Traveling can be stressful enough to begin with. Long lines through airport security, traffic jams during a road trip, realizing you forgot something at home, and a countless amount of other things that can go wrong are all things that can drive you crazy!
Traveling with your precious musical instrument? That can really take your stress levels to new heights! It’s very difficult to watch someone transport your instrument with heavy hands, and who knows what’s happening to it once it’s out of sight.
To help ease your mind and reduce the risk of your guitar or ukulele getting damaged while you’re traveling, we put together the following guide of tips for traveling musicians.
Hard-Shells Are Your Friend
Regardless of how you’re traveling, accidents can happen. If your guitar is in a soft case or carrying bag, it’s very easy for damage to occur. We strongly suggest you only travel long distances with your instrument in a snug-fitting hard-shell case.
Many guitars come with such a case when they’re sold, but many ukuleles only come with a gig bag. Investing in a hard-shell with a locking latch is the safest way to protect your investment, so don’t skimp on it! Most cases fit a large variety of manufacturers and models, so it’s a purchase that could outlast your current guitar or ukulele.
If you’re a frequent traveler that loves to be able to play music at all destinations, consider buying a travel-sized ukulele or guitar. These instruments offer the ability to play your music in a more compact, easier to transport package.
Typically this is done by making the body of the guitar or ukulele more shallow and sometimes not as wide. The fretboard is often shortened as well to make a shorter overall instrument. Some ukuleles are made out of plastic for increased durability and sound shockingly good, like the BugsGear Travel Ukulele.
You trade off some sound quality and volume projection, but travel instruments have made huge strides in how great they sound. The trade-off is well worth it for the frequent flyer.
We made a list of the best travel ukuleles if you’re interested in seeing what’s available.
Plane, Train, or Automobile?
Your method of travel will be the biggest factor in the success of safely traveling with a musical instrument. Let’s look at some strategies to increase your odds of success and avoid damage.
Flying with your Musical Instrument
An airplane can be an OK or terrible method of transportation depending on the size of your instrument. Let’s take a look at the different options airlines give you to transport your guitar or ukulele –
Guitars and other smaller musical instruments, such as violins, will be accepted as your free carry-on baggage item on Delta and Delta Connection carriers flights. These items must easily fit in the overhead bin or other approved storage location in the cabin, based on available space at the time of boarding. Musical instruments may be gate claimed at the discretion of the passenger and as a result of limited overhead space.
We don’t know of many guitars that are going to easily fit in the overhead cabin, so odds are it would end up getting checked at the cockpit door. If you have a ukulele, violin, or other small instrument, we recommend you carry it on the flight and stow it underneath your seat for the duration.
If you try to place it in the overhead storage, another passenger could damage it by trying to shove their bag into the already cramped space or something could fall on it from turbulence.
Major airlines like Delta and United allow you to buy a cabin seat for your guitar if it’s too large for the overhead cabin or under your seat. Typically the only requirements are that it not exceed ~165 lbs, and can’t be in the way of other passengers.
This is a very safe method of transportation, but by far the most costly. You’re going to be buying another ticket and paying the same price as if you were buying one for another person, so you’ll be charged several hundred at least for this privilege.
This is your last resort. No one wants to watch their instrument be placed on that conveyor belt and taken away from them to hopefully make it safely to their destination. Aside from the risk of being damaged during transportation, you also run the risk of it being lost all together.
You’re going to want to invest in a hard-shell case for your instrument with firm padding if you go this route. Also make sure you loosen all strings and anything else that will expand or contract with extreme changes in temperature.
Here’s a list of all the major airline’s baggage policies which often have sections specifically dealing with musical instruments –
Taking the Train with your Instrument
If you’re lucky enough to be able to take a train to your destination, you’ll find that Amtrak has similar baggage policies to the airlines, though a bit more lenient.
- Smaller instruments must be packed with the passenger’s luggage to be adequately protected from damage.
- In lieu of a piece of baggage, medium-sized musical instruments may be transported for a $10.00 service fee.
- Oversize instruments may only be carried onboard with the purchase of an additional full revenue seat – no larger than 72”/1829 mm in height.
The limit they give for carry-on size limit is 50 lbs and 28″ x 22″ x 14″, but most travelers say that as long as you can safely carry the instrument onto the train and stow it yourself, no one will check the weight or dimensions of your case.
Their policy page has some more information, but even if you end up having to check your baggage it should be safer than checking on an airplane as the ride will be much smoother.
Packing your Instrument in a Car
If you’re going to be driving to your destination, then you fortunately can control the destiny of your guitar/ukulele!
You might not need much guidance in this scenario, if your car has plenty of space then you shouldn’t have trouble finding a secure place to stick your guitar, ukulele, or other instrument.
If your car is going to have a lot of things packed into it, make sure you store your instrument in a hard case and consider packing it someplace without anything heavy on top of it, and someplace it’s completely immobilized so it doesn’t get knocked around.
If you’re on a multi-day trip, be sure to bring it inside with you at night so no thieves spot it. You may want to cover the case with a blanket anytime you leave your car as well just to be safe.