While ukuleles are much more portable than a tuba, there are still a lot of things to consider when choosing the best travel ukulele. Size, materials, and durability can all be a deal-maker or -breaker when you’re taking your ukulele on the road. Whether you need something that can fit into tight spaces or withstand the toughest elements, here’s a guide to help you find the best travel ukulele for your needs!
Kala Travel Concert Ukulele
Summary: A thin uke with a thick sound
Best for: Someone who needs a slimmer, but still acoustic, travel ukulele
Kala’s travel ukuleles can take some getting used to. They’re the same length as a normal ukulele, but the body has been streamlined into a thin profile. This makes it easier to fit into tight places, but also means you’ll have to adapt your hold on the ukulele. Luckily, it still feels comfortable.
It’s quite remarkable how well this ukulele projects given the much slimmer profile. The tone is definitely a bit thinner and less bass-y than a normal-bodied ukulele, but the differences are not very noticeable. This ukulele would be able to hold its own in a small to mid-sized jam, or even playing outside in a less busy area. The solid spruce top and NuBone nut and saddle definitely help with the volume and tone. The laminate mahogany back and sides have a beautiful grain, and the finish on the ukulele is beautiful. Really, it looks and feels like someone took a well-built Kala and squashed it a bit!
Speaking of squashing, while this is the best sounding travel ukulele on the list, it’s still made of wood like any normal uke. You’ll need to make sure not to pile anything on top of it, and watch out for significant changes in climate. Still, the improved sound over hardier travel ukuleles more than makes up for any lack of durability.
The Kala Travel series has a variety of different options available, and also comes in soprano, tenor, and baritone sizes. There’s a cutaway version of the concert and tenor, and acoustic-electric versions as well. Whatever you want or need in a travel ukulele, one of the Kalas might be the best option for you.
- Slim profile
- Great volume
- Not as durable as other travel ukuleles
EleUke Peanut Electric Ukulele
Summary: A slim profile ukulele perfect for travel or practice
Best for: Someone who needs the absolute smallest regular-scale travel ukulele you can get
The EleUke Peanut combines a solid body with a soprano size for maximum portability. Its body is shaped like (what else?) a peanut, and is incredibly slim. In fact, even at its widest it’s not that much wider than the neck! It will easily fit in a backpack or carry-on bag, and takes up very little room. That small size does make it a little more awkward to hold, but the included strap helps minimize any problems.
As a solid-body electric ukulele, the EleUke is almost silent when it’s not plugged into an amp. This can be a very good thing if you don’t want to disturb the people around you. But if you want to be able to hear yourself, the EleUke has an 1/8″ headphone jack. It also has the ability to connect to your smartphone via bluetooth, so you can play along with your favorite songs. Connecting is quite easy, and the audio from the bluetooth is blended nicely with the sound from the ukulele. This is all powered by an internal battery, which lasts for up to 10 hours of playing time and can be recharged through the USB charging port.
The EleUke sounds good through headphones or an amp, although the tone can be a little muddier than other electric ukuleles. It also distorts a little too easily. Lighter strumming is key to getting the best sound, and fingerpicking sounds particularly nice. The tone definitely doesn’t match that of a traditional acoustic ukulele, but it sounds great with effects pedals or a bit of distortion.
- Slim profile
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Sound distorts easily
Summary: A well-built ukulele with an innovative design that packs down small
Best for: Someone who wants to travel with a full-sized ukulele without the bulk
The Enya X1 series includes soprano, pineapple, concert, tenor, and baritone ukuleles, all made out of a material called “high-pressure laminate” or HPL. Believe it or not, HPL is the same material used in Formica countertops! It’s become quite popular in ukuleles, and has many similar tonal properties to wood. Unlike wood, though, it’s impervious to changes in temperature or humidity, making it perfect for travel. HPL doesn’t quite project in the same way as wood, so these ukes are little quieter than similar wooden ukuleles. But the tradeoff in volume is small, and comes with a big increase in ruggedness.
The real innovation on the Enya X1 ukuleles, though, is the removable neck. That’s right: using an included Allen wrench, you can unscrew the neck from the body. This makes it unbelievably packable for travel. Even the baritone will fit into a carry-on bag, and the soprano will even fit in a larger women’s handbag! Packing and unpacking is easy; just slack the strings, unbolt the neck, re-bolt the neck, and tune back up. Just watch out for the bridge, which isn’t fixed and will fall out without the tension of the strings to hold it in place. I spent 30 minutes digging through my bag the first time I packed my Enya baritone, so now I take the bridge out and keep it in a zippered pocket whenever I travel.
Besides the removable neck, the Enya X1 ukuleles are remarkably well-designed. They have a lot of higher-end features like radiused fretboards, compensated bridges, and slotted headstocks (on concert and larger ukes). For the price, it’s hard to find a better-finished ukulele by any brand. They also come with a bunch of accessories, including a very well-made gig bag and a clip-on tuner.
- HPL body impervious to climate changes
- Detachable necks packs down small
- Softer than wooden ukuleles of similar size
BugsGear Soprano Ukulele
Summary: An all-plastic ukulele that still sounds great
Best for: Someone who needs their travel ukulele to be completely waterproof
The BugsGear soprano ukulele definitely looks different from most ukuleles. Brightly colored and featuring an offset soundhole and cutaway, it’s sure to turn some heads. But the big difference from normal ukes is what it’s made of: ABS plastic. The entire ukulele is plastic, meaning you can dunk this in water, empty it out, and play it without damage. Try doing that with a wooden ukulele! This makes it the best travel ukulele for anyone who spends time around water.
ABS plastic isn’t quite as resonant as even laminate wood, and both tone and volume suffers a bit on all-plastic ukuleles. Similar ukuleles like the Kala Waterman and the Woodi have been described as “tupperware with strings.” However, BugsGear has worked around this by making the body of their ukulele deeper than the standard soprano. While it doesn’t have the same sustain or rich tone that a wooden uke does, this uke definitely has volume. Like many sopranos, it’s particularly nice when it’s tuned up to “D” tuning, a step above the standard GCEA.
One issue to be aware of is that ABS plastic is more sensitive to heat than wood is. That combined with the tension caused by the strings will cause the neck to warp if you leave it in the car on a warm day. I’ve had this happen to me with ABS ukuleles, and it’s very hard to get the neck back to the proper shape. Make sure to keep this in a cooler spot and out of direct sunlight if you do have to keep it in the car.
- Neck will warp in heat
- Thinner tone
Magic Fluke Flea Ukulele
Summary: A ukulele with a nontraditional shape but a wonderful tone
Best for: Someone who wants their travel ukulele to sound as fun as it looks
Magic Fluke is a company based out of Western Massachusetts that builds all of its ukuleles in the USA. They definitely don’t look like normal ukes, and have a lot of non-traditional features and options. The Flea has a boat-shaped body and comes in a soprano size, although you can also get it with the scale length of a concert ukulele. The reason it’s so great for travel is its molded plastic back and sides. Like the plastic of the BugsGear or the HPL on the Enya X1 series, this makes it much more impervious to changes in climate. But unlike those two, it has a real wooden top, giving it an edge on tone and volume.
In fact, the Flea has plenty of both, and sounds as good or better as similarly priced all-wood ukuleles. Part of that is down to the innovative design, which may not look traditional but certainly sounds it. Intonation is spot-on up and down the fretboard, which is molded like the body out of polycarbonate plastic. People who have played the Flea for a long time sometimes do note more wear to the fretboard than normal metal-fret ukes. If that happens, you can always get it replaced by the Magic Fluke Company. Unlike most new ukuleles in its price range, the Flea has friction rather than geared tuners. These work quite well, but may need a tighten out of the box. Overall, many aspects of the Flea’s design come down to personal preference, with some lovers and some haters out there. The sound, however, is undeniably great.
- Plastic body and wooden top combine for great projection and durability
- Excellent intonation and setup
- Plastic fretboard may wear down over time