Mar 4, 2014


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Traveling with Musical Instruments



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With summer approaching, aspiring musicians and bona fide artists alike are starting to scheme their summer travel plans. As many of you know, traveling with musical instruments abroad can be a rewarding experience. There is nothing quite like relaxing under the shade of a palm tree and playing a few melodies. Chances are you’ll encounter some other traveling folks that also play and you’ll be able to strike up a jam—a great way to meet people and make friends.

While traveling with instruments is certainly a groovy idea, it does require a little bit of preparation to make sure your decision doesn’t backfire. Here are a few of my personal tips for traveling with instruments:

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If it’s expensive, don’t bring it…

Though you may love your mint condition Martin guitar, you ought to leave it behind so it stays that way! You’re going to be on the move and your instrument will inevitably be banged against a wall at some point. Just traveling with instruments to your destination is often an arduous task. The airline industry isn’t exactly instrument friendly. Regardless of what you’re carrying, NEVER check your instrument on the plane. If you check your instrument you might as well be tossing it into the streets of Pamplona during the running of the bulls. Keep the instrument by your side at all times and if they give you any grief, make it clear that there is absolutely no way you will let them check your instrument. If the plane is super full, you may have to give it up before boarding the plane. If the flight attendant makes you hand it over for a “gate check”, just be sure to tell her to please be extremely gentle with the instrument (many people unintentionally damage instruments simply because they are unaware how fragile they are, especially when traveling with instruments ).

Size matters…

Guitars are great and all, but they can be cumbersome and sometimes difficult to bring. It is always a good idea to bring a small instrument when traveling with instruments abroad. This is a great opportunity to pull the ukulele out of the closet that you bought 3 years ago and never played. Think harmonicas, inexpensive flutes, things that are very easy to transport and don’t take up too much space. If you’re dead set on bringing a guitar, I highly recommend you invest in a cheap travel guitar. These are smaller, easier to manage, and better all-around for travel purposes.

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Purchase a Local Instrument When You Get There…

If you’re traveling to Latin America, Africa, or Asia, local music shops often have better prices than you could ever find in the United States. If you really want to have an immersive trip, consider buying an indigenous instrument. Music is an integral part of societies around the world, and the locals will love the fact that you’re expressing a genuine interest in learning about their musical traditions. While in Peru, I purchased a charango from a Cuzqueñan luthier on my first day in the Andes. I can honestly say this added a lot to the trip, and, in hindsight, some of my best memories from the trip were the moments spent playing Andean music with the locals. If you do decide to purchase an instrument when you get there, your best bet is to find a music store in the hub city before taking off for the countryside.

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Refine Your Skills Beforehand…

By purchasing the instrument beforehand, you can practice for a few months before your trip and hopefully progress enough so that you can jam with the locals. There are several world music shops online that sell a variety of indigenous instruments. Just be careful to make sure that you’re actually getting what they are advertising. I have had positive experiences in the past purchasing from Lark in the Morning. This San Francisco-based world music shop carries all sorts of instruments, from Burmese harps to Brazilian Violas.

In summary, I suggest you carry a small, native instrument and refine your skills beforehand so you can play with other musicians on your journey. Just always be safe when you are traveling with instruments. Tsetchem leshalom and happy music-making!