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Practicing Banjo While Traveling

Day 224 - 153hrs 14m of Banjo Practice

I’ve been traveling for the past six weeks (roughly): Four weeks driving up to Oregon, where I have family and dear friends, and then onto Vancouver, Canada, where my wife’s family lives. Then two weeks to the green, luscious island of Kaua’i. It was tricky getting daily banjo practice in while traveling and I gave it a lot of thought. The following are lessons I’ve learned. As is the case, with all of these 365 Hour entries, hopefully, you find some solutions for your own life.

As we established in an earlier entry about daily banjo practice at home, you want your banjo in a location where you can quickly pick it up. The more hurdles in place, the less likely you will pick it up. While traveling in our Airstream, both the banjo and the guitar (I play guitar as well) live in a case in the shower (as the shower rarely gets used and is essentially a closet). This is not a location where I can easily grab either of them. So when camping, boondocking or on the road, as soon as we stop I find a place the banjo can live that is easily accessible.  We visited friends/family outside of Portland for the first two weeks, so as soon as we got there, I got both instruments out of the dual case and asked if it was ok that I leave them out in the corner of the living room.

Tip one: Find a place in the room you are staying in and have the banjo out of the case for practice while traveling.

Playing Banjo by the Airstream

The next big hurdle I ran into is the chaos of my daily schedule while traveling.

Previously I wrote about the benefits of finding a specific time in your schedule that works well for your banjo practice and then sticking to it. If you are a person who gets so much joy from playing banjo that it’s always on your mind (or you are young and have no responsibilities), you do not need to do this. But for the rest of us, routine is key. This works very well in my experience.

But while traveling (whether on vacation or working remotely as I have been) my schedule is chaotic. Be that as it may, the same principle applies.

Tip 2: I look at the next day’s schedule and decide when I am going to practice banjo.

Are you in Croatia and headed to the beach tomorrow? Perhaps you are visiting the Louvre in the morning, while in Paris. Whatever it is, plan your practice time the day before. More likely than not, while traveling, each day will be different.

Let’s pause for a moment and recognize that not everyone wants to practice banjo on their vacation and would prefer to simply take the time off from practicing. Those people are communists. 🙂 You and I want to stay committed.

Moving onto Kaua’i. And to the real trick of practicing your banjo while traveling: flying!

There is a lot of “baiting” online (i.e. Youtube) when people say “let me know your ideas in the comments” but I truly mean it: let me know your ideas in the comments because it seems to be a tough nut to crack.

Several years ago I bought a tranjo (pictured below) for the purpose of being able to practice banjo when flying. It was as awkward as it sounds. The headstock was cut off and the tuning pegs were inside the body. You could unbolt the neck and put it in your luggage. Yes, you read that correctly. It would lay, strings just coiled limply between the disconnected neck and body, in my carry-on luggage. It’s a great way to get stopped in security but it works. However, it was very temperamental and the tuning was always a mess. Shocker. Stringed instruments are not meant to be cut in half and reassembled. In the long run, I sold it. Despite all of its shortcomings, I do kind of miss that monstrosity, in large part, because it used standard tuning and everything felt pretty much the same once you had it reassembled. It was a solid way to fly with a banjo as it fit in my carry on luggage so I never worried about having to check it or it being damaged.

On this trip, I ended up taking a hubcap banjo that I bought at the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Festival a couple of years back. It is NOT a joy to play regularly (no disrespect intended to its builder) because it’s meant to be more of a toy than anything. It’s not fun (for me) to play consistently because the action is way too low, the spacing between the strings is odd (only being held in place relative to one another, by the threads of a bolt) and the neck is much thicker than a normal banjo. But what’s great about it is it’s very short, light and quiet. So I can carry it onto a plane. I also got to kill over an hour before the flight, practicing banjo at the airport.

 

Taking the hubcap banjo meant I got to practice for most of the days we were in Kaua’i. So that was a win. But I want a better solution that is more enjoyable. I usually look forward to practicing banjo but the hubcap banjo is just not fun. Any ideas?

I love playing banjo while traveling for many reasons. For one, particularly when traveling abroad, it’s a conversation starter. Many people abroad have never heard of a banjo. Not surprisingly, just like here in the U.S., not everyone likes it. I remember playing the tranjo in an alley in Croatia. After about 20 minutes someone leaned out the window and started hollering at me. I didn’t understand his words but I did understand his meaning: move on. But most people respond well to it and are intrigued.

 

I also love practicing banjo while traveling because…well, often I’m on vacation! It’s one of my favorite past times. To get to play in an exotic place make the practice that much more enjoyable. 

While I failed at getting in one hour of practice a day during the past six weeks of travel, I learned a lot. I practiced 29 out of the 42 days of travel this summer.  The quest to get 365 hours of banjo practice this year, continues.

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