Without wishing to state the blindingly obvious, but ukuleles are small. Compared to many musical instruments in fact they are TINY. Not only does their size deliver their trademark sound, but it brings another benefit and thats convenience and portability.
That benefit wasn't the key reason why I chose to play the uke, but it was certainly part of the decision making process. Having an instrument so small makes it extremely easy to just grab wherever you are going. If I am away on business that requires me staying away a night, I can sling a uke in the back of my car. In fact I've been known to be sat in a parking lot waiting for an appointment strumming my uke in the drivers seat - try that with a guitar! They are easier to just grab when going to parties, to the pub, to the park. In fact they are so small there is really no reason not to take one with you everywhere. Think about it - what could be more fun on your holiday than strumming on a warm beach or round a campfire with friends? What could be more comforting when travelling alone than to have a uke with you? I have many pals who take their ukes to work every day in order to have a strum on their lunch break. I often cycle with mine tucked in a rear pannier. Yes, the uke is the perfect travel companion.
So what do you want to consider if you want to travel more seriously with a uke. Well I suppose it depends on destination and means of travel. A standard soprano ukulele can easily be taken on an aircraft as hand luggage (though respectfully ask the chap you are sat next to before you start strumming mid flight!). A small soprano can also easily be strapped to, or inside, a rucksack if you are backpacking or camping.
If you are considering a more serious travel expedition, in particular, going somewhere more inhospitable (for that read hot / wet / muddy / sandy) you may want to consider leaving your solid Koa uke at home and taking along something tougher. An obvious choice for me would be the plastic backed Makala Dolphin which is not only tough as old boots, but inexpensive enough that you won't mourn it too much if broken or stolen. A more serious uke alternative would be the Flea Ukulele from the Magic Fluke Company. These ukes really are bombproof, yet give a professional tone. Please dont try to test my theory, but I did once see mine tumble down a flight of stairs to sustain no damage apart from a slight ding on the headstock. More impressively, it was still in tune when I rescued it!
If you are doing any serious travelling, then ukes are bound to pick up knocks and scratches and the tougher ukes will cope with these much better.
A quick word about the ukes at are marketed as 'travel ukes'. These are made by some of the key uke makers and generally mean ukes with thinner bodies. I've never really understood these ukes. Don't get me wrong, I've played the Bruko and Kala models and they sound great, but being a half inch thinner seems to me like solving a problem that didn't exist. I don't find my existing ukes too bulky for travel, and the only benefit I can see to a thin uke is being able to slip it in a suitcase. No thank you, that to me seems a first class way of ensuring the uke is crushed. And there is my gripe, whilst these ukes are thin, they are not tougher than any other wooden instrument. As such, for real travel, I'd prefer the tougher instruments I mentioned earlier.
So, if you are travelling what should you be careful of? Well, several things. If your uke gets wet make sure you wipe it down thoroughly and let it air dry. Don't put it in a case wet, and never try to force it to dry by putting it somewhere hot. Talking of hot places, hot plus ukulele = bad news! Never leave your uke in a hot car or a hot tent or it will, frankly, break or fall apart! In some hot environments you may also find the humidity is extremely low. If that is the case and you have an instrument with any solid wood, you might want to think about Humidity too. You will find that travelling far to different climates and pressures will affect your tuning too - perfectly normal, but don't forget to pack the tuner!
Last but by no means least, you need to think about protection in the form of a Ukulele case? These come in a variety of forms and you need to consider the appropriate trade off between weight / bulk and the level of protection you need. For some, a padded gig bag is enough, but if you are throwing a uke in and out of cars or holds on buses, you might want a hard case. A quick note again on flying - if you want to put your ukulele in the aircraft hold, a hard case is a minimum requirement, but be careful here too. Many hard cases are just plywood and whilst they withstand knocks well, will not stand up being under a pile of suitcases, dropped from any height or thrown about by baggage handlers. If you are going this route I would strongly recommend getting a high quality, ABS moulded case from a top brand like Hiscox or Calton. They are expensive but they work.
So what excuse is there NOT to travel with your uke companion? Give it a try and take that uke with you everywhere - it's portability wins the day!
Ps - don't forget - always carry a spare set of strings. How heartbreaking it would be to take a uke halfway round the world to a remote location, only to ping a string on day one!
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