You got yourself a first fly-in gig with your band or as a solo artist? Congratulations on making the next step in your music career! I can imagine it must be very exciting, but also confusing and stressful for you right now. Especially, if you are not sure how to go about it for the first time.
I remember how stressful it was for me at first, but once we got everything organized, things actually went very smoothly. In this article I would like to share with you a few thoughts on how to go about preparing, packing and traveling to your first fly-in gig (and how we did it traveling with a cheap airline).
We are not going to be talking about packing your personal stuff and arranging your travel documents, because I am sure there is plenty of information on that out there. We are going to be more specific about how to pack your musical equipment and get yourself to the first gig abroad.
Photo by MART PRODUCTION
First, you need to be in good contact with the venue and know what they have to offer. Obviously, you are not going to pack an entire drum kit or huge 4x12 guitar cabinets with you. Try to borrow as many things as you can, as long as it doesn't affect your performance as a musician/band too much. Once you have a list of things you actually need to bring, you can start thinking about how you are going to get there.
Time to check what's included with the airline ticket. Usually, there is a 24 kg checked-in baggage, a small carry-on baggage and a personal item you can carry with you. But things may change for smaller flights with cheaper airlines. You might have to buy additional luggage packages, if you want to bring more musical gear with you. And the weight limits may be different for different flights.
Be sure to check the dimension limits for checked-in cases, if you are going to send bigger instruments below the deck. And make sure the weight does not exceed the airline limit.
With that in mind, let's explore a couple of different options.
Most airlines let you bring your guitar or a smaller instrument on board as carry-on baggage. This is the best option you can have, because you have your guitar on you at all times and you can make sure it's in good hands. You should use a gig bag for that, which you can also use to pack some other things like clothes.
You can pack your pedalboard and in-ear monitoring systems in your checked-in luggage between the clothes and personal stuff to make it safer.
If you use any other smaller devices, like laptops or live backing track players, you can pack those in your backpack and carry it on board as a personal item.
There is a risk though that the airline might not let you carry the guitar on board and you'll have to check it in. That's why you have to make sure about the airline's baggage policy first. Most bigger airlines will let you do this.
In order to put the guitar below the deck, you will need a flight case with TSA approved locks. This is a good option (and the cheapest one) if you want to carry more guitars with you. You can buy, or have custom made cases for multiple guitars. Just make sure they fit the dimensions and weight limits, so you don't have to pay for additional fees.
In our example, we could not bring our guitars with us on board. So, we made a custom guitar case for 2 guitars, which weighs less than 20 kg and fits the maximum dimension limits of the airline.
The bassist had to use a different bass, because his own didn't fit the dimensions. The case also wasn't made for flights, because it had cheap locks, thus we taped the case around with duct tape to make sure it wouldn't fall apart during loading.
We also built a special case for two of our Line 6 Helix guitar processors, because we couldn't fit them in our carry-on bags, so we had to check them in.
Of course, there is a risk of the airline breaking your gear when loading, so you have to make sure the cases are sturdy enough to take some beating. You can also put some “fragile” signs on it in hopes of the workers taking better care of your instrument.
If you have some serious baggage limits, like we did, you have to be very smart about how you pack your things, so you make the most out of it. Each person in your crew will have some options to pack some of your gear, so you can use that to your advantage.
Here is how we packed our things, just to give you some ideas.
Check in baggage:
Janez Janežič is a musician and guitar teacher from Novo mesto, Slovenia. He is a part of bands XSKULL8 and Ice on Fire and is building his own guitar school in his local area. If you are looking for quality guitar lessons in the Dolenjska region, Slovenia, be sure to look him up.