Three years ago, I was summoned by my bandmate and partner in crime, to go on a tour around the East Coast with our band, Superhuman Happiness. It was my first time ever touring and I quickly realized even though I had traveled in the past, mostly for fun, this was going to be a completely different animal. I also had slightly different ideas of how to be comfortable on the road, where I was sardined into a Subaru full of gear (and my bros) . Luckily for me, I learned some things along the way that are sure to make any fresh faced gal’s touring experience a breeze! Here are my little tips of the trade for any budding music sisters going to tour for the first time.
A carry on suitcase. Pack light. I’m strong enough, and I’m sure you are too, but it pays to keep your stuff on the minimal side. For two weeks, or more I lived out of a carry-on sized suitcase. It’s going to get tossed around a lot and squished between gear, so the junkier the better. This lil’ guy is from Amazon.
A backpack or messenger bag. It is super helpful to have an extra set of hands. We are a small band with a lot of gear, so despite having no gear (as the vocalist), I was constantly helping my band members load in and out. The bag should be big enough to fit a laptop or things you would maybe want to swap out. I like something simple, like this one from Target.
A light colored wallet that you can zip. Being on tour is all about using items that are multipurpose. I love having a larger wallet that zips because if I leave my larger bag backstage, I can still carry the wallet with my phone, cash, and ID in it without fear of something happening to it. I’ve had my purse stolen in bars before, so I’m a stickler for this, especially on the road, where you may not be familiar with the scene.
Pro tip-Get wallets that are light colored, metallic or holographic because they’re easy to spot on the floor in dark spaces if you happen to drop it or misplace it. They’re also good if you’re just popping out to a rest stop right quick and don’t want to haul a big purse or bag. Here’s the one I like.
Big Headphones. Tired of listening to the van podcast? Snoring bandmate in the hotel room? Put your headphones on and get some sleep! Don’t remember that one line you’re supposed to play? Put your headphones on and listen to that shit! You’ve got a show to play! Now, because it is tour, and things often get lost, I recommend bringing a cheap pair of headphones that won’t completely ruin your day if you lose them. These JVC’s are around $20.
All of the phone chargers in the world. But seriously though, you should have two. A phone charger that lives in the car, and a regular one that you can plug inside. There will be a lot of dead time you’ll be filling in between gigs and you will NOT want to have a dead phone. Also super important when you need to set alarms for call times, or when your bandmates disappear into the night with some new friends. A portable phone brick is also a good idea if you want to be super prepared.
Sunglasses. It may seem obvious, but when you’re hungover, sleep deprived, and you have to drive four hours directly into the sun, you’ll thank yourself. Plus, the right ones will remind you that you’re living your childhood dreams of being a touring musician, and honestly, it’s the little things that will make a big difference in your personal morale. These cuties are from Etsy.
Hoodie. A big one. Good for layering in rainy weather. Good for keeping warm. Good for sleeping in the van. Why not grab one that has a brilliant message on it, like this beauty from TeePublic?
Large scarf. Venues are freezing. Rehearsal spaces are freezing. Guest rooms are usually cold and under-blanketed. Bring a scarf and you can save yourself some suffering. Here’s a fun, printed scarf from Yangtze.
*Pro tip- If you haven’t slept well, which is often the case on the road, hoodie, plus sunglasses, plus headphones means goodnight, folks! Try not to drool on your drummer, though.
Cashmere sweater. Cashmere’s super warm, light, and great for layering in winter or summer. I’m a big fan of the cashmere sweaters Uniqlo carries because the price point is affordable and the quality is pretty damn good. I’ve also noticed a lot of thrift stores carry a variety of cashmere goods if that’s more your vibe.
Flip-flops or slippers (or both). There are some places you will not want to be barefoot in, believe me. I usually bring both since they don’t take up much room. Flip-flops are good for unsavory shower situations you may encounter, and slippers are perfect for cold or dirty floors. I usually get my slippers in china town, since they’re cheap and easily replaceable. I would definitely splurge on these dragon slippers though!
Nasty boots or cute boots. I keep a pair of junky boots I’ve had for ages which I bring if I know we’re going to be playing a festival out in the woods or in a more rural area. The cute boots , on the other hand, join me if I’m sure we’ll only be performing in urban or suburban neighborhoods. I personally obsess over the boots at Vagabond. Their designs are walkable, fashion-forward, and have that sprinkle of goth I enjoy.
Towel. We once stayed at a friend’s place who was out of town. There was one towel and four of us who wanted to shower, so you do the math. I ended up drying myself with a cotton scarf I brought instead, but I learned my lesson. Towels are also a must for random swimming hole adventures, and double as a makeshift pillow. These gorgeous Turkish towels are on Etsy.
Swimsuit. There’s always a hot-tub, swimming pool, or a lake to be sussed out somewhere. Steam rooms are also an unusually common, ( and awesome ) amenity at some hotels. In my experience, it’s better to be prepared! Here’s a great one from Topshop.
Running shoes, a jump-rope, or a folding bike. You would think that sitting in a car for hours wouldn’t suck the life out of you, but it does. That mixed with the weird food you’ll be eating, and it’s a recipe for feeling like absolute garbage. You can wake up early and go on a run, jump-rope at rest stops, or bike around after sound check. Even if you scrap all that, you can still do dance or workout videos on youtube as long as you have the internet and your smartphone. Yoga is also a fantastic way to limber up before you plop down in the passenger’s side.
Vitamins, and probiotics. On the health tip, you’ll be in very close quarters with your people ( and those new fans you’ll shake hands with during showtime), so you’ll need to keep your immunity up. Personally, I take Vitamin C and D every day, and alternate probiotics and garlic supplements. I swear by RenewLife to keep my stomach from going insane with all of the odd things I end up eating at odd hours. Figure out what your body needs to feel good and bring it!
Your favorite tea or coffee ( and coffee filters). I really love a strong, black tea in the morning, since I don’t drink coffee and having my tea is my morning ritual and helps create my mental space for the day. Tazo’s Earl Grey Tea is my go-to (such lovely bergamont notes, dahhling). Harney and Sons is also one of my beloved tea companies, with packaging that makes a lady feel special.
A reusable water bottle or canteen. On a similar note, bring a water bottle you can refill. It’s crucial to be well hydrated and you won’t want to be contributing to the van’s trash situation ( or to your carbon footprint ). Plus, you’ll save money on buying water bottles every time you pull into a gas station.
10.) A toiletry bag specifically crafted for tour. I dedicated a bag for traveling that I know has everything I need in it, and I never take anything out. I bring my own soap and shampoo, because, again, being on the road even the smallest luxuries make a difference. You’ll want to bring the usuals: Deodorant. Hair bands. Migraine medication. Ibuprofen. Antihistamines. Safety pins. Bobby pins. Small Hairspray. Roll on fragrance (if you’re feeling fancy). Sewing kit. Feminine products and whatever birth-control you may use. Antibiotics ( just in case). Emergen-C ( never enough). Razor. Toothbrush. Small mouthwash. Small toothpaste. Tea tree oil. Natural bug repellent. Face moisturizer.
Pro-tip- Keep a smaller toiletry bag with bare necessities. I keep hand sanitizer, spare ear buds, lip balm, tissues, and a phone charger in mine. The tissues are crucial because a lot of grimier venues, bars, and rest stops will not have toilet paper and you will want to have something on hand to avoid air drying.
Makeup remover wipes. We played a Halloween show once in full face makeup. After a long drive and an even longer night, we realized we had nothing to take all of the makeup off of our faces. The cellist in the other band saw our predicament and saved the day with her face wipes, which we used in the parking lot. I like the Burt’s Bee’s cucumber scented ones because they smell amazing and they’re gentle on the skin. These are also good if you’ve played a sweaty show and want to feel fresh again.
Small spray bottle with lavender and peppermint oil in it. These oils are known to keep pests away from you. Spray down your bedding before you sleep and make sure you don’t bring home any unwanted friends from that gnarly motel.
Notebook. There’s so much downtime, it’s good to keep yourself busy journaling. Hopefully, you’ll have a lot of weird stories to detail and crazy anecdotes to tell. I personally adore big, blank Moleskine journals like these, that come in a three pack.
A great book. Again, downtime. Pick a good fiction that will keep you entertained and inspired. There will be plenty of quiet moments while you’re away, so it’s good to have something on hand. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Murakami is one of my go-to’s. I’ve read it three times now and it never gets old.
Spiritual accoutrements. At home, part of my morning ritual revolves around making offerings to my deities ( The Virgin Mary, Venus and others), as well as my ancestors. On the road, I bring a “mini altar” that includes a picture of St. Michael, a crystal or a stone I like, a stick of sage, and my tarot cards. I like to arrange these items wherever we are staying to give me a similar point of spiritual focus. The sage can be burned if you’re staying in an energetically funky place, or if you and your bandmates have just had a conflict. Being on the road can be tough, but bringing the mini altar helps me remember it is also a gift.
*pro tip- Even if you’re not religious, you can still make a mini altar out of items that you love and remind you of something good, or even some other inspirational musician ( hello, Bowie altar!) The point, again, is to keep your morale high and keep your energy focused on the task at hand!
So that’s what I’d recommend to you. Best of luck to you and your music endeavors. Happy touring!