Packing is probably the last thing you think of when you envision the life of a touring musician. So at this point you may be wondering why you’d even need travel tips for touring.
Believe it or not the time you spend on stage is only a small fraction of the time you’ll spend travelling and basically living out of a suitcase. You’ll actually need to do some strategic luggage planning if you hope to have any chance of being comfortable while you’re away from home.
Below I’ve listed my top travel tips for musicians. These are things I picked up while travelling all over the world doing live gigs in front of a wide variety of audiences in an even wider variety of settings. There are of course other things you could add but I’ve tried to stick with the tips that have had the greatest impact with the least amount of effort on my part.
Let’s dive in…
1. Only Pack What You Need
If I had a nickel for every time I packed way to much stuff whenever I’d go on tour I’d have a whole lot of nickels. It took me a while to figure out a solution but I now have a pretty smart, yet simple way to pack.
Before I’d basically go through my closet and grab everything I thought I might need.
“That’s a cool looking belt. I might just need it for one of those upcoming performances”
Then I saw a stylist do something that changed my whole approach and ended up significantly reducing the amount of luggage I travelled with. Here’s the simple method in a nutshell:
- Plan out a separate outfit for each show you’ll be performing in
- Creatively reuse items across multiple outfits (shoes, belts etc)
- Take pictures of each outfit. Be sure to include accessories like hats, shoes, belts, neckties as appropriate
- Pack simple outfits for non- show days
- Use packing cubes to help keep your suitcase(s) organized no matter how long the trip is.
Follow this simple approach and when you’re getting ready for a show you’ll simply have to refer to the pictures you took before the trip and pull the outfit you packed for that performance. Now you can spend more of your energy thinking about the show – not whether or not that shirt matches those shoes.
2. Have a Place for Everything
I touched briefly on the genius of packing cubes in the section above. They are excellent at keeping your suitcase really organised and defeating the dreaded “storm in a suitcase” that typically happens after the first couple of days of travel.
You can use them in whichever way works best for you. Pack full outfits (except shoes) in their own cube OR keep like items in each cube (so you’d have pants in one, shirts in another, underwear in another etc.)
In addition to this, and once you have a good feel for what you typically travel with, you can also make deliberate use of the compartments your luggage already has.
If you want to avoid panic attacks and cold sweats in the middle of an international airport terminal the best advice I can give you is to put your passport in the same spot EVERY TIME! This is not the time to get creative.
Whether it’s your wallet, passport or your home keys, designate a spot for them in your carry-on luggage that you always put these items. You literally need to have this down to the point where if your bag is placed in front of you in complete darkness you’d be able to find these 3 items in under 10 seconds without any problem.
It’s that important.
The same approach is useful for guitar picks, in-ear monitors, guitar strings and anything else you might to need to you know… do your job.
3. Plan Your Outfits Ahead of Time
I mentioned this briefly above but I think I should go into a little more detail.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a professional clothing stylist so please don’t take any of the following as professional fashion advice. I will not be held liable for any ridicule you receive from people seeing the outfits that result from these suggestion 🙂
You’ll basically need to plan out 2 types of outfits when going on tour: performance outfits and non-performance outfits.
The ideal scenario for this situation is to hire a professional stylist. A good one will be excellent at finding a style that fits your body type, complexion and overall demeanour while also matching the genre of music you’ll be performing.
If you have the money this is definitely an excellent investment. If money is tight then your next best option is fashion magazines. The models in these publications are dressed by professionals so this is a decent indirect way of benefitting from their expertise without having to pay their fee.
Of course the big drawback with this approach is that you don’t get the benefit of feedback. Even the pros will have to go through a couple of outfits before they find the ones that “work”.
Whichever path you take be sure to plan out a different outfit for each venue you’ll be performing at remembering to plan a separate outfit for any TV/radio appearances you might need to make. And yes, you need to dress for radio now because most stations stream live video.
Another major thing to consider when planning your outfits is the weather in the venue. Indoor venues are typically easier since they’re usually temperature controlled, but an outdoor venue will need a little more thought.
For outdoor events in cold climates you’ll need to layer up. You can’t afford to get sick in the middle of a tour. You’ll feel and sound terrible and your performance will suffer as a result.
At the opposite end of the weather spectrum, you definitely don’t want to overdress for a performance on a sunny beach. You’d be amazed how difficult it is to see when sweat starts running into your eyes.
Don’t even get me started on the embarrassment of feeling sweat in your pants and wondering whether it’s just sweat or something more pungent all while trying to sing your heart out in front of a captive audience.
BTW: The last thing you want to wear during a 2 hour show is a pair of leather pants – ask me how I know.
When you’re travelling between gigs or on days off you’ll obviously need to wear something. My advice here is to keep it as simple as possible. One of guys I used to tour with literally lived in white t-shirts on off-days. I’m sure it took no thought whatsoever for him to get ready.
I tend to stick with sweats simply because they require no ironing, take up a negligible amount of space in my bag and weigh practically nothing. I’m shocked that none of them have floated off into the atmosphere while I slept.
If you decide to go with sweats just be sure to stick with zippered pockets. Cash, keys and passports have an uncanny way of just sliding out of those things.
My favourite thing with sweats is that if I get caught off guard and have to do an impromptu interview, live performance or take a picture with a fan, I still look presentable enough to not look like I’m being cheap – I probably am but at least it doesn’t look that way 🙂
4. Don’t Buy Cheap Luggage
Here’s a lesson I learned the hard and expensive way.
Cheap luggage, like cheap recording equipment, usually falls into that all too familiar category known universally as:
“You get what you pay for”
I started out with cheap luggage because money was tight in the beginning. I quickly realised the error of my ways after a few international flights when my bags would come off the baggage carousel with a wheel missing (it only had 2 to begin with) or a ruined zipper or a broken handle.
“Not only was this embarrassing but unbelievably inconvenient. If you’ve ever dragged a wheel-less suitcase through an extremely large airport you’ll know exactly what I mean.”
When I finally took the plunge and spent $200 on a suitcase it turned out to be one of the best investments I’d ever made. The bags in this price range are typically built to withstand the ravages of travel and mine have really stood up well over the years.
Forget snow and rain, the biggest enemy of luggage is airport baggage handlers. Yea I said it! Of course it’s not all of them but I’ve looked out of plane windows just in time to see these guys throwing my bags like they have a personal vendetta against them. “Whatever my bags did they’re sorry ok!”
Only good quality bags will be able to stand up to this level of abuse and it’ll end up cheaper in the long run. How?
If you travel a lot, like touring musicians do, then you will go through a cheap bag every couple of months, probably even quicker. For the price you’ll pay for 3 or 4 of these bags you can get one decent quality one and it will last you for years.
So instead of spending $200 on 4 bags over the course of 2 months, you can literally buy one for that price, subject it to the same kind of abuse and have it for years. I’ve had the same bags for over a decade and they’ve probably seen more airports than most flight attendants – and they’re still going strong.
5. Leave Space for Shopping
Touring can be an amazing experience. You get to travel to places you would have never seen otherwise. You’ll encounter new cultures, food and beauty no travel show would ever be able to do justice.
You’ll also realise how unexposed most of us are to how the world actually is. Many of you (like me) will be shocked to discover that the centre of the universe actually isn’t located in your little corner of the globe. You’ll feel a little dunce but you’ll also be humbled and grateful for the experience.
One quick waning though, like it or not, no matter how thrifty you are, you’re going to shop. It’s a fact of life. The sooner you accept it the less stressful it will be. This will of course mean you’ll be going back home with more stuff than you left with so be sure to plan for this.
If your luggage allows it, pack a bag inside of your bag or do your best to keep your carry-on bag relatively empty. Souvenir items are very susceptible to theft (I’m looking at you evil baggage handlers).
One way I’ve found very useful to automatically creating space is to place my carry-on items into a backpack and then place the backpack into a rolling carry-on bag. If I do need the space I basically have an empty carry-on bag to use with the added benefit that I get to take in into the cabin.
Keep in mind that some airlines will take the bigger bag at the plane door. Curse you baggage handlers!
So there it is. You now know how to plan for that 3 week tour without incurring too much excessive or overweight charges.
Now over to you. Do you have any additional travel tips for musicians? Be sure to let me know in the comments section below