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The time I drove from New York to Costa Rica...and Nearly Lost my Life.

I didnt just drive through Mexico to sit on the beach.

I went on a expedition to experience what it's like to Road trip outside of the USA.

To challenge myself and take a risk.

To do something most people are scared to do and come face to face with my own fears.

I found myself playing Piano in front of people who have never seen a piano in their lives,

Combating foreign stomach illnesses (multiple times),

Learning Spanish by embarrassing myself and making a million mistakes,

Meeting people from all over the world and hearing stories from the locals,

Getting robbed and surviving for weeks with only a few dollars,

This was the most difficult journey of my entire life...

If you are not familiar with my story, to be brief:

I quit my job back in 2010 to build a lifestyle around the things I love most: Music, Travel, and People. (Read the long version here)

This was my 4th Piano Roadtrip and to add a little challenge I decided to drive from New York City to Panama with my upright piano.

And it was no easy feat...

While planning this trip, I heard so many stories about how dangerous it is to travel in Mexico and Central America.

My friends mother even called to convince me that I shouldn't go.

I canceled the trip twice.

But nonetheless, I persisted and went through with it and it was a the most difficult thing I have ever attempted.

I left New York City on February 2nd, 2013 with my friend Arthur Nazarian who is a photographer.

Part 1

New York City to Laredo, Texas

2,100 miles +/-

We took about 6 days to get to New Orleans before the Mardi Gras festivities began.

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Philly

From the first day, there were serious problems. The plan was to meet with my Piano teacher who is also a good friend of mine to record some music. Unfortunately when we got there, his main power box broke and we couldn't do anything but sip Bourbon and talk about why music is so important.

Later on that night, Arthur's shoulder rig broke, forcing us to have to drive all the way back to New York City and pick up a new shoulder rig.

The drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains was beautiful...

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Athens, GA

We Couchsurfed at an artists home named Sophie in Athens, GA. She had some really strange sculpture scattered throughout the area which made it a bit spooky. But she also had 20 Pecan trees in her backyard which led us to gathering handfuls of Pecans and feasting through the entire drive to New Orleans.

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New Orleans

New Orleans is one of my favorite cities in the world mainly because its a big city with a small town feel and its so underrated. There is so much culture there! You can walk through the French Quarters and meet artists, musicians, and locals who are very open and willing to talk to you. No doubt, it is one of the most cultured cities in the United States.

Hanging out with Interstellar Transmission

I met the guys of Interstellar Transmission back in 2011 on my first road trip through the US. They have been traveling the US doing shows out of their school bus.

Their music is an eclectic mix of classical, rock, and psychedelic sounds in long form compositions. I like how they explore a variety of unique scales and modes from different cultures around the world. They have definitely opened my eyes to a new level of looking at music.

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New Orleans Pianist, Tom McDermott

I've taken a few lessons from Tom in the past. He showed me the different types of rhythms that exist in New Orleans music. These rhythms are the basis of modern music that stem from Caribbean, European, and African cultures.

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New Orleans Vocalist, Meschiya Lake with Tom McDermott

Meschiya Lake is a very popular vocalist in New Orleans. You can find her performing in New Orleans every week.

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We found a bunch of Gypsy Jazz Musicians playing on Frenchman Street one night. They came from France to explore New Orleans for a few months. Great music!

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Mardi Gras 2013

Everyone hit the streets on Mardi Gras day to bring on the festivities. Lots of drinking in the streets, dancing, marching bands, and some incredible costumes.

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San Antonio, Texas

Radio Interview for "The Story"

I did a Radio interview for "The Story" while playing in front of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. It was one of my favorite interviews and ended up on NPR around the country. Listen to this radio interview that aired on NPR in more than 100 cities.

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Part 2

Laredo, TX to San Jose, Costa Rica

3,500+  miles

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Entering into Mexico

I will never forget the first day in Mexico. It was a day filled with confusion, stress, and nervousness.

Within the first 2 hours of being in Mexico, an "officer" or what looked like one ask me for a bribe.

We played it off like we didnt understand a word of what he was saying and after wasting 10 minutes of his time, he let us go. But at one point he had my license in his hands and threatened to take it away from me.

My original plan was to enter Mexico and Couchsurf the first day, but no one messaged me back. So when we arrived, we had no internet connection, no phones, the driving was hectic, and we didnt speak much Spanish. It was as if we were aliens in an entirely new world.

Finally at the last minute we found a place to crash, but it took at least an hour to find the house.

It was such a relief to speak with people who spoke English and who were able to help us find our way.

I was really unprepared for the craziness of Latin America.

Continue reading what happens when we enter Mexico...

Driving through the Desert

Fake Cop Cars were there to curb speeding

Guanajuato, Mexico

The goal was to get to Guatemala and focus on meeting other musicians that lived nearby.

Arthur had limited time to travel with me so we decided to focus on Antigua, Guatemala. It took about 5 full days of driving before we reached Guatemala. It was tiring....

Driving...

and Driving...

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Welcome to the Republic of Guatemala

 

I got a Stomach Bacterial infection my first day in Guatemala.

Sour stomach, nausea, dizziness, feeling of restlessness, vomiting, diarrhea. I never want to feel like that ever again in my entire life.

Apparantley I ingested some of the old water that was in my cooler.

I had to go to the hospital in Quetzaltenango. They put me on a stretcher and threw an IV into my arm. It only cost $25.

That night was very difficult. I spent the entire day vomiting and i didn't have enough Guatemalan money, so we had to search around for a place that would take my American dollars. For some reason no one wanted to take my $20 bill.

Antigua, Guatemala

We finally arrived in Antigua, Guatemala. Our luck changed for a few days and we went with the flow.... There were a lot of Marimba players everywhere including this massive 9 piece band.

Marimba is the national instrument of Guatemala. The instrument is made up of wooden bars and resonators that are struck with mallets similar to a Xylophone. It originates from Africa and was introduced to Central America and the Caribbean from African slaves that were transported there in the 17th Century.

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Antigua is a very special city for Latin America. It is one of the major hubs for the Catholic Church which has a strong presence in the city.

In 1717, a major earthquake left much of Antigua in ruins which is where the city get its charm.

Today, Antigua is a historic landmark and a piece of preserved history. The city is architecturally very beautiful with stone structures, churches, and monuments. I particularly love the Spanish colonial houses which are one level with a central area that is open to the elements.

There is also an incredible market in the center of the town where you can eat some of the finest fruit this planet has to offer.

Antigua is where we met Miguel who is a musician and Marimba teacher. He plays the marimba with his children and makes a living through his music. He lives in a small town outside of Antigua called Comalapa, Guatemala. There are a lot of windy roads and hills to go through to get to his hand built house.

Miguel told us about the Guatemalan civil war and how it has changed the lives of the indigenous people throughout the years. Guatemala is a militaristic country with soldiers and guns seen everywhere throughout the country. There is also a lot of corruption and crime that occurs there. The last 40 years have been very difficult for Guatemalens and its sad to see these people working so hard without much of a reward.

Read more about the Guatemalean civil war that took place for more than 30 years with the United States involvement.

Indigenous Mayan Ceremony in the small town of Comalapa, Guatemala

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March Festivals and Procession

Every Sunday in March there would be a 50 piece marching band playing slow music walking through the streets. Massive ornate displays of Jesus and Mary were held up and swayed back and forth. There would be hundreds of people dressed in Purple tunics marching along with them and everyone else on the side walks watching the event.

All of this led to the major festival on Semana Santa.

Some days were so exhausting that I would go to sleep at 8 PM: Especially the days where I was playing piano. The driving was tough and the traffic was difficult.

Guatemala City

We drove to Guatemala City and I found a nice spot on the Avenida Sexta to play my piano. This is a street where the major retailers are located and hundreds of people walk through there each day.

It was very risky because we had all this camera equipment and were walking around with everything in the streets.

We heard plenty of horror stories of people getting robbed in broad daylight so it was a bit risky.

Guatemala City is one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Even the security guards told us to be careful.

Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala

There are multiple roads to Lago de Atitlan. Because the lake is so large and the terrain is so mountainous, it is very difficult to get around that area. Its about 2 hours minimum to get to Lago de Atitlan from any direction.

The roads leading to Panajachel were very windy and difficult. But the views were spectacular.

There are 2 massive Volcanos located at Lago de Atitlan.

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  Playing piano across the worldAs soon as I saw this lookout point, I knew I had to play there.

I like to play on the edge of cliffs and at scenic points because it inspires me when I play. The music comes out totally different when I am in a relaxing natural environment without distractions.

El Salvador

Driving to Santa Tecla

Santa Tecla, El Salvador

In Santa Tecla I met with Marco and Esmerelda where I couchsurfed at their home.

When I arrived, I got sick again from eating Pupusas and vomited all night. (Everyone else was eating them without a problem!) Luckily I had the antibiotics from the last time I was sick...

Marco introduced me to the Mayor of Santa Tecla and got me permit to play at their weekly street fair at the Paseo del Carmen.

Marco Family

This girl was so inspired by my project that she drew this for me. She was such a sweet person.

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El Tunco, El Salvador

el tunco el salvador beach rocks

The day I visited El Tunco, El Salvador, 3 people died while surfing at high tide. The waves were very intense and there are hidden rocks scattered throughout the area. This is NOT the place to learn how to surf.

I left El Salvador with a surfer friend named Bryce, who I met at Playa El Tunco.

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A Day in Honduras

Throughout the entire trip I didnt spend a single night in Honduras. The border guards tried to embezzle money from us every time we passed through. One time they got me for not wearing a seat belt and settled for a $5 bribe.

Below is the major highway connecting Nicaragua with El Salvador. We had to weave in an out of potholes every 2 minutes.

Driving through Honduras Treatcherous roads potholes dangerous

Nicaragua

The drive from El Tunco, El Salvador to Leon, Nicaragua was about 9 hours with 2 border crossings.

We stayed in Leon at a hostel with tons of backpackers and travelers hanging about. Many people said that Leon is what Costa Rica was like before the big influx of expats looking to buy up property... I'm not really sure if I believe that, but then again, I never really explored Leon for a long period of time.

The next morning we decided to hit up the beach and go surfing... To our unfortunate dismay, that didn't turn out the way we wanted.

Getting Robbed at Las Penitas, Nicaragua

Read the story of how we got robbed of Everything in Nicaragua

They took everything I had except the piano, some clothes, and my van...

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Granada, Nicaragua

After getting robbed in Las Penitas all I wanted to do was get the hell out of Leon and go to another city.

At this stage of the journey, I had no passport, no credit/debit cards, some clothes, my piano and $150. I didnt want to call my parents to send me bailout money. I wanted to wing it and see what happens. So I decided to see if I could continue my journey southward with the limited amount of possessions I had.

I stayed in Granada for 4 days with my friends Fabio and Bryce, ate $2 meals and had a dorm room bed for $5.

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I pulled out my piano on Saturday night on the Casada where there is a row of restaurants and bars. I would play piano for 20 minutes at one place and then roll over to the next, talking to some of the European tourists who were drinking beers.

One of the restaurant owners paid me $10 to play in front of his restaurant for a half hour... I probably made around $30 total for the 2 hours I played.

There are a lot of poor homeless kids walking around I tried to get them to jam with me. (Thanks to Janneke from Holland for the photos)

Singing and making music in Nicaragua

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Bryce and I after the robbery...

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San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

I stayed at the Casa de Olas in San Juan del Sur and they allowed me to bring my Piano into the bar area and I did a nightly 1 hour performance. It was a great time with great people.

Even this Monkey had a good time. She stole my beer and started drinking it!

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Costa Rica

1,600 KM exploration of Costa Rica

Two weeks before arriving my cousin who lives in California calls me up and says that he wants to meet up with me in San Jose, Costa Rica. This is when things turned from a work trip into a vacation.

We did tours, saw volcanoes, did plenty of hiking, Zoo's, all the beautiful beaches, scuba diving, Corcovado National Park... You name it, we did it.

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Rafting

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Even the Rafting Guide is flipping out! Haha!!

Playing piano in the tropical rainforest in costa rica

ever come 2 feet away from a sloth?

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playing piano in the rainforest of costa rica

See more of the exploration in Costa Rica here

Playing in San Jose

I played piano at the Costa Rica Backpackers Hostel in San Jose and had people dancing. I was even able to set up a deal with the hostel to give me a bed in exchange for music and good times.

I also met some amazing people there including this South African traveling Sailor who has been traveling and living in other countries for the last 3 years. His name was Tavish and we had some great moments driving all the way to Puerto Viejo and hanging out in a house on the beach for a week.

playing piano poolside at the costa rica backpackers

We didn't make it to Panama. I literally drove to the border and decided that I had enough. I spent a ton of my savings and had already traveled for almost 6 months.

So I turned around...

 

Part 3

San Jose, Costa Rica to Los Angeles, California

5,000 Miles?

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and Back to New York City...

Nicaragua

Brando arrived via plane to San Juan Del Sur with a friend named Fallon.

brando in nicaragua central america traveling with a dog

El Salvador

I met with my family in El Salvador and they took me to this resort to play while the sun was setting.

I made about $40 while playing for an hour. I orchestrated my playing with the movement of the sun, it was a powerful experience.

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I also stopped over near Playa El Cuco because a bunch of people in Costa Rica told me to stop there.

It wasnt much of a beach and the experience was kind of lousy, however, along the road we saw this incredible look out point and I pulled out my piano to experience the landscape of El Salvador.

dog playing piano in el salvador

Traveling North through Guatemala

San Pedro de Atitlan, Guatemala

The roads to San Pedro de Atitlan were very windy. Some parts were filled with potholes and massive bumps where you could only drive 5 MPH to get through.

laguna de atitlan amazing lake

Playing Piano in the mountains of Semuc Champey, Guatemala

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Semuc Champey is located in the dense mountains of Northern Guatemala. There are no real roads there, only carved out dirt and rocky paths. You have to drive really slow or risk damaging your vehicle.

One humid morning at 8 AM, I decided to bring out the piano while driving on a long dirt road in the rainforest near Semuc Champey.

Every time I play piano in an environment like this, the music just comes out of me without any hesitation.

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Mexico

Another Incredible drive was from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala to San Cristobal, Mexico.

Absolutely Stunning!! See: 10 Incredible drives in Central America and Mexico

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driving through Mexico

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San Cristobal

I played piano in flip flops while I was in San Cristobal. At that point, I was in Latin America for more than 4 months and had adjusted to the laid back lifestyle....

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The Drive from San Cristobal to Oaxaca was long and there was a roadblock due to a protest of labor workers.

However, we were driving Above the Clouds!

driving across mexico above the clouds

overlanding in mexico

Oaxaca, Mexico

I made some friends while hanging at the Mezcalera one Saturday night and they really showed me a good time.

They even got me a paid gig at a bar that paid 800 Pesos for an hour and a half.

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Took a little detour and visited the Mayan ruins of Monte Alban which is located just outside Oaxaca city.

Its incredible to imagine what these massive Mayan civilizations existed thousands of years ago and what they managed to construct and create.

Puerto Vallarta

From Oaxaca to Arizona, I spent very little time on that part of the trip because I had to rush to get back to Los Angeles to shoot a commercial for Goodyear Latin America.

Most of the land was desert and very hot/dry terrain-- There really wasnt much to see and not much to stop for either.

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Welcome back to the USA!

Arizona

When I finally returned to the US, I'll never forget the feeling. it was as if all this extra weight was taken off my shoulders.

Many people told me to race through Northern Mexico because that is where all the murder incidents have occurred. I was fearful of driving through those parts and I always had the thought int he back of mind that something bad could happen at any second.

Once we made it over the border, I immediately felt a sense of relief to be back in the USA. I spent 5 months traveling through Latin America living an entirely different lifestyle than back home.

driving through Arizona desert

welcome to Arizona sign

This was a symbol of finishing one chapter of my story, and beginning a new one.

I didnt spend much time in Arizona. The temperature was in the upper 90's and there didnt seem like much going on in Tucson.

So we left after a few hours and a nice Vegetarian meal.

San Diego, California

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Los Angeles

I'm not a huge fan of Los Angeles but Abbot Kinney received us very well. I played for a few hours while people strolled through the streets.

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Part 4

Los Angeles, CA to New York City

3,400 miles

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Big Sur

Nothing compares to the feeling I get when i get to play my piano on the edge of a cliff or in the mountains as the sun is setting. Nothing like it.

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last leg of the trip

Santa Cruz, California

Santa Cruz is one of my top 5 favorite cities in North America. One day I hope to have a home out there.

If  you walk the streets of Santa Cruz with an open mind, you will meet some amazing people and maybe learn a few interesting things.

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I couchsurfed at this Bluegrass musicians house and we got to jam and discuss music the entire time. There are so many good people in Santa Cruz.

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 San Francisco, California

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A friend that I met in Wisconsin in 2011 invited me to come play at the school she works at. The kids requested songs from videos games and sci-fi TV shows. I tried to please them by playing classical and jazz and even did a presentation on the importance of music in our lives. It was a very rewarding experience.

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Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Black Rock City, Nevada

Burning Man 2013

See more photos from Burning Man 2013

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Driving...

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and Driving...

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and Driving...

Kansas City, Missouri

When I get to the midwest I usually get anxious and drive straight through, but it was a weekend and I decided to use Couchsurfing in Kansas City, Missouri to see whats there. I didnt know much about Kansas City but when I arrived I learned that it is an important city  for the beginning of modern music, particularly Jazz.

Scott Joplin lived in Missouri who is the father of modern music and just about all the music you listen to today. In my mind Scott Joplin is the one who brought European classical music like Chopin and African rhythms together to form Ragtime. If you listen to Chopin and explore some of Scott Joplins music, you will see incredible similarities. See for yourself.

I played piano at the Ryan Beye foundations block party. Ryan Beye's story is incredibly inspiring to me and reminds us to never wait till you tomorrow to do the things you want to do in your life. Read more about Ryan Beye here.

HOME!

Final Stats

Total Trip: 21,000+ miles

7 Months on the road

# of Cities Visited: 70+ Cities

# of Cities I played piano in: 18 Cities

 

Things I learned from this experience:

  • Organization and preparation is very helpful. But when traveling you need to have a improvisational mind to be able to tackle anything that may occur. You can eliminate your risk by thinking of possible outcomes and solutions. I did a lot of research before leaving but I still feel like I rushed to leave on this trip. There is never too much planning. However, never let your plans be the final way.
  • Better organization of the inside of my Van has always been crucial on my roadtrips. I need to build better hiding spots for my electronics.
  • Mexico and Central America are definitely not as dangerous as people say. Travel through these countries and meet the local people. It may give you an entirely new perspective on your life.
  • Its is not easy to make a living as a musician while traveling through Latin America...
  • The fruit and vegetables in Latin America is much tastier than in America. Traveling through those parts gave me an entirely new perspective on the massive food industry in the United States. In many of these Latin American countries you still buy your produce directly from the farmer. Its beautiful.
  • If possible, In the future I will begin to set up gigs before I reach major cities. Doing a mixture of gigs and street performing can help me fund these trips and even make a larger profit. This trip proved to be a major expense on my bank account. I didnt come home with profit like on the $2 Roadtrip, but I did walk away with the adventure of a lifetime and many new friends around the world.

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Should I Quit My Job? When is it Time to Change?

should i quit my job? On New Years Day at 1:30 AM, I was having a conversation with this guy who works at a Financial firm in NYC. He asked me if I am going to make lots of money in 2014.

I said that i would like to make a lot of money without having to compromise my passions, so that I can make money doing the things that I love.

"But that's almost impossible."

I told him about what I do and he was impressed. He said he wishes he could do the same with his passion: Golf.

He said he would love to be able to teach Golf and pursue that as a career but he is not as good as the pros and there is already too much competition to create a career out of it. On top of that he already has a job that takes up a majority of his time.

This isn't a new thing.

There are millions of people out there who are working at office jobs they dont like but receive a consistent salary.

This is one of the biggest dilemmas of our lives.

Do I prioritize making money or should I put my passion first? Why can't I do both?

If I prioritize money and get a job, I will end up working 40-70 hours a week working for someone else, without much time for myself, but I will be making a consistent salary.

If I prioritize my passion, I run the risk of not making much money but I am creating my own project and chasing after my passions.

The question comes in: When is the right time to change?

Of course, there are exceptions to all this... Some of us have found jobs that we enjoy immensely. This article is not for you. Go back to what you were doing...

Change is good. Change is important. The world around us is always change. WE are always changing, every second of our lives. Sometimes change happens very quickly. Other times it feels like it takes years for changes to occur. For the most part, I like to look at change as a very important key to my happiness. It keeps things exciting. It keeps me on my toes and interested. Without Change I belive life would be very boring.

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The biggest obstacle in our way is the Fear of Uncertainty. Most of us don't like uncertainty. We want to have a set salary so we know how much we will be making by the end of the year. We want to have a routine to keep us in line. We take the same route to work so that we are not late.

What will happen to me if I quit?

This fear is so powerful that it can completely consume you to the point where you get to age 60 and ask yourself, "Where did all the time go?"

The only way for you to find out is to do it. Nike was right when they said, "Just do it." Sometimes the best way to learn something new is to throw yourself in and figure it out. And Yes, its a scary thought that you will have to sacrifice your salary in order to pursue what you love. Yes it will be hard and you will struggle, but things will work themselves out. I promise.

There is something really special about creating something from an idea in your mind. To plant a seed and to give it your all and watch it grow and care for it as it slowly emerges to form your beautiful creation... From your idea.

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I once met a man on the street in Santa Cruz. He started playing piano at age 75 and by 83 recorded an entire album from scratch. All from his head. Songs that were just floating around in his mind and he went and grabbed them. He wanted it. He was willing to go through the struggle to make it happen.

This is for the person who feels that internal itch: that impulse to want to change their life.

I say, Go for it! You only live once and you are never too old to try something new.

I am certainly no expert (but then again who is an expert at Life?).

Here are a few words of advice from my personal experiences:

Evaluate your current situation. Look at the entire picture.

Everything good takes some degree of struggle in order to happen. Enjoy it! Live for the Challenge.

There is no prescription for Life. To each his/her own. Go and find yourself.

Think about these key question:

1. If you could be doing anything else with your life, What would you do?

2. What would be your ideal lifestyle?

3. Why?

4. What is in your way?

5. How will you achieve what you want?

6. Are you willing to take on the challenges and the struggle in order to make it happen?

7. Are there other people already living your dream lifestyle?

8. How are they making it happen?

Maybe you can put in a few hours after your day job towards making your passion project come alive. Maybe you can collaborate with someone in creating something great. Baby steps, baby steps, baby steps...

But Please! Do yourself the favor and make an effort to try.

I guarantee you, it will be gratifying.

Dont let yourself get to the point in your life where you regret that you never took action to go after your passions.

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I will never forget this article: Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.

The first one is: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

The second is: I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

Most people realize it too late, but its something I've heard countless times.

I'll leave this one for the great Mark Twain.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

Mark Twain

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I dont expect you all to agree with everything I say, What do you think?

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How to Push Your Piano Through NYC: An Experiment

This post is an ongoing experiment that might never end. I have been tinkering with methods and Ideas for moving my 500 pound upright piano for about a year. Below you will see the process and steps for how I ended up at my current method. Pushing a Piano throughout New York City is not easy. In fact it is one of the most physically challenging tasks I have ever attempted. Moving pianos is incredibly dangerous: Read the story of how a Piano Crushed My hand. You should not attempt doing this by yourself or you will end up like me– with a broken hand. There is a good reason why you should hire piano movers to move your piano.

But nonetheless, I will show you what I have discovered in the last 2 years of moving pianos by myself.

Method #1

POS Dolly (Piece of shit Dolly) and 1 strap

You can get these for $20 at any Home Depot. I call them a piece of shit dolly because they are not made well and you should not use these to move your piano. Period. The wheels arent even rubber which leads to a very bumpy ride.

Method #2

Two POS Dolly and 2 straps

Maybe we can take 2 piece of shit Dollies and it would be better. It was better for a few months, but then they kept breaking.

This method was shown to me by Colin Huggins who now plays his Baby Grand Piano in Washington Square park. (I’m sure he uses better dollies than this though)

Method #3

Build your own wood dolly with large wheels

My father saw this as a good opportunity to get involved and help me out. He likes little building projects like this. He decided to get some wood and build his own dolly. Unfortunately, the width was too small with this one which made it too wobbly and dangerous. On top of that it was really heavy because it was one large piece of wood. I used it once or twice but it felt as if I was using double the energy to move the piano.

Method #4

Build a dolly using a Hand truck and POS Dollies.

This was my fathers idea. I immediately turned it down because the hand truck had these arms that kept sticking out. But nevertheless, my father took some wood and screwed them in place, and then put the piano on top just to see how it would work. I’m too scared to take risks like this. I really dont want another piano falling on me.

Method #5

Build a Piano Bicycle.

The photo below is of Eric Rich and  Corbon Baldwin who built their own piano bicycle system to haul their 800 pound bicycle to and from the farmers market.

After doing some research I realized that it would cost me around $2500 to lease or build my own piano bicycle. On top of all that I would need to pay for a garage to store it overnight. I spoke with a Rickshaw company, a bicycle building company, and a metal welder about building this bicycle before deciding to throw out the idea and go back to the drawing board…

I thought the bike below would be really cool to have. It can haul up to 600 pounds. Or so they say it can.

Method #6

Buy a food cart and take off the box. I came up with this idea when I went over to Worksman Cycles in Queens. They showed me this food cart which was 400 pounds. It moved so well that I instantly started getting ideas. I then spoke to the owner of the company who gave me some interesting options. Which led me to the next idea…

Method #7

The All Terrain Dolly by Premier Moving Equipment

After talking to a welder about building a cart like the one above I discovered that it would still cost me more than $500 to build it.

As I continued my experimentation and research, I discovered this: The All terrain Dolly made by Premier Moving Equipment (A family owned business in Atlanta). I called up the company and spoke to George Patrick who designed the dolly. He told me the story of how he conceived of the idea. He came up with the All terrain Dolly when he had to move a large grand piano across the grass. He put two hand trucks together, secured them, and it worked but with alot of struggle. He then decided to make his own design and build one himself. Below is the All Terrain Dolly from Premier Moving Equipment.

After speaking with George we came up with an idea to build a custom dolly that would be stable and easy enough to push throughout the pothole ridden streets of New York City. Below are some photos of their process.

Check out their web site:

www.premiermovingequipment.com

I’m not getting paid to write this. Premiere Moving Equipment has helped me make my dream come alive and I’m grateful for their creative minds and hard work. Thank you!

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The Making of Piano Across America

Theres the short story, and then theres the long story. Here is the Longer Version. I truly believe that the people, places, and experiences from the last 10 years of my life have led me to discover Piano Across America.

More specifically, it is the events that took place after I graduated college that motivated me to do something extraordinary with my life.

I Graduated college in May 2008 and went to my parents house in Long Island, New York to start auditioning for jobs and build my acting career. Over the course of the year I researched the acting world in NYC, did a few non-union shows, auditioned almost every day, and interned for casting directors and agents while working different jobs and selling stuff on eBay. I even started day trading for a little while in 2009 when the Stock Market hit an all time Low.

I tried so many different things that seemed to get me no where.

I didn’t feel like my career was progressing.

Being an Actor in New York City is very hard. There are hundred of people competing for the same roles as you. On top of that, it's exhausting to have to constantly look for a job. Even when you have a job, its always temporary, leaving you to have to look for another one almost immediately.

In June 2009 I was so frustrated with auditioning that I decided to stop.

I didnt like the fact I was wasting full days waiting on line for a 30 second interview.

I didnt think auditioning was the best way of making a career as a performer and sought a way to create my own opportunities.

I found myself on line at the Actors Equity building for an audition sitting next to a 40 year old man who had some nice looking credits on his resume. But it made me realize that I could do this for 20 years and still be in the same place!

I didnt want to be like that. I began practicing piano routinely and took lessons in hopes of using my music to create a one man show. But what would I be doing in the show?

Like every 20 year old I was brimming with  ideas, but couldn’t find a single one that I wanted to focus on.

I was spreading myself too thin juggling all these ideas forcing me to have to let go of some.

I was conflicted between my desire to make money and wanting to pursue my love of being a performing artist.

This is when the big spark happened.

 

In December 2009, I got an offer from my fathers friend (a photographer) to drive his box truck to Miami for a delivery. He paid for all the expenses including a check for my time.

I thought it was so cool to get paid to Travel.

I saw it as an experiment to travel alone in a truck, filming my experiences, and to explore blogging. When I got to Miami, I got a call from a friend who was in Dominican Republic. He convinced me to come down and I immediately flew down to DR and drove motorcycles through the mountains. It was an experience of a lifetime. I got back to Miami and was paid again to drive back to New York. It was a dream come true!

This was where I became addicted to travel. I became addicted to the new experiences, the new people I was meeting, and spontaneous adventure.

 

February 2010, I wasn’t auditioning anymore and my acting career took a stand still to work for this photographer as his assistant and truck driver. This was the time Brando entered into my life. It wasnt planned, it just sort of happened. Click here to read the story of my dog, Brando.

May 2010 rolled in and I was still working for the photographer, but I was unhappy again. I was frustrated that I was living someone else’s dream rather than working towards my own dream. I started a blog on tumblr called, ThePiano.tumblr.com where I wanted to create a place for pianists and piano lovers to come together.

Every day I would go to work and ask myself the question: "If I could do anything else in the world, what would I do?" I spent a lot of time dreaming and thinking and brainstorming.

Finally, I came up with the idea for Piano Across America by combining everything that I love to do in life: Traveling, Making music and performing, and meeting People. 

The idea was to travel the world with an upright piano and be entirely supported through playing piano. Nothing else.

The only thing was, I wasn't a very good piano player.

June 2010 came and “Play Me, I’m Yours” set their 60 piano’s throughout the 5 boroughs. This was a test for me to play a piano in front of people on the streets. I played about 14 of the pianos in Manhattan, filmed my experiences, and I noticed that it was incredibly easy to meet people and other musicians.

There was a huge social aspect of playing the piano on the streets. It was as if it instantly opens you up to conversation and breaks down all the boundaries.

THIS WAS THE TIPPING POINT. This was the moment where I said to myself, Enough is Enough! I MUST make my dream come true.

But was I ready?

I had only been playing for 4 years. I never played in front of an audience before, nor had I the confidence to do so. There was plenty of self doubt and obstacles but in July 2010 I worked past it and with my fathers help, I strapped my piano to two dollies, wheeled it onto Broadway in downtown New York, and played in front of a deli.

I felt the energy of people’s faces looking at me, pointing fingers, and the feeling of having the spot light on me. I mean, I was pushing a piano across the street!

At first it was embarassing, but after a few hours I began to really enjoy the feeling. I wasnt sure if I could meet the demands of the people with my skills and really blow them away.

I did this a few more times and started noticing patterns, learning from my mistakes, and making changes.

In August 2010, I continued my new found adventure and played on the streets 10 more times. I met a man from England who showed me a few things on the piano. We jammed on Broadway and had an amazing time when this other man came up to us and started rapping.

In City Hall Park, I met this French documentary director who was enamored by my attempt at playing on the streets. I was able to connect with people instantly when I had the piano and I even scheduled my first gig playing at a gallery event.

I was enthralled with meeting new people from all over the world and hearing other people’s stories and comments.

Unfortunately, a terrible incident occurred on September 10, 2010 when I hit a pothole that made the piano fall backwards. I went to stop it but the piano was too heavy and landed on my hand. I broke two fingers and it really put a stop on my goals and dreams.

I was torn up with the thought of never being able to play piano again. I couldnt play for 3 months and spent that time dreaming again of playing on the streets.

Luckily, I didn’t damage any ligaments or joints which led to very positive outcome in the healing process.

This was the point where I started planning for my tour across America.

The shock of almost losing the ability to play piano forever pushed me forward to make the dream of traveling across America with my piano happen.

Looking back at all these events, I find it interesting that they all occurred consecutively.

Its as if someone knew about my dream beforehand and put those obstacles and events in my path: As if it were meant to be.

Life works in mysterious ways and I cannot explain it.

But I do believe if you spend enough time crafting your ideal, eventually it will happen.

Anything is possible!

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If you could do anything in the world, What would you do?

the struggle as a musician

In 2010, I quit my job, emptied my bank account, bought a Box Truck and a Piano, and hit the road in pursuit of a new life.

I was tired of living my life as a cog and feeling trapped by routine.

I was tired of working towards someone elses dream rather than my own.

I knew that if I really wanted to create the life of my passions I had to make sacrifices and go ALL IN.

My dream is to make a full time living traveling the world and making music.

The idea was to figure out a way to be 100% sustainable through my music and I paid for food and gas by playing piano on the streets of different cities.

It was incredibly difficult but I had unforgettable experiences and met so many people.

I spent months living out of a box truck, filming my journey with hopes of creating a web series that documented the people I met and the amazing experiences.

What has really kept me strong throughout my struggle are the multitude of messages I receive every week from people who have been inspired by my journey.

Some people have even told me that they quit their jobs because of how inspired they were. Link: Here is the Greatest Fan mail I've ever received.

playing in big sur

Because of my journey we have been on TV's in more than 20 countries around the world, Traveled more than 50,000 miles in 200 cities and 9 countries.

Link: Check out the Press Page

Where are we headed in 2014?

Its been 3 years since I started this project and I have had 3 different sponsors including Goodyear Latin America. In July 2013 I did a commercial with them and have become the poster boy for their marketing campaign.

Since 2010, I have been doing EVERYTHING myself. From filming, driving, playing piano, video editing, meeting people, web design, blogging, social networking...

Now I hire people from all around the world to help me manage my social networking, web site, videos, and daily working.

  • The major goal this year is produce the Epic Web series that I had intended to produce 2 years ago using the footage I have.
  • I have been approached by 3 different literary agents to write a book. I am looking to write a book for people in their late teens and early 20's who are about to enter the real world and face the same challenges I faced.
  • Record an album with my trio. We take songs that people know and play them in various styles and challenge our audience.
  • We are also planning to do live shows. We hope to build our reputation to be able to have a touring show and perform in cities around the world.
  • I am going to build my brand to where I can go to universities and speak about my experiences to students looking to follow their own dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Day a Piano Fell on my Hand (in the middle of NYC)

WARNING!– THESE PHOTOS ARE NASTY– WARNING! police officer in City hall park cop piano copThe Day was September 9, 2010

This was around the time I first started playing piano on the streets. It was a pleasant end of summer day and I was playing piano in front of the fountain in City Hall Park. After about an hour, 2 Cops came over and told me that because of complaints coming from City Hall, I needed to leave. How ridiculous is that! I was playing beautiful classical music and someone from City Hall had the nerve to complain. I didnt argue and went to look for another spot.

I wheeled the piano over to another spot about 4 blocks away near a Whole Foods. They were having a food drive and I figured it would be a great way to accompany their fund raiser.

piano on the street street piano street pianist

I played for about an hour and a half and even met some of the friendly employees at Whole Foods who hooked me up with some free food. I packed up the piano, finished my sandwich, and started to push my piano back home when suddenly I hit a pothole. The piano tipped backwards and I tried to catch it but the weight sent the piano crashing on my middle and index fingers of my left hand.

I stood there with my broken hand, in the middle of the street in New York City, staring at my crushed fingers with blood gushing out. I was in disbelief, I looked around at the people around me and didnt know what to do.

A woman rushed over to me and sat me down near the fundraising tent. She spoke in a very soothing tone to calm me down, reassuring me that I will be able to play again. And that's when I began to cry, thinking, “Is this it? Is this the end of my piano playing career? What will I do with my life?” I sat there holding ice on my hand, not looking at it.

The ambulance never came and I was forced to walk 5 blocks to the downtown hospital, leaving a trail of blood drops on the sidewalk. The doctors told me that they couldnt give any definite statements but that I had multiple fractures in my middle finger and one fracture on my index. This is when the pain began.

The worst pain in my entire life was when they were injecting my hand with numbing solution using an 18 gauge needle. They stuck the needle into the tips of my fingers, the palm of my hand, and the side of my hand. But they didnt just do it once, they did it 15 times. I screamed my head off even with the Morphine and pain killers they gave me. I never experienced that much pain in my entire life.

All in all it was an experience I will never forget which changed my life forever. Its the point in my life that solidified my endeavor to become a musician. I was a total wreck during the healing process. 90 Days of agony and pain, I did alot of thinking and stayed home for hours in deep depression. Eventually I got over it and started playing about a month later with the remaining 3 fingers in my left hand.

Broken finger in the street piano falls on hand

I began seeing the positive side of the incident and about a 2 months into healing I started planning for my trip across America. This was definitely the big turning point that made me realize, if I dont do this now, I probably never will. There is no better time than NOW.

Below is a video I made in Washington Square park about 3 weeks after breaking my fingers.

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The Night I Got Robbed By An Oxycontin Addict

I met this man by the name of Ehron in Albuquerque. He was very outgoing, intelligent, and great to talk to. Turns out he plays drums and a few other instruments. I immediately told him that we should jam.

I set up the piano and the bucket drums from the night before (See: Dance Party on the Streets of Albuquerque) on Central Ave and 3rd St. By 9:00 PM, Ehron came over and we started to jam. We were actually live streaming on the internet at the same time (Check it out below) and it sounded really good. I was throwing curve balls his way and he was hitting them. People were coming by and dancing, throwing money in our bucket, and really enjoying the music.

Video streaming by Ustream

By 11 PM we started to slow down and take a break. I didn’t notice that because Ehron was closer to the bucket, he was taking a little bit of money and putting it in his pocket so that by the time it came down to splitting what we made, he had counted it and said we only made $15. I’m more than positive we made more than $75 all together because a few people gave us 20’s and 10’s.

Ehron said he was going to grab a bite and come back. He never showed up. But I knew exactly where he was sleeping that night. He got kicked out of his grandmothers house and was sleeping on the roof of this vacant building.

I went over there and called him out. I was really pissed off and told him that he robbed me and thats when he admitted it to me, “I’m an addict! This is my life. What? Are you going to punch me?” I told him I wouldn’t stoop down to his level and told him that I wanted to help him get off the street and change his life, but its impossible to help an addict who has been brainwashed by drugs.

Turns out he took the money and bought Oxycontin with it. He has been living this sort of lifestyle for a few months, his family pushed him away, and he was living on the streets. If I met Ehron again, I wouldn’t be angry. I wouldn’t get revenge. I would ask him to travel and play drums with me.

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The $2 Roadtrip- The Northeast & Canada

The Backstory: In April 2011, I took all my savings, bought a truck, and hit the road. I took my piano and my dog as my companion. I did it because I wanted to find meaning to my life beyond the monetary. I did it because I wanted to be challenged. I did it because I wanted to see what life is like in the rest of the world, to meet all kinds of people, to see if I could sustain a living doing what I love most: Making music.

I arrived home on September 2011 and went on another Roadtrip to Florida in November 2011 which taught me that with the right planning, I could make a living doing what I love by combining delivery jobs and playing piano.

I returned home to New York City in December 2011 and started putting together my ideas for the next big thing. I sold my truck for a loss and eventually saved up enough money through street performing in NYC to buy a smaller, more economical Van.

I spent 6 months in New York and started to go back to my old lifestyle: driving an Insurance Broker around NYC and working as an assistant for an artist. After 4 months, I became restless again and decided on a whim that I'm going to take another road trip and challenge myself even further.

This is the $2 Roadtrip:

The Challenge:

To see if I could travel across the Northeast and Canada starting with only a $2 bill and 1 gallon of gas.

My Gear:

My plan was to bring very few things with me. I learned in the past that simple is best. Here is a list of what I brought.

  • Hygiene kit (toothbrush, toothpaste, Deoderant, mouthwash)
  • Clothes (5 pairs of socks, 4 shirts, 3 pants, 3 shorts, 4 underwear)
  • Sunglasses
  • 4 Rachets to secure piano
  • Dog Supplies (5 lbs bag of dog food, 2 collars, 2 leash)
  • iphone 4
  • Notebook
  • Laptop
  • Stool
  • Bucket
  • Kimball Piano
  • All Terrain Piano dolly
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Food Cooler
  • 3 Books: (Into the Wild by Jon Krakaeur, Walden by Thoreau, A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink)

Cities Visited:

  • New York City, NY
  • New London, CT
  • Provincetown, MA
  • Boston, MA
  • Portsmouth, NH
  • Kinnebunkport, ME
  • Portland, ME
  • Vinal Haven Island, Maine
  • Acadia National Park, ME
  • Bar Harbor, ME
  • Quebec City, Canada
  • Montreal, Canada
  • Toronto, Canada
  • Niagara Falls, Canada
  • Buffalo, NY
  • Rochester, NY
  • Lake George, NY
  • Saratoga Springs, NY

The $2 Roadtrip:playing piano in new york city street piano tribeca traveling piano nyc

I started in NYC with $2 in my pocket and a gallon of gas...

1. TriBeCa, New York City

My first location was Tribeca in front of the Whole Foods. The same location where my Piano Fell on my Hand 2 years before. This area gets a lot of the Financial District employees and children from the park across the street.

After playing for 3 hours I made $152 which was more than enough to fill up my cooler with food and a full tank of gas. I left New York not knowing what to expect and a little nervous that I wouldn’t be able to make enough to support myself.

filling the cooler with food traveling piano dotan negrin piano man traveling pianoThe next day was rainy all day until I reached New London where i went to school for a semester at the National Theater Institute. I spoke to some of my friends and they told me to go to Cape Cod.

My original plan was to go to Providence, Rhode Island, but already in the 2nd day of my travels I changed my course to head to Provincetown, Cape Cod. I didnt know anything about the town but I figured, since Ive never been to there I might as well check it out. How many times will I go out there in my life?

When I travel, I never go to Hotels because I think they are a waste of money and I try to use Couchsurfing or Craigslist alot to make new friends and find a place to sleep. This first night I spent sleeping in the van.

sleeping in the van ford transit connect traveling piano man

love life traveling piano

2. Provincetown, Massachusetts

provincetown mass street piano traveling piano travel dotanI got there the next morning and watched the sunrise at 6 AM.    By 9 AM I met a bunch of the other street artist. A street Face painter was there who told me that I needed to get a permit at the police station. It was quick and painless.

It was also the first time I ever got an official permit.

I set up my piano at 10 AM to grab a good spot in front of the Town Hall.

I couldn’t help but notice one thing.

Everyone was gay.

I thought there was a festival or something but then I realized that the entire town was gay.

Even many of the police officers were gay and they were all extremely nice.

By Noon, we had a bunch of teenagers surrounding my piano and jamming out with us.

playing piano in Provincetown mass, gay town piano street street pianoOne person who inspired me was Will.

He was 16 and has been living life on his own as a street performer after getting emancipated by his parents.

What inspired me was his independence and the fact that he sings with his playing. I dont sing because I havent practiced it and I'm not as confident with my voice.

But he inspired me to let go of my fears and just go for it.

Who cares what people think?

After hanging out with Will and saying goodbye to him I left on a Monday morning towards Boston. There was a little morning rush traffic, but when I arrived I wanted to go back to Provincetown. This was definitely one of my favorite towns to street perform in.

traveling piano pianist

3. Boston, Massachusetts

boston street piano pianist street dotan negrin traveling piano travelBoston is a big city with a ton of history but Provincetown had a lot of character and I made some great friends there.

This is the one thing that is tough about traveling the way I do.

You work hard to open yourself up and make friends and within an instant you are off to another place to do it all over again.

I miss all the close connections I made on this trip.

I adjusted to the big city life, and found some friends to host me through Couchsurfing who gave me a mattress and a blanket to sleep with, and we hung out that night and had some interesting intellectual conversations.

The next day I drove all around the city and explored my options for playing.

Because there are so many areas with pedestrians I found it difficult finding a good spot that includes parking.

After many hours of driving, I settled for a location with a ton of pedestrians in the Financial district.using couchsurfing to find a place to sleep travel on the cheap budget travel traveling piano in Boston mass travel street piano big cities dotan negrinI parked my car in a 2 hour spot and pushed the piano over to the 1st location. I played for 30 minutes and was told to leave by the manager of the building in front of me.

With an hour and a half more to go I went to another location, got kicked out again, and then another location.

By the end of the 2 hours I had probably walked a half mile and was tired. I loaded up the piano and grabbed some lunch.

It was so difficult playing piano in Boston I chose to leave the next day towards Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

4. Portsmouth, New Hampshire

portsmouth new hampshire street piano new hampshire new england street pianist street pianoPortsmouth was a great little town. I got there a little later in the day and walked around. Eventually I decided to play piano for a few hours in the afternoon as a few people walked by.

I didnt make much money but by nightfall a group of traveling hippies came out and I hung out with them. More people showed up and we were banging on bongos and talking for a while. I had a few beers at this one bar that had over 100 beers on tap and I felt good at that point. I celebrated my first week on the road.

5. Portland, Maine

maine the way life should be easy life maine street piano traveling piano

I arrived in Maine and noticed that everywhere I went I saw Lobster, Shrimp, and Crab. After stopping in Kennebunkport (such a wierd name) to get some fried clams I continued north towards Portland, Maine.

I got to Portland in the early afternoon and saw the beautiful red brick buildings of Commercial street. I love the old time, small town feeling of Portland, Maine. People were very friendly and there were plenty of tourist cruising through the shops. And of course, Plenty of Lobster.

around the world piano

welcome to maine commercial street traveling piano travel street pianoThe Next day was cloudy but I took out the piano anyway on Commercial street. There I met this other band playing for the brunch crowd at a restaurant. They called me over and we jammed on 3 songs. They gave me some coffee and afterwards I wheeled over to another spot to play some piano. Later in the day, the drummer of the band came over and invited me to come to his annual family gathering in Vinal Haven. Check out: The family in Vinal Haven Island, Maine.

I played for 3-4 hours and it drizzled a little bit. People were very friendly and I met people who were from all over. I even met a couple who saw me in Provincetown!

The next day I drove up to Rockport to catch the Ferry to Vinal Haven Island. There i met Dan (the drummer from the other day) and he brought me through the beautiful island to their lakefront home where I met his entire family.

jamming with the band maine traveling piano street pianoplaying piano for a crowd of chinese tourists in Portland maine traveling piano6. Vinal Haven Island, Mainevinal haven island maine family traveling piano map

vinal haven piano traveling piano man street piano with family Vinal Haven Island was one of my favorite places on this entire trip. I met an incredible family and just went with the flow. It is the truest feeling of letting life take you for the journey I have ever felt. Without a doubt one of the greatest moments I have ever had traveling. Check out: The family in Vinal Haven Island, Maine for the full story.

7. Acadia National Park

acadia national park lakes piano across america acadia national park lakes pianoI was debating if I should continue going North or head West to Vermont. I know that I probably wont be coming up to Maine very often so I figured I would go up to Acadia and spend a few days hiking, enjoying the weather, and maybe playing piano in the woods.

I didnt end up playing in the woods, but I did do many hours of challenging hiking with Brando and saw some amazing views of the Maine coast. I would definitely come back here.

Bar Harbor was just another shopping mall town with plenty of tourists walking around. I didnt play there either because I read that they dont like street performers and I would be kicked out in a second. I didnt want to bother with dealing with police.

8. Quebec City, Canada

quebec city old city piano across america street piano After dealing with some not so nice Border control people I drove all the way through the night and arrived in Quebec City. The next morning it was like a nightmare where I woke up and everyone spoke a different language I dont understand. All the street signs are different and i searched for 2 hours for a place to get a good exchange rate.

I was running around all over trying to figure out where to get Internet, how to get a permit for street performing, and finding a place to sleep. But by the end of the day I started to adjust and explored much of the Old City.

The next day I met a bunch of acrobats who were trying to get a busking permit. They told me to stay for the next few days because of the Quebec City Festival. I listened and stayed for a total of 4 very busy days. They also helped me get a 4 day busking permit.

acrobats and artists street performers traveling piano quebec cityquebec city permit traveling piano man dotan negrin street piano

my friend alex quebec city piano across americaI made a really amazing friend through Couchsurfing named Alex who I hope to see again in the future. He was very generous and showed me around to his favorite spots.

The weather was beautiful and I played EVERYWHERE in the old City of Quebec. People were incredibly supportive and generous. I had huge crowds of 40 people surrounding me at times and the energy was really open and supportive of the arts. Everywhere I went there was another street performing.

What is so amazing about Quebec is that it makes you feel like you're in Europe but you're still in North America. The city has so much charm and the people are open to all arts. The history is well preserved and the city is incredibly beautiful. Quebec City is truly one of my favorite cities in North America.

st johns gate quebec city traveling piano man street piano9. Montreal, Canada

almost getting arrested in Montreal street performers artists traveling piano man Montreal wasnt as friendly as Quebec, but I did make another great friend named Alejandro from Mexico who was living there for a few months.

Montreal was my 50th city of playing piano on the streets. It was a big deal except for the fact that I needed to get a permit and I missed the auditions. The cops were nice though, they even enjoyed my story. See: Almost getting arrested in Montreal for playing piano. ;-)

traveling across america traveling piano you owe it to yourself to do something remarkable 10. Toronto, Canada

traveling across the world

playing on the streets of toronto traveling piano man street pianoToronto was where I felt like I was back in the USA. Everyone spoke English again and I was able to read the street signs without being confused.

I had the opportunity to stay with a family in Toronto who were so generous and really great cooks! I played with their kids and we had some in depth intellectual conversations.

I wanted to play everyday in Toronto, but it rained every single day I was there. But surprisingly enough, the people were still very friendly and open to my performance. I met a Cancer survivor, a piano technician who fixed a broken key, and a bunch of other musicians.

My last day there, I was able to smuggle my piano past the security and play for an hour and a half at the Taste of the Danforth Greek Festival. That was exciting with huge audiences!

raining on my piano rain piano rain falling on piano playing with the kids traveling piano street piano man sleeping at a home in a bed traveling piano man

playing piano street at the taste of the danforth 201211. Lake George, New York

I was really excited about playing my piano on the edge of Niagara falls but that place is like Disneyland. I'm not a huge fan of those kinds of generic Tourist sites with the "Ripley's Believe it or Not" and "Hard Rock Cafe". I think these places get old very quickly. On top of all that, it was very difficult to find parking.

I went to the City Hall and tried to get a permit but they didnt even want to hear my story. So I left and went onward to Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and landed in Lake George because of a tip from someone on Tumblr.

The next day i played on the main strip of Lake George for an hour and got booted because I didnt have a permit. They only give out permits once a year, however, I didnt see a single street performer the entire time I was there. But during that hour I met the owner of "Legends", a restaurant in the area. He told me he could use me to play at his restaurant. This is one of my first real Restaurant gigs and they paid well.

playing on the streets of lake george busking street performing

I would do some hiking during the day and then at night play there for a few hours. We did this for 4 days and then I decided that it was time for me to leave and head home.

12. Saratoga Springs, New York

playing piano on the streets of saratoga springs nyAfter finishing my brunch gig at Legends Restaurant I decided to stop in Saratoga Springs to play a little piano. The weather was beautiful, people were out exploring the town, it was perfect condition for playing. I played for 3 hours and decided to stop to meet some people and walk around. We had a good lunch and then continued South to New York City.

But before hitting NYC I called up a musician friend who I met in Boulder, Colorado and met up with him in New Paltz. We saw some Jazz at a small restaurant and went back to him place to chat about life. The next morning, feeling refreshed I arrived back in NYC to run into Joe the Sand Man in Union Square. I didnt play, I just reveled in the beautiful roadtrip I returned from. It was one month of exciting discoveries, making new friends, learning about how other live, and enjoying the fruits of the earth.

guitarist i met in catskills

Final Stats

  • Duration of Trip: 31 Days
  • Miles: Approx 3600 miles
  • Number of Cities Played Piano: 11 Cities
  • Number of Cities Visited:
  • Invited into: 2 Homes
  • Days slept in Van/Camping: 15 Days
  • Days slept in a bed: 16 Days
  • Couchsurfed: 3 Cities
  • Days spent Hiking: 3 Days
  • Offered Gigs: 2 gigs
  • Total Hours Playing Piano: Approx 68 hours (including Gigs)
  • Average Hours Per Week: 17 hours Per week (Including Gigs)
  • Average Hourly Wage: $32.77 per hour

I try not to focus on Money when it comes to Piano Across America because I believe there are many more meaningful reasons to want to travel across the world with your upright piano. But I choose to display my Financial stats to show the world that YOU CAN DO SO MUCH WITH SO LITTLE. I want other to see this as inspiration for their own projects and ideas. It takes a lot of Creativity and Hard work and a tiny bit of luck to make these things happen. Go out there and do it!

Weekly Stats Via (PianoXAmerica.Tumblr.com)

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Money money 100's 50's 1 million dollars

  • Total 1 Month Trip Expenses: -$1252
      • Total Food Expenses: -$582
      • Total Gas Expenses: -$571
  • Total 1 Month Trip Income: +$3492
      • Total Income from Gigs: +$1060
      • Total Income from Street Performing: +$2432

Came home with a total of +$2,229.00

Imagine: To be able to travel the world, doing what you love, and making a decent living at the same time, WITHOUT A BOSS! This is a monumental accomplishment in my life and I hope you guys can realize that if you really put your mind and heart into your passion, YOU CAN ACHIEVE ANYTHING. I can officially say that I make a good living playing piano.

There was so much I learned through this experience and I truly understood the importance of traveling, seeing the world, and meeting people who are living different lifestyles.

Couchsurfing was a great tool for meeting people on this trip, although, I did meet more people on the streets while playing piano. The piano is such an incredible ice breaker, it needs no introduction, which allows me to instantly make friends everywhere I go.

What did I Learn from this trip?

    • I need a better, more efficient way to cool my food. I always ended up with spoiled or wet food every 2 days because the ice would melt. I am going to invest in an electric cooling device and a bigger cooler.
    • I always bring too much stuff on my roadtrips. Its good to have a check list before heading out on an extended road trip. There are thing you need and then there are things you dont need. Check out the Roadtripper's Checklist.
    • Start scheduling gigs before I travel on my next trip. I'm going to do more research about the places I go and start booking some gigs. The gigs ended up being very profitable for me. I would love to do more in the future.
    • When you let go of your every day routine and let life take control, you make incredibly discoveries and traveling this way will open you up to making new friends, seeing unknown places, and even learning something new about yourself. Let go of life and let it take you on the journey.
    • Everyone must travel alone at least once in their life. I found myself driving in silence at times because it became an incredible meditative experience for me. I did alot of thinking about where I want to go next and the inspirations that I found on this journey.
    • Once thing I learned from my time in Quebec City is that I need to develop a show and grab audiences. I watched a bunch of Acrobat circle shows on the streets and was enthralled to see how they can pull in an audience with their show. I want to begin using spoken word, poetry, storytelling and music to make my show even greater!
    • I wonder how I can use Couchsurfing and Craigslist better to meet more people and find more places to stay. I made some great friends through Couchsurfing and would like to see how I can start using Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr to make some connections and meet musicians.

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A Year in Review: 2011

Roadtrip #1 Stats

  • 15,000+ Miles

  • Stopped in 50 Cities

  • Played Piano in 32 Cities and 8 National Parks

  • 5 months of Travel

  • Date of Departure: April 4, 2011

  • Date of Return: Sept. 5, 2011

After spending 3 months healing from a piano falling on my hand in the middle of NYC, I was determined to make my dream of traveling across America with my upright piano come true. Most people would think twice after having a 400 lb piano fall on your hand, nearly ending your career. But I am a firm believer of "Risk. Fail. Risk Again."

In February of 2011, I bought my first Car with my savings. And no, its not the dream car you're thinking of. This is my first car:

this is my first car- a penske yellow box truck

I fitted the vehicle with carpeting, wood beams, and make it feel like a home.

Originally I intended to leave so I could make it to New Orleans before Mardi Gras, but things never work out the way you plan. I also didnt have enough money to go on a road trip. So I took another month to save and by April 4, 2011, I embarked on my journey. (Click on the Cities to see more photos)

Philadelphia, PA

Piano Philadelphia pennsylvania piano street

philadelphia piano street truck

Washington, DC

 

verizon center piano street

 

Playing piano at Dupont Circle

Charleston, SC

The Angel Oak Tree in Charleston

Athens, GA

New Orleans, LA

I fell in Love with New Orleans. I fell in love with the culture. I fell in love with the people. And most of all, I fell in love with the music. There is NOTHING like New Orleans and It is my second home (after New York City).

eating crawfish in New orleans

Check out the New Orleans Photo Album

Austin, TX

austin skyline

capital of austin piano man traveling piano

New Mexico

White Sands Desert is another amazing sight in America. new mexico desert white sands dog traveling piano man

traveling piano man desert road in new mexico

new mexico desert road traveling piano man

I never experience more isolation than this desert. This place was magical and it showed me that there is very much beauty in a vast desert of nothing. See the Story of Claunch, one of my favorite places on Earth.

Albuquerque

people i met in albuquerque

See the Conversation with Mohawk Girl in Albuquerque

old town new mexico mexican dog

mexico chihuahua mix traveling piano dog piano man

 Santa Fe

June 2012

The Canyons:

I couldnt decide whether to go to the Grand Canyon or Bryce and Zion. Instead I decided to go to all three. It was well worth the trip.

Grand Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Zion National Park

I played in this amazing field of yellow and purple flowers. This was above 7000 feet in elevation

zion piano man field of dreams field of flowers piano traveling piano

zion national park amazing shot traveling piano man

Las Vegas

piano man vegas traveling piano man las vegas

Crazy Drunk Folk

traveling piano in vegas piano man dog piano

Los Angeles

I didnt have the greatest time in LA. I played at Venice Beach and at Hermosa Beach. The majority of my time was spent with my cousins who live out there and driving through traffic.

Driving Along I-1

One of the most amazing drive's on my trip was going along the Pacific Coast Highway in California. Beautiful sights with plenty of dangerous curves up ahead.

pacific coast highway cliffs ocean i-1 california traveling piano

driving along i-1 pacific coast highway traveling piano man dog

traveling piano along coastal highway 1 pacific coast highway field of grapes winery

driving on i-1 pacific coast highway traveling piano

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is certainly one of my favorite small towns in America. I met so many musicians and down to earth people.

people in santa cruz musicians buskers street performers traveling pianist

deep and dark pianist homeless piano man traveling piano man

santa cruz traveling piano man traveling mobile piano dog

San Francisco

Someone spray painted my truck when I was in San Francisco. I was really pissed. But I got over it...

box truck graffiti cleaning graffiti how to remove graffiti

san francisco traveling piano man dog wall

The Redwoods

 Click Here for the Redwoods Photo Album

July 2012

Oregon Country Fair

oregon country fair traveling piano man

Check out the Photo Album from the Oregon Country Fair

Portland

First Thursday is a Street Art Fair that they do in Portland every month. The Streets were packed and I set up my piano fairly close to where all the action was happening. I met some really great people including a multi-millionaire who ended up taking us out for drinks afterwards.

Seattle

Seattle was where I ran out of money. I decided that I am going to attempt to travel back home to New York City with only $2.82 in my bank account.

Read How I traveled Across America with only $2.82 in my Bank Account

Coeur d'Alene

coeur d'alene traveling piano pianist audience

 

Coeur d'alene piano man traveling piano man

 

Glacier National Park

One of the most beautiful places on Earth. This is another magical and nostalgic place. The history of this planet is engraved in this preserved land.

glacier national park mountains lake

 

traveling piano dog mountains glacier national park

 

glacier national park mountains waterfall traveling piano man

 

glacier national park montana amazing sight beautiful mountains traveling piano dog

 

Jackson, WY

Within the 36 hours I stayed in Jackson, Wyoming, I met more than 25 people and had some really amazing conversations. I didnt even play piano there, but I met so many people by walking around and being the outgoing person that I am.

Yellowstone National Park

Grand Tetons

Salt Lake City, UT

 

Colorado

Independence Pass

 

Boulder

 

The Midwest

Sunflower Field

Chicago, IL

September

New York City

Traveling to more than 60 cities in America made me appreciate New York City that much more. New York has Everything and there is absolutely no place like New York in the entire world!

November 21, 2012

Roadtrip #2 to Florida:

I received a call from an artist i once worked for and he needed someone to deliver his paintings to the Art Basel Festival in Miami, Florida. I was perfect for the job and I figured that while I was getting paid to deliver these paintings why not bring my piano down and play around town?

Check out all the photos from our Florida Journey

 

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The Day I Celebrated My Birthday With 6 Random Strangers

It was August 19th and I was in Boulder, Colorado. I fell in love with Boulder and didnt want to leave. At the same time I was a bit homesick and my birthday was coming up in 3 days. The next major town was Madison, Wisconsin which is a 1000 mile trek through the midwest!

The problem was, I didnt know a single person in Madison and I definitely didnt want to spend my birthday by myself. So i put a few messages up on Tumblr, Facebook, Couchsurfing and began my drive through Nebraska and Iowa.

I arrived in Madison on my birthday (August 22) and received an email from someone who read my message on Couchsurfing. He told me that him and a few of his friends wanted to meet up and take me out for my birthday.

These are people I never met in my entire life! They thought my journey was cool and wanted to meet me. At 7:00 PM, After playing on State street, I packed up my piano and went over to this restaurant to meet my new friends.

We had such an amazing time! They had all these questions for me and they were very open and interesting people. I told them some stories from my 5 months journey. We had a few drinks, ate dinner…

I went to the bathroom and when I got back they surprised me with a cake and candle! I was flabbergasted! Here I was spending my birthday with 6 random people I had just met off the internet and it was one of the greatest birthday’s I’ve ever experienced!

The Moral: The world is filled with people from all backgrounds who are open to new experiences and who want to meet other people. Never judge a book before you’ve read it.

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The Importance of Music in Your Life

 

1. Music is the Key to Creativity.

Music fuels the mind and thus fuels our creativity. A Creative mind has the ability to make discoveries and create innovations. The greatest minds and thinkers like Albert Einstein, Mozart, and Frank Lloyd Wright all had something in common in that they were constantly exploring their imagination and creativity.

Listening to instrumental music challenges one to listen and tell a story about what one hears. In the same sense, playing a musical instrument gives you the ability to tell the story without words. Both require maximum right brain usage which not only exercises ones creativity but also ones intellect.

The strength of all the Arts including writing, painting, dance, and theater have the ability to create a similar effect.

2. Music makes Education more enjoyable.

Music can be very engaging in the classroom and is a great tool for memorization. I'm sure if more teachers used  song to teach the multiplication tables, kids would retain that information much quicker.

My spanish teacher in 10th grade used a song to teach us the past tense endings and even today, I havent forgotten the song. It's as if she imbedded it in my mind and now I will never forget it.

Besides the obvious, Music teaches us self discipline and time management skills that you cannot get anywhere else. When you study an instrument on a regular basis you work on concrete ideas and take small steps to achieve larger goals. This way of thinking organizes the wiring in your brain to start looking at Learning in a new light.

In raising children, Music education can be used to keep kids focused and keep them off the streets. Instead of running around and causing mischief, your child may be practicing piano or rehearsing music with friends.

Unfortunately, some forms of music can influence children in negative ways. It is well known that music has a power to influence the way we dress, think, speak, and live our lives. Profane and violent lyrics can have a negative influence on children.

Looking back at my High School days, I notice that I followed the herd when it came to listening to Hip-hop and doing things that were “cool” to look tough and be like the “Gangsta” image that was portrayed. When I got to college, I realized how much it pervaded my lifestyle and when I got into Jazz, my entire lifestyle began to change.

3. Music is the Language of the Universe.

You’ve heard this time and time again, but what does it mean exactly? Music is universal in that there are no boundaries to understanding music. Even animals like Birds, Dogs, and Whales can understand music to a certain degree.

It transcends all boundaries of communication because you can speak and tell stories to someone on the other side of the planet, even though you both don't speak the same language. But I believe its important for one to have an open mind in order to be in touch with that sense of understanding.

Many people immediately push away certain styles of music without having explored what it has to offer. Not all styles will appeal or resonate with a person, but one may discover a new part of ones self when you are open to all the possibilities.

4. Music has Spiritual Powers.

No one really knows where Music came from but there are many theories that suggest music predates the existence of Mankind. One of the most commonly known uses for music was religious and sacred tribal events. In Mayan civilization music was used in celebration of a victory at war and even at the burial of influential figures.

Some of the earliest recorded moments in Music took place in the Medieval times with choral pieces for church prayers. Much emphasis was placed in the organization and use of specific harmonies to create moods that would illicit a spiritual experience.

Even today, many people claim that music is the key to God and to a holy, more fulfilling life through the Church.

5. Music can Create a Mood and make you feel Emotion.

Music can whisk you away on an extended journey. Music can make time feel frozen. Music also has the power to suggest movement. All these things deal with the human senses.

I’m sure you can remember a moment where a song has made you particularly sad or very excited and happy. But how does organized tones create such an effect on our senses? No one really knows why or where it comes from but there are many studies that have been done to show that there is an agreement of which emotions pertain to certain scales, chords, and harmonies.

Read this amazing Wiki on Music and Emotion. Part of what inspired me to play piano when I was in college was that I became obsessed with how certain Jazz musicians were able to convey sadness and a state of melancholy through this one piece: Blue in Green. Think about what would driving be like without music or entering into a fancy restaurant?

6. Music Brings People Together.

What is amazing about music is that it is imbedded within all of us. Everyone can understand it and feel something if they open themselves up. Playing music with other musicians is an incredible feeling. Some people describe it as rowing down a river together.

There is a certain type of connection that comes when you make music in a group. The same is true for those who are listening to music in a group and interacting with music through Dance. This type of behavior is rooted in our history and our discoveries as human beings.

I’ve had many experiences where a random person would ask to play with me and within an instant we were having a dialogue via the piano or guitar. Its a level of playing around, communicating, and copying each other that creates the connection. Many of those moments have been some of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

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Playing Piano in NYC

I love how Brando lounges back as if he is a King. Mexican Chihuahua Dancing

One night in Union SquarePlaying piano with gloves is not easy.The Meat packing District. This was a fun day.

Brando is the man!

In Union Square during the Farmers Market

One chilly day in January 2012

A Jewish Piano Celebration in Union Square

Definitely one of the highlights of playing at Union Square. I met one of those guys in San Francisco 3 months before and he came up to me and said hello. I decided to play Hava Nagila and we all came together in celebration of the holiday Sukkot.

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Dance Party on the Streets of Albuquerque, NM

The Day was May 30, 2011… It was a Saturday night and I wanted to play some piano on the streets of Albuquerque. Unfortunately, the bars across the street were happily blasting obnoxious Hip-hop music which would have completely drowned out my elegant piano. So I decided to try something different and bring out some buckets, pots, and pans. I’m not much of a drummer but I got rhythm and I can keep a beat. Why not…

i played for about an hour into the wee hours of the morning and by 2 AM all the bars closed. There was a gay bar on the corner and these girls dressed up in skimpy dresses were coming out and digging my music. Then it got interesting… DANCE PARTY ON THE STREETS!

Watch what happens at 1:35

 

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Jason in Salt Lake City, Utah – August 4, 2011

I met Jason on State Street in Salt Lake City, Utah and I was incredibly touched by his passion. Jason is a humble man of only 19 who had recently gotten into a major struggle with his parents. I spoke to him and was able to give him a few words of advice.

IF EVERY MUSICIAN PLAYED WITH THIS MUCH PASSION, THE WORLD WOULD BE A DIFFERENT PLACE.

What do you think?

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How I Traveled Across America with $2.82

After driving more than 9,300 miles in 3 1/2 months, I reached Seattle from New York City. The problem was… I spent all my money. I had 2 choices. I could start a new Kickstarter page and raise some money to get home or i can take a little risk: make some money in Seattle, fill up my tank and head East with hopes of making the money along the way. Sometimes you just have to take the hard way… The next day I unloaded my piano (and my dog) onto the streets of Seattle at Pike Place Market and played for 5 hours. Luckily, it was a sunny filled day and the tourists were flowing. I made a whopping $190! This was enough to take me all the way to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho which was 320 miles away.

I spent that night sleeping in my truck (which I built to be very comfortable and safe) The trick to sleeping in your car is finding the right place to park— Especially in a busy city. One of the tricks I developed throughout my travels was to park my truck in a crowded Hotel parking lot, that way you fit in with the rest of the group without any problems. In fact, during the 1 1/2 months of traveling back home, I spent most of my nights sleeping in the truck. The one downside was finding a place to shower, but I’ll get into the strategies I created later.

Once I got to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho I spent most of my money and had to jump back on the streets to get me to the next location (Glacier National Park). But I never felt pressure, I just went with the flow of life and understood that with plenty of confidence, I can do this. I figured out a routine to get myself from city to city, doing what i loved, meeting plenty of people, and traveling across America.

The important thing was to manage my spending carefully. My main expenses were gas and food. I lived very Simple and didnt need to spend money on unnecessary things. This is HUGE! Living on the road made me understand how many unnecessary objects we have in our lives and that living a simple life without so many possessions kept me more organized and free. In fact, in the beginning of my roadtrip I brought way too many things with me and ended up giving away half of what I brought.

On top of all that, living the life of a frugal traveler, I still got to do all the fun and adventurous activities. In fact, I had so much freedom with my time, every day was filled with excitement. The challenge of traveling without any money and the fact that I was funding my trip by doing what I loved (Playing piano on the streets of America) made the journey that much more adventurous.

But dont get me wrong: Playing piano on the streets is NOT easy and still takes hard work, especially when you’re playing for more than 4 hours at a time. Even so, it was my dream life: Traveling, Making enough money, and doing what I love. Here is a list of all things I got to do starting with $2.82 in my bank account.

  • I visited and played piano in 4 National Parks
  • I Experienced the nightlife in each major city
  • I went sightseeing and even rented a bicycle to go mountain biking in Moab, UT.
  • I was able to make enough money by playing piano in every city to get me to the next location.
  • I never felt any pressure to keep moving and took my time.
  • In the end, I never turned a profit, but managed to do everything I love while still breaking even!

 

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5 Most Beautiful Roads in America

One rule I learned while traveling across America is to rarely take major highways. I always try to stick to the back-roads which are usually empty with the most beautiful sights you’ll ever see. Trust me on this one…

1. Independence Pass in Colorado

You’ll drive through dense forests of Aspen trees that stare back at you. The elevation reaches above 12,000 feet on this road, being one of the tallest roads in America. You will zig-zag around dangerous curves and stumble upon a wide open scenic view of lakes and streams. It almost feels like you’re flying in a plane. I would recommend driving through here in the summer because it can get really cold in the winter. SEE MORE PHOTOS

View A Map of this Road

2. Going to the Sun Road in Montana

When we climbed up the steep mountain road and saw the view. This road overlooks the 1,000,000 acres of Glacier National park and some of the most beautiful mountains you will ever see in America. There are even some surprises along the way as you drive along this 50 mile road. The spectacular views from high up in the mountains give you an in depth look into the story of how those massive Glaciers traveled north. This is a must see! –> MORE PHOTOS <–

View A Map of this Road

3. Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway in Utah

In order to drive through this road your vehicle will have to be measured so you can pass through the tunnel. And once you come out, you will be in awe of the mammoth rock walls looking down upon you like little ants. Why this is so amazing is because its as if they built a road in a place where a road could never be imagined. It reminded me a bit of Independence pass but with beautiful red and orange sandstone instead of forests. SEE MORE PHOTOS

View A Map of this Road

4. State Route 14 in New Mexico

This road is one of my biggest secrets. I’m sure you wont find many people talking about this place. It takes a certain level of appreciation to enjoy this place. Dont expect to see mountains and lush forests. This road goes through a beautiful expansive desert in New Mexico unlike anything I have ever seen. I loved this road so much because I’ve never experienced such pure isolation and silence. I didnt see a single human being for 4 hours. Born in New York City, you can see why I am so attracted to this.

On top of all that, it passed through a very small desert town of about 65 people named Claunch. I remember standing in the middle of the street, honking my horn just to meet a single human being, but no one responded.

See the story of Claunch for more photos

View a Map of this Road

5. Pacific Coast Highway in California

Its always a sunny day out. It just depends on which side of the clouds you’re on. I’ll never forget the feeling of driving slowly along this cliff overlooking the rocky beaches of Northern California. One moment you’re driving above the clouds and the next you’re descending below again. Plenty of sharp turns that will take you to some expansive views of the colorful coastline. You will also pass the famous Big Sur where you can take a hike to some secluded beaches with interesting geology. SEE MORE PHOTOS HERE

View A Map of this Road

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Welcome to Piano Across America!

Watch this trailer to see some of the Amazing events that occurred while traveling Across America with my Upright Piano.

Watch this trailer to see some of the Amazing events that occurred while traveling Across America with my Upright Piano.

  • Visited More than 60 Cities
  • Played on the streets of 36 Cities
  • 8 National Parks (Including Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Redwoods)
  • More than 25,000 Miles
  • 5 months of Travel
  • More than 10,000 people inspired!

Subscribe to Our Email Newsletter!

We send out an email every 2 weeks that includes new photos, stories, and update of what is to come next with Piano Across America. Thanks for Reading!

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