Many people have wondered how did we manage to survive having only one euro a day, constantly changing cities, and still had the money to buy ourselves some delicious toast bread and chocolate spread every other day. We hitchhiked and used couchsurfing but we needed money for food from time to time. How did we get the extra money? There were no mystical powers involved, we promise! The answer is actually really simple: we busked.
For those who don’t know what busking is: it is a street performance. It basically means, entertaining pedestrians in public places in exchange for goods, like money or food, and it really is an amazing way to make some money when you’re traveling and don’t have the time/ don’t want to settle in one place for too long.
The most amazing thing about it? It is you who chooses where to go, how you want to earn money, and for how long you want to do it! There are almost no limits when it comes to busking and all you need is a cool idea and some info you can find online.
We are, of course in no way experts on the topic, but we tried it out in a couple of places and will share all the knowledge we managed to gather (you can find our opinions on busking in many different cities under every post we make, so be sure to check it out!)
1. Is it legal?
Yes and No. Really, it depends in what country you are in and what kind of busking you do. In some countries you can come and do whatever you want with no trouble, others require a permit if you want to take up public space/play music; In some others it is very illegal and you might get in trouble. Be sure to always check the busking rules of the country you are planning to go to, but also remember not to get discouraged if the laws there are strict!
We actually had the chance to busk in many countries where it is not legal – we have never gotten in trouble. What we do is provide entertainment for free; we are not actually selling any services and people are welcome to give us money for it, but it is not obligatory. If you were, say, selling balloons to children for a fixed price, you would need a permit. But if you give out balloons for free and people give you money anyway, it is not actually 100% illegal 😉 We came across police a couple of times in different cities, but they always just passed us by, not really paying us any attention.
So remember, even if the law is against you, it doesn’t mean your busking adventure is over!
Still, keep in mind to be respectful, and if police comes, remain calm and talk with them or move to a different spot. Same goes for shop owners- sometimes they might not want you to sit next to their store and will ask you to leave. Keep calm and carry on a bit further away.
2. What should I do?
There is a lot of different things that you can do to busk, and really it all depends on what talents and materials you have! To do some of those you need more talent or materials, but others you will manage with just basic skills and equipment.
- Catchy slogans
What we did is, we sat in public places with simple “For food <3” written on a piece of cardboard, and just waited for the fortune to come our way. While we were unsure if we manage to make any money this way, it turned out to be surprisingly effective! The nicer you make your slogan the better, since people usually prefer something amusing; When we were in Brussels, we decided to busk in a park; There were many pokestops there, so it attracted many people with phones. Thinking quickly, we made our “POKEMON NEED FOOD” cardboard and it got us a lot of attention – people took photos of it and when asked about some change almost every time were willing to give us something.
Weight/space: Basically nothing, remember to bring a marker with you!
- Balloon animals
All you need is some balloons (that you can buy online before your trip), and a pump (or very strong lungs! While it certainly saves you space in your backpack, we would advise against it, since you can get light-headed very quickly). There are a bunch of tutorials on balloon animals on the internet, and we know a lot of shapes, but we definitely try to keep it simple when traveling – dogs and wiener-dogs are easy to make and loved by all kids; As long as you let them pick the color of the balloon, they always leave satisfied.
Balloons are very cheap when you buy a whole packet and can sell for even 5 euro each, depending on the client!
Weight/space: Basically nothing; pump takes a bit of space.
- Giant bubbles
The recipe for bubble water is very easy and we did our own sticks using a tutorial on the internet (we haven’t used them yet, since it’s winter ). It is a great fun for kids and it’s very easy to gain everyone’s attention with your beautiful creations. We’ve seen many people busk this way and we hope to also try it out on our next trip. Remember that in order to do this you need quite a bit of space, and a few things with you; traveling with all your equipment can sometimes be tiring.
Weight/space: You will need your sticks, a big bottle for the bubble water and some sort of bowl to pour it in, so it might be a bit cumbersome.
Something we never tried since we lack any form of musical talent, but we have friends who do it. It is easy to gain the tourists’ attention this way and if you travel with a ukulele or a harmonica it should not take up a lot of space. But not all people enjoy music and can sometimes call police on you. So be careful and respectful and try not to get in too much trouble.
weight/space: depends on the instrument you have; if it’s a harmonica, then it weights barely anything; if it’s a trombone, you might be in a pickle ; )
This takes a lot of skill that we don’t yet posses, so we haven’t tried it yet, while we try to get better in the privacy of our homes. If you are skilled enough you can really pull some amazing stunts and gain attention of crowds. But, it might be very tiring to your arms and legs, so remember to take breaks and keep hydrated.
weight/space: anything can become a juggling object if you try hard enough; if not, 3 balls can take up a small bit of space; juggling pins might take a lot more.
3. Where should I do it?
The places where you should busk in really depend on what kind of goods you are after and what technique you are using. Remember that sunny days, afternoons and weekends are the best conditions for busking– full of many tourists and people who are more willing to stop for you.
Remember that some techniques need more space but get people’s attention easier, like music or bubbles – then you can try open squares in front of tourist attractions. If you are sitting with a cardboard or selling balloons and it’s harder to notice you, try narrower but busy streets where a lot of people comes through.
If you are hungry and want some food, we would advise you to try out sitting in front of supermarkets. The people who walk into the store see you, and sometimes buy something just for you.
If you are more of a money person, there are many different locations you can try.
-Always try to stay close to public places with many tourists attractions, where a lot of people come by. Next to churches and stores, or open squares, fountains, parks
–Try to find a spot with many children but not too many children – That sounds creepy, but hear us out: If you make bubbles or balloon animals, your main source of income will come from the kids. Find a place where many of them are and where they are bored – like the streets or tourist attractions of the ‘boring’ kind, like churches, museums, or stores. If you go to a playground, all kids will run free and none of them will focus on you and your work – even if they do, the parents will be far away, sitting on some bench and will not feel compelled to give you any money, so you will basically entertain their children for free.
-If you are traveling from city to city, and don’t really have any city centre in sight, try busking on a petrol station. People will give you spare change, or coupons to use the toilet; some will even offer you a ride!
4. How much money will I get?
This one really depends on many different factors.
You need to take into consideration the weather, the hour, the day of the week, the country you are in, the place you are busking in, the technique you are using.
In some cities, we busked for a long time and did not earn anything; In others (like Stockholm and Amsterdam) we got a bunch of money in just a couple of hours!
We once got 130 euros in about 4 hours, another day we got 8 euros and an energy bar.
What you need to remember is that you need to be patient and see what works for you best. Find something you can do and is fun for you, and try to implement it into your traveling. For us, busking is just another incredible adventure to have while traveling and we cannot wait to do it again! It really helps us with our free travelling.