There comes a point in many artists’ careers when touring becomes an important part of the job. Once gigs are booked, flights and accommodations are sorted out, and fans are snapping up tickets, there’s not much more to be done than pack your bags and hit the road. Preparing for a trip becomes a no-brainer for the experienced traveler, but going on tour is a very different ball game. To gather some pro tips on what you need (and what you’ll want), we checked in with five touring artists—Drugdealer, JPEGMAFIA, Crumb’s Lila Ramani, Chelsea Wolfe, and Faye Webster.
Bring the right threads
Everyone’s style is different, and when it comes to packing clothes, there’s no one right way to do it—especially when you’re packing clothes to perform in, hang out in, sleep in, and more. That said, there are some tricks to ensuring you have all the gear you need while on the road.
“I remember watching No Doubt’s MTV House of Style episode back in the day,” says singer-guitarist Chelsea Wolfe, “and Gwen Stefani had bags and bags of clothes and she was throwing stuff all around, making outfits, and I was like, that’s me! Not style-wise obviously, but I’m so moody with the way I dress that I like to have a lot of options on any given night.” If you, too, can relate to Gwen’s sartorial spirit, Wolfe suggests trying everything on before packing it. “If I don’t like how I feel in it in that moment, alone in my room, I’m not gonna want to wear it for a show,” she says.
Atlanta singer-songwriter Faye Webster advises against minimizing your own wardrobe in the name of using your luggage space for other needs, such as merch. You’re better off paying for an extra bag at the airport so you can take as much merch—and as many clothes—as you’re comfortable with. “My first couple of tours I would dedicate one side of my suitcase for merch and one side for my clothes, and it just restricts you,” she says. “I ended up overnighting at least two boxes the rest of the tour, which cost as much as it would have been to just bring another suitcase with me.”
But Lila Ramani, singer and guitarist of Brooklyn psychedelic rock band Crumb, offers a very different (and practical) perspective. “Pack as light as you can because I brought a really huge, wide suitcase on our last tour and couldn’t open it in most places we stayed.” Her advice was echoed by alt-rocker Drugdealer: “Bring two different uniforms you can switch off instead of a whole wardrobe of clothing. It's better to have much less than you think you need.”
Attend to your creature comforts
There’s no better way to put yourself at ease or make yourself at home away from home than to stimulate the senses with something familiar and pleasurable. For Crumb, packing incense or “some sort of good-smelling fragrance” is essential. “Jesse [Brotter, bassist] usually brings Nag Champa, which we really appreciate because sometimes we get green rooms or Airbnb’s that do not smell good,” Ramani says. And she makes sure to keep her tastebuds refreshed, too: She swears by Gatorade Limon Pepino—her beverage of choice while on the road.
For experimental rapper JPEGMAFIA, achieving comfort is as straightforward as packing a neck pillow. “Never thought I would want a neck pillow, but them damn neck pillows hit different on them long flights,” he jokes.
Alternatively, Chelsea Wolfe has brought a Tarot deck with her on every tour. “When I’m feeling down or conflicted about something, I’ll pull a Tarot card to give me some perspective, and it always helps,” she explains. “Sometimes it becomes a group thing when we’re hanging out on the bus after a show and the whole band and crew or friends will each pull a card, then read the meaning aloud and we’ll talk about it.”
Bring your toys
Life on the road is literally life on the road, in the sense that it comes with large pockets of down time, especially if you’re touring from city to city in a van or a bus. When you’re packing, consider how you usually like to spend your time outside of working on music. What are some leisure activities you enjoy that are easy to bring with you?
For Drugdealer, it’s skateboarding. “[I must have] a skateboard [on the road with me] so I won't go crazy just thinking about music the whole time, and I can explore the cities through a different lens,” he says. JPEGMAFIA packs his vape and his PS4. “Otherwise I’m just kind of depressed all tour,” he admits. Webster has to have her Nintendo Switch and loves to play Super Smash Bros. (She’s also a big fan of Fortnite, but it’s hard to play on the road). That said, the real reason she packs a Switch is so that she can watch Atlanta Braves games: “They always start playing after soundcheck, before I go on. So, I always just watch [them] on my Switch in the green room.” Chelsea Wolfe keeps it simple when packing for leisure time: “Bring a good book to read.”
Plan ahead for self-care essentials Being on tour can be exhilarating and full of fun, but it can also be an exhausting experience that takes a toll on your body—the very thing you’re relying on most if you want to succeed on stage. That’s why it’s important to think about packing things that will make you feel healthy, both physically and mentally.
According to JPEGMAFIA, learning to take care of his voice was one of his biggest tour lessons. “I was very much raw on my first tour and had no idea what I was doing,” he says. For Ramani, getting enough sleep and remembering to hydrate are key. Drugdealer’s remedy is something he initially forgot to pack himself. “[I wish I had brought] a kettle for the green room so [the band and I] could all take care of our precious little angel voices,” he says.
Webster focuses on her respiratory system, and tried not to leave home without a humidifier. “I didn’t have a humidifier on my last tour, and I think it makes the world’s difference in hotel rooms and some green rooms,” she says. “I bought one on tour at Walmart and had to carry it on my lap for all the plane rides, but it’s so worth it.”
For Chelsea Wolfe, mindfulness is the restorative practice of choice. She recommends downloading a meditation app and making space for yourself on tour, “even if it’s just a short walk before soundcheck. Otherwise you’ll start to get claustrophobic and feel like a caged feral animal—or maybe that’s just me.” Drugdealer says that finding some alone time is also key to staying levelheaded within the chaos of tour life. “Find a way to have some time by yourself so you can keep your wits about you,” he advises. Ramani packs earplugs and noise-canceling headphones for these moments. “They’re really good if you need some quiet time in the van, at the show, or if you’re sharing a room with someone loud,” she says.
All preparation aside, it’s important to remember that on tour, there are just going to be some things you’re not be able to prepare for. “The only way to prepare is to be ready for fuck-ups,” says JPEGMAFIA. “If you’re mentally prepared for that, everything else should be fine.” Ramani has similar words of wisdom: “Be sure to prepare yourself [in] that some things will be out of your control, and you’ll just have to roll with it.”