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How To Travel With Your String Instrument

Summer is almost here. The time when many student musicians travel to various venues, camps, and festivals to play their instruments. And with so many exciting prospects to look forward to, it can be easy to overlook mundane concerns like the best way to travel with your string instrument.

Your are probably already aware that the atmosphere has a big impact on the organic materials used to make your violin, viola, cello, or double bass. So when you’re traveling, there are a number of considerations to take into account. You don’t want your instrument damaged in route. Depending on the mode of transportation, there are specific things that you should do to ensure that your string instrument remains safe. Although it may seem daunting at first, keeping your string instrument secure on trips just requires a little preparation.

Traveling In a Vehicle

If you’re traveling by car, protecting your instrument is much easier than traveling by air. Of course, this won’t work if you’re going overseas, but for short trips, vehicles are relatively secure. Since you can control the climate in the cab, tips include:

  • Never place your instrument in the trunk. Keep it in the cab.
  • Loosen the strings on your string instrument and the bow hairs to help prevent expansion and contraction damage.
  • Carry your instrument in a hard case.
  • Bring your string instrument inside restaurants and hotels, if the car’s air/heat will be off for more than 30 minutes.

Traveling By Air

Since it’s not always possible to travel in a vehicle, air transportation is common for musicians. However, the risks to instruments increases. In the past, regulations about instrument travel weren’t outlined. However, a few years ago, the Department of Transportation (DOT) established a new ruling that states that airlines are now required to allow small instruments on board as part of carry-on luggage. Follow these tips whether you check your instrument or use the carry-on option:

  • Prepare for security checks—Security personnel will most likely check your instrument, so the transportation security administration (TSA) recommends that you place small instructions on your instrument case for handling and repacking. Also, make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to go through the process.
  • Ready your instrument—loosen the strings and the bow hair to protect against extreme pressure changes.
  • Add padding to your case—adding bubble wrap around the neck, bridge, fingerboard, tailpiece, and between the sides of the instrument reduces jostling.
  • ID tag—Even if you are carrying on, an ID tag is essential. It should have full name, phone, address, and email (covered of course), somewhere on the instrument case. Also, mark it as “FRAGILE INSTRUMENT.”
  • Update your Insurance—This is a great time to double-check your insurance policy, since most airlines will not be responsible for any damages. If you don’t have insurance, you should purchase it before you travel.
  • Get there early to ensure that you can place your instrument in the overhead compartment. Once there, it has the right to remain.
  • Bring a copy of the DOT ruling and the airline policy with you in case any issues arise, but remember to be polite.
  • If you do check your instrument, make sure that you use an additional travel case over your hard shell case, but always confirm airline baggage rules.

Some instruments, like the cello and double bass, are too large for overhead compartments, so you’ll need to check them or purchase an additional seat in the cabin. When you buy an extra ticket, which is the best traveling option for your instrument, make sure that the seat isn’t near the emergency aisle or blocking any exits. Double check seat placement when buying your tickets, either through the airline or a site like Seat Guru. Additional tips include:

  • Call the airline before you buy to ensure that you comply with their specific policies. (This also provides proof that you notified them before the flight.)
  • The DOT ruling states that the airline cannot charge you an additional fee if you buy a seat for your instrument, as long as all of the safety requirements are met. So, basically, once you by the ticket, they can’t charge you any other carry-on fees.
  • If you’re flying international, double check all the airline (even if it’s American based) laws for that country.

For students traveling with their instruments, making sure that accommodations are made to protect your investment just takes a little preparation. If you spend some time making arrangements, you can be sure that your string instrument will arrive at your destination safely and intact.

Violins on the wall