros and cons ?.

Psst! if you're looking for travel cameras instead click here!

But of course, it is all up to the photographer and what kind of photography he or she is looking for ?.

Credit: Giphy

We also know that for drones can be intimidating for first timers - it’s totally normal! Between drone choices, tech specifications, multiple controls, flying, camera angles, capturing stable videos, and ever-changing drone regulations around the world, who wouldn’t be intimidated? It’s a lot to digest ?!

Luckily for you, based on our personal experience and long days of research, we’ve compiled and compressed the information to simplify your decision process. So use this article as a starting point to what we hope is to start your life-long passion for drone photography ?.


Buy a drone with this in fact in mind - there is a high chance you will crash it. Between manoeuvring, avoiding trees and buildings, and sometimes wind interference, crashing your drone is a total norm.

Don’t worry, most of the time the drone will only suffer from light scratches, and most drone manufacturers usually provide extra propellers and propeller guards (to protect your drone when it bumps into something) because they know how common drone mishaps are. Seriously, no biggie ?

Credit: Jaromir Kavan on Unsplashed

We suggest you start off with a drone that has a good quality camera and control but won’t break your bank account. One that is affordable to repair or replace in the event that you need to.

But practice makes perfect. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, go for the best that you want!

And for those who want to jump right into the deep end and get the best of the best drones - kudos to you (daring, but why not? ?). We’ve included them in our recommendations too.

We’ve listed a number DJI drones in the list simply because it is one of the largest reliable drone manufacturers and retailers worldwide. And technology aside, it is easier to find parts, repair, and find tips to use them in most places around the world (compared to other brands) - a real necessity for travellers.

Bear in mind that this article is for beginners, who are interested in drones and travel. So our drone suggestions will emphasize on portability, camera specifications and other travel-friendly aspects. These are also ready-to-fly drones rather than drones that need any assembly.


1 - DJI Phantom 4 

Credit: Annie Niemaszyk on Unsplashed

A monster of a camera packed into a monster flying device ?! The DJI Phantom 4 is one of the top travel drones in the market. With its high-end features and functionalities, it’s really no surprise. This drone isn't as portable as other drones around but it's still portable enough to fit into a backpack.

Its camera is equipped with an f2.8 aperture lens (up to f11) with a 24mm focal range making it fantastic for low light images. Your sunset photos will bomb (in a good way) with this drone ☀️!

Packed with a 3-axis gimbal stabilization, it will also give you super smooth footages wherever it flies.

Credit: Sid Verma on Unsplashed taken with the DJI Phantom 4

And great news if you’re worried about crashing - stacked with 5 direction obstacle avoidance system (front, left, back, front, and underside), this drone is as crash proof as it gets. It is only topped by the next drone in this list that has 6 direction obstacle avoidance sensors.

More to it, it's also packed with plenty of auto features like TapFly (tap anywhere on the live view on your smartphone and it will fly there), auto tracking (keeping subject in the middle of the frame as it moves) and subject track (locks on a subject and follows it around). How awesome is that?!

Imagine using the Phantom 4 for an ultimate trip to Iceland?

Camera: 12MP & 4K videos (60 fps)

Flight time: 28 minutes

Range: 7km

Weight: 1288g

Price: from USD 1049 on Amazon

Previous version is DJI Phantom 3

2 - DJI Mavic Pro 2

Credit: @djiglobal on Instagram

Just as beastly as the DJI Phantom 4 is the DJI Mavic Pro 2, with two huge bonuses - it’s equipped with a Hasselblad camera (one of the most world’s premium camera manufacturer) and it’s foldable! This makes it way more portable than the DJI Phantom 4.

Credit: @djiglobal on Instagram taken with the DJI Mavic Pro 2

The Hasselblad camera performs fantastically under almost any lighting at aperture f2.8 (up to f11) and 28mm focal length. It even has an amazing auto white balance to boot. Camera freaks, we know you're eyeing this one ?.

Similar to the DJI Phantom 4, it has crazy amounts of obstacle avoidance sensors - 6! It even warns you when it is near objects and auto brakes to avoid crashes.

It also has all the auto features of the DJI Phantom 4. But between its increased flight time, range, portability and camera capabilities, there is also a steep increase in price ?.

Camera: 20MP & 4K video (30 fps)

Flight time: 31 minutes

Range: 8km

Weight: 907g

Price: from USD 1448 on Amazon

Previous version is DJI Mavic Pro


1 - DJI Mavic Air

Credit: Mael Balland on Unsplashed

This sleek drone is DJI’s hybrid between it’s high-end Mavic Pro and it’s ultra portable Spark model - the epitome of a mid-range drone.

Once folded up, this drone is small enough to fit into a large pocket, and easily fits into most handbags (ladies, take note!).

Equipped with a 3 axis gimbal, this drone will give you drone footages almost as good as and high-end drone.

And like its high-end siblings, it also has obstacle avoidance sensors to keep you from flying into coconut trees during your Maldivian vacation, but unlike the Phantom Pro 4 and the Mavic Pro 2 that have 5 to 6 sensors, the Mavic Air only has 2. It is still good enough to avoid obstacles, you just have to be more aware of its surroundings. It also has activetrack features to follow you around while recording! 

Credit: @gregda on Instagram taken with the DJI Mavic Air

Where the Mavic Air lacks in certain aspects, it gains in others. Find more entertaining features on this model with Quickshots - an autopilot feature for a variety of video shots. Enjoy trying out the asteroid, boomerang, rocket, circle, helix, and many other types of shots for you to experiment with! It even has gesture control to capture videos and photos using hand gestures ✋.

Camera: 12 MP & 4K videos (30 fps)

Flight time: 21 minutes

Range: 10km

Weight: 430g

Price: from USD 698  on Amazon

2 - Parrot Anafi

Credit: @parrot_official on Instagram

The Parrot Anafi (how cute is that name? ?) is Parrot’s response to DJI’s Mavic Air. Just as portable, it has the same foldable arms and fits into any backpack and most handbags making it a perfect travel companion.

One advantage of the Parrot Anafi is its zoom capabilities (up to 2.8x) without any image quality reduction. With a sensor by SONY, and at 23mm focal length with an f2.4 aperture lens, low light is not a problem for this drone ?.

Credit: @parrot_official on Instagram taken with the Parrot Anafi

It also has slow-mo and hyperlapse options to make dramatic videos. Similar to the Mavic Air, it also has its own version of Quickshots and Autotrack - SmartDronies and FollowMe. SmartDronies features a number of autopilot shots such as orbit, boomerang, parabola and tornado. FollowMe actively follows the selected subject while recording.

One drawback is that it does not have any obstacle avoidance capabilities. This means that avoiding objects is subjected to the pilot’s (you) flying skills. On the bright side, if you can master flying this drone, you’ll be a pro pilot!

Camera: 21MP & 4K videos (60 fps)

Flight time: 25 minutes

Range: 4km

Weight: 320g

Price: USD 549 on Amazon


1 - Yuneec Breeze

Credit: @yuneecapv on Instagram

The Yuneec Breeze is the most affordable drone on this list. But don’t underestimate it. It still has all the functions you need for a travel drone.

At just 385g, it’s almost unnoticeable when travelling. It even has the fun parts of it with auto modes such as activetrack, selfie and orbit!

But a drawback of the Yuneec Breeze is that it lacks a gimbal to stabilize video shots. So the smoothness of your video is dependent on your piloting skills. You can still use their auto shots for more stable footage, but you'll be limited to that.

Videographers may not enjoy this drone because it doesn't sport a gimbal, but for those interested in photography instead, this drone is more than enough to spruce up your Instagram feed ?.

Credit: @yuneecapv on Instagram taken with the Yuneec Breeze

Where it lacks in certain aspects, it makes up with a much more reasonable price than most drones while retaining important functions ?.

Camera: 13MP & 4K videos (30 fps)

Flight time: 12 minutes

Range: 100 meters

Weight: 385g

Price: from USD 350 on Amazon

2 - DJI Spark

Credit: @kosmodrone on Instagram

Another mainstream favourite by DJI! The DJI Spark definitely packs a punch in its tiny size. At just 300g, this mini-drone fits right into the palm of your hand, and it can take-off and land from there too (really!). It’s so portable that you don’t even have to fold anything.

And it comes in a variety of pretty colours too - alpine white, sunrise yellow, lava red, sky blue and meadow green ?.

Credit: @riffstrum on Instagram taken with the DJI Spark

Unlike most mini-drones, this baby beast is equipped with a 2-axis gimbal stabilization and obstacle avoidance sensors (only in front). It also sports a number of fun features -  the Spark has gesture controls, facial recognition, Quikshot features and active track too!

But being as small as it is, it’s not as strong as other DJI models against the wind so this is something you have to watch out for.

Camera: 12MP & 1080p video (30 fps)

Flight time: 16 minutes

Range: 2 km

Weight: 300g

Price: from USD 399 on Amazon


Unfortunately, we can’t give you specifics since each drone is different, but here are some general tips to get you started.


Have your drone manuals with you until you’re comfortable enough to operate it confidently ?.

Watch youtube videos on tips and tricks. Videos make it a lot easier to visualize what you have to do.

Credit: Shane Smith on Unsplashed

Most drones are controlled via a controller connected to your smartphone ?, which is accessed through an app or just an app without the controller.

#HHWT tip: You will have to set up your phone to sync with the app which can take up to 10 minutes. Do this before you start your trip. You don't want to lose time while travelling trying to sync on-the-go.

Get familiar with the settings. Some drones have simulation apps to help you practice using your smartphone and controller. Download the app and practice before flying the real thing. 

Check Google Earth ? of the location you want to use the drone. You’ll get a rough idea of what you will capture on your drone. Plan a route too, but be prepared to adapt since wind interference may require you to change routes.

Check the weather conditions ☔️. You don’t want to hike all the way up a mountain for a drone video only to find out it’s going to rain. Drones and rain are definitely a no go. Take advantage of the best times too. Similar to other photographies, maybe it’s best to start during the golden hours (shortly after sunrise or before sunset) to get the best shots.

Find out about the local air traffic ✈️. Some resorts in the Maldives allow drone usage, but sometimes the islands are on the flight paths for seaplanes that fly pretty low which can be dangerous.

Credit: Jean Gerber on Unsplashed

Set the home location on your phone controller to make sure your drone flies back to you when you use the return-to-home function.

Most importantly - bring fully charged spare batteries. On average, drones can only fly for around 10-25 minutes. Even the best commercial drones only top at around 30 minutes! If you plan to get many shots and video footages, the more batteries, the better.

Taking off

Make sure there’s plenty of space around you and don’t stand too close to the drone. Check your settings and make sure it’s on the right mode.

#HHWT tip: bring a small mat along with you to use as a landing pad when there’s sandy or rocky ground.


As mentioned earlier, there is a chance you will crash your drone - don't worry! It takes time to get used to the controls, and sometimes there is wind interference.

Fly slow and low. Get a hang of the joystick or touchscreen controls. Gamers, you might have an advantage here ?.

Credit: Dion Tavenier on Unsplashed

#HHWT tip: Keep a distance between the drones and any objects. Even drones with obstacle avoidance sensors can still crash into nearby objects if the winds are strong enough.

There are two types of controls you need to know - controlling your drone movements and controlling its camera. Basically, you’ll be multitasking a fair bit.

For drone movements, you should be able to move it up, down, left, right, rotating left and rotating right.

For the camera, you need to know how to switch between video and photo, rotating the camera left, right, up and down.

At first, you’ll feel jerky and probably even a little nervous, and that’s totally normal. It gets better with practice.

If your done has auto shot features, try that too! It saves a LOT of time if you only need simple shots.


Make sure you have enough battery for the drone to come back and land. Most drones have an auto feature to returns to the set ‘home’ if it’s low on juice. But on the chance that it doesn’t, you wouldn’t want to crash in the middle of nowhere and having to search for it.

Stay clear from the drone as it lands and be sure there aren’t any people nearby either.

If you don’t have a landing mat, find an area with a smooth ground to land your drone.

Travelling with drones ✈️

Get a strong and sturdy case. Between the main body, propellers, propeller guards, chargers and all other droney parts,  you’ll want a proper case that can store everything. A sturdy case helps to prevent any damage.

Because of their lithium polymer batteries, most airlines require you to bring them as carrying on luggage. For convenience at security checks, put all the batteries into one case in case you need to take them out.


Before you fly your drone off into the sky, check the local drone regulations. Drone laws are ever-changing and evolving to accommodate security and privacy concerns.

Credit: Jp Valery on Unsplashed

Just to show you how fast and drastic the changes are - from 1 March 2019 onwards, you can’t fly drones within a 5km distance from airports in the UK, a change from 1 km which was set as recent as 2018.

The laws are also different is you’re flying for personal or commercial purposes.

Some countries have official websites to check drone regulations, but many don’t or are not updated. Best bet is to search online and find the most recent regulations on news articles or online forums. A good start would be at UAV’s Master List Of Drone Laws.

#HHWT tip: Depending on countries, you can even get a warning, fine, or arrested just for possession of a drone or flying it - so definitely check before you pack!

As of mid-2018, drones are banned in these countries (check again before your travels, they might change in the future) - Algeria, Barbados, Brunei, Cote d'Ivoire, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Morocco, Nicaragua, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and Syria.

Also, some resorts and hotels may not allow drones due to guest privacy reasons. Private properties are a no-go too unless you get permission beforehand.

That's it, folks  ?.

Seemed like a lot of information to absorb, right? It is, but only in the beginning. You’ll find that it gets easier with every try. And every try isn’t more than 13-30 minutes at a time ?. You'll be a pro drone pilot in no time!

Go out there and get those epic drone shots!

Once you get the hang of it, you won’t want to put your drone down anymore.