Touring is an exciting benchmark for a band. That first five-show lap through your hometown is a memorable time. When you move on to larger circuits and start playing shows outside of your regular region and your comfort zone, the process gets longer and more complicated. You may be playing shows in a country where you don't know the language, the currency, or your way around. To prepare, here are 10 things you'll definitely want to bring on your first international tour.
1. Visas, documents, and travel details
Before embarking on your tour, make sure you have your route, lodging, and venues all planned out. If you're driving, have the appropriate license and understand your route. If you're flying, know your airline's weight restrictions and other rules. At border crossings, know what to tell the authorities and have all your work permits, visas, and passports accessible. You don't want to pull up at 3:00 a.m. in a nondescript passenger van full of cables and gator cases without a clue of what to tell the guy in the kiosk. Print everything out and keep copies.
2. Immunizations, first aid, and Advil
Certain countries require you to be up on your shots and boosters – some of which require multiple doctor visits – so make sure you have the required immunizations long beforehand. Once on the road, keep a first aid kit with everything from your favorite brand of cough drops, to sunscreen, to bandages and antiseptic on hand. Take care of yourself, but also plan on coming down with something. You don't want to trawl for NyQuil after an 11:00 p.m. set, so be prepared.
Consult the internet, an instrument manual, a roadie, a bandmate, or a local guitar shop owner about what voltage/current converters you'll be dealing with. Know what outlet to expect when you go to plug in your amp. Also do the same for your laptop, cell phone, and other electronics. The converter you’ll need for your Mac will be different than the one you need for your half-stack. Unless you want to play acoustic shows the whole tour, read up and pack batteries just in case.
4. Extras, replacements, and tool kits
Have spare cables, tape, extra drumheads, replacement tubes, and a tool kit on hand. Invest in hard-shell cases, and protect all your equipment, but also be ready for when something breaks, stops working, or goes missing. Assume you won't have access to a Guitar Center wherever you go. Sometimes a tourmate will lend you a set of strings, but an obscure part for your pedal board might be harder to come by.
5. Dry shampoo, baby wipes, solar shower, etc.
The odds of finding a laundromat (let alone having time to do your wash) at regular intervals are slim. Pack lots of socks and underwear. Get used to the idea of wearing the same things over and over again. Bathing in the sink isn't ideal or easy, so embrace being sweaty and un-showered. Invest in baby wipes and dry shampoo, and take solace in the fact that other people in the bus or on the tour will be in a similar situation.
Whether it's your favorite hoodie, the set of weights you can't live without, your iPod, or pictures of your friends and family, pack something that makes you happy or reminds you of home. For some, it’s a brand of chips. For others, it's a certain book. Your own pillow, not some overstuffed rock from the motel, may make all the difference after a long day of driving. Sticking to your usual morning routine can help ease the fact that you’re living on a bus.
Also, be flexible. Learn to sub in your regular activities for their tour-appropriate counterparts. Instead of heading to the gym, play football with your tourmates in the parking lot. Do what you can to keep morale up.
7. Internet, laptops, and phones
These days you can call, video chat, email, and communicate in a myriad of ways just from your cell phone, but all that hinges on your phone working. Before you leave, figure out your cell phone plan and know what needs to be done to activate/deactivate your access. You don't want to be at the border, airport, or venue with no way of contacting anyone. The same goes for internet access. You won't always have WiFi.
And of course, keep these things safe. You may think your Les Paul is the most valuable thing you brought on tour, but you're equally stuck if you have your phone nicked.
Having a sticker/flyer/sampler CD to hand out or sell after your set is a great way to promote your act, especially if you're in a new city and you're the first of four opening bands. Bring merch, but pack light. Handing out download codes might be a more compact option compared to a bunch of paper sleeves and CDs. Also, if you plan to stick up some DIY posters or pass out leaflets, have them ready to go. Don't expect to find a laser printer on the road.
Have a written list of friends, family, fans, other bands, emergency services, and venue contacts. This will come in handy when you want dinner suggestions or need to call a tow truck. Be ready for emergencies, but also make friends. It's a lot easier to return to cities when the venue staff and locals remember your name.
10. Sense of adventure
You might be booked at 4:00 p.m. or 4:00 a.m. Your guitar might break mid-set. You might lose your voice. You might fight with your bandmates. You might go a week without a real shower. You might not get paid enough. You might regret the whole endeavor when you walk onstage, and there's only a dozen people there, but know it's all worth it.
Touring is rigorous. It's draining. It's a lot to undertake, but it can also be a lot of fun. Remember to keep an open mind and enjoy yourself!
For even more musician packing tips, check out these 13 things you should bring to every gig that fit in a shoebox.
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Zoe Marquedant is a Marylander now living in Brooklyn. When not writing, Zoe is probably working her way through a new series on Netflix, researching pie recipes, and collecting dumb jokes (e.g., Two fish are in a tank. One turns to the other and says, "You man the guns. I'll drive.")