Must-Haves for Tour Survival

Shannon Curtis - Pyragraph

The road. Photo by Shannon Curtis.

I’ve built my career the old-fashioned way, by doing an absolute ton of touring—close to 300,000 miles’ worth in the last 8 years. Here are the things I can’t live without when I’m on the road.

An actual bed to sleep in.

I’m not a diva, but I’ve learned that in order for me to sustain myself over the long haul of a long tour, I need to sleep in a real bed. Oftentimes, since we do house concert touring, our host will offer to put us up for the night. If they have a bed for us, the answer is, “Yes, please and thank you!” If it’s a couple of couches or sleeping bags on the floor, we kindly decline and look for a good deal on a local hotel. (Hotwire and Priceline are our friends!)

How on earth did I ever tour before GPS!?

And, actually, getting a hotel every once in a while is a great idea anyway. There’s something about having truly personal and private space that’s valuable when you’re traveling and in an unfamiliar environment every day. (I mean, who doesn’t need to be able to walk around in their undies every now and then?)

It doesn’t make me any less hardcore about what I do that I won’t sleep on the floor on tour anymore. For me, it’s a professional decision to take good care of the body and voice that I need to put on the best performances I can for the people coming to hear me play.

Shannon Curtis - Pyragraph

Mandy the GPS. Photo by Shannon Curtis.

I’ll have water, please.

I’ve found that water is super important for keeping me healthy and my voice strong while on tour. There is typically wine and beer or other alcoholic beverages served at the house concerts I do, but even after the show I stick with strictly water. Alcohol is dehydrating and can make me sleep less deeply, and I need all the help I can get in keeping my instrument well-hydrated and well-rested for show time.

Performing every day, sleeping in strange places, and talking with lots of people before and after the show takes a big toll on my voice. So I pass on the glass of wine, and stick with what will keep me in the best shape for the next day. (A shot of coffee in the morning, though? Totally different question for me—bring on the espresso!)

Mandy, our friendly GPS.

Yes, we’ve named her, because it’s more fun that way. How on earth did I ever tour before GPS!? It may seen obvious, but having a GPS to tell you how to get from A to B in cities you’ve never been to is such a huge time-saver and headache-avoider. Dedicated GPS units are better than using your phone—you’ll never be interrupted by a call as you’re trying to negotiate a complicated intersection. They’re not that expensive—you can get a great basic one for $99. So get one. Put her on your windshield. Follow her friendly directions. Please don’t look down at your smart phone to get directions and then die in a fiery crash, mkay?

Wifi on the go.

I travel with my husband Jamie when on tour, and he prefers to do most of the driving (god bless him!), which means I can catch up on correspondence from the passenger seat with mobile wifi (love it, love it, love it). There are some good services out there. We use a Virgin Mobile wifi unit that we can activate on an à la carte, per-day basis—meaning that we don’t have to keep continuous service going to be able to use it.

When we’re on tour I have a lot of correspondence to keep up with. People who met us at last night’s show are friending me on Facebook and tagging me in Instagram photos. I need to be prompt in replying to their interactions to stoke the connection we started at the show. I usually have a whole new list of email addresses for my mailing list that I need to add so I can welcome them to my list immediately, before they’ve forgotten all about having signed up the night before.

And then there’s just the everyday minutiae of running my little business that I need to stay up with. New blog posts, replies to interview requests, social media updates—none of this stops when I’m on tour. In fact, it tends to multiply. Being able to knock this stuff out from the car as we drive to the next city means I’m not staying up until all hours of the night taking care of business after each show. Must. Have.

Shannon Curtis - Pyragraph

So many miles. Photo by Shannon Curtis.

Good food.

A diet of good food gives us the energy we need to do our jobs well on tour. A diet of crappy food brings us down and makes it harder to perform well and have great interactions with house concert guests. So it’s an obvious choice.

This doesn’t mean that we spend a fortune on fancy meals. Quite the opposite, actually. We use Yelp to find good local spots that have the kind of quality nutrition we’re looking for. You can search on location and price range, and read customer reviews so you know you’ll be getting something good. I like to have something with a good bit of protein just before we show up for our setup and soundcheck—Thai food or Vietnamese pho are particular favorites of mine. Not too pricey, and also not too heavy.

I avoid anything with dairy because it interferes with my singing voice. For the car, we stock up on almonds and apples for snacks along the way, and every once in a while we’ll find good snacks at local grocery store deli counters. In a pinch, a bean burrito from Taco Bell is actually a pretty solid little meal, and is not that bad for you at all, although it’s admittedly not super glamorous. Still 1,000 times better than McDonald’s though!

Exercise. Ugh, but yes, exercise.

I hate hate HATE doing it every morning, but it really does help us keep our energy up each day. I’ve found a routine that I can do anywhere (it’s this 7-minute interval training routine that I read about in the New York Times), and since it’s so short, I have no excuse not to do it every day. I follow it up with another 8 minutes of yogic stretching, and that makes for a mere 15 minute investment each morning that really gives me the energy I need for the day. It’s a great antidote to sitting in the car for hours and hours in between tour stops.

Hopefully some of this has been helpful!

What are your tour survival tips? Let me know in the comments.

About Shannon Curtis

Shannon Curtis is an independent songwriter, performer, recording artist, and author. She makes downtempo dreampop and tours the living rooms and backyards of North America. Her how-to book about her community-driven house concert method debuted at #1 on Amazon’s Music Business Best Sellers list in February 2014. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, record producer Jamie Hill.

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