The most common mixtapes I make have always been travel mixes. Before I got my first car I travelled by long distance bus a lot. For 9 years I made on average one monthly return trip by bus during the winter, and I estimate that I made at least 4-5 travelling mixtapes a year during that time. After I moved away from Reykjavík and got a car I continued to make occasional mixtapes for the hour long drive to my parents’ home, and now that I again live in Reykjavík I visit them 4-5 times a year, 3 ½ hours away by car, plus I occasionally take long weekend pleasure drives during the summer, for each of which I make a new mix. I also make mixes for flights abroad. The only difference is that now I am making mixdiscs (and just recently, playlists) with mp3 files, so one disc can last all or most of a trip.
Not all of the mixes I made during my bus travelling days have survived, as I sometimes re-used the cassettes, but I have enough of them left to get a pretty good picture of my taste in music and how it has developed over the years. But enough nostalgia. Here is how I choose travelling music. I hope someone finds my method useful:
First I consider the nature of the journey:
Am I going by bus/train, aeroplane or private car?
Will I be travelling alone, with people I know or with strangers?
How long will the journey take?
If I am going by private car, will I be driving or will I be a passenger?
Then I choose the music:
I have two types of mixes for bus, train and air journeys. One type is a collection of music I want to listen to, while the other is music I can use to tune out my surroundings while I read or take a nap. If I read in a moving car or bus (I am fine on trains and planes) for more than 10 minutes I get motion sickness, but by putting on the earphones and playing music I am able to read without getting nauseous. When I travel by bus I am usually by myself and often when I fly, so I always bring a book to read on such journeys. Books and private stereos are a great way of avoiding getting forced into conversations with strangers without looking rude when you are not in the mood for talking. Combined they create a nearly impenetrable “leave me alone” shield around you.
If I am going by private car as a passenger or as a driver with passengers I know, I try to satisfy the musical tastes of the passengers and make a mix that for the most part will play in the background while we talk, with the occasional song that can be turned up on high for a sing-along or listening session. These are usually what could be termed “radio mixes”, i.e. a blend of new and recent hits and old favourites with no particular theme or genre, such as you might hear on a radio program where the host is trying to please every listener. If I have time I try to make them meld nicely, but if I am in a hurry I just slap together some songs I know will go down well. Whenever possible, I try to include some songs that somehow relate to the journey, e.g. songs about the type of travelling we are doing (wilderness travel, road trip, camping trip, etc.), and I try to use both relaxed and upbeat music.
For a journey with strangers when private listening would be rude (e.g. if someone is giving me a lift) I don’t make a mix. I did have some successes with making such “cold” mixes during my early school years when everyone pretty much liked the same music. Mostly it was a matter of balancing how many Wham! and how many Duran Duran songs you included in the mix, so as to keep both camps happy (see my previous post). Now I would rather spend the drive getting to know my co-travellers than inflicting my musical tastes on them.
When I have no one to think about but myself when I am travelling, I let it all hang out. I include novelty songs my family and friends don’t get (alas, not everyone appreciates the finer points of Weird Al), songs I would be embarrassed to admit that I like (like sappy love songs and Modern Talking tunes) and music I can sing along to. Sometimes I even add sound effects or movie sound clips (the one from Blues Brothers about the distance to Chicago and the sunglasses is a good starter for a driving mix, even if Chicago is not on the itinerary). Most of my driving mixes have strong rhythms and relatively fast tempos, intermixed with slower, more relaxed songs (never two in a row), and include music of various genres, like rock, punk, country, pop, folk, Indian movie music, Latin rhythms and electronic dance music that needs to be played loudly, i.e. songs selected in order to keep me alert.
For a listening travel mix (i.e. for when I’m not driving and don’t need to keep myself awake) I try to choose a mix of music that I want to listen to more closely, interspersed with old favourites.