Road Hacks: 10 Survival Tips for a Cheap & Happy #TourLife

We’ve been touring for 3 years now. Touring looks different for every band, but for us, it looks something like…

  • Spending 4-5 weeks of the year (when you add up all of the short runs & long weekends) in a 2008 VW Jetta.
  • Driving anywhere from 1-5 hours to shows, sometimes days or weeks consecutively.
  • Playing house concerts, venues, cafes, back yards, churches… from Maine to Indiana to North Carolina and back again. Seeing old friends & new, making new fans and joining artists we love & admire on stages all over the place.
  • Sleeping on floors, air mattresses and guest rooms. Sharing meals with generous friends & strangers, who are generous enough to host us for a night or two while we’re far from home.

We know lots of artists who do it differently. They might tour on a higher budget. They might decide that spending money on hotel rooms and bigger vans helps them keep their sanity in tact on the road. We know some artists who sleep in their cars at Walmart. Some eat at Waffle Houses and Taco Bells. Some are vegan and have portable stoves in their van.

The possibilities really are endless.

We happen to be cheap road warriors. Sometimes cheapness can certainly be a character flaw, but it does seriously help us have a great life on the road.  So, some of these tips are money-related. Others are just ways we’ve found we can keep our heads on straight on long stretches of touring.

If you’re considering touring, are already touring & looking for some advice, or are just an on-looker who is curious about what we do, here are some of the tricks we’ve picked up along the way.

1. Drink free Starbucks.


 

We haven’t paid for coffee in forever. There are two tricks to this:

  • Whenever we get a Starbucks card for a birthday/Christmas gift, we pop it right onto our Starbucks account. That account is specifically meant for touring, not for grabbing coffee on a random Wednesday. We make coffee at home, so we don’t use those gift cards until we’re on the road. After our birthdays are over at the end of the year, we’ve racked up a little savings and can tour fully caffeinated for a little while.
  • Swagbucks. Okay, I know you’ve heard about filling out surveys online and I know it sounds like total baloney. But Swagbucks is legit and I’ve actually made some decent cash using their website. You fill out surveys, or watch an ad, or even play a game, get points & trade those points in for cash or gift cards. I choose Starbucks cards and use them on the road. Boom. More free coffee. Don’t quit your job to go fill out online surveys or anything, but if you’re bored or home sick, it’s a nice way to make a few bucks. Here’s my referral link, you get $3 in points for signing up if you use it. That’s a Venti right there.

 

2. Drink even more free Starbucks.

Okay, here’s a seriously devil-ish trick that is perfectly legit, but Starbucks doesn’t really want you to know about.

You know how your iced coffee is basically 50% ice and 50% coffee? Seems unfair that if you order an iced coffee, you get way less coffee than if you ordered a hot. Well, here’s a way to beat the system.

Order a Venti iced coffee, no ice. And then order a Venti cup of ice. The cup of ice is totally free. Simple as that. You get a ginormous cup of coffee for the price of 2. We usually split our coffee & ice into 2 travel mugs, and remain overly caffeinated for the next long stretch of driving.

One other Starbucks trick — If there are two of you – always order a Venti and split it. Hot or cold. A Venti coffee is 20 oz. and is usually around $3. A Tall is 12oz and is usually around $2.50. So, you can order 2 Talls and and each drink 12oz of coffee for $5. Or get one Venti & split it. You each drink 10oz for $3. It’s the tiniest bit less coffee, but $2 cheaper. That $2 almost pays for your next coffee trip.

You’re welcome.

3. Get more bang for your buck at Chipotle.

Okay, here’s another way to stick it to the Corporate Man (and be really embarrassing at the counter of a fast food establishment).

Order a bowl. They always put more food into a bowl than a burrito or tacos. And then… here’s the genius… ask for 3 soft tortillas on the side. THEY’RE FRIGGEN FREE, Y’ALL. Who knew. 

They’ll even warm them up for you. So now you get 3 free tacos and you’ll still have like 70% of your bowl left to eat. Viola. #VivaLaChipotle

Here are some other sweet Chipotle hacks we’ve seen, but haven’t tried yet.

4. Get a good credit card or bank account. (If you can, and only if you’re really good at paying your bills).

I know not everyone has amazing credit, but there are tons of cards out there for frequent travelers and tour-ers. If you drive a ton, get a card with gas rewards. If you fly, get one with airline rewards or miles. Remember – always use a credit card like a debit card. Don’t spend $5000 you don’t have just because they give you $5000 in credit! 

We have Capital One Quicksilver, which gives 1.75% on EVERYTHING. We also have a TD Business Card, which gives good rewards for gas & food – both big items on our tour budget. We also have a Capital One 360 Savings account, which is also earning a really high interest rate. Capital One is amazing – get an account. It’ll save you a ton of money.

5. Pack your own (healthy) food.

Listen, as nice as our Chipotle & Starbucks hacks are, it would still cost a lot of money (and make you feel like crap) to eat fast food all day every day on the road. Get a good cooler, and bring as much food with you as humanely possible. Learn to love peanut butter & hummus. It’ll save you a fortune and make you feel energized. Grocery shop when you need to instead of getting a quick fix. There are grocery stores everywhere, and making your own food will be about 70% less expensive than buying food constantly.

6. Never get gas in Connecticut.

It’s always more expensive in CT. New Jersey & Massachusetts are cheaper, so if you have good mileage, fill up elsewhere and drive all the way through tiny CT without stopping.

7. Find rest wherever you can.

This tip is more about mental health than financial health. The hustle of touring is HARD and can break you down fast. We’ve learned the hard way that you need to find some rest where you can, and sometimes have to be really intentional about that rest.

  • Stop and see family in the areas you’re traveling through. If we’re driving through Ash’s home state, we’ll try to stop in to see a family member for some fun and a re-fill on love. (and home cooking usually).
  • Or don’t. If your family situation is dysfunctional or unhealthy, don’t stop just because you’re in the area. Set a boundary and do what feels best for you.
  • Find “green” on the map. State & federal parks are usually marked on your GPS with green patches. It’s pretty surprising, but they are EVERYWHERE. If you’ve got 15 minutes to kill before a show, don’t head straight to the venue. Once you get there, you’ll have to be working. You’ll have to be ON. Give yourself that time to find a little green in town and take a quick walk. Or, if you’ve got more time to kill (a day off maybe), find a state park to drive to and spend more time there.
  • Set boundaries with fans, hosts, & friends. Being on the road can be incredibly social. Night after night of shows, seeing friends you haven’t seen in a while, talking & playing late into the night. It’s easy to get lost in the excitement of all of it, but many of us musicians are introverts and need some downtime. It can be a little tough, but try to get GOOD at expressing your needs. We’ve had to tell folks who are hosting us that as much as we love chatting, we need to go to bed. Or to friends who we haven’t seen in a year, that we just can’t go to the bar because we have another week of shows ahead. Be kind to yourself and set boundaries.

 

8. Don’t wear show clothes in the car.

Another way to be kind to yourself is to let yourself be comfy in the car. Your show clothes are your work uniform. Create a boundary and a separation of “work-time” and “me-time”. Wear sweats and fuzzy socks while you’re driving. Don’t start “working” until you really have to.

9. Always take the Tappan Zee.

Another New England travel tip for you. If you’re driving to the New Jersey/New York area from New England (or back), your GPS will always tell you to go over the George Washington Bridge. But traffic through the GW can be crazy and the toll is really expensive. The Tappan Zee only adds about 15 minutes to your trip, and costs half of what the GW does, and usually isn’t super busy.

10. Enjoy it!

“We get to drive around and play music for a living. This is a dream.” We say that all the time in the car.

Sometimes we’re gearing up for a long and drive and aren’t feeling up for it. Sometimes, it’s hard to be away from family. We miss our beds. We miss our cats. We won’t be there for our niece’s birthday party. We are tired and worn down. Our butts hurt from driving and we do get tired of Chipotle (eventually).

It’s rare, though, that we keep that attitude for too long. One episode into Serial, or a long conversation about why we do what we do, a trip to an amazing state park, or some wonderful silence on a 3 hour journey – and we start to feel grateful again.

It can be hard, but it’s also incredibly beautiful to be on the road. We’re grateful for all of it.

Speaking of touring, we’re on the road now! See where we’re going next.