Going on tour with your band will be one of the most magical and life-changing experiences you'll ever have. Hopping from city to city, meeting new people, playing music, and forming unbreakable bonds with your best friends while sitting in a basement bar in Pittsburgh eating $2 pierogies at midnight—these are the stories you'll tell future generations in years to come. But, of course, there's also the reality that the van will start to permanently smell like farts on day three and giving yourself a sink bath at truck stops is not, in fact, glamourous.
In other words, there are highs and lows when it comes to tour life, but as long as you're prepared for it all, it's one of the best adventures you'll ever have. Because being stuck in smelly, moldy, sticky, and just downright dirty vans for countless hours with your band while crossing borders, eating gas station hot dogs, and listening to the same Bruce Springsteen cassette for hours because the CD player broke is actually goddamn great. It may not be how you pictured playing shows across America with your band and you may have to sleep in your cousin’s friend's basement, but you’re living breathing proof that, well, you rule.
Whether you’re tackling a four-week U.S. tour or just hitting the road for a few out-of-town shows, here’s a guide to having your goddamn cake and eating it too—or, at least, like, being a somewhat presentable, decent human being while traveling in your 15-passenger home on wheels.
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Five Essentials to Keep You Clean (or Close Enough) Five things that I can’t tour without are: toothpaste, soap, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and lipstick. I know, you’re thinking: Lipstick? But lipstick is something that makes me utterly happy. I could be wearing the same clothes for five days straight, but a swipe of lipstick instantly makes me feel better (and somewhat more put together). One of my favorite, and extremely budget friendly, finds is a $2 matte lipstick, Megalast Wet N Wild. They come in more than a handful of nicely pigmented colors and can be found in just about any U.S. drugstore, but, most importantly, they stay put and don’t rub off on the microphone.
If you’re like me, you’ll probably lose your toothbrush halfway through touring, but not your toothpaste if you get one of those beautiful little tubes by Marvis. I will guard them with my life! I buy them for touring because that's when I like picking something a little nicer than I would use at home (typically I'm a Tom’s girl). I think the Jasmine Mint is my favorite flavor because it has hints of floral and mint. (Related and very real question: Can a toothpaste be decadent?) Marvis is a bit of a splurge, but it’s the little things that help you maintain control of your everyday routine despite being in a different city every day.
My soap choice, though, is pretty standard: Dr. Bronner's. It’s affordable, comes in a variety of fragrances and sizes, plus it can be used for just about anything, from body soap to laundry detergent or even getting that weird stain out of the van bench someone just “left."
Toilet paper and hand sanitizer are pretty straight forward. You use one after the other sometimes. They may not be pretty, but they keep you from smelling like poo nonetheless.
Tour Closet When I'm home, I like to either dress extremely insane or pretty simple. It all depends on my mood. But when I'm on tour, it's impossible to know if I will feel like wearing blush pink next Tuesday or not, and I probably won’t care either because I'M ON FREAKING TOUR!
All I—and you—need on tour are interesting tops or band T-shirts, cotton or otherwise breathable dresses, a pair of jeans or two, a skirt, leggings or tights, a leather jacket, and a couple pairs of shoes. Don’t bring your great aunt’s silk vintage dress from 1962 even if it’s your favorite thing ever. It may get week-old hummus dropped on it. Or, worse, you could potentially lose it. It should be an unwritten note in your head that everything you bring with you on tour may get lost at some point. I remember on a stretch from Austin to Los Angeles, on my way to play a punk fest called Sound & Fury, I thought it was a great idea to bring a designer pair of sunglasses with me. Guess what? I lost them. RIP Miu Miu sunglasses, I hardly knew thee.
Don't Get Scurvy Okay so, I am not even sure people still get scurvy—maybe? But at any rate, don’t get it. Grocery stores are like heaven. Stop at them any chance you get. I know the $1 hot dog and bag of gas station chips is easy and fast, but they won’t give you much energy to kill it on stage. If you take a bag with any sort of pocket on it, fill it with food bars. My favorite are Mojo bars; they have bits of chocolate and coconut in them, making me feel fancy when I eat them. Split a case of them with your bandmates and thank me later. There’s nothing worse than trying to navigate a new town you’ve never been to while hangry—trust me.
But just eating meal bars won’t cut it. If you’re a human, your body will crave fruits and vegetables, but you're unlikely to find a co-op salad bar in the middle of nowhere. Go to the grocery store and buy a bag of greens, oil, vinegar, and whatever veggies or fruits you want. Open your bag of greens, dump in your veggies and fruits, add oil and vinegar, and shake that shit. Voila, you got a salad and plus you probably saved a few bucks. Some other favorites that don’t make you feel like human garbage include baby carrots, sunflower seeds, and nuts. This goes without saying, but bring a reusable water bottle or your van will quickly become filled with half-finished bottles of liquid that will promptly spill all over everyone’s bags and gear.
Love It or Leave It I am a person that requires a lot of recharge and alone time in order to be social. I’ve come to terms with the fact that this is how I am and I try not to force myself to do otherwise. Maybe you’re like me or maybe you have a different set of needs. Whatever they may be, do you and, do you first. You have to realize you will be stuck in a van with other humans for the majority of your days while on tour, but that doesn’t mean you need to be social all the damn time. The important thing is to remain true to what your needs are and how to maintain that. Don’t feel like drinking? You don’t have to. Want to take a walk by yourself? Do it. Feel like reading a book from cover to cover while driving to your next show? Crack it open. Don’t be afraid to let go and be yourself. For me, that’s listening to music, reading books, and doing crossword puzzles. For others, it’s long conversations and road games. Your bandmates will see you at your best and worst. It’s maintaining a balance that is healthy for everyone. After all, they’ll be kinda like family after this.
P.S. Remember, we’re all a little annoying sometimes. Even you. Especially your bandmates.
Other Tour Tips
Stock up on your favorite masks and take them with you. Sheet masks have little to no post-wear cleanup and are perfect for van life.
The mini Mario Badescu Rose Water Spray is worth the $7 if you can spare it. There’s nothing more luxurious than spraying your face with this stuff after a rough night’s sleep on the wood floors you’re bound to meet at some point.
Pack light and hit up thrift stores. You never know what you’ll find in a random town. Plus, what’s cooler than replying to a compliment on your outfit with “I got it on tour”?
Disposable cameras are a cheap and fun way to document your tour adventures. I always have at least one disposable camera on me at all times. Ilford’s B&W disposable camera is my favorite and surprisingly high quality.
Dryer sheets in your clothing bag. Or if you’re feeling extra fancy, make your own by filling a reusable tea bag with your choice of dried herbs. I like to make them with dried lavender and rosemary.