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8 Tips for the Traveling Musician

I just made it back from a trip to New York and Miami with my band Misa ‘E Gallo in which we played a couple of gigs and did some media work. In between such work trips and the countless plane rides I went on while studying music in Los Angeles (plus a bunch of horror stories from fellow musicians) I found out some interesting information nuggets that I believe will help you out on your next plane trip. Here they are:

1. Pack a tidy suitcase:

The first step to making your trip a good one is working out your luggage. Make sure to take exactly as much as you need and not much else. Taking too much stuff will result in a bulky suitcase which you will need to carry around on your way to and back from your destination. Take too little and you will have to make due which might result in extra spending. It’s always a good idea to bring a travel kit with all the essentials (soap, shampoo, conditioner, hairstyling products, toothbrush/paste, acetaminophen/aspirin, etc.)

Packing a tidy suitcase includes bringing as less equipment as possible. Rent out a backline for your gigs when possible and buy extra accessories to avoid the need for extra instruments (strings for example).

Finding this balance will take some time and experimentation, but once you hit that sweet spot making your bag will be a breeze.

2. Don’t check your instrument with your luggage:

I don’t know if you’ve heard the horror stories, seen the pictures or experienced the horrific tales of destroyed equipment on your own but if you haven’t; checking your instrument with your luggage is almost a surefire way to get it destroyed. I’ve met tons of heartbroken musicians whose equipment have gotten destroyed by the careless hands of the baggage crew and let me tell you, it’s no pretty site.

3. Make your instrument bag your carry-on bag:

On most flights you are allowed just one piece of carry-on luggage on board, and after reading point number two I think it’s safe to say that you should make your instrument that piece of luggage. The best way of doing so is by acquiring a good quality bag for your instrument with extra pockets in which you can carry a book, pc, tablet or whatever else you need for your flight.

4. Ask for extra time to help with your instrument:

Make sure that you talk to the flight personnel before it's boarding time and ask for some extra time to put your instrument in the overhead bin. Most airlines have no way of insuring the security of your instrument on the flight so they tend to let you go in before your sections boarding time to find a space for your instrument. It's important to do so because if there is no space left on the overhead bin, your instrument will be checked in and we all know that this is when the horror story begins.

5. Relieve the tension of your stringed instrument:

I have to admit that this is a new one for me. All my band mates kept telling me to do so before getting on the plane. Apparently the pressure in the cabin can become too much for your stringed instruments and this may result in a broken neck. I did it even though I was skeptical at first. The incredible thing is that it happened to a fellow guitarist in one of the bands playing in our shows! I sure learned my lesson.

6. Dress light and follow the guidelines at the security checkpoints:

It’s no secret that one of the most stressful situations of flying is going through the security checkpoints. To make things go by quickly, avoid wearing extra accessories and clothes, and make sure to follow all the guidelines. This means, take off your belt, shoes, necklaces and bracelets, emptying your pockets, avoiding liquids, etc.

7. Always keep some spare cash on your person and your debit card:

You never know when your flight is going to get delayed and you might need to catch a quick bite to eat at the airport (not cheap). Might get some surprise luggage payments for extra pieces of luggage, surprise luggage charges or any other fee not expected. Point is, some ready to use cash will always come in handy at the airport. Also, be ready to use your debit card since a bunch of modern services will only take debit or credit card at the airport.

8. Make the most of the time on the plane:

Probably the most overlooked part of the trip is the actual sitting around on the plane waiting to make it to your destination. What a lot of people take for granted is that this time can very useful. There are two things that you should be doing on a plane; and these depend on what you are going to do right after you land.

1. Rest: if you are making it to your destination and are going straight to do media work/play a gig/go to a conference/etc. then you could rest and make sure that you are refreshed and ready to work once you trip is finished.

2. Work/Learn/Study: you could take this time to edit recordings and/or videos on your computer, write your blog, practice your harmony, theory or ear training, brainstorm ideas, read a book on a subject that you want to learn about, etc. The point is to make the most of the time on the plane and be productive.

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