Touring is one of the most glamorized aspects of being a musician. But for many touring acts, especially those that are just getting started, there can be some unexpected surprises, like where you might have to sleep on your first few tours.
Where do musicians sleep on tour? Touring musicians sleep where they can. Depending on the budget of a tour, musicians sleep in hotel rooms, the tour van (or bus), a host’s living room, or at various campsites.
Unfortunately, a hotel room (with clean sheets and indoor plumbing) is a luxury many bands are forced to forgo on low-budget tours.
Even though it might seem like cramming five musicians into a Sprinter van would be a fun adventure in your early twenties, many bands don’t have much foresight when it comes to finding comfortable hotel-alternatives on tour.
One of the biggest misconceptions that many bands have about touring is that they’ll get to stay in a hotel room every night.
Although it’s not impossible, even for an up-and-coming band, it requires a lot more planning and careful consideration of the tour budget.
According to a study of hotel room prices in the U.S., the average price of hotel rooms is $137 per night. In major cities like Los Angeles and Seattle, that number is almost double.
Many hotels also have maximum occupancy rules that will increase the room rate if you’re honest about how many people are staying in a single room.
Unless you’ve only got two or three people in your band, you might end up having to rotate who gets to spend the night in a bed and who has to sleep in the van.
When a second room could land you anywhere between $300 and $500 a night, the cost of putting the entire band up in a hotel is simply out of the question on most tours.
Even for bands that might make enough money to cover the cost of two hotel rooms every night, being in a band is still a business.
If anyone wants to get paid at the end of the tour, usually the smarter option is to forgo the luxury of clean sheets and indoor plumbing and crash in the van.
IN THE VAN
In order to save time and re-allocate budget funds, most bands end up sleeping in their van.
Another misconception about touring is that all bands have huge sleeper-style tour buses with bunk beds and a bathroom — like the ones you see on BUS INVADERS.
In reality, most bands actually tour in a van (like a Mercedes Sprinter or Chevy Express), which often doubles as a place to sleep.
For the sake of this article, we’re going to focus on vans since touring on a sleeper-bus is pretty self-explanatory.
Check out our resources page to see what vans, trailers, and other essentials we recommend for touring on a budget!
Sleeping in the van can help keep tour costs low. The money saved on hotels can be spent promoting the tour or on everyday expenses like gas, food, laundry, etc.
Also, by taking driving shifts, band members can sleep on the road and get some rest on the way to the next city, instead of spending the night in a Walmart parking lot.
However, there are some major downsides to sleeping in the van.
For starters, vans just aren’t made for sleeping.
Depending on how many people you have on tour with you (band members, production, photo/video, merch team, and other crew) even a 15 passenger van can start to feel very crowded.
Some bands get creative and build beds out of 2x4s, but that takes up a lot of sitting room, and if you get pulled over with half the band in makeshift bunk beds, it can be an expensive ticket.
Also, it might not be necessary to mention, but there’s no bathroom or shower in a van.
Fast-food chains, gas stations, and other rest-stops are pretty easy to come by, but showers are somewhat of a commodity on tour.
If someone in the band has a membership at a gym with multiple locations nationwide, like Anytime Fitness, you might be able to grab a shower there.
More than likely though, you’ll need to make friends with someone who’s willing to host the band for an evening. Hopefully, they’ll let you sleep and shower in their home.
HOST’S LIVING ROOM
Couch surfing in someone’s living room can be one of the most comfortable and affordable ways to get some sleep on tour.
Staying with a host can include all the regular comforts and luxuries of a home, without the expense of a hotel room.
Depending on the person you’re staying with, you’ll likely be able to shower, do some laundry, maybe even cook breakfast in the morning.
There probably won’t be a spare bed for each individual member of the band, but a couch in the living room or a cot on the floor will certainly be more comfortable than a bench in the van.
Unfortunately, finding a host isn’t always easy.
If you know someone in the area, reconnecting with friends or relatives can be a great excuse to spend the night.
But you can also try to stay with fans.
When you book the tour, put out feelers on social media. Ask if anyone in your network of followers (or anyone they know) would be willing to give your band a place to stay for a night.
Schedule your stay in advance, just like you would a hotel — even offer to pay (if you can).
If you’re really hard-pressed for cash, suggest some sort of trade, like a living room acoustic performance or some free merch.
But be smart — don’t just stay with anyone. A free place to sleep might not be worth the hassle if you’re staying with a crazed super-fan, or someone with 50 cats.
If you do end up going this route, try to remember: you’re a guest in someone else’s home — their roof, their rules.
No one wants to let a bunch of egocentric rock-stars trash their home and steal their iPhone charger.
Unless you want to sleep outside, be polite, clean up after yourself, and don’t piss off the neighbors.
If you’ve spent your hotel budget, exhausted the hospitality of all your friends and extended family, and just can’t handle another night in the van, you can always try to rough-it under the stars.
Camping costs next-to-nothing, and as long as you don’t need an electric hookup (or try to camp somewhere like Yellowstone), many campsite fees are laughably affordable.
It might not seem super glamorous, but turning a summer tour into a cross-country camping trip can be a great way to see more of the world than just green-rooms and hotel lobbies.
It also gives you some personal space, which can be hard to come by on tour.
Even if you’re planning to sleep in the van most nights, packing a few lightweight tents (or hammocks) provides alternative sleeping options, just in case you occasionally want some fresh air.
With some reliable gear and the right campsite, camping can be surprisingly comfortable. Many campsites now have bathrooms, and some even have showers.
However, if you’ve booked a club tour, finding a campsite in or near major cities can be difficult. And nobody (except maybe Wim Hof) wants to be camping in the midwest in the middle of winter.
Unless you’re willing to camp underneath an overpass in January, it might be a little unlikely that you’ll be able to lean on camping to always keep your tour expenses low.
But under the right circumstances, camping can be a great alternative to cashing out on hotels, mooching off your parents’ cousins, or spooning someone’s dirty laundry in the back of the van.
Of course, there are other options for catching some Z’s on tour, but these are the most common ways we’ve seen bands get their beauty rest on long-haul low-budget runs.
How do bands do laundry on tour? Bands do laundry when and where they can. If there’s money in the budget, bands will wash a few loads at the local laundromat, or at their hotel (if it has a laundry room). Occasionally, a host will let the band use their personal washer and dryer and in some cases, bands will just wash their clothes in the sink and let them drip-dry. Altertanitivley, some bands don’t do laundry at all (another reason you might not want to sleep in the van every night on tour).
How do bands transport equipment? Bands usually transport equipment in a trailer, hitched to the back of the tour bus or van. Smaller bands that aren’t planning to be on the road for long periods of time will often cram their gear into a car, pickup truck, or mini-van to shuttle equipment back and forth from the venue.
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