My husband is a touring musician (www.patmastelotto.com) so he travels a lot, mostly without me. Sometimes though, if I’m really lucky, he brings me with him or I fly to meet him. In the process he’s taught me a lot about traveling, and especially traveling with a group. Some of these things I’ve learned the hard way. So I’d like to pass on a few of these golden bits of knowledge to you, a select few of my very close friends. If I can protect you from even one embarrassing glance from a roadie, I’ve done my job.
Rock and Roll Rules of the Road
1. Invest in your luggage
If you ever find yourself in a conversation with a musician and wonder what to say, don’t gush and about what a big fan you are—just ask about their luggage. Luggage is as important to a touring musician as an instrument, and for good reason. You’ll live out of your suitcase and it will get abused in and out of every airport so make sure the big bag you choose is quality. I once bought a cheap suitcase on a NYC street and took it to Russia for two weeks. A wheel fell off in the middle of week one and dragging that piece of luggage around through six airports was painful for everyone.
And, bring only as many pieces with you as you can easily handle yourself running through an airport. A famous rock missive called ‘Thor’s Rules’ (http://beenlookingforthemagic.tumblr.com/post/1427157150/how-to-tour-in-a-band-or-whatever-by-thor-harris) states, “”If you can’t carry your s##t three city blocks by yourself you have too much s##t”.
Too many amateurs take the largest carry-on they can sneak onto a plane and stuff it to bursting.. Don’t do this. Some connecting flights use smaller planes, and these overstuffed bags won’t even fit in the overhead. They’ll take it from you and check it anyway and then you’re stuck on a two hour flight with no iPad. Take a smallish squish-able carry on with lots of pockets and zippers. You can shove it under any seat and all your important stuff is always accessible. Mine has wheels and I always fold a light shopping bag in there too, in case I buy more than will fit in my suitcase, or something fragile. Or you can do what my husband does and carry a backpack with wheels, so in a pinch you can throw it on your back.
The truth is, checking luggage can be a good thing. You can’t take alcohol back with you (or any other liquids for that matter) unless you pack it in your checked luggage.
2. Keep your gear organized
Bring a spare battery pack. Keep your devices charged and in a separate case with your electronics and adapters. I have a 10 ft iPhone cord (Best Buy) and I’m amazed at how often I need it. Even the best hotels haven’t updated wall outlets and it feels like a real score if you find an outlet close to your bed.
Everyone carries identical phones these days. And while your phone cases my look different, your chargers do not. My husband puts tiny pieces of the lime green gaffer tape on every cord, plug, clip and bolt he carries. This makes packing up easy and no one can accidentally walk off with his gear. I use gold nail polish.
My husband has a personal rule–don’t bring anything you can’t afford to lose. Carry a change purse and a wallet large enough for oversized foreign money and your passport. And some countries won’t let you travel with a passport within months of expiring.
Download translation and Flight Tracker apps. Double and triple check your flight days and times, even at the airport. The last time I flew to Europe my outbound gate was changed four times.
3. Embrace technology
With Skype, your friends and family are only a phone call away. Get friendly with audiobooks, ebooks, ear buds and headphones, portable extra battery packs, phone apps. Traditional books weigh a lot, and if you finish your book in a foreign country (English language book stores a hard to find) you’ll have nothing to read the rest of your trip. You can download a Kindle app on virtually any device, so load up on ebooks (remember to download them while you have wifi). Audiobooks can be a godsend when traveling in a crowded van up a mountain road too bumpy to read without getting sick. And a monotone English accent narrating a book you’ve read 5 times, through Bose noise-cancelling earbuds can be an amazingly effective sleep aid on planes, buses, and in strange hotel rooms.
Once, as I waited in Houston for a delayed flight, my husband buzzed my phone from his Airport in Mexico City telling me my flight just cancelled. He could see it on his Flight Tracker app (his friends call it Wife Tracker) before my gate even had the info. Last flight out. I had to rent a car and drive home at midnight. I had my own Flight Tracker app but I wasn’t using it—lesson learned. Know where you are and where you are going.
And just a word about your phone service.
Not all phone services are created equal, especially when you travel. We used ATT for years, and we had to call them every time we expected to travel. Once on my way to meet my husband in Barcelona, my phone went dead as soon as my plane touched ground in Spain. Can you imagine trying to find a pay phone in Spain? My husband was waiting for my call so, determined to be proactive and independent, I gave the destination address to a cab and headed into town, but I unknowingly passed my husband as his cab raced to the airport to get me.
And on arriving home from Canada once we found a $600 phone bill, because I didn’t realize “Words With Friends” incurred expensive data charges out of the country. As soon as we got back to the US, we changed plans. T-Mobile has the best international calling and data plan and now when I land I get cute texts like “welcome to Japan” instead of a dead phone or a big data bill.
4.Take charge of your own food.
If you’re a vegan, or gluten intolerant or lactose intolerant or have any other food issues do your research before you get to your location. Google accommodating restaurants in and around your destination.
Pay close attention to the neighborhood as the bus gets closer to your hotel. Carry snacks in your carry-on, take a jog around your hotel neighborhood first thing to check out your options (my husband always does this), talk to the concierge. Don’t force anyone else in your group to suffer through an entire trip of modifying their restaurant choices to make you comfortable.
I have a not-so-happy memory of slogging through Paris with a much loved vegetarian and vegan (neither spoke any French) looking for food they would eat. I stared longingly at a plate pile high with steaming escargot as it passed our table, wishing I had thought beforehand to leave them to their own food devices so I could really eat in Paris.
And I knew a vegan who jumped at the chance to tour China with friends. On the 15 hour plane trip over there she was given two hard rolls for her meal, only two hard rolls, the Airline’s nod to a lone vegan passenger. China itself was barely more adaptable and she had food issues that entire trip. She should have gone to Japan. So, do your research.
5. Stay punctual
I cannot stress this enough. The media image of slacker musicians keeping tour buses waiting may exist, but not in my experience. These guys are pros. If they have a 9:00 AM lobby call, they are usually on the bus by 8:45 no matter how late they were up the night before. And the tour manager doesn’t wait. If someone misses the bus, they’re expected to find their own way to the next destination.
6. Don’t chatter (even with your companion). Or complain
Really. It’s annoying to everyone on the bus.
7. Keep yourself healthy
Bring vitamins, nose spray, Dramamine, Excederine, Imodium and psyllium husk capsules, Vitamin C and anything else you might possibly need. Try not to drink too much. Trust me, early morning lobby calls are a lot less painful if you aren’t hung over. Bring comfortable shoes. Find a gym close, walk every day, get some sleep. Drink plenty of bottled water. In third world countries use hand sanitizer often and don’t eat salad, brush your teeth in the shower or drink anything with ice in it.
I’d like to say a word about foreign pharmacies:
. . . and my slight personal obsession with them. You only have to visit a few pharmacies in other countries to realize what a stranglehold big American pharmaceutical companies have on our country. I found wonderful over-the-counter migraine medications in Berlin (easier on my system than traditionally prescribed Imetrex) throat lozenges with tiny bits of antibiotic in Poland, and the best skin care products on earth in French pharmacies.
In a Tokyo Pharmacy I discovered a medication I’d been prescribed for dizziness and vertigo was exactly the same in every way as the much cheaper over-the-counter Bonine. And pharmacists all over the world tend to be very helpful.
8. Learn ‘Tour Bus Rules’
Aka ‘’No poo in the loo’.
9. Pack completely the night before you leave your hotel
Or campsite, or wherever your travels take you. This was the first big rule I learned from my husband and it was one of the first rules his ‘Fearless Leader’ taught him. “As bad as you think you feel tonight, you’ll feel worse in the morning if you have to pack,” he said and it’s still our iron-clad rule to this day. Plus, if you have to hurry to pack in the morning you may forget something. (Refer back to ‘Keep your gear organized’)
10. “Just get along with your band”
This is probably my favorite husband quote of all time. My mom used to say, “It takes two to have an argument.” You are traveling with these people until you aren’t. Don’t let things irritate you, or as Ringo Starr tells his band, “Don’t let it in”. Keep it friendly. You can discuss the whole thing in private when you get home
Coming soon: “Touring with a rock band— a girls guide” If you have any questions about this list, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org