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I’ve been living in and out of my van for over a year now. There have been cold times, sweaty times, and every time in between.
Van life is a lifestyle and movement that has reached peak interest in the last few years.
You cannot browse social media it seems without coming across the #Vanlife. It was started by hippies in the ’60s but has evolved into a wide range of people, places, and of course, vans.
People live in vans (or travel in vans) for all sorts of reasons. Some do it for the adventure and freedom of living on the road, others do it for the ability to avoid paying rent, and others still for necessity.
Personally, I guess I enjoy it for the freedom and mobility it allows. I have been running my photography and drone business out of my van for a while now.
During this time, I have flown a lot of different drones and setups in the van.
Keep reading to find out which drones are the best for this tiny living lifestyle, which are the worst, and what I learned along the way.
Some things to consider about living in a van and flying drones #
Even the largest vans are small spaces, and whether you live in a van full-time or just do the occasional road trip in a converted SUV, you will learn that organization is key.
Some of the best parts about van life with respect to drones are that you always have your drones and equipment with you. It’s hard to forget your stuff at home when you bring your home with you.
Before I had built the van, I would often go somewhere beautiful or have a job opportunity spring up and wish I had my drone with me, but with van life, this is no longer a problem.
That being said, other problems will arise, mainly because all your other stuff gets in the way.
So with organization in mind, what drones are best? And which are not so good?
Size is very important here, as drones with the smallest size and the most performance are generally going to be the best for small living. That and lots of batteries, depending if the van has its own power source or not.
Luckily, there are so many great compact drones on the market that can perform like drones twice the size for half the cost. In addition, any drone that folds will have an advantage so it can fit in well with your other stuff.
The best drones for van life list is organized into:
- Best All-Around Drone
- Best For Professionals
- Best For Action Sports / One-Takes / High Speeds
- Best Accessories for Van Life
This list is made up of what I would do differently if I started the van life today. In other words, I’ve made all the mistakes so you don’t have to.
Keep reading to the end for some bonus products to help life with drones in small spaces.
Best all-around drone – DJI Mini 3 Pro #
- Anyone can fly!
- Battery life
- Too small
- High price point
This drone has been topping many lists since its release, and for good reason. It’s small, it’s fast, and just seems to fly forever. That’s 34 minutes standard and 47 minutes with the Intelligent Flight Battery Plus! That’s a very long time to be in the air.
The Mini 3 Pro has all the latest features you would expect from a DJI drone: Follow Me, flight paths, orbit, and a cool new MasterShots setting that could feature you or your van from fun new angles and frames, all semi-autonomously with VSOL (visual line of sight).
With van life specifically in mind, I like the Mini 3 Pro because it charges fast and is small enough to fit in a glovebox. It’s the only drone you might even be able to actually lose in a van, which is better than tripping over the bulky boxes that some drones come in.
With amazing battery life, tiny size, and incredible performance, what’s not to love? Well, there are some things you should keep in mind.
This may sound crazy, but I have actually misplaced (not lost) this drone in my van before. This is just to say make sure to have it in one specific place and keep it there constantly because it is small enough to lose.
DJI Care might be great for repairing broken drones but does not cover drones lost when not flying. For those van lifers looking for a hobby/beginner drone, the $900 price tag is simply too high (perfectly reasonable).
For professionals, its price point matches its superior features for great value. If you’re looking for a less expensive option, I would recommend the DJI Mini SE or the Mini 2, as both are really great drones. You will lose some features, but at a fraction of the price, you will still get an awesome fly-anywhere drone.
The DJI Mini 3 Pro is sure to get some amazing photos and videos of your adventures and your sweet van in amazing places!
Most importantly, and the reason I rate the Mini 3 Pro as the best all-around drone, is its sub 250-gram status. This allows any van lifer, whether a full-time traveler or weekend road tripper, to fly a drone!
You don’t need a license to fly one, although I would recommend learning air safety anyways, and so this is the ultimate pick-up-and-go, spontaneous, fly-anywhere drone that matches the van life perfectly.
If you’re interested in the DJIMini 3 Pro, it comes in at a few different price points.
Currently, Amazon is selling the Mini 3 Pro with the DJI RC-N1 (uses your phone for the screen), or you can get the Mini 3 Pro with the DJI RC (built-in screen).
Best drone for professionals – Mavic Series #
- Versatility for shooting weddings, real estate, and all sorts of content
- Everything the Mini gives with more
- Omnidirectional sensors
- 46-minute flight time
- 28x zoom
- Incredible wind resistance
- Expensive accessories
- Mavic 2 has older shooting modes/features
Any drone in the Mavic series is going to be the best choice for professionals in and out of a van. The features are amazing, and these are still some of the smallest drones on the market with comparable features.
Although any Mavic drone will be easy to transport and will do most of what a professional drone pilot might need, I will be mainly referring to the newest Mavic 3 (but the same can easily be applied to the Mavic 2 and 2 Pro).
The specs on this drone are impressive, the reviews unwavering, and the price point steep.
A simple way to look at this drone is everything the Mini 3 Pro has but more. The Mavic 3 has an incredible 46-minute flight time and six sensors for complete omnidirectional coverage. The sensors are all fish-eyed for a greater view.
That is the total peace of mind a professional needs to focus on what they are up there to do. This drone has up to 28x zoom which can allow creativity in framing and what details are caught and which are excluded.
It can also help in the case of wanting closer shots but needing to fly at a safe distance, such as out of the way of streetlights, trees, poles, etc.
Lastly is wind resistance. This thing can weather storms (almost). Its larger size and motors allow it to remain stable in more wind than smaller drones which can help with smooth time-lapse, long exposure, and videos.
I don’t have much negative to say about the Mavic 3 drone, other than the elephant in the room, which is the price tag. It performs as a top-tier professional drone and is priced accordingly.
For a professional, it’s a tool of the trade and can be expensed by their business. This drone will allow them to take on bigger jobs such as mapping and measuring and can attach a thermal camera for increased business applications.
The Mavic 3 has some overpriced accessories and because it is still new, there aren’t many non-DJI options for accessories. The Mavic 2 had some problems with Hyperlapse and camera quality in certain modes.
Overall, any Mavic series drone will be an incredible asset to any professional living or working out of a van, tiny home, or anything mobile really.
If you’re looking to make the leap and get one of the best drones on the market today, I would suggest the Mavic 3 or Mavic 3 Cine even at their premium price points. It will be an ideal choice and should pay for itself in the hands of the right professional.
They are selling on Amazon in different kits with or without the fly-more combos. The Mavic 2 and 2 Pro are still great options for a lower price but keep in mind there will be fewer options and features and are aging so the resale value will decrease.
Best drone for action sports / one-takes / high speeds #
- Small and portable
- Limited use
- Not the easiest drone to use
The new DJI FPV drone is my recommendation for the avid pilot looking for something new, or the FPV veteran looking to continue with drone flights. In either case, it’s small, portable, and works in a variety of situations making it a great van life drone.
If you like extreme sports, lightning-fast flights, and high adrenaline, an FPV drone is for you. These drones fly very fast and are incredibly agile; they can perform aerial maneuvers and stunts with ease, flipping and rolling through the sky. These are used for hobby racing and business.
They are paired with goggles (screens that the pilot wears on their face to give the drone’s point of view). For businesses, they can gain unique angles and perspectives that a traditional drone wouldn’t, such as flying under bridges, between tight trees, and close to people doing extreme sports.
Some of the biggest drawbacks of these FPV drones for me are the limited capabilities compared to more multi-purpose drones, and the difficulty to learn and fly.
The first is that because these are such specialized machines, they fly at such high speeds and turn like a fighter jet, so you lose out on many of the drone features and use cases you may be used to with standard drones.
To be fair there is an “N” Mode, which is the smoothest and most stable mode available to help new pilots learn. That’s great, but when put into “S” for Sport Mode, an FPV drone is a monster that needs to be harnessed.
It can go 0-100kph in 2s flat, which can be a lot to harness. The results are worth the time spent learning how to fly FPV. Overall, it can be intimidating for new pilots and experienced pilots alike to learn.
Best accessories for van life #
When living in a van, simple things become difficult, from finding water, food, or good places to park but mostly having low power.
Some vans have batteries and solar setups so they can charge their electronics and drones from their van just as you would in a house. Those who don’t have to get a little more creative.
I have included the best accessories for van life with a drone and where to find them.
Amazon has a long list of adapters and chargers depending on the drone, car, and region, but I have included two of the most popular below and the ones I use.
Mavic 3 Charger #
Mini 3 Pro Charger #
Different van life for different people
Don’t forget, everyone’s experience will be different. Some vans are very large, long, and tall with full kitchens and solar setups. Others are small and short, and you cannot stand up inside, with no kitchens and little power.
In my van, I can get away with larger drones but all and all, the smaller, more portable, less specialized, and feature-packed drones will be better for van life.
Keep in mind power requirements, space needed, and intended purpose. Hobby flyers need far less than professionals who fly for work.
When you find a drone that matches your lifestyle, whether in a van, a tiny home, or a house, you will be able to record your travels, fly for work, and have a great time doing it!