What is the best drone for traveling? If you want to take your travel photos and videos to the next level of awesome then you’ve probably been considering getting a drone. A quick Google search brings up hundreds of choices ranging from drones that are extremely cheap to drones that few regular travelers could afford. With nearly as many opinions on which is the best drone for traveling as there are actual drones, it can be difficult to decide.
What I was looking for was the best mini drone. It needed to be light, portable and it also needed a great camera, for obvious reasons. I eventually settled on the DJI Spark, which I’ve been playing with for the last few months. I take the drone with me in my backpack whenever I go exploring on our island, so it’s been on long hikes, flown around beaches, along sea cliffs and much more. Buying a drone can be a difficult choice so I decided to set out the pros and cons of the DJI Spark, as a drone for traveling, as I’ve experienced them.
Is it the best drone for traveling? I don’t know, but it is a fantastic piece of equipment that I’ve had endless fun playing around with. Hopefully this overview will help you make your decision and experience the fun of drone photography and film.
DJI Spark Overview
What does a DJI Spark cost?
A new DJI Spark off Amazon can cost anywhere between $250 and $350 depending if you shop around and want to look for deals. The more advanced DJI Mavic drones can cost from $800 – $1400, so the Spark is definitely a cheaper option!
The drone does not automatically come with a remote control. This is not a problem and is one of the reasons I would recommend it as one of the best drones for traveling, I will explain why a little later.
A DJI Spark bundle that includes a remote, extra batteries, a multi-battery charging port, blade protectors, a drone case with strap and replacement blades, will cost about $550 on Amazon. This is a the bundle I bought and I’ve been very happy with it. You can probably find some better deals if you’re willing to search a little on Amazon.
What makes it a mini drone?
The DJI Spark is extremely light and portable. The drone by itself, in a sturdy Spark case, only weighs 400g (14oz). The Spark case is 20x20cm so you will hardly notice it in your hand luggage. Add 2 extra batteries (that the Spark case has space for) and you’re looking at a 600g bundle. As a traveler, I find these specs excellent for a mini drone!
I invested in a larger Spark case which is bulkier but it holds the drone, the remote, 2 extra batteries, the charging port and cables, blade protectors and extra blades. All of this only weighs 1.8kg (4lb). It takes up more of your bag space but it is still nicely compact.
Using this case I have carried my Spark all over our island home of Ulleungdo, hiking up old volcanic mountains, through forests and even down to the rocky beaches that surround the island. It is easy to slip into a backpack and you’re ready to go!
How well does the DJI Spark fly?
I have never flown a drone before and I was a little concerned when I first started but it took a matter of minutes to have my Spark buzzing around with ease. It is an easy drone to fly and it is very stable, have a look at this shot I took over Monique on a swing:
It can take a little while to get the hang of what movement each joystick on the remote controls (height, rotation, left/right and forward/back), but that is just practice. The drone also has quite extreme proximity settings and it is almost impossible to crash it into anything unless you turn them off.
The Spark’s proximity warnings can get a little frustrating as you get more confident in your flying as they will severely limit movement in an area with some trees even if they are far away!
Do I need a remote?
The short answer is no and this is why I would put the DJI Spark among the best drones for traveling. The Spark can be controlled purely by hand signals. I am personally not a fan of this because I want to be more in control of the movement but you can have fun with things like a follow function and other pre-programmed functions.
The other reason why you don’t need a remote is that you can use your smartphone as a remote. The DJI Spark uses wifi and not radio signal to control it. This means you can easily connect your phone and it has all the functions of a remote. This is also why I would rank the Spark as one of the best mini drones because you can keep everything so compact and still have full functionality!
If you do have a remote you can clip you phone in underneath and keep an eye on what’s happening through the camera.
So how good is the camera?
One of the cons about the DJI Spark is that you have very limited control over your camera settings. So if you enjoy fiddling with things like shutter speed, ISO etc. then you may get frustrated with the Spark. On the other hand, if you are someone like me who is happy to stick to automatic settings then this won’t be a problem.
The Spark films at 1080p, so you are getting HD video without filling up memory cards in a matter of minutes. Working with a GoPro on the ground and mixing it with the videos I’ve taken with my Spark, I have to say I am very happy with the quality. I’m not going to put it out on big screen but it is perfect for YouTube. Check out this post for GoPro tips and accessories.
The Spark has a fantastic gimbal for the camera. This keeps the shots incredibly steady and is probably the most valuable part of the drone. I would recommend purchasing a small cover to protect your camera and gimbal while you travel.
What is the battery life like?
One battery will last you about 15 minutes of continuous flying. This might not sound like a lot of time but you will probably find it is more than enough when you get to flying around.
If you only have one battery you will struggle to get lots of different shots in multiple locations. I would highly recommend getting extra batteries; a Spark case usually has space for 2 batteries. Plan your drone shots carefully so you can conserve as much battery life as possible.
Charging time is about an hour. DJI uses smart batteries and you can check their current battery life with a simple click of a button. You don’t need to turn on your drone, which is great if you can’t remember which batteries you’ve already used.
How tough is the DJI Spark?
I’m glad you asked! Here’s a fun video of the drone being put through some intense trials and it pulls through pretty well:
In Summary, why is the DJI Spark one of the best drones for traveling?
The DJI Spark is relatively cheap, is incredibly compact, light and durable and takes amazing photos and videos. It is one of the best mini drones on the market making it one of the best drones for traveling.
But wait – why did my DJI drone just fall out of the sky?
This is a pretty scary question and I wouldn’t have thought I needed to ask it until it happened to me. I have not seen this brought up in any other review video or post that I read before I bought my DJI drone so I think it is essential to include it here in my overview because it turns out it is a pretty regular problem (Google this question to see).
First to set the context, it was the second day that I took my drone out to fly. I was on the roof of my apartment building which is the tallest building in our town. I had 15 satellites connected to my drone, full battery, it was cloudless day and there wasn’t a breath of wind. The compass was working fine and it had set the home location to return to. I took off and flew my spark about 30m up and about 20m away from me. The next thing my phone gave a disconnected warning and the drone just dropped straight down. Thankfully no one was underneath it but it did break one of the arms and the battery.
If there was a problem the drone should have returned to the home location but it just died. So I Googled what had happened and that’s when I found out that this is a very common problem. If you don’t lose the drone and you have insurance you can replace it at a fraction of the cost, but on one of the threads someone lost theirs in a forest and someone else had their drone fall into the ocean.
Unfortunately living in Korea I can’t get the DJI insurance and my terrible Korean would not aid me in getting a return to my seller. In a testament to the toughness of the Spark drone though, I can still fly it without any problems despite the extensive damage to the arm and the camera still works well.
So what did I find out from my research
Firstly this happens to every make of DJI drone, not just the Spark. There are people with brand new DJI Mavics and Phantoms who have had the same problem. There is nothing you can do and there is no warning that it will happen.
It does seem to mostly happen to new drones so I’d suggest if you get a DJI drone, spend the first few flights flying low over a grassy area and not over water or buildings. The drones are really hardy and will easily survive a drop onto grass. Also, always make sure your battery is firmly connected before flying.
If it does happen and you can recover your drone, then plug it into your computer and download the flight log with the DJI software and get in touch with the company. Hopefully you can replace it.
Despite this, I think DJI Spark is still one of the best mini drones and the best drones for traveling, just make sure to test it a few times before you take it on a trip! Here is DJI’s guide to preventing drone crashes.
Final thoughts on the DJI Spark
As I said at the beginning, I don’t know if the DJI Spark is the best drone for traveling. That would require me to buy all the different competing brands and compare each one which I don’t have the money for! (If any big brand is reading this and wants to sponsor a few drones for me to try out, get in touch – hint, hint)
But it is one of the best mini drones on the market and I really enjoy using it for videos from a different perspective. It is also really easy to just slip into my backpack and take it up mountains, along forest trails and down to the beach.
Happy travels and blue skies!
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