Touring in a van is tough and not for the weak! The quarters are small, cramped, and crowded. The van is basically your house on wheels for the duration of the tour. It's not exactly an optimal sleeping or living situation, since you'll be crashing out on a messy floor.
Van life forces you to literally be on top of your bandmates for extended drives. Big, fancy tour buses with their own driver (aka, "not a band member") and bunks are crazy expensive. If you and your band aren't ready for that expense, you'll be relegated to an RV or a conversion van of some sort. Consider it a rite of passage and the paying of dues. That should help you get through it, mentally speaking. Consider it a band-life badge of honor. It's not easy, but there are ways to make touring in a van way more comfortable besides the obvious, like keeping the vehicle as clean as possible.
Courtney LaPlante, singer for iwrestledabearonce, the long-running, spastic, and mathy metal band that I work with, was happy to share some tips to help make life in a van more manageable. Trust her words – she knows it, she has done it, and she has lived it. She is a total pro, managing guest list and tour interviews that I send her, all the while roughing it in a van and getting on stage and giving it her all each and every night.
Kyle Bihrle, singer for Sirens & Sailors, also offered some killer and insanely helpful advice to bands in vans. His band just wrapped a stint on Warped Tour, where he was also running the show, making sure interviews and photo shoots took place, all the while doing his band duties. Don't snooze on his advice, either, because it comes from a place of hard-earned experience.
Take heed, bands in vans. Take heed.
1. Get slip-on shoes
"You have to get a pair of slip-on shoes," says LaPlante. "Something that doesn't sacrifice comfort for style, like Birkenstocks or Crocs. It makes for seamless van entry and exit, because you're not wasting valuable time tying shoelaces during gas station stops."
You hear that? Wear simple shoes so you don't waste time trying to put on shoes during quick stops.
2. Label your stuff
"Label your phone chargers and anything else that could get mixed up in the garbage-laden floor of the van," LaPlante says. "You'll lose track of them eventually, so having your name on them is your only insurance."
Seriously! When on tour, you might not have access to quickly replace the ever-important and necessary charger that keeps you connected to the rest of the world while you're on the road. So make sure to label and keep an eye out for yours.
3. Treat your van like your home
This is perhaps the most important of the tips that LaPlante had to share, and she did so with her tongue tucked in her cheek. The van is essentially your home sweet home, so treat it like such as much as you can. She says, "Remember the van is your house. Don't invite your friends into the van to hang out after shows. They will step on everyone's stuff, because obviously, you all have left all your belongings on the ground, strewn about the van. Why would you make someone you like sit in that thing anyway? It's gross!"
Yes, the van is your home, but you have several "roommates," and not everyone is a neat freak on the road. The van can get gross and gnarly, so make sure to keep "guests" to a minimum, so they're not stomping all of your, uh, roommates' things. Also, you don't want said guests to walk away with a bad impression of your lifestyle. Wink, wink.
4. Wear headphones
This tip comes courtesy of Kyle Bihrle. "Touring in a van can be a nightmare to some, but for us, it has taught us to appreciate the little things," he says. "Just remember, it's always driver's choice of what music gets played, so bring your own headphones if you disagree."
You see, touring in a van is a diplomatic endeavor. The driver is usually one of the band members on a driving rotation. Whoever is doing the heavy lifting gets to choose the music while he or she is behind the wheel. That's only fair.
5. Take time to get out and enjoy the sights
Bihrle also wants you to remember to enjoy the surroundings. Who knows when you will see them again? He says, "Take time to stretch out and enjoy the sights, so you don't go crazy on long drives." It's the little things that go a long way in maintaining one's sanity in a van.
6. Get a tune-up
Before you hit the road, be sure the van is in primo shape. "Believe it or not, oil changes can be the difference between you making the show or being stuck on the side of the road," Bihrle says. You'll be cursing yourself if you end up broken down in a desert and missing a show, disappointing fans, and not getting paid, because you didn't do something as easy and simple as getting the oil changed before heading out on tour.
Touring in a van requires strength of body and mind. You have to be psychologically prepared to deal with living in cramped quarters, and you have to learn to deal with your bandmates and their idiosyncrasies. You are all up in each other's grills, so you need to stay as healthy as possible. So make sure you have plenty of anti-bac and Vitamin C supplements, too.
Hopefully, you also picked up on Courtney LaPlante's sense of humor in some of her tips. That's another quintessential intangible. You have to keep it lighthearted and fun as well, or you could end up headed for a brutal mental meltdown. That, coupled with Kyle Bihrle's practical tips, will help ensure that you have a solid van tour experience.
With all this in mind, you can survive touring in a van. We promise!
Amy Sciarretto has 20 years of print and online bylines, from Kerrang to Spin.com to Revolver toBustle, covering music, beauty, and fashion. After 12 years doing radio and publicity at Roadrunner Records, she now fronts Atom Splitter PR, her own boutique PR firm, which has over 30 clients. She also is active in animal charity and rescue.