You've got the perfect plan for generating maximum income on tour: merch is ready to go, the deals you've made with venues are well-considered, and you've even filled in some gaps in gigs with house shows and in-stores, where you'll collect donations. Solid, super – but touring can get pretty expensive. How can you ensure you don't end up draining that pot of hard-earned money while you're still on the road?
Three basic necessities – lodging, food, and transportation – are where wallets take a hit most often while on tour. Check out our tips for keeping costs down when managing each.
The cheapest option for a decent night's rest on tour is a friend's place, preferably one with air mattresses, comfy sofas, or even the elusive actual bed. (And a shower, of course.) When crashing with a generous long-distance pal isn't possible, though, you've still got some choices beyond sleeping in the van, which isn't typically safe or pleasant.
Routing your trip to avoid unnecessary mileage is important, but public campgrounds are a great money-saver. There are spots all over the country where you can set up and stay overnight for free. (Try this directory for starters.) Borrow a tent from friends, or invest in one big enough to fit the whole crew. Weather permitting, camping can really add to the whole experience of touring – without costing you a thing.
That option won't work in every town, of course, so you should also consider hostels, Airbnb, and Couchsurfing. They've all got the potential to cost you drastically less than even the lowest rated motel.
Obviously, if you want maximum options at your disposal, figuring out where you'll stay in each city is something you should tackle well in advance of your trip. Wing it if you will, but planning ahead will save you money.
2. Food and drink
Instead of spending on fast food, 24-hour diners, and overpriced gas station snacks, load up on groceries. If you're really committed, it might be worth your while to invest $50 to $100 in a small travel cooler or fridge that you can power through your car or van's power connector. This also has the potential to be the healthiest way to eat on tour, which means you'll probably have more energy and feel better generally throughout the trip.
Also, don't buy water bottles! Get a reusable bottle and fill it up at gas stations, venues, people's houses, and wherever else for free instead. All those $1 and $2 purchases really add up – and anyway, a reusable bottle is more earth friendly, duh.
Most bands don't have the luxury of being very choosy about their transportation, but instead have to take whatever they can get within their budget. If you're in the market for your tour wheels now, though, consider fuel economy as an important point of comparison. (You can look up averages by make, model, and year here, and read our cost breakdown of buying vs. renting a van here.)
You don't have to use a van, either. To save on gas, buy the smallest possible vehicle (with the best fuel economy) that you can. Hint: Sharing gear with local bands while on tour can help you scale down on baggage.
Additionally, technology has afforded us a means of finding the lowest gas prices nearby, so no matter what you're driving, you should be using an app to avoid overpaying. Try GasBuddy, Gas Guru, or one of these other options.
Bonus: It won't save you money on the spot, but a credit card that offers cash back on general purchases can pay off in the long term. Be cautious of interest rates and annual fees, of course, and don't overspend. Check out a list of potential options here.
Jhoni Jackson is an Atlanta-bred music journalist currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she juggles owning a venue called Club 77, freelance writing and, of course, going to the beach as often as possible.