How I Backpacked With a Guitar and Made Money

How I Backpacked With a Guitar and Made Money

I’ve always been a guitar lover, but until a year ago, I never would have thought I could travel around the world with my guitar and make money. For the past five years, I had been a corporate robot and decided that I wasn’t getting any younger. I wanted to see the world and have an adventure.

The process to make this bold move was no easy feat. I had to sell my apartment, my car, and all my belongings that wouldn’t fit into my backpack. My guitar was never an item that I wanted to part with. It had been my constant companion, stress reliever, and mood lifter over the years.

After my guitar and I had been on the road for about six months, money started to get tight, but I wasn’t ready to run home with my tail between my legs. I decided to get to work and see what kind of money I could make with my git.

Guitar Lessons

No matter what city I was living in, I could always find a budding guitarist who needed a few lessons. I had the disadvantage of not being in one place for long enough to grow a following, but it put food on the table (or a few German beers).

When I was shopping for a student, I would check out the local equivalent of Craigslist and put up a posting. MeetUp.com is also a great way to make connections and build your network. Once I even posted “Free Guitar Lessons in Viktoriapark, Gratuity Appreciated.” I had over 20 people come!

Playing on a Street Corner

There is a strategy to finding the perfect location, at the perfect time, and finding the perfect clientele.

There is a strategy to finding the perfect location, at the perfect time, and finding the perfect clientele.

Ah, the traditional method of plopping down on a busy corner and playing your heart out. I learned the hard way that there is a strategy in finding the perfect location, at the perfect time, and finding the perfect clientele.

I tried and failed many times, before being successful and having a couple wads of cash to shove in my pocket. Here are a couple quick tips that I’ve discovered:

  • Drunk people are more free with their cash if they can sing-along.
  • There is an unwritten rule on stealing someone else’s corner, but smiling and playing a foreigner always worked for me.
  • Kids dancing draws a crowd. Playing songs that cater to families is an instant win. Parents love to have cheap entertainment for their children.
  • Monday mornings are the least lucrative. Your street traffic is grumpy, because they have to return to work.
  • On the flip side, Friday afternoons when people are leaving work for the weekend is prime money making time!
  • Make eye contact with people. Wearing sunglasses or a hat allows people to ignore you.

Put Yourself Out There

Eventually, I went to a local print shop while I was in Budapest and had business cards made. I placed these next to my case, or handed them out when I met people. This was incredibly successful, because I had locals e-mailing me for gigs, lessons, and even guitar questions!

It’s all about who you know. Once you make a friend with a bartender (depending on the city), you can usually get some gig time! I say depending on the city, because some cities are much more musically inclined than others. The entire country of Ireland is filled with great musicians, meaning higher competition.

Play in Random Places

Once I was stuck in the London Gatwick airport along with hundreds of other travelers due to weather. You could almost cut the stress and anxiety in the air with a knife. People were cranky because their travel plans had been ruined, kids were crying, and arguments were heard throughout the terminal.

Since playing the guitar is my own natural stress reliever, I decided to pull out my instrument and play a couple songs. I kid you not, in about 30 seconds, the mood of everyone in the terminal started to lift. A few toddlers started dancing, businessmen started tapping their fingers and toes to the beat, and everyone was in a happier place.

I probably made some of the best money that day, because I sensed the need for music and bring a little cheer into everyone’s day.

As I write this article, I look back on what my life was like a year ago. I never thought that I would be a wanderer, a traveling musician, and an entrepreneur, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Am I making less money than I was at my 9 to 5 staring at a computer? Absolutely. But, am I happier and richer from my experiences? Absolutely!

Colleen Kinsey

Written by Colleen Kinsey

Guest Contributor

Colleen has a passion for fitness, traveling, and guitars. She enjoys jamming, teaching, and getting others involved in music. Her website, Coustii, focuses specifically on guitars and ukes. Colleen loves to travel and uses her guitar as a conversation starter on the road.

2 replies
  1. Colleen
    Colleen says:

    Hi Luke! Thank you so much for your kind words and helpful hints! Those are really good safety tips too. Old Town Krakow was one of my favorites!!!!! Plus everything is so cheap 🙂

    Reply
  2. Luke Pick
    Luke Pick says:

    BRAVA! Good for YOU!

    Sometimes we all wish we could escape the 9 to 5 drudgery.
    It takes a special kind of courage to do so. An absolute passion
    for playing music helps. There are a lot of people who make their
    living by just playing guitar on the street. Check out Old Town Krakow!

    Having a large inventory of different genres of music helps too. When you
    can start taking requests from the crowd to play a particular song, the
    money from gratitude will be there.

    Add in a little stage drama, or theater (some acting ability) to your ‘routine’
    and you will draw a larger crowd. You take yourself from being just a street
    musician to entertainer and the money flows in!

    Remember to always smile at the camera and watch your lighting at night!
    Street thugs are also watching you too. If they see you making bank, they
    will take it from you when you leave! Always position yourself under good
    lighting and with a lot of people nearby in case you have to yell for help!

    Reply

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