A Jetset Cellist Shares His Travel Tips for Musicians

Michael Nicolas is a professional cellist based in New York City. He performs around the world with the Brooklyn Rider quartet.

Casey: How often would you say you travel?

Michael Nicolas: I’ve actually thought about this for tax purposes; I calculated exactly how many days I was away last year146 days over work. Gosh, and then I was away for an additional 30 days, paddling in the islands of Guadeloupe and Hawaii.

So you must be pretty high up status wise?

MN: Oh, I have a diamond medallion on Delta.

Sounds fancy. How many miles do you need?

MN: You need to meet the travel minimum of 125,000 miles, but I think I did 140,000 last year.

Plane ticket, sunglasses, planner, and a book of music compositions

Mind-blowing. So when you're traveling for work, is it always with your quartet?

MN: Not always, but typically. As a cellist I'm in several different groups. My main group is a string quartet called Brooklyn Rider and we tour four or five months out of the year. But no musician can make a living just playing in one band usually, so I also play in several other groups. One is in a contemporary music ensemble called the International Contemporary Ensemble.

I have another group that’s a sextet called Third Sound. We typically play two concerts a year, but we usually travel for them. I also have solo work that I do here and there that takes me out of the city as well.

Where do you usually go when you’re traveling?

MN: I'd say mainly in the United States, but this past year I went to Asia three times and Europe seven or eight times.

Do you have any upcoming trips?

MN: On Monday, I'm going to Pittsburgh. On Tuesday, I'm going to China.

How long is the China trip?

MN: China will be 10 days. When I come back I’ll be in Philadelphia for a week. Then I'm home for a week.

In February I'm traveling a lot, but not for work. I'm going to New Zealand and then Australia.

Do you have a favorite luggage brand?

MN: I use Briggs and Riley. They have a lifetime warranty, regardless of airline damage or anything. It's for damage for life.

Man walking with a suitcase in his hand and a cello on his back

 (Make sure to check out Casey's Briggs and Riley bag. It's ready for you to rent!)

When you’re traveling for work, obviously you have to bring your cello. How does that work, especially when you’re booking tickets?

MN: I have to buy an extra seat on the plane for my cello, so it sits in the cabin next to me.

It's complicated for some airlines, which is why I try to fly one airline like Delta. But if I have to go on a KLM-operated flight for example, that's a nightmare, because I have to do it over the phone. I went through hell to try and book on Singapore Airlines last year, it took like three weeks of calling back and forth. It’s hard to say why — you have to book your ticket first and then call back, and then they have to coordinate the whole seat reservation. It’s this really arcane airline ticketing procedure. 

What about other members of your quartet? What does the bass player have to do?

MN: Bass is a completely different animal because it's much bigger. It generally does not go in the cabin, and they'll usually get a giant specialized flight case for it. I know a bass player who will not check his bass. He will book three seats in the back of the plane, like in the middle of an economy in a big plane with three seats, and with the base across, so he’s taking up 4 seats of travel space.

Four entire seats?

MN: Yeah, that's just the business we chose. 

Do you have any advice for someone traveling overseas for the first time?

MN: Global Entry has been one of the single greatest like quality of life changers in my 36 years. You don't have to wait in line at customs. It's like when you re-enter the country it's just, you go to a little kiosk. I can do it in probably five seconds. Usually I'm one of the first off the plane so there's not even a line — you literally just walk into the country. 

You can follow Michael's musical adventures on Instagram.


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