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The $2 Roadtrip

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 man2. 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 very 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 independent 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.

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.

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

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.