Bagpipe Adventures 2011: Travel Reminders

The competition travel season is upon us. The solo boards and band circles across the seaboard and around the globe beckon. Traveling to a bagpipe contest can certainly be a logistical ordeal. In these days of enhanced security at airports worldwide, the traveling piper has much at stake when flying. Whether you’re traveling with a group or alone, domestically or internationally, nothing can take the place of good advance planning. Here are some helpful hints and reminders for those pipe bands and bagpipers planning expeditions this season.


A U.S. Passport is needed to cross any international border. If you don’t have one, you need to get one. If you already have one, make sure that your passport is current well in advance of your trip. Go to for forms, application and renewal schedules, and local offices in your area. Renewals can take 2 weeks and new applications 6 weeks or more.


These days, airlines want flyers, and they’ll often do crazy things to get them. Many airlines now allow subscriptions to low-fare specials that pop up from time to time. For example, Spirit Air has a $9 fare club. Yes, that is domestic airfare for $9. With the speed of email, you could find a round trip fare for peanuts if you act quickly. You fly in to a distant games and rent a car for as much money as it would cost to drive the long distance. If you know you will be traveling to a contest at a certain time of year, check the airline or travel websites as far in advance as you can—and regularly. Keep your eyes open for deals and jump on them.

Maps and Directions

Make sure you have a road atlas or map of your destination area with you and scout out the route in advance. If you chinced on the GPS with your car rental, or are traveling in your own vehicle, plot your course in advance. Today’s smartphones all have travel apps that can navigate you to your destination. Global detailed driving directions are a few clicks away. And, if you’re feeling really intrepid, will give you the option of viewing a satellite photo of the entire area along the whole route (just in case you need to recognize a landmark or two from 80,000 feet up).

Car Rentals

If you are renting a car for an extended stay in parts of North America or Europe, or renting a passenger vans for group travel, spend the extra money and get an on-board global positioning system (GPS). It will make getting to your hotel or the games site a breeze. And the friendly voice interface will explain everything to you in any language (but not in Glaswegian sadly).


Airport security is certainly not what it used to be. It’s important to have all your reeds seated properly, as it were. Gone are the days of simply carrying your pipe case as carry-on luggage. Strict size and weight guidelines may force you to do the unthinkble: check your pipes as regular baggage *gasp*. Make sure your pipe case meets the airline’s carry-on requirements.

Airport Security

Oh my. If ever there was a travel barrier for the modern piper, it is today’s “enhanced security” techniques. Modern pipe cases are sure great with all those pouches, zippers, and pockets. But the problem is that they are often filled with the “tools of the trade,” which are sure to get confiscated at the security checkpoint. Empty your case of everything except your instrument. Take the razors, X-acto knives, awls, screwdrivers, scissors, dremmel, maalox, cans of seasoning, vaseline, wax, what-have-you, and pack it all in your checked-in luggage. Take no chances. Also, international trade restrictions require you to apply with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for an exemption from ivory transport rules. If your band is traveling and hauling drums, check the weight restrictions with the airline and make the necessary cargo arrangements ahead of time.


Flying will pretty much mean that any food or drink should be left home and bought after your arrival at your destination. All U.S. airports will not allow bottles of water or packaged liquids through security. A trip to a local supermarket is in order so build in time when you arrive. There is always a list of essential items to have with you. Wherever your competitive travels take you, keep these essentials on your packing list at all times.

  • Plenty of water. It’s hot in the summer after all, and you’re wearing wool!
  • Fruit or other healthy snacks (and bananas for the nerves-—they contain natural beta-blockers). Stay away from the “festival food” until after your performances. Stick to your normal eating habits.
  • Sunscreen. Even Scotland has blazing sun occasionally.
  • Collapsible chairs. They’re cheap, light, and available everywhere. You never know whether a far off games will have suitable seating close to your “home base.”
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