So your mate called you over to his country for the rest of the summer? Or you are having a Gig abroad?
May be going to an international competition? And of course like many of us, you want to take your guitar with you. Sure no problem but it's dangerous and there are no ways back.
First to figure out what you will need let's consider some facts
A. This is a pretty hard business
It's really hard for the first sight but once you're done it's like a piece of cake, you only gotta have some good communicating skills and sometimes money. However be prepared to the worst .
B. Are you going to stay there for a long time?
If no then you better don't take your guitar with you. No need to risk. You could borrow a guitar from a friend out there just to keep your form while you are there. Also consider that you'll have to pass the same path again on your way back.
If you are going there for a long time and can't leave your guitar, say for a concert or for permanent living, you can't leave your guitar out here alone and never see it again, right? And you don't have to. I say take everything you feel is important in your tone. Guitars, specially, differ a lot and it can be hard to find the similar guitar in your new location.
C. If you have a lot of luggage with you, you'll have to pay extra money.
Things can get out of control (too much luggage=help needed! And it can cost you more than your ticket itself) so choose carefully what to take... Don't forget the ultimate rule: almost all the airline companies let you to check in only two pieces of luggage and carry one bag into the cabin: One of those is your guitar) however, in most cases you'll be allowed to carry another bag among the Guitar)
Now more detailed.
A. You'll have to explore a lot in the internet cause in this case nothing is exact and you have to find everything you need on your own regarding to your airline company, country you are going to and so. Off course I'm not going to leave everybody helpless in this topic so every kind of questions is welcome!
B. If you are going to a vacation then here's a good idea. The stores in my current living place suck! Crappy range of gear and if you get something good it'll cost you a kidney or two.
The idea here is to leave your guitar at home, go to the vacation (if it's a good "guitar country" like USA) and buy a new guitar there! And bring it back with you If you are like "ah that's nothing, I can carry two guitars at a time! New one and my old trusted one as well" then I'd say you could buy two new guitars and bring 'em with you... Guitars never be excess!
Off course with two guitars you have "advantages": most definitely they wont let you to carry two guitars into the cabin, possibilities of having serious damages are doubled, headache is doubled, the head room of your dexterity is twice less: Imagine that you need to go to restroom, it's a transit flight and you carried on your guitar. What shall you do with your two guitars and the backpack? You got the point.
And if you are going for permanent living, study or a concert just like me: I am planning to go to USA soon. Maybe for permanent living or studying, it will be awhile. Leaving the axe in this case is like jumping out of the plane and leaving your parachute there. So you can't avoid the annoyance of taking your guitar with you. Risky but can be pulled off pretty well if you know what to do.
C. You don't need any other gear if you are going to a vacation. Borrow it from a friend who lives there or take the most necessary gear. Another idea is to have a Multi-FX processor. You are going to a vacation, you can have all the needed pedals with you in a small box, don't think of Digital sound. Plus most Processors have a Headphones output so you won't be bothering the house mates or the hotel dudes all the time
If you are going there like me (for a long time) then take all your needed gear with you. Or if your case matches mine, here's what I am currently planning: I'll take my RP355, Morley PWA Special and my Strat, all the cables and accessories and my XENYX 802 Mixer. I am also considering taking my second guitar which is custom, hand painted but not too expensive thus the risks are minimal. I think if I take it I'll put it in one of my cases with my cloths. Or may be even disconnect the neck from the body. No probs at all but here's what I thought. Like I said this country sux and everything is too expensive. And no good assortment. So lately I've seen the RP350 here for 500 dollars... (ouch, right?) and also a guy was selling a used RP90 for almost 300$... After all I can sell my RP355 here and upgrade to say RP500 in USA. This way you can get some money, new gear and get rid of some weight. By the way I sold my RP250 here and bought the RP355 from USA about two months ago. I sold 250 for 185$ and what I had to add was extra 15$ only. Besides I got a 15% discount and the pedal with the taxes cost me about 190.
All Packed, Time To Go!
"Ok I got the packaging pretty well, how shall I get it into the plane?"
There are several options
A. Carry On - This is the most desired way! Nothing better than having your guitar next to you! Safe and relaxed! Why won't you have a glass of our fine champagne good sir?!
B. Gate Check In - Well not the best but better than C.
C. Check In - The worst way but not always "death is guaranteed"!
Now in details
A. Like I said the best way is to take your guitar with you to the cabin. Plus in some airlines you can even play your guitar during the flight if it won't be loud and disturbing others: exactly what you need for long travels from Europe to USA. You can get a headphone amp and play pretty much whatever you want. And you can also practice during the transit flights where you have to land in an airport between the starting and destination points to change the airplane or re-fuel it and have to wait for hours.
Carrying is a bit problem-ish: some companies take some extra fees for Guitars (I am talking exactly about Guitars like strats, lps, teles... standard-ish dimension) somes don't, somes say you can freely take your guitar on board while others say you have to buy the seat near yours for your guitar! Hmm ain't it a bit out of mind? Well you can buy a seat for a cello or contrabass but guitar is not that much big!
You can also find out a fellow pilot doing that flight to take the guitar to the cabin: they have there some crew closets, and then give it to you back when the flight is over. Or ask the crew members: say one of those gorgeous stewardesses. A smile won't harm: don't economy your smile, the crew members are working hard and a little smile could do the best... Ask them to put it in the closet at the tail/front part.
You could also buy a ticket in the tail of the plane and put it in the closet there. You'd be near your guitar. Or better get a business class for some extra dollars (when the flight is about to start they often offer better seats, those which weren't sold, for a couple of additional dollars). The seats here have got more space, the crew is more attentive and they give you better, delicious food... Mmm yammi !
Contact your company and find out if they let you to take the guitar as Carry On. Is it considered as a regular carry on bag or can you have another bag with you. You'll want your notebook to play something to kill the time. Your CD/MP3 player or a jacket in case of cold weather. Specially if your flying by transit. I don't know. Ask them where will you be allowed to put your guitar: On the overhead compartments or near your seat?
Some Other Hints
If you are asked in the airport what's in your case. Just tell them it's your guitar. You can mention your band. Advertise yourself! it won't harm. It'll make you look more respected like a serious musician. Be polite. Don't act bad as you are not the only musician flying and it's not over with only one flight. Don't make people think that all musicians are ego-boosted bastards. Never ask if you can take your guitar into the cabin in the airport: you asked that the company before right? If they said yes then just go straight to your seat! If you ask it you are most probably to receive the answer No!
Oh and I think if you are going transit then there will be no problem in carrying your guitar to the next plane, as it is the same company, unless you or the crew/airport members are bastards!
Buy the seats near the windows. This way if your guitar won't fit in the overhead compartment then simply put it near the window so no one will accidently kick it.
B. Is when you leave your guitar near the Airplane Gate (door) and they take it to some special compartment or to baggage section but the baggage is already there and there is not the danger of a 1000lb cargo smashing your case into some random "abstract modern art". They put it manually and that's most likely to turn out ok! Contact your company to get the fees if any. Consider this the same as for example standard UPS shipping. But be careful: it's not just "leave it" you'll have to fill papers or just talk to the crew members. You pick it back at the gates again. It's pretty much safe and won't make any problems.
If used in proper way, it's your best friend if carrying in is not allowed.
C. Is what it is. You want it you do it. You don't want it? Well none is forcing you! It's like 50/50 of Damage/No Damage. And it is considered as 1 piece of luggage so you can get only one bag. In most companies they let you only to have two peaces of luggage plus a carry on bag! If you have more than the limit then Extra Payments is what will be!
Like I said it is pretty risky. If you're a lucky guy then do it. Also there's this situation when you are alone in the airport and they say you can't carry on your guitar. And you can't do the Gate Check-in so. You'll have to check it in or leave it there. Well better a broken neck which can be replaced than nothing!
Also make sure you stick those FRAGILE signs. When I'm flying to somewhere I always stick bunch of those Fragile Stickers! Half dozen or more will do. This luggage is being transported to the ship separately from the main luggage and is being stored manually! This is more likely the same as the Gate Check-In and is pretty safe. My dad is a famous painter and travels a lot doing his exhibitions. He takes loads of pictures with him. Pretty big ones. He Checks them in and stick those Fragile Signs. Even though I only make some boxes from thin carton and it's likely the picture can die even from those light punches. But nothing actually happened during all these years. By the way the pictures aren't that much cheap: 10000$+ mostly. It's just that much secure!
Ok what I may add now are some interesting advices
1. Don't take too much stuff into the cabin. People share the space and you don't have to be calling much attention!
2. Smile. Act professional. Talk pretty seriously and like if you are not doing this for the first time.
3. Some cases may look like a gun case so be sure those have got good locks and that you don't pack it in the way that won't be re-packable when they ask you to open it.
4. Make sure to find if the plane you are flying with is guitar-friendly. If the overhead compartment is enough big or if there will be enough place to put your guitar near your seat.
5. Be sure not to look like a Terrorist - O_o
6. If you checked it in, be sure to come to the baggage carousel first so no one will steal your guitar (which is unlikely to happen but prudence is the keyword here) . They might be able to find it but it can take a while thus leaving you without your main axe in the concert.
7. If you are going to check in, put on some travel stickers/your initials or something so you'll know it's yours and if someone steals it you can ask the airport guard to look for a person with say big RADIOACTIVE sign case. He won't get away that easily. (however having a radioactive sing on your case can make you not get away easily too!)
8. Pedals and processors are most likely to bring in some problems if tried to be carried in.
9. Acoustic guitars can be fun in planes and airports.
10. If you go to vacation pretty often you can buy one of those travel guitars.
11. If traveling too often you can buy a good air-case for your favorite axe and put on a sticker of all the cities/countries you were. It'd cool really cool. Both Bluesy and Metal!
12. Having a person in the airport with you could come out handy: If you are with a gigbag and they don't let you in with it neither let you to check in at the gates then, you could leave it with your friend and have him ship it to you or give it back if/when you'll return.
Yet This! Enjoy your trips with your guitars! Have fun at the airports! And remember... Tweak But Don't Freak! Feel free to PM me or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.