Meet Heather Butler, a drone pilot who started flying a few years ago, and for the last 13 months has been living out of a suitcase traveling the world and flying her DJI Mavic Pro. She shares her tips for traveling the world with a drone.
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Drone Girl: What inspired you to drop everything, pack your bags (and your drone) and go travel?
Heather Butler: My grandparents dreamed of traveling. It wasn’t until they were in their 70s that they sold their business, retired and started traveling. Just a couple years after they began traveling my grandfather passed away. My grandmother had known how much I wanted to travel and following my grandpa passing she pulled me aside and said to me “Go now. Go while you are young and able bodied. Go before you can’t.” That was it.
DG: How many countries have you travelled to with your drone?
HB: I have visited over 22 countries with my drone in the last 14 months.
DG: My biggest question about people who travel full-time is, how do you financially make it work?
HB: I spent a good amount of time transitioning my career to remote so I could travel and keep working. Once I had secured my job as needed I bought a one-way ticket and haven’t looked back!
DG: How did you budget for the trip?
HB: I’m from San Diego where the cost of living is rather high so I’ve found that traveling full time is actually more affordable than living in California! Because I transitioned my job remotely, I still make a U.S. salary while traveling.
DG: What gear would you recommend having when going on a drone trip?
HB: An external charger for your phone! Flying my drone using my phone as the screen KILLS my battery so if you want to fly multiple times in a day it’s a good idea to bring a way to keep your phone charged.
DG: Was there any gear that you regretted packing?
HB: I tend to pack pretty light but I’ve regretted packing up my camera bag without checking the batteries ahead of time. Lugging around dead lithium batteries are heavy and pain in the butt.
DG: Ugh, I know the feeling! You have gone out for a shoot and forgot to bring something essentially, like charged batteries — it’s so frustrating!
So what differences have you noticed of how people react to drones in other countries?
HB: Most places people are just curious, kids crowd around to look the screen while I’m flying or ask how to fly.
DG: Have you had any issues flying drones in foreign countries?
HB: One time I was flying in Luxembourg and this older man started yelling “ESPIONAGE! ESPIONAGE! You are a spy!” He yelled for so long he attracted the attention of the local police who had to assure him I was flying legally and was not in fact a spy of any kind.
DG: Yikes. On the positive side, what is the one place that drone photographers shouldn’t miss?
HB: Iceland’s landscapes are the most incredible I’ve ever seen, with varying colors – foamy crashing ocean, black sand beaches, snow topped mountains, rolling green hills, black lava flow, blue glaciers, and so many waterfalls. To this day its my absolutely favorite footage.
DG: What’s the best place to fly a drone if you’re on a budget?
HB: If you’re really on a budget, try flying in your home town or country. I always forget how beautiful California is but when I’m home I always try to fly a bit by the beach or out in the desert. Last time I was home I did an amazing south west road trip with my best friend capturing the whole thing with the drone. Doing the road trip was a great reminder that home is just as much an adventure as any foreign country.
DG: What’s the best place to fly a drone if money is no object?
HB: If money is really no object, then go everywhere! Some of the most beautiful and pricey places I’ve flown are Norway, France, Iceland, and Croatia. I highly recommend all of them!
DG: Many countries have widely varied drone laws. Did you run into any legal troubles?
HB: There are a few countries that have completely banned drones so be aware of the laws. For example, I was in Europe and heading to Morocco when I learned Morocco would confiscate my drone at the airport upon arrival. I made sure to ship the drone home before flying to Morocco to avoid it being taken.
I’ve never had any legal trouble but I’ve had security guards tell me politely flying isn’t allowed and asking me to land. Even if you follow all of the laws sometimes people are unsure of drones and just say its not allowed erring on the side of caution.
DG: What aspect of the trip surprised you the most?
HB: Suddenly you are 100% left to your own devices and you just have to figure things out. Learn to navigate a new city, find the best places to eat, a place to stay, the best places to fly a drone and so much more. It’s so liberating to realize you are so capable.
DG: What advice do you have for someone who wants to take a drone to a foreign country?
HB: Do you research and know the laws! Flying a drone is very fun but its not worth risking yours or others’ safety. Be respectful, comply with the laws, and get some amazing content!
And of course, what did her footage end up looking like? Here’s a compilation video of some of her travels: