A ukulele is the perfect instrument for travellers, backpackers, campers, weekend warriors and nomads.
If more people played the ukulele, the world would be a better place.
I started playing the guitar 20+ years ago, and now I can’t imagine playing anything else.
It continues to provide the soundtrack to my adventures and has helped me make friends in the most unusual of places.
Let me explain why you need to buy a ukulele today.
The perfect travel accessory:
First and foremost, ukuleles are cheap. Not all of them, true. If you want, you can spend thousands of dollars. For us travellers who may not have that in the bank there are plenty of budget-friendly options.
My Brazilian Izzo Winner cost a mighty $30. They had even cheaper options, but any cheaper and it’s just a toy.
$30 is a low enough investment that I won’t be devastated if it gets damaged (who am I kidding? Of course I would!), but it’s good enough quality to produce a pleasing sound.
Amazon has thousands of cheap and cheerful ukuleles.
As for accessories, a capo will set you back a few dollars. Spare strings are cheap, as are straps and plectrums.
To tune the instrument, all you need is a free app, and millions of chords and tabs are available online for free with a simple Google search.
As for taking damage, ukuleles are tough little beasts!
My ukulele has visited Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Chile. It’s been on boats, kayaks, hiking and wild-camping.
I’ve played on the high seas, underground, in the jungle and serenaded mountain tops.
I’ve dropped it more times than I can remember and it’s still singing as pretty today as the day I bought it.
Small and easily transported
When I need to travel light, it slides into my day bag. For long haul journeys, I have a padded case. It can be hidden or on full display – entirely my choice.
If you’re headed to the park or around the world, they won’t weigh you down or put a target on your back.
Is there any greater ice-breaker than pulling out a ukulele? You don’t even need to speak the same language. I discussed this in my last post about rocking out with my lovely Paraguayan shipmates. Pull out a ukulele and people will automatically gravitate to it.
In a few months wandering around Paraguay, I strummed with builders, police officers, children and Presidential guards.
Giving lessons to a group of kids in the middle of a dusty football pitch was particularly memorable. One boy, maybe 7 or 8 years old and shy as hell shuffled forward. Eventually, he whispered that he’d never even seen an instrument before, before naturally learning the chords as quick as I could teach them.
When we eventually left, he had a group around him, cheering and high-fiving him like a champion.
Unique – it still has intrigue
Why do people gravitate towards a ukulele? Because it’s different. It’s special. It’s unique.
Yes, there are hundreds of thousands of ukulele players around the world, but not many famous ones. Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam elevated the humble Uke to greatness, but it’s still an unsung hero.
Guitars and guitarists are a dime a dozen. Twenty years ago, if you travelled with a guitar, you were an instant rockstar. Everyone wanted to hear you play.
Nowadays, it’s all about the Uke.
They look like hobbit guitars, and because of that they still have a special kind of magical allure.
Small enough for everyone to play
A guitar is a large instrument. Seasoned players know how to handle one but, for non-musical types, they can feel unwieldy.
A ukulele is a little parcel of joy. If someone wants to try for the first time, it’s small enough to be comfortable, loud enough to make a statement and the chords shapes are simple enough to make it accessible.
I gave ukulele lessons to countless people on my travels. Even if they’d never touched a guitar in their life, within 10 minutes, I had them playing a simple ukulele song.
No complicated shapes or fretting. One finger here, you’ve got a C. One finger there, you’ve got an A minor.
Just bouncing between those two chords was sometimes enough to bring joy to the new player.
Perfect campfire instrument
I remember sitting around a campfire in the Patagonian mountains. The campsite had a fantastic atmosphere, and everyone was having fun.
Someone pulls out a guitar, and everyone goes quiet. The musician becomes the centre of attention.
If they’re good and know plenty of songs, awesome. If they’re average and nobody recognises the material, then it gets awkward.
A ukulele is different. They’re smaller, less obtrusive and just more playful.
They bring joy to the party! I can’t quite put my finger on the specific reason, but ukuleles are smile-makers.
Easier than guitar
As I mentioned earlier, with just a few single fingers, you can make several chords. On a guitar, it would take 2 or 3 digits to produce the same chord.
With a few simple chords, you can play hundreds of popular, iconic songs.
If you just want to bash out a few singalong anthems, the ukulele is the go-to instrument.
Check out Ukulele Hunt for a comprehensive selection of chords and tabs.
Oh, so you can’t play difficult songs on a ukulele? Yes, you can! Watch this!
Can I play that? HAHAHAHAHAHA! Not yet. Maybe one day.
Do I need to say more? I thought not.
Tons of tutorials/challenges online
Whatever your level – single-finger crab or immortal rock god, you’ll find endless tutorials and challenges online.
If you just want to learn a specific song, head to Youtube.
Visit The Ukulele Teacher first. While not the most passionate singer, his lessons are fantastic. He covers all genres, with plenty of current pop songs to get the party started.
Ryan Lendt is an absolute legend. His lessons are more geared for the intermediate and advanced players, and especially Pearl Jam lovers.
Cynthia Lin has the voice of an angel, and her lessons are a joy to watch. She too covers classics for all ability levels.
Ukuleles are cute. Fact!
There’s something about watching someone hulking over a tiny instrument yet strumming out a sweet harmony. The sound perfectly wraps around a voice, whether tender and melodic or screamcore.
Hundreds of varieties
While not unique to ukuleles, there are endless varieties, shapes, sizes and sounds to fit any occasion.
Baritones, soprano, tenor and concert are the classics, but there are other weird variations too – guitalele, pineapple, cutaway, banjolele and harp, to name a few.
You can find a colour, shape and pattern to accessorise any style.
I prefer the unassuming, gentle wooden shades, but you can find a flaming pink, banana yellow or a stencilled Elvis Presley face should that be your jam.
Wherever you’re going – long-haul or a weekend away, a ukulele is the perfect travel instrument.
It doesn’t matter if you’re travelling solo or with a group, a ukulele will always bring the party. They can be delicate, romantic and intimate, or get the beers flowing with some classic anthems.
The ukulele is ideal for any travel occasion.
They’re easy to learn, sturdy as old boots and won’t tip you over your weight allowance.
If you rock up to a new village and offer some free lessons, you make friends for life.
Make the world a better place and buy a uke today.
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4 thoughts on “A ukulele is the perfect instrument for travellers”
Thanks for sharing this !!! I bought my first ukulele the same day I opened the hostel ! and I know I’ve influenced many travellers to buy one hehe
Travelling and ukulele are best friends <3 and make you make some friends in long airports/bustops waitings.
Hearing your incredible ukulele tunes drifting throughout the hostel was all the inspiration I needed to go out and buy my own.
Hopefully we can harmonise again soon. Buenos Aires, London… I guess Paris is next, then New York, Sydney Opera House and The Maracanã ??♂️
WOW. Ok time to try and see if I can’t play over the rainbow like the guy from Hawaii…… thx for the tip ….. happy travels !
It’s an absolute pleasure Jorge.
One piece of advice: Learn a few more songs. I played ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ so many times people wanted to chop my hands off ?
Stay safe and well