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Best Affordable Drones for Travel

The past few years have been significant for the drone community as multiple drone models from multiple manufacturers have been released regularly.

Image Credit: Dan Bayne

This trend continues to accelerate with no sign of slowing in the immediate future.

Likewise, with worldwide pandemic restrictions easing up quite a bit, personal and recreational travel has also been on the rise over the past few years.

It has been inevitable for the paths of drones and travel to eventually cross and we are glad they have.

While new drones appear to be released every quarter now, some of these with seemingly steep price tags, affordability is relative.

The best affordable drones for travel include DJI Mini 3 Pro, Autel Evo Nano Plus, DJI Mini 3, and Autel Evo Nano.

So, with this in mind, we’ll be looking at the best travel drones under USD 1,000 from DJI and Autel.

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Considerations

The most popular type of drone now is clearly foldable drones, with most, if not almost all drone manufacturers making some sort of folding drone.

Foldable drones are ideal for travel and adventure purposes alike.

When looking for a travel drone, the following considerations are important:

  • Size/Footprint
  • Weight
  • Photo and/or video quality
  • RC Signal Strength

Size

As drones get more advanced, in many cases, they have also begun to shrink in size, with more technology being packed into a smaller footprint.

Long gone are the days of needing a Phantom 4 Pro to shoot 20mp photos when there are so many options of foldable drones offering camera specs that are either equal to, if not higher than, DJIs workhorse Pro-level drones.

When on vacation or at a travel destination, oftentimes, space in a purse, sling bag, photography bag, or backpack is at a premium.

Because of this, the size and weight of a drone and its accompanying peripherals are very important.

Considering if your drone will be able to fit into whatever you choose to carry it in is a must.

Image Credit: Dan Bayne

Thankfully there are affordable foldable drones that range in size (when folded) from being able to fit on the palm of your hand to just under the dimensions of an average-sized woman’s shoe.

Weight

As people travel all over the world, and not just within the United States, the weight of a travel drone is also very important.

This is because, in some countries, hobbyists are not permitted to fly drones over a certain weight, oftentimes 250g.

In other countries, if the drone is over a certain weight (generally 250g), the drone must be registered with that country’s flight or airspace authority.

If planning on going to a country where unsure of the limitations placed on the type or weight of drones, it is best to do a bit of research on that country’s drone laws and then pack a sub-250g drone if flying there is permitted.

Thankfully, both Autel and DJI offer excellent drones that fit in the sub-250g category.

In addition to local government weight restrictions, having a lightweight drone is actually ideal for travel, as the minimal weight of the drone in a travel bag or backpack minimizes the likelihood of it becoming a weight burden when carried from location to location.

Photo & Video Quality

One of the reasons to bring a drone on travel is to take memorable pictures and videos of the surrounding areas.

To get the best images, you’ll want a drone that can shoot, at a minimum, 12mp photos. 12mp is equal to what many cell phones currently shoot, including the iPhone 13.

There are also foldable drones that can shoot native 20mp photos with 1″ and micro 4/3 camera sensors as well, at a higher price point.

In the video department, 4k is the current standard for video resolution.

Thankfully there are quite a few drones in this article that are capable of shooting in 4k resolutions at varying FPS (frames per second).

RC Signal Strength

The strength of the signal between the drone and remote controller is very important, although oftentimes overlooked.

While we don’t condone flying drones for miles beyond visual line of sight, we are fans of systems with strong signal strengths.

A strong connection between the drone and RC helps protect against disconnects due to interference or tall obstructions (like trees and hills/mountains).

When traveling and flying in unfamiliar surroundings, having strong signal strength can mean the difference between the drone returning to you or being lost in the woods, forest, jungle, or even out to sea.

Bonus: Propeller Sound

While this isn’t a necessity, it is also good to consider the sound of the drone’s propellers when out and about.

Various drones have different pitches, based on the size and angle of the props. As drones get better technology, they also get better in the pitch/sound department.

To date, the Mini 3 Pro is one of the quietest drones on the market. Why is this important?

With national and worldwide attention being placed on drones, many people have negative views or misconceptions about drones in general.

Seeing, or, better yet, hearing one can oftentimes cause undo issues or confrontations.

Having a very quiet, non-attention-grabbing drone is a benefit when traveling abroad, especially when getting the perfect shots where it is legal to do so.

Best Affordable Drones for Travel

After taking into consideration size, weight, and photo & video quality, here are our current four picks for the best affordable drones for travel, under $1000.00.

Although there are other excellent foldable drones by DJI and Autel that come close to the $1000 mark, they are larger and at least twice the weight of the drones in this list.

1. DJI Mini 3 Pro

DJI Mini 3 Pro (DJI RC)
$909.00 $799.95

Lightweight and Foldable Camera Drone

  • 4K/60fps Video
  • 48MP Photo
  • 34-min Flight Time
  • Tri-Directional Obstacle Sensing, Integrated RC and screen
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03/06/2024 03:36 pm GMT

✅ Pros

  • Small size
  • Sub-250g
  • Price – various combos to choose from, for every budget
  • 12mp/48mp photos
  • Tri-directional vision sensors
  • Subject Tracking
  • Plus-sized battery options (up to 47 minutes of flight time)
  • Ability to use RC-N1, DJI RC, and DJI RC Pro remote controllers
  • Lower propeller pitch
  • Operation range of 7 miles (12 kilometers)

❌ Cons

  • No 1″ image sensor
  • No cooling fan – can overheat when stationary
  • Geo-fenced

It goes without saying that the Mini 3 Pro has been a drone favorite for the past year or so. The Mini 3 Pro has something for the drone enthusiast and beginner alike.

The Mini 3 Pro makes the perfect drone for travel because it thoroughly ticks off the four considerations mentioned earlier:

  • Size
  • Weight
  • Photo & video quality
  • Signal strength

Because of its small size, the Mini 3 Pro can be packed in most types of bags easily.

In addition to its small size, the Mini 3 Pro has less annoyingly pitched propellers than most foldable drones.

This is a great feature as it attracts less attention than larger drones, perfect when trying to get pictures and videos of nearby travel hotspots.

With the release of the Mini 3 Pro was the DJI RC. As a lower-priced alternative to the DJI RC Pro, the DJI RC is the perfect companion.

Using the lightweight DJI RC, it is possible to get the Mini 3 Pro up in the air quicker, as only the DJI RC and Mini 3 Pro need to be turned on, as opposed to turning on the drone, and controller and then connecting a cell phone.

Using the DJI RC instead of the RC-N1 connected to a cellphone frees up the cellphone to receive or make calls while flying, something that may, in certain situations, be important when traveling abroad.

The Mini 3 Pro weighing less than 250g, makes it ideal for flying in countries where 250g is the weight limit hobbyists can fly.

Additionally, if traveling and flying in the United States, the Mini 3 Pro will not need to be registered, as long as it stays below the 250g mark.

Adding prop guards and the Plus-sized battery push it past the 250g threshold, meaning it will then need to be registered.

Regarding the Mini 3 Pros camera, it has a 1/1.3-inch CMOS sensor with a very large fixed aperture at f1.7, which allows it to take in more light than the f2.8 aperture many drones have.

The Mini 3 Pro is capable of shooting 12mp and 48mp photos in JPG and RAW image formats.

Not only that, the Mini 3 Pro can shoot vertical pictures and videos, perfect for showing off great-looking pictures and videos on social media sites.

For video, the Mini 3 Pro can shoot in resolutions up to 4k at 60 FPS (frames per second), meaning it is able to shoot slower motion video in true 4k resolution.

» MORE: DJI Mini 3 Pro: One-Year Review (with Video)

2. Autel Evo Nano Plus

Autel EVO Nano Plus

Lightweight and Foldable Camera Drone with 4K/30FPS HDR Video, 50MP Photo1/1.28"(0.8") CMOS RYYB Sensor, Tri-Directional Obstacle Sensing,3-Axis Gimbal, 3-Way Obstacle Avoidance.

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✅ Pros

  • Small size
  • Under 250g
  • Tri-directional vision sensors
  • 12mp/50mp Photos
  • Excellent low-light capabilities
  • Current sale pricing
  • No Geofencing (US)
  • Limited geofencing (in certain countries)
  • Operation range of 6.2 miles (10 kilometers)

❌ Cons

  • Slightly finicky flight software (Autel Sky App)
  • Mediocre subject tracking
  • 1 battery option
  • Only 28 minutes of flight time
  • 1 bulky remote controller option
  • No onboard storage

For those wanting a non-DJI option for travel, Autel has given DJI stiff competition.

Because Autel added so many advanced features to the Evo Nano Plus, it has sold an impressive amount of units, in a way forcing DJI to match or exceed the Nano Plus technical options with its release of the Mini 3 Pro four months later.

Like the Mini 3 Pro, the Evo Nano Plus is a sub 250g drone, which is ideal for travel, especially in countries where flying sub 250g drones is required for hobbyists.

Unlike the Mini 3 Pro, the Evo Nano Plus has a few different color options, enabling owners to choose the perfect cosmetic fit for themselves.

Of course, this has no bearing on the flight characteristics, but it is nice to have options to choose from.

The Evo Nano Plus has a 1/1.28-inch CMOS sensor and takes excellent photos and videos.

With this sensor, the Nano Plus takes not only 12mp photos but also takes 50mp photos, which is impressive for such a small drone.

One of the highlights of the Evo Nano Plus camera is that it takes excellent low-light photos, something perfect for capturing beautiful sunsets while traveling abroad.

The Nano Plus has a vibrant look when recording video, something many can appreciate as less color grading is needed in post-production.

One can easily film and post videos straight out of the Nano Plus, confident in the out-of-camera color.

For video, the Evo Nano Plus can shoot in resolutions up to 4k at 30 FPS (frames per second).

This is 30 frames per second less than the Mini 3 Pro, but not bad if you are not wanting to get slower motion 4k 60fps shots while traveling.

While we like the feel of the Nano Plus and standard Nano remote controller (which is shaped like an XBOX-style controller), the included remote controller is bulky and slightly cumbersome when packing it into bags, unlike the Mini 3 Pro and Mini 3 line of drones.

Something the Nano line of drones benefits from, including the standard non-Plus version, is no geofencing in the United States and limited geofencing or warning zones in various countries.

This means that you’ll be able to fly unrestricted in various locales. Of course, we do suggest getting the proper airspace authorizations prior to flying, regardless of the country you are flying in.

» MORE: DJI Mini 3 Pro vs. Autel Evo Nano+ (Here’s our Choice)

3. DJI Mini 3

DJI Mini 3 (DJI RC)
$609.00

Lightweight and Foldable Mini Camera Drone with 4K HDR Video, 38-min Flight Time, True Vertical Shooting, and Intelligent Features.

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03/06/2024 05:46 pm GMT

✅ Pros

  • Same 1/1.3-inch CMOS sensor as the Mini 3 Pro
  • Vertical shooting
  • 4k Video
  • Sub-250g
  • 38 & 51 Minute battery life options (Standard & Plus)
  • Ability to use RC-N1 and DJI RC remote controllers
  • Multiple combo options
  • Price
  • Operation range of 6.2 miles (12 kilometers)

❌ Cons

  • No internal storage
  • No obstacle avoidance
  • No subject tracking (Active Track)
  • No cooling fan – can overheat when stationary

If opting to go with the DJI Mini 3 without the DJI RC, we have an extremely capable, entry-level drone for under USD 500, when purchasing the standard RC-N1 remote controller.

With its small footprint, the Mini 3 flies and handles similarly to the Mini 3 Pro, which is a very good thing, as it is nimble and responds to stick input immediately.

The Mini 3 is easy enough for a person new to drones to pick up and fly, and also fun for seasoned pros to fly.

Similar to the Mini 3 Pro, the Mini 3 likewise has a 48mp photo option. Additionally, the 12mp photo option looks great and both can be taken in portrait orientation due to the physical vertical mode.

As there is a fixed f1.7 aperture, the Mini 3 lets a lot of light into the camera, lending to very good low-light imagery.

One of the stand-out features the Mini 3 shares with its sibling the Mini 3 Pro is the two different battery options.

The Mini 3 gets an impressive 38 minutes of flight time with the standard battery and an incredible 51 minutes with the Plus battery option.

When using the Plus battery option, however, the weight of the Mini 3 exceeds 250g and will then need to be registered, in the US.

The Mini 3 also uses the DJI RC remote controller, although a combo with the Standard RC-N1 can be purchased at a substantially less price.

The DJI RC works with the Mini 3 exactly as it does with the Mini 3 Pro.

4. Autel Evo Nano

Autel Robotics EVO Nano

249g Ultralight Foldable Drone, 3-Axis Gimbal with 4K Camera, 48MP Photos, 3 Way Obstacle Avoidance, 28 Mins Flight, SkyPortrait, 10km HD Transmission, Orange.

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✅ Pros

  • Under 250g
  • Tri-directional vision sensors
  • Subject Tracking
  • Sonar Sound
  • 12/48mp Photos
  • Multiple colors to choose from
  • No Geofencing (US)
  • Limited geofencing (in certain countries)
  • Operation range of 6.2 miles (12 kilometers)

❌ Cons

  • 1/2″ Camera Sensor
  • Slightly finicky flight software (Autel Sky App)
  • 1 battery option
  • Only 28 minutes of flight time
  • 1 bulky remote controller option
  • No onboard storage

Continuing with the theme of sub-250g drones, the Autel Evo Nano has fewer features than its sibling, the Nano Plus, but all at USD 100+ less, which many might appreciate.

Although having slightly fewer features, such as a smaller camera, the Evo Nano is still a capable Mini Drone.

The Evo Nano can take 12mp and also denser 48mp photos, like the more expensive Evo Nano Plus, as well as shoot in 4k 30fps (frames per second) HDR video.

Something some might appreciate, especially those traveling abroad, is the ability to record dialogue and sounds through the Autel Sky app while flying the drone.

This leaves open the option to narrate while flying the drone in unique locations.

Like the Evo Nano Plus option, the Nano has tri-directional obstacle avoidance which not only keeps it a little safer when flying but adds the ability to track moving subjects.

These features are fairly rare in an entry-level sub-259g drone.

Whereas the two DJI Mini 3 drones have two types of batteries (the standard and Plus options), the Nano, as well as Nano Plus, only have the one-sized option, which will get around 28 minutes of flight time.

While this is a decent amount of time, having something closer to 40 or even 50 minutes would be even better.

Evo Nano owners will be happy to know that, like the Nano Plus, the Nano has no geofencing restrictions when flying in the United States, and limited warning zones in various other countries.