One of the toughest things for a touring musician to do is pack light, but still feel relatively prepared for the unexpected.
On any given tour, you’re likely to encounter inclement weather, illness, jet lag, stinky stages and green rooms, bad cheap food, and in the worst-case scenario: a broken-down vehicle.
All of that is, of course, on top of instruments breaking, pedals shorting out, drum skins tearing, cables buzzing, amp tubes blowing, etc. In other words, you can never be too prepared for what disasters lay ahead.
But in my experience, I’ve found that sometimes the most unexpected items can come to the rescue. After every tour is over, I usually discover something new that could’ve helped or made my life more comfortable along the way.
So to save you the trouble of figuring these things out the hard way, here’s a list of essential items that will make your touring experience much more enjoyable.
1. Laundry bag and detergent
Keeping your clothes clean and organized on the road is super important—and the bigger the stage, the bigger the jumbotron projecting your stained, wrinkled shirt to the entire audience—so having a laundry bag in your luggage to remind you to was every now and then is a convenient way to stay on top of it.
Keep your dirty clothes separate from your clean clothes. And if you bring your own detergent, it’ll streamline the process and keep your costs down when you only have a few hours of downtime before your next gig.
Touring can be fairly hard on your feet. People don’t always prepare for this, but at the end of a long tour, you feel it! Whether you're walking around with heavy gear, or sitting on a plane or bus for hours. Wearing slippers is a great way to keep your feet comfortable on long travel days, and to give them a much-needed break after a show.
3. Scented candles or incense
If you already use scented candles or incense at home, bringing them on the road will help you make any environment you encounter feel like home; which in turn will help curb anxiety and exhaustion. And yes, candles and incense can also definitely be used to mask the smell of aggressively stinky green rooms.
Although one of the coolest parts of touring is trying out different regional foods, sometimes it’s hard to predict when you’ll feel extremely hungry between stops. Some healthy, energy-providing snacks that I like to pack are: granola bars, grapes, almonds, yogourt, and berries.
5. Reusable water bottle
Packing a reusable water bottle helps make hydration constant and super convenient. Reusable water bottles are sturdier than plastic water bottles, more environmentally friendly, and if yours is insulated, it will keep your water tasting fresh and cool for longer.
6. Travel clothes
Being comfortable on long flights or van rides starts with your clothing. Light breathable shoes, pants, and jackets are essential for making long travel days bearable. Light travel clothing can also come in handy at airline security check-ins because they usually do not trigger metal detectors as frequently as belts, jackets, boots, and jeans.
Some years ago, I was on tour with a band that got booked at hotels and motels that almost all had pools or jacuzzis, and I forgot to bring my swimsuit. So I couldn’t partake. I have never made that mistake again! Be prepared and always bring a swimsuit in case there’s some downtime to visit a beach or pool—you won’t regret it.
8. Book or Kindle
On most tours, the downtime will fall between soundcheck and set time, or when you’re sitting in a vehicle on a travel day. It's good to keep your mind active during these hours, and not sit around scrolling through your phone. Read a book!
9. Eye mask, earplugs, and/or noise-canceling headphones
Having an eye mask and earplugs are a must for me when I fly. They make it very easy for me to sleep, and even just sit in silence for a few hours. If you like to listen to music on a plane, noise-canceling headphones are a great way to block out noise and hear your music clearly in noisy environments.
10. Meditation app or ambient music
Using a meditation app or a playlist of ambient music can help you relax on stressful days, and help you fall asleep. I’ve found that listening to ambient sounds can help long drives go by faster, because my mind is calm and not thinking about how much longer until our destination.
Whenever traveling across time zones, jet lag and general tiredness is something with which musicians always have to deal. In most cases, jet lag will deregulate your circadian rhythm but in extreme cases, you might not be able to sleep at all. Melatonin is a supplement that can really help you get back to a normal sleep schedule.
12. Travel pillow and blanket.
Have I mentioned how important it is to stay comfortable when traveling? Take a small pillow and blanket with you. If your band can’t agree about what temperature the van should be, you’ll be prepared no matter what with a blanket, and travel pillows are great for keeping your neck and shoulders from getting sore if you tend to fall asleep in awkward positions.
Cold medicine, painkillers, allergy medicine, sunscreen; better to have these items than suffer the consequences. Even if you don’t not use any or all of the items you take along with you, there will always be someone with a headache or cat allergy who’ll be very thankful. Pay it forward, doc.
14. External batteries for your electronics
One of the most important purchases I’ve made in the last year was an external battery. This has been a real game-changer, because it allows me to keep my phone at a decent charge level at all times, without relying on an outlet.
15. Packing squares
I struggled for years to pack clothing in my suitcase and keep track of everything; the day I discovered packing squares, my life was forever changed. Packing squares are simply the best way to keep your luggage compact and organized throughout a tour. I tend to separate my shirts, pants, underwear, and socks in individual squares so that I can pull things out as needed without disrupting the other items.
Being prepared for weather seems like an obvious packing consideration, but too often umbrellas are overlooked. Get a lightweight one for easy luggage integration.
As with most things in the world of being a music professional, preparing for the unexpected is essential. I hope packing these items will make a difference on your next tour. Leave a comment and tell us your favorite unexpected rescue items!
Efajemue Etoroma, Jr. is a Los Angeles-based drummer, producer, and educator who is known for his stylistic versatility, expressive creativity, and his deep musical instincts. Efajemue performs and/or records with a variety of artists including Moonchild, Common Souls, Erin O'Neill and Zephyr Avalon. www.efajemue.bandcamp.com
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