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The ultimate guide to travelling with a musical instrument

Laura  Barnes
The ultimate guide to travelling with a musical instrument

Whether you're making your way to session work around the UK or embarking on a world tour, travelling is an essential part of any working musician’s life.

Musical instruments can have both sentimental and monetary value, making travelling around the world with them a sometimes stressful aspect of the job.

Whether you’re a seasoned touring musicians or just starting out in the business, there may be some advice you aren’t aware of that will make things that little bit less stressful.  

Check out our ultimate guide for travelling musicians below:
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GETTING READY FOR FLYING

The first thing to do when travelling with an instrument is decided whether it’s cabin luggage or not. If it is, you’ll want to make sure you have as small a case as possible to increase the chance of it being able to fit in amongst people’s bags and coats in the overhead lockers. If you’re worried about your instrument getting damaged, flightcase foam is lightweight and can be cut to any size. It is a good idea to pack flightcase foam in any cabin or hold luggage containing an instrument.

For hold luggage, be generous with your ‘fragile’ stickers in case one falls off or is not seen. There are also oversized/fragile baggage areas at airports, which will take your luggage and carry it to the aircraft by hand. Don’t check your instruments in with the general luggage or they will be stacked up with everything else and less attention will be paid to them.

It’s also advised to make sure you loosen any string instruments as changing air pressure may slightly warp the necks of guitars and violins, causing damage to your strings if they’re tuned too tight.

As well as preparing their instruments for travel, musicians may want to take some extra precautions themselves. While we all know that we should leave a copy of our passport and ID with someone at home in case the worst happens, if we’re honest, most of us don’t. In the unfortunate event that you lose your passport or papers, it will be even more stressful being stuck in a country when you have a tour to carry on with, so make sure you print out those extra copies.

AIRLINES AND LUGGAGE POLICIES

Annoyingly, each airline has its own set of rules when it comes to the size and weight limitations of luggage, and that includes any instrument you’re intended to take as carry on. Some airlines accept musical instruments in the cabin without specific size limitations (as long as they fit in the overhead compartments), but others apply the same limitations to instruments as they do to regular cabin luggage, which can be a problem for most musicians.

Toward the end of last year, MI Pro reported on the best airlines to use if you’re a travelling musician, where we cited the International Federation of Musicians’ guide to airline policies. Check it out here.

INSTRUMENTS MADE WITH ENDANGERED OR RARE MATERIAL

The Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has a number of concerns with endangered and rare flora and fauna, these include Brazilian Rosewood, African Ivory, Mother of Pearl and Abalone. These species have been used in instrument manufacturing over the years, which means musicians may run into problems while travelling, especially to the USA.

CITES has recommended the use of an ‘Instrument Passport’ to avoid instruments being seized. That system appears to be an ongoing process right now, so UK musicians are advised to apply for this CITES permit for the time being until there is an internationally recognised instrument passport.

IS IT BETTER TO SHIP IT?

It’s safe to say that taking a precious instrument on a plane can be incredibly stressful, and unfortunately, there’s always a small chance that it will get damaged or lost. Lugging around a larger instrument can also be a hassle. If you’ve got the extra money to spare, it might be worth looking into using a shipping company to get your beloved instrument to your final destination. You’ll be able to track your parcel and have the added security of insurance.

STOCK UP ON ACCESSORIES

There’s nothing worse than breaking a string or realising a cable has stopped working 10 minutes before you’re due to play a set. It’s even worse when you’re in a country or location that you’re not familiar with and you can’t borrow or quickly go and buy the right equipment. While some musicians are very generous and would lend you things, it’s never the same as using your own stuff. It’s worth stocking up on drumsticks, plectrums, strings, batteries, and anything else you can pack into your bags.

TRAVEL ADVICE FOR LGBT MUSICIANS

It is important for musicians, and anyone, to keep themselves safe while travelling to other countries. While it’s unlikely that you’ll have a tour date somewhere particularly dangerous, it’s worth being aware of the different cultures and laws in other countries.

One particular minefield can be the attitudes towards LGBT travellers. It’s best to avoid any potentially risky situations and worth investing in a guide book or researching online to find out if there are any dangerous regions or countries.

The UK government advises that if you receive unwelcome attention or remarks, it’s best to ignore them, and if you do feel in danger, seek out UK embassy staff who will help you.

Read all of the UK government’s LGBT travel advice here.

Tags: CITES , travelling musicians , guide , travelling , ultimate guide to travelling with a musical instrument

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