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Travel Tips for Bass Players

Traveling Bassist

Q: I am going on my first tour with a band. Do you have any travel tips? Any travel tips relating to driving or flying tours would be appreciated!

A: I most certainly do, as I’m sure readers of this column do as well.

In no particular order, here are some things that come to mind:

Flying

Checking your bass underneath is a little risky as even the sturdiest of flight cases can take a beating down there.
In addition to handling, awkward sizes and shapes are the first to get left behind for a later flight, because many airlines actually make extra money on flights by shipping cargo for various shipping companies. This obviously can be a real hassle, as it requires you to waste a ton of time tracking your instrument – and/or pulling your hair out.

I once had my bass finally show up at my hotel a week later – at midnight – the night before I flew back home. I had to rent a bass for an entire recording session, out of the country. Not ideal.

Get a sturdy gig bag in case you have to gate check it occasionally, but try and find one that is also as low profile as possible so it fits in the overhead compartment – and one that doesn’t scare any flight attendants from letting you board with it.

Keep your carry on as small as possible. This also serves to make your boarding with the bass more likely. I usually just use a thin laptop bag with my essentials in it (iPad, bluetooth keyboard, chargers, gum, etc.). Everything you won’t need on the plane can go in your suitcase underneath the plane.

Be sure to have hand sanitizer and vitamins – or dissolvable vitamin C packets – on hand. This is a must.

Be nice to ticket agents and air hosts/hostesses. They don’t care how often you fly and who else let you do what. If you smile and ask politely, it could mean the difference between getting your bass onboard or gate checking it. I’ve even gotten my bass buckled into an empty seat more than once on very small planes, primarily because I had a rapport with the hostess. More bees with honey, my friends.

The Van

If your bass is going in the trailer, you might as well use a hard case. Things get abused bouncing down the road.

If you have a tube amp or tube pre, you may want to also consider a shock mount rack. Also carry extra tubes.

You shouldn’t be aware of the person driving. If you worry about the driving, request that they slow down or change any bad habits. Never drive like you’re in a hurry. You don’t get there much quicker and the risk of an accident is too great. Plus, it costs more in gas.

Make a rule: the driver should drive in a way that makes the most nervous passenger feel comfortable. No arguments. It’s everybody’s safety and lives at risk.

The driver doesn’t drive sleepy.

Get a hitch lock for your trailer and a quality lock for the door. Also try to back the trailer right up to your hotel door space, if possible. Hotels are no place to take a chance with the entire band’s gear. That big Econoline with the trailer covered in music stickers? Prime target.

On that note, be as nondescript as possible. Keep the van and trailer relatively free of stickers or other defining features. Don’t make yourselves a target, for police or thieves. That small town you have to drive through with the 25 mph speed limit for all of a half-mile in-between stretches of open 65mph road? Obey the speed limit.

The Bus

I haven’t had the pleasure of a real bus tour, unless you count the bio-diesel school bus I use to drive for one of my earlier touring bands. So the only thing that comes to mind here is: respect the space. Clean up after yourself, don’t make a bunch of noise at night while the rest of the band is sleeping, only liquid waste in the john. Be accommodating.
Basically, be cool… it’s a fish tank with more fish than tank.

The Hotel

Not all hotels are created equal, but here are a few of my personal habits.

Do not spread your stuff everywhere. Keep yourself contained, you’ll be much less likely to leave things behind.

Carry a compact power-strip so you can get all of your plugs rocking somewhere convenient, with all devices in one power-surging place.

A hot spot or wifi extender can work miracles. Some hotels will only have an ethernet cable, which does the iPad guys no good, unless you can turn that into your own, password protected wifi signal.

Check the alarm clock before you fall asleep. People often leave it set for ungodly hours. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve gotten jolted awake a 4 or 5-something in the morning because somebody left the alarm on.

The comforter does not get changed or washed very often, especially in the budget motels. Pull that thing right off the bed and leave it on the floor at the foot of the bed.

Regarding coffee makers… I was told this by a frequent traveler (and I have no idea if it’s true) – flight crew members have a disturbing use for those coffee makers: they wash underwear and pantyhose in the coffee makers in hotel rooms. So, in case that’s true, you will want to avoid using the in-room coffee maker. An alternative is to have those Starbucks instant coffee packets, which are pretty good. Just add water! (Beats hotel coffee anyway).

“Do Not Disturb” signs are your best friend for a sleep. I also like them when there’s gear in the room. If you’re really worried about someone coming in your room when you’re gone, leave the TV on at a moderate volume too (but not so loud it will disturb your neighbors).

General Travel Tips and Tricks

Insure everything, down to the pedals. It’s cheap, and if you need it even once in your travels, it will save you money.

That stretchy workout shirt type material is great for travel clothes and underwear. Why? because it dries quickly. It may sound weird but you can seriously reduce the number of undergarments and t-shirts in your suitcase if you don’t mind washing a few things in the shower. They’ll usually be completely dry by morning. I know a guy who toured Europe for a month with only two pairs of underwear and two t-shirts because he’d wash that days clothing at night and let them dry through the next day. He was never without clean clothes.

Polyester doesn’t wrinkle much.

Although this is less common, for those who have the opportunity to go on an extended tour out of the country, you may get paid in cash. If you have over $10k on you, declare it on the customs form! I’ve yet to have to worry about this, but I’ve heard horror stories about musicians trying to avoid paying any fees on the amount of cash they have on hand coming home from a long tour, and getting hosed as a result of that decision. They can confiscate your money if you lie about it.

Take care of yourself. Eat healthy foods and don’t drink too much alcohol. Traveling is hard enough on your body.

Unless you know that the water where you are is cool, don’t take any chances (especially in other countries) – have bottled water on hand. Even if the water is fine, there are various bacteria that we just may not be accustomed too.

Also, as an aside… all bottled water is not created equal (some is even less helpful than tap water). Ph balance has a lot to do with water’s effectiveness and absorption. Fiji and Smart Water are my two faves.

I’m sure you guys have a ton more tricks and tips for traveling musicians. What do you say, fellow travelers? Tell us your tips, tricks and stories in the comments.

Photo by Damian Erskine

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