You did it. You’ve secured the gig. Now it’s getting close and it’s time to get your life in order, pack your bags, and set out on the open road. But this isn’t like a vacation. Swimsuits and beach towels aren’t gonna cut it here. After more than a decade on the road, I’ve mastered the art of being prepared on a personal level. This is The Complete Guide To Packing For Tour.
You’ve seen those memes where people make fun of the fact that people pack as if they plan on shitting themselves twice, every day. Although that might have truth to it if you’re traveling to places where you can’t drink the water without catching a parasite, that’s not what we’re gonna focus on here.
It’s important here to focus on what sized tour you’re on/how you’re traveling. That’s the only way to make sense of this. Your method of transportation dictates how you pack. Let’s break this down as such.
- Van Touring
- Bus Touring
- Airplane Touring (all fly dates)
Before we get too deep into making a checklist for what you need, know that there are only 2 items that you absolutely cannot get by without. If you have your passport and your phone, anything else can be purchased on the road (make sure you back up to a cloud in case your phone goes missing too). These are the only 2 things you need to hit the ground running. They’re the no-brainers and on every list, regardless if they’re written down or not. As we all know, accidents happen. Your phone and passport can be replaced on the move as well. But your life will be substantially more difficult without them. They’re the “Show Stoppers”.
12 Day Rule
I stick to a “12-day rule”. This means I can go 12 days without doing laundry. That’s 12x T-shirts, underwear, and socks (the important stuff). Pants, jeans, sweaters, and overshirts are not included in this rule since they can be worn for multiple days, (or full tours if you ride a little dirtier). Also, side note, Who the fuck came up with the idea to turn your dirty underwear inside out to wear them again? Doesn’t that just make your pants dirtier? Swap your underwear for a clean set (undershirt, underwear, and socks) EVERY day.
I didn’t know these were called cubes. Since, well… they aren’t shaped like cubes. But I started doing this years ago and it changed my life. Compartmentalizing your bag will not only save you space, but it will save you time when looking for individual items. Plus, you don’t make a mess of your pack when you need something from the bottom.
Time of Year
As expected, this will determine a lot of factors when packing. You’re gonna need a good coat if you’re dealing with the cold and snow. Likely boots as well. If you have space in your method of transpo, by all means, go crazy. If not, plan to have 1 bag, plus whatever you can wear on your person at once.
Look, I go heavy on toiletries. I have sensitive skin and can’t use shitty hotel soap or shampoo or my skin will be flaking like Goldmember in a matter of days. On every tour I bring: Liquid soap with a loofa, shampoo, conditioner, hair product, deodorant, face moisturizer, cologne, toothpaste, and floss picks. No matter what. See below for how I pull it off.
Look, I’m not perfect, I go heavy on shoes as well. But the chances of me wandering a mall on a day off and coming back with at least 1 pair of shoes is something I expect every tour. I plan accordingly. I bring 1 pair of shoes, 1 pair of boots (if it’s winter), Slides for the bus or walking around in the hotels, and shower slides for obvious reasons.
Now… Let’s break it down to see how your method of transportation dictates how you pack.
Pack For Van Touring
I’ve spent my fair share of time driving around multiple continents in a variety of vans. Something that has never been said in a van is, “There’s too much space in here”. Touch base with the Tour Manager ahead of time to see if there’s space for luggage. If not, a duffel bag is gonna have to suffice. I have a medium-sized rolling suitcase that I like to use on van tours. It’s arguably the same size as a larger duffel and with a hard shell, so it can be packed in the back and stacked accordingly.
I’ll roll this bag in and out of hotels while trying not to bring it into the venue unless I’m using the venue shower. Hopefully, if you’re in a van, you at least have a hotel to shower at.
Pack For Bus Touring
On an average year, (i.e. when the world isn’t shut down by a global pandemic) I spend more time on a bus than I do at home. 50/50 on a slower year. At that point it’s not just how I travel, it’s how I live. As a TM, I have enough shit to think about. My personal stuff can’t get in the way. I bring 1x Large Suitcase and 1x small duffel bag.
Why 2 bags?
I’ve been through lots of luggage. They’re always getting destroyed. It’s an occupational hazard. I use this luggage from Heys. It has a hard shell for durability, TSA locking latches for security, 4 wheels so I can stack on it when I’m on the move, and it’s made from recycled water bottles. So far it’s held the test of time, but it’s only been out for like 9 months of hard touring before covid, and a few tours since. I use this bag like a warehouse by leaving it in the bay of the bus full of clothes and extra toiletries to pull from and fill up my duffel.
I use a duffel bag as a smaller in/out bag. It’s much easier to throw my NorthFace Base Camp bag over my shoulder when I’m going into the venue to shower and it gives me a few of everything I need. Plus easy access to it since it’s small enough to live in a junk bunk.
I fill this bag up on days off in hotels. I swap the dirty clothes with enough clean clothes to get me until the next day off (plus 1 spare of everything).
Personally, I like to buy full-sized toiletries and fill up the reusables. If I’m on tour for 2 months, the chances of me needing to fill up often are very likely. I keep the full-sized bottles in my large luggage and reusable travel-sized bottles in my toiletry bag in my duffel.
Pack For Airplane Touring (All Fly Dates)
This is my favorite way to tour. If you’re flying everywhere, chances are you’re staying in hotels every night. I sleep like shit on the bus and if I’m not doing audio, I’m not worried about my ears popping, (or not popping). To be honest, I don’t mind the airport, never mind hate it like lots of others. Luckily, I have status and Nexus (TSA Pre) which makes check-ins and killing time at the airport easier.
That being said, it presents its own difficulties. You either have to pack small enough to carry on or trust the airline to not destroy or lose your bags. Checking bags also restricts changing flights on the fly. “We’re oversold, people willing to take the next flight will receive a voucher” is all too common. If you don’t have bags and aren’t in a rush on a travel day, why not, right? The same situation applies if you’re at the airport early and have the opportunity to fly standby. You can’t switch plans fast if you have checked bags.
I don’t do that tho. I wish I did… Generally, I have my backpack and my work-related stuff as carry-ons. Sometimes even a pelican with a mobile printer. If I’m flying, chances are our gear is rolling in a truck. I’ll leave my suitcase on the truck and treat it like the bay of the bus. Then if I’m lucky enough to only have my backpack and my carry-on duffel for one of the trips, I can breeze through and get to the hotel on the other end as fast as possible.
Like I say, the method of transport dictates how you pack for a tour. If you’re in a tight van, you might need to be in a duffel bag. If you’re on a bus, you might be in full-sized luggage. Lastly, if you’re in the air for the whole tour, the lighter the better might be your best bet. But sticking to the general rules above will get you rolling and you can make adjustments to meet your personal preferences from there.
Now here’s the most important part of this article. Download links to my very own checklist so you can have your personal life dialed and leave your brainpower to something that you can’t control. If the downloads don’t work, email me at [email protected]