By: Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato
We are in the midst of summer, the height of touring season here in the US, throw some festivals on top of that and there is plenty of work to go around. In previous blogs, I talked about how to prepare for a tour from the technical side of things. For this blog, I am going to talk about preparing for your first tour from the practical side of things.
Before leaving home
Get yourself a passport, and if you have one make sure you have enough blank pages in it and it’s not about to expire. The last thing you want is to be in the middle of a tour and find out you can’t get into Canada (for example) because your passport is expired. Nor do you want to spend a day off at the consulate in a foreign country getting blank pages added to your passport.
If you are not already a member of the major airline’s frequent flier programs, now is the time to enroll. Racking up miles for free airline travel is one of the few perks of this job.
If you are going to be doing a tour that consists of a lot of air travel, you may want to consider enrolling in the TSA pre-check or Global Entry program. It is worth every penny.
What to pack
Pack only what you can carry yourself. You will be carrying your luggage around, in and out of airports, vans, buses, hotels, gigs, etc. You will regret over packing when you have to lug it up and down several flights of stairs a few times. If you are touring in a Van, space will be at a premium so keep that in mind. If you are doing a bus tour- the bus driver is not your personal sherpa, it’s not his job, nor anyone else’s to take care of your luggage, so again I stress- pack only what you can manage.
Do pack rain gear- especially if doing a lot of outdoor shows. A spare pair of shoes is always a good idea for those really muddy gigs. Other considerations- bug spray, and sunblock.
Winter touring– make sure you have proper attire for winter- gloves, hats, scarf, boots, etc. Ski pants are great for throwing on over your work clothes during load in and load out. Long underwear, wool socks if you get cold easily. Remember load-ins and outs happen in all kinds of weather- just because it’s 20° below zero and snowing doesn’t mean load out will be postponed….plan accordingly.
Remember to pack chargers for your phone, laptop, iPad, etc. Backup your computer hard drive! If you have a small external hard drive that you can carry with you, it’s a great idea to make a clone of your hard drive that is stored on your external drive. That way if the worst happens- your laptop gets stolen or dies, you will still have a bootable copy.
Shower shoes-for the days when you have to shower in cringe-worthy conditions.
Earplugs are great for sleeping on the bus, especially if you are a light sleeper, stock up.
Options for doing laundry are:
Sending it out with the runner to the local fluff and fold.
Doing it in the hotel, if they have self-service laundry facilities.
Going to the laundromat on your day off.
If you have a special diet- Vegan, Gluten Free, Seafood allergy, etc., you should alert the TM or PM as soon as possible, so thy can work it into the catering rider. If you have very specific dietary needs, your best bet is to do some grocery shopping on your day off to stock the bus with food you can eat. Since dietary restrictions are becoming more and more the norm, most larger tours will do their best to accommodate. However, on small tours where catering is pizza and subs, you can occasionally find yourself really having to forage for food. My advice is to try and keep a stash of viable options on the bus for those days when you happen to be working in a city that interprets vegan to be chicken, or the only gluten-free option is the iceberg lettuce and tomato salad. Power bars and trail mix are great snacks to keep in your bag especially when working a festival. There will be days when you simply don’t have time to go to catering.
Life on the bus or in the van
The key to everyone surviving a tour is consideration of your fellow band and crew who will be living in that tour bus or van with you. Not everyone wants to listen to the music on your iPad, or the movie you are watching, so make sure you have headphones. Don’t leave your shoes in the bus hallway, throw them in a junk bunk, closet, or drawer. Don’t leave your bags in the bus lounge. Your personal belongings should be in your bunk, a closet, or the junk bunk. Clean up after yourself; your mother isn’t here to pick up after you. Don’t slam the doors. Just because you are an early riser doesn’t mean that everyone else on the bus wants to wake up at the crack of dawn. Be mindful when you are moving through the bus, opening and shutting doors in the bunk area, kitchen, etc. Depending on the tour, smoking may or may not be permitted on the bus. If it is, it’s usually restricted to the back lounge or driver’s area.
Bus call- If you aren’t 15 minutes early, you are late. Everyone should be on the bus, ready to roll at bus call. If bus call is 8:00 am you should already be checked out of your hotel, incidentals paid, and luggage in the bay finished smoking your cigarettes, back from Starbucks, and sitting on the bus before 8 am.
While on that subject- most phones come with an alarm clock. Use it; it’s not the TM/PM or your fellow bus mate’s job to wake you up. We’re all adults out here. Get your butt up and ready to go on time.
No sleeping in the bus lounge. If you are tired, go to your bunk. The lounge is public space.
The bus thermostat– Wars have been waged over the temperature on the bus. If you are the type of person who is always cold, you should consider bringing something warm and cozy to sleep in. The general rule is to keep the bus temperature cold, around mid to high 60’s. There are several reasons for this: 1- you’ve got a lot of people living in a small, confined space. Colder temps keep the stink factor down and also help to keep people healthy. A bus that is too warm is like a rolling Petri dish, germs and bacteria just multiply and spread. When one person gets sick, it can spread like wildfire through the bus. I’ve been on tours where the band were all sick for weeks because they wanted their bus temperature to be a constant 74°. However we kept the icebox, I mean crew bus at 66°, and not one of the crew got sick.
The bathroom– The toilet is for LIQUIDS ONLY. No solids, No Paper in the bus toilet. I repeat NO SOLIDS IN THE BUS TOILET! If you bring guests on the bus, you MUST make sure they understand this rule before using the bus bathroom.
Guests on the bus– The bus is your home, and it is also home to your fellow crew/band. Do not leave guests unattended in the bus. You wouldn’t want to come home from work and find some strangers sitting in your living room, and neither do your fellow crew. Respect your fellow bus mates privacy, they live here too and they more than likely do not want to entertain your second cousin twice removed, while you run out and finish load out.
Bus stock– while we are on the subject of guests on the bus- the bus stock and after show food is for the crew/band who live on that bus. It is not for your guests. Granted there are times when bus food is bountiful, and there is more than enough to go around. But when you are on tour with a tight budget and there is only a case of beer and three pizzas to feed 12 hungry people after load out, there are going to be some heads rolling if those 11 other people get on the bus at the end of the night to find your guests have drunk half the beer and left one pizza.
ALWAYS, ALWAYS lock the bus and bay doors!
Things can get pretty congested in a van. You’re all living on top of each other, and it can get rather smelly so be kind to your fellow travelers, shower regularly and keep your stinky shoes in a bag in the back. Again- headphones for your music/video watching and a good pillow can help you be comfortable.
There’s also another side of touring
What to do in the downtime. Time on the bus, airports, van, or truck. Smartphones, iPads, and Kindles have made the downtime much more manageable. Plan ahead, fill up your laptop or iPad with all the movies and TV shows you’ve wanted to catch up on. Download the latest best sellers to your Kindle, brush up on your gaming skills, learn to meditate, whatever you can do to keep yourself entertained during the downtime. You may choose to spend it perfecting your ability to fall asleep anytime and anywhere or tearing through the latest season of Orange is the new black. It’s up to you but be prepared to have plenty of it.
Finally, enjoy yourself.
These are just a few of the rules of the road. I invite all of you seasoned road crew out there to chime in with your advice.