Whether you’re a musician, technician, front of house mixer or lighting professional, touring can be one of the most fulfilling experiences in the entertainment industry. Joining a tour gives you the opportunity to see new places, meet new people and build comradery with your crew – all while doing what you love at a high level.
However, touring can be a bumpy ride, especially when you’re new to it. Life on the road can present unique challenges, travel can be exhausting and complications can arise at any moment. In order to have a successful touring experience, you’ll need to come prepared, remain flexible, and keep your wits about you. I hope his article can provide helpful tips and strategies to ensure the smoothest ride possible.
What to Bring
Whether you’re climbing on a bus for a week-long string of dates or hopping planes on a marathon international tour, packing smart is the first step in preparing for a successful journey. In addition to travel essentials like a good suitcase, several changes of clothing, and whatever toiletries you need, check the list below for a variety of items that are useful to have while on tour.
- Neck pillow
- Designated shoes or slippers for the bus
- Flip-flops for showering at venues
- Small, flatten-able backpack
- Hand sanitizer
- Laundry supplies
- Umbrella (for rain or sun)
- Rain poncho
- Waterproof boots
- Bug spray
- Warm clothing
- Hand warmers
- Comfortable earphones or headphones
- Chargers for your phone, laptop, and/or tablet
- Backup chargers for all of your devices
- Portable battery bank
- Backup hard drive
- Universal power adapter
Health and Wellness
Touring can be intense and exhausting, but it shouldn’t come at a cost to your physical or mental health. Prioritize your well-being on the road, and you’ll thank yourself later. Simply keeping your normal routines, such as daily exercise, reading, or meditation, is a great way to start.
If you take any prescription medications, be sure to stock up well before tour and take precautions to make sure they don’t get lost or confiscated.
- If you normally fill your prescription monthly, ask your doctor or pharmacy for a 60- or 90-day supply instead.
- Always transport your medications in their original, labeled container whenever possible, or print out proof of your prescription to avoid any suspicion at airports or border crossings.
- Carry essential medications in more than one place, so you won’t lose your entire supply if some of your luggage goes missing.
It’s also a good idea to stock up on over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and supplements for tour. Common pain relievers, antihistamines, and other drugs are often available in travel-size packages, which you can get at almost any drug store, convenience store, or airport shop. Powdered Vitamin C is commonly sold in individual pouches, which you can easily mix with water on the go. It’s also not a bad idea to start taking probiotics a couple of weeks before tour – you never know how good or bad the catering will be.
You probably didn’t get into touring expecting a nice, cushy life, free of excitement. There’s an inherent level of risk involved in any tour, and many factors will be outside of your control. However, some common sense and a bit of extra caution will help you get home from even the most “exciting” tour in one piece.
Although the bus may start to feel like your second home, remember that it’s still a fast-moving vehicle surrounded by other fast-moving vehicles. Move about the cabin like you would on an airplane, and exercise extra caution when cooking or handling anything dangerous, like knives or glass bottles. Always sleep with your feet pointed toward the front so you don’t hit your head if the bus has to suddenly slow down or stop.
Tour Bus Etiquette
Tour buses aren’t known for being serene sanctuaries of contemplation, but they don’t have to feel like a traveling circus, either. Traveling with a crew is a lot like living with roommates—so be a good bus mate! If you take care of communal spaces, respect others’ privacy, and generally adhere to the golden rule, chances are good that you and your crew will be invited back.
Space is extremely limited on a tour bus, which means that clutter can accumulate quickly. Stop the mess before it starts by keeping your personal items in your bunk, locker, or other designated storage areas. Keep common areas clean and free of clutter like shoes, drinks, and trash as much as possible.
Many buses feature three distinct sections, each with their own purpose and etiquette:
- The front-most area typically contains a small kitchenette with a few seats for dining. This is the most high-traffic space, so try to use it only when necessary.
- The sleeping section in the middle houses the bunks and is usually closed off by sliding doors. Always keep noise levels down in here and be mindful of others’ privacy.
- The rear lounge features comfortable seating for relaxation and recreation. It’s generally fine to hang out here at any hour, but you should still be mindful of those sleeping in the next section.
When packing for fly dates, keep luggage size and weight in mind. Different airlines have different rules about luggage size, and they’ll usually make you check your bag if it won’t fit in the overhead compartments. Even if you pay to check your luggage, you may get charged extra if your suitcase is over the weight limit, which is typically 50 lbs. These rules aren’t as strict for bus travel, but you’ll still want to keep your luggage as small and light as possible for your own sake.
When you arrive at the airport, try to get through security and find your gate as soon as possible. Have your ticket, identification, passport, and any other documentation ready to go, and pack your luggage so that you can easily remove your electronics, liquids, and anything else that security needs to inspect. If you (or your production company) can afford it, sign up for a pre-screening program like TSA Pre-Check, Global Entry, or CLEAR to get through security even faster.
If your tour involves a combination of road travel and fly dates, pack a second, smaller suitcase in addition to your main luggage. This way, you can take the smaller suitcase with you for the fly dates instead of lugging around things you won’t need for a few days anyway. You can leave your main suitcase on the bus or in the truck, but be sure to keep your passport with you at all times!
Some of the most exciting tours are the ones that take you to foreign countries. But international travel can be full of complications, from delays and schedule changes to jet lag and language barriers. Whether you’re crossing the nearest border or flying overseas, preparation is extra important for international travel.
The US and many other countries require vaccinations for international travel, so be sure to make an appointment to get your shots, well before tour. Depending on how you feel about needles, this may be a minor inconvenience or a significant hurdle but either way, it’s better than bringing home a virus or disease.
Any time you travel to another country, make sure your bank or financial institution knows you’re going. If they see activity on your account far from home and they don’t know it’s you, they’ll probably block the transaction, and you may have to spend hours on the phone to set things right.
Even on the road, technology is inescapable in today’s world. It’s vital to stay connected, so you’ll probably be bringing a laptop or tablet with you. Double-check if you have a protection plan in case of damage or loss, and if you don’t – get one! You’ll also want to set up a password if you haven’t already, and set your gadgets to sleep or lock when you’re away for more than a few minutes.
Before you head out on the road, check your data plan to see what your limits are, and how much extra data might cost you. To reduce your data consumption, use Wi-Fi wherever possible (hopefully your bus or plane is equipped with WiFi) and download any important information for offline use.
Finally, load up your smartphone or tablet with some of these helpful utility apps:
- GPS and mapping apps like Google Maps and Waze make getting around in unfamiliar places a lot easier. You can easily find directions to and from anywhere, search for stores and restaurants or mark your favorite places to revisit next time.
- Communication apps like Zoom, Skype or FaceTime help you stay in touch with friends and family back home without paying ridiculous long-distance fees. Use encrypted messaging apps like Signal and WhatsApp to protect your information even if your phone gets lost or stolen.
- Translation apps like Google Translate are indispensable for international tours. If you don’t speak the local language, you can simply type out what you want to say, or even use your camera to quickly decipher signs and menus.
- Currency Converter apps like Currency are another essential for international touring. Knowing what the local prices equal in your own currency can help you find the best deals and avoid overspending.
Unlike on a short vacation, you’ll probably have to do laundry at some point during longer tours. You might be lucky enough to stay in hotels with laundry service or have runners to take the crew’s laundry to a laundromat. If that’s not the case, you may be able to use a laundry machine in the wardrobe area of a venue. No matter what, make sure your laundry bag has your name and contact info on it.
If you do end up having to do your own laundry on tour, pack some single-use detergent pods to make your life a little easier (and pack them in a resealable plastic bag in case of leaks). It’s always a good idea to keep an envelope containing cash and coins with your laundry supplies in case you have to pay for laundry.
Since laundry machines can be few and far between on tour, the whole crew will likely be trying to wash their clothes at the same time and place. Be considerate and put your laundry bag “in line” to be washed, then check back every so often until it’s your turn. To speed things up for everyone else, set a timer on your phone for the wash and dry cycles, and get your clothes in and out as quickly as possible.
Enjoy the Ride
Touring is hard work, and you’ll probably need some time to recharge in your bunk or hotel room, but try to take advantage of the fact that your job takes you to far-off locales (whether that means New Guinea or New Jersey). When you’re out playing tourist in an exciting new city or taking in the local scenery, you might even forget that you’re at your job.
I hope this article has been helpful to you but also invite you to view my full recorded Martin Learning Session webinar: ‘Touring 101 – The Nuts and Bolts of Touring’ as well as my previous Learning Session: ‘Lighting Workshop 101 Quick Tips & Tricks of Programming’.
We also invite you to view all of our upcoming Martin Learning Sessions and our recorded Martin Learning Sessions Playlist. Our complete audio, video and lighting Learning Sessions Calendar and our library of all recorded learning sessions is available as well.