9 months backpacking with my DJI phantom... and counting 1/2

Jul 7, 2015

In 9 months I have travelled overland with my DJI phantom drone in my backpack, from Moscow in Russia to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia between October 2014 and June 2015. As I am writing those lines I am doing some freelance work as a programmer (my real job) for a month. It's sort of a small "break" on my journey. So I decided to jump on the occasion and do a debrief of what happened during those past 9 months. The main purpose of my trip is to take and edit aerial footage and photography taken with my DJI Phantom of the different places I visit. It requires quiet a lot of commitment as editing videos is time consuming. But if you're as passsionate by travel and drones as I am, you'll enjoy spending your time doing it. I'm not saying that I have always been enthusiast about the idea to spend hours reviewing footage, far from that, but in the end, when I see the results, without bragging about it, I am quiet proud of myself.

My initial equipment

  • DJI Phantom 1
  • Zenmuse H3-2D
  • 500mW video transmitter
  • 7-inch screen with video built-in video receiver
  • Batteries : 4 2700mAh / 2 2200mAh
  • DJI battery charger
1 backpack for the drone, 1 backpack full of winter clothes

1st version of my customized backpack.

Moscow, a heavy start

My trip started in the worst way possible; As you can read here, on my very first flight in Moscow, my drone landed... in the water. I'll spare you the details of the feelings I had at this moment. But through friends I had there I met a guy who took me to a drone shop where I was able to get it fix. It did cost me about $800 because I had to replace my Zenmuse Gimbal and they only had h3-3d gimbals that were even more expensive. Quiet a big cut in the budget already when I was just starting. Not to mention my GoPro hero 3 that went in the water too without its waterproof case. It was still working! Those camera are really tough! But because I was not sure how long it would last, I decided to get a GoPro hero 4 - or it was probably just an excuse to upgrade :-). So when I left Moscow, I had a fixed drone with a brand new GoPro and I was ready to finally properly start filming my trip.
I did film in the city and did not have issues with the authorities except when I tried to film the St Basil Cathedral. Yes, that was very stupid of me since it's near Red Square which is a major tourist attraction and ... the Kremlin. Lesson learned.

Minutes before it went under water

Amazing Lake Baikal

After this misadventure in Moscow and 70 hours of train broken down in 2 trips, I reached lake Baikal and was eager to film it properly.
I stayed on Olkhon island, the only island of the lake. This place was great to film with a drone even though it can get pretty windy out there. The most northern point was not surprisingly the windiest spot. I went there with a group of great people I met both on the way and on the island. We booked a tour for the day and had a great time. Despite the very strong wind I took my drone out for a short fligth - I have never flown my drone with that much wind, it was scary- took some nice footage and a picture of the whole group. Lake Baikal is quiet narrow - 79km - compared to its length - 636km - so when you are at the most northern point of Olkhon island, all you see in front of you is water. It does not look like a lake but more like a sea or ocean. It is very impressive. 

At the most northern point of Olkhon island
Group picture

Flying from a rock

Want to see my videos ?
YoumiTrip - Russia


7 days trips through Mongolia without electricity

I did 2 7 days trips in Mongolia. First one to Central Mongolia and another one to the Gobi Desert. Both places were truly majestic and are still the top 2 of the places I have been to on this trip - And I doubt they will be beaten anytime soon, that's how much I loved it there. On both tours we were in a van with a driver and a guide. We would sleep in nomad families' gers without any electricity. So, I am not doing my crying baby and my spoiled westerner here saying that it was so bad not being able to recharge my phone every day. No, but - there's always a but - logisticly speaking, when carrying a drone with you, not being able to recharge the batteries can be an issue. So I had 6 batteries with me that gave me about 6-7 minutes of flight time - or so I thought - so I had to really choose the spots I wanted to film. But what I had not anticipated, was the cold. I was there in November, and at night temperatures would get down to like -15C (5F). And the batteries do not do well in that kind of cold. Some of them only last just 2 minutes before the drone entered "safe landing mode" - the drone slowly goes down and lands and you have limited control on it. To try to keep them as warm as possible I ended up putting them in socks and with me in my sleeping bag. And during the day I would carry them with me in my jacket. 

In Central Mongolia we started by a 4-day horse ride. First I was hoping to be able to keep my backpack with me but beacause of the weight they would not let me and strapped it on to the horses. I got a bit worried when I saw how tight they were strapping it but it turned out just fine. The DJI phantom is quiet robust, I learned that during my trip.
On the 4th day it snowed heavily in the morning before we took off and I did not hesitate and took out my drone to fly it under the snow. It was a first time. But with the cold I got about 2.5 minutes out of the battery; still enough to get nice footage. At the end of those 4 days, we reached a magnificent frozen waterfall that I HAD to film obviously, and this time I got just over 1 minute. Those 2 were the 2200 mAh, the 2700 mAh giving me slightly more - about 3-4 minutes.

My backpack with my drone was tightly attached to the horse
In front of an amazing frozen waterfall

Frozen lake at our first stop

Beautiful Central Mongolia

Same frozen waterfall from the air
And do not think that the Gobi Desert was any different, it's not because it's called a desert that it is always warm. It was cold and windy out there. Although I have been able to recharge a couple of batteries during one evening; A nice family offered me to use their electricity - saved during the day with their solar panels. I felt it was a bit out of place since they had a limited amount of it, but they kindly offered so I gladly accepted. It is often that people who do not have much are the ones offering the most. Even with those constraints, I managed to get enough footage to put together some videos of those 2 beautiful places.
No problem flying my drone in the remote places of Mongolia. In Ulan Bator I filmed from the Zaisan Monument which is on top of a hill outside of the city without any issue either.

Anything works as a takeoff platform when surrounded by sand

Our driver was very interested in the drone

Ready to takeoff
Sunset flight

Some intrigued camels

Above the sand dunes

Literally in the middle of nowhere

Want to see my videos ?
YoumiTrip - Mongolia

Filming the s**t out of China

I had not planned to spend 2 months in China, but it just worked out that way. China is a massive country with beautiful landscapes. I had a vague idea of the places I absolutely wanted to check out and film, but when I got there, I saw that there was a lot more to see. My trans-Mongolian journey ended in Beijing, so the first video I wanted to make in China was about the Great Wall. I went to 6 different spots because I figured that it would be boring to show the same spot from different angles during 2 or 3 minutes. And in any case, I wanted to show different aspects of it, because even if it is just a wall everywhere you go, depending on the surroundings it can be really dramatic and scenic. I also turned 30 a few days after arriving in Beijing and since a party with friends and family was not possible, I wanted to do something special. So, with a Chinese guy I met in Moscow and who I stayed in touch with, we went to a spot on the Great Wall with a cake and my drone on my birthday. Just something out of the ordinary to remember that milestone. I had no problem filming the Great Wall. The different spots I filmed at were not crowded and I always tok care not to fly over a group of people.

My 30th birthday on the Great Wall

The Great Wall

One of the bridges of the Great Wall

The start/end of the Great Wall


Beside the Great Wall, I also made a video about Huang Shan, a mountain about 5 hours drive south of Shanghai. The hike up is very steep and streneous, but once at the top, it is just amazing. I did have a brief interaction with the authorities up there. They were just curious that I was flying a drone and wanted to know the purpose behind it. When I told them it was for fun, they just told me to enjoy my stay on the mountain and let me go. There, I was staying in a dorm and was able to recharge the batteries over night.

I broke my fpv screen. I've had better ideas in my life

Huangshan

Can you see me?



My third video was about the karst landscape in Yangshuo, which is my favour place in China. I went to both Yangshuo and Xingping, filming the Li and the Yulong rivers. Hiking and riding bikes along. I also flew my drone from a bamboo raft, twice. I always like to fly my drone from moving vehicles although I really only had done it from a car or a van before. So this was another first.

Moon Hill

A very nice and quiet place I found exploring the surroundings of Yangshuo

1st time flying from a bamboo raft

Yulong river from above

But that's not the only places I have been to in China in 2 months. But sometimes I would go somewhere very nice, I would film this place with my drone but would not be able to take enough footage to make a decent video clip out of it without having to show the same spots too many times. In that case, I keep the footage for a video I make about the whole country itself. This was the case for the Summer Palace in Beijing, Dali, the stone forest in Kunming and the Tiger Leaping Gorge near Lijiang. I kept those footage and put them together along with some selected shots from the previous videos and made a clip about China.

I had a few fans at the summer Palace

Kunming Stone Forest

Xing Ping
Tiger Leaping Gorge

Zhangjiajie National Park

Want to see my videos?
YoumiTrip - China



Discover more about Hong Kong

The first thing that usually come to mind when talking about Hong Kong is the city and its skyscrapers. But there is actually much more than that. There is nice spots where you can actually hike or just get out of the madness of the city and see some vegetation and that are just about an hour from the center of the city. One of them I particularly liked is Shek-O in the south of Hong Kong island easily reachable by bus. Before getting to the village you can stop at the Dragon's back hike where I got some nice aerial footage of the surroundings.
In the north of Hong Kong mainland, the New Territories are a good destination to discover. I went to the Plover Cove Reservoir, it was less scenic than Shek-O and the not so good weather did not helo but I did get some good aerial footage anyway.
While in Hong Kong, I had issues with the cable of the DJI charger as well as the USB output cable of the Zenmuse H3-3D - this cable is a joke. I found a store, TripPro selling drones and gopro accessories where I bought a spare for the output cable of the gimbal - I bought 3 - and they also soldered the damaged cable of my DJI battery charger.
In Hong Kong, flying Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) weighing not more than 7 kg (without its fuel) for recreational purpose can be classified as model aircraft flying, and does not require you to apply to the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) to get a permit. More information here

Another crowd in Hong Kong at Victoria Peak



Shek-O from the Dragon's backbone hike

Shek-O

Want to see my videos ?
YoumiTrip - Hong Kong





2 comments

  1. Thanks for this post ! The Phantom 3 drone is undoubtedly one of the best creations from the brand called DJI. For those of you who are new to the world of drones, DJI is one of the most popular names whenever we talk about quadcopters. With a series of efficient drones leading up to the Phantom 3, this is an intelligent drone that works best for beginners and experts alike. Moreover, it also gives you a rather useful insight into the world of aerial photography. Click to see more http://mydronelab.com/reviews/phantom-3-drone.html

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  2. hey, i like the site.

    Me and the mrs are backpacking across SEA and are considering taking a drone. It seems silly not to ;)

    check us out at www.Mabitravel.com

    hope your still travelling around?

    matt

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