Sensible Travel Planning
If you tour outside of your home country but on the same continent, you have to consider if it makes more sense to fly over and rent a van and equipment or if you drive over in your own or a rental van. But if you get a low priced rental van at home and bring your own equipment, it will often be cheaper to drive.
If you think about flying over or if you tour overseas anyway, don’t forget to calculate the costs for the transport of the music instruments. Especially with low cost airlines this can be quite expensive. Perhaps another airline with more expensive tickets is more tolerant about luggage. With booking the right flights you can save a big part of your tour budget.
Most airline rules regarding instruments appear randomly and are incomprehensible. Check out this website for more info.
Reduce the Travel Party
Reducing your travel party to a minimum not only saves you money, it also saves the promoter or the venue money and therefore increases your chances to find shows in the first place. Especially if the promoter cares for food and accomodation and he tries to organize private sleeping places, it’s really difficult to find space for 6 or 7 people. If your travel party consists of 3 or 4 people, also the costs for catering are lower.
Of course it’s nice to have a big crew, a driver, merchandiser, tour manager, roadie or your own sound engineer, but it’s as simple as that – if you can’t afford them, don’t bring them. Many bands drive themselves, sell their own merch, carry their own gear and do the accounting, because they are realistic and prefer to go home without debts. Even if you have a friend helping you for free, you might feel guilty at some point and giving him something.
Good Tour Routing
A good tour routing saves you lots of money and hassle. Book yourself shorter distances or ask your booker to do it, otherwise you will spend all your hard-earned income on fuel. It is even more expensive when you travel through countries with high road tolls like for example France or Italy.
Also inform yourself about speed restrictions and parking rules in the countries where you will tour or you might have to spend money on unexpected fines weeks after the tour is over.
Compare Prices for Tour Vans
If you rent a van you should not only compare prices, but also extra kilometers or miles which can make a big difference, especially if you have to drive long distances. Don’t forget to take a look at possible extra costs for additional drivers, final cleaning, fine processing etc. It also doesn’t have to be the largest nor the newest model, but obviously it should be well maintained. You also don’t need a luxury vehicle with TV or DVD player. Take a tablet with a bunch of movies and earphones with you, then you also don’t have to agree with your band mates about the programm and the others can sleep while you are enjoying your favorite movie.
Bring Great Merchandise
Calculate carefully how much merch you are going to bring on tour on the basis of sales numbers from previous tours. Selling merchandise is the best way to generate some income or at least get some of your travel costs back. Be creative, the people don’t buy everything only because they liked your band, your goods have to be appealing as well. Offer something for every budget and make sure that there is somebody behind the merch table at the right time.
Better bring too much merchandise than not enough; it costs you a lot more if you have to reorder new shirts or albums while you are on tour. Postal charges between different countries can be quite high. You can achieve lower prices with ordering larger quantities of shirts. (If you order for example 100 shirts for 4 € per shirt, the same shirts will probably cost you 6 or 7 €, if you order 40, 30 and 30.) Don’t be afraid of investing money beforehand.
Avoid Tour Dates on Posters and Shirts
Many bands want to have all their tour dates on their posters or shirts. Famous bands do that, so that the fans can show that they have been part of that particular tour. Also the fans are ready to travel further to see their favorite bands, so tour dates on the posters make sense. If you only have a handful of “hardcore fans” and you play in small venues it is in contrast less important, it can even appear a bit cocky. Some people who prefer small club shows won’t even buy shirts because of the tour dates in the back, because they like to see themselves more as supporters than as fans.
If you don’t print any dates and the year of the tour on shirts or posters, you can use them for the next tour as well and save costs. I see many bands desperately trying to get rid of their shirts from last year with the old tour dates on it. Also it’s cheaper if you print your shirts only on one side.
I recommend to stay clear of any dates on posters and shirts, but to bring some flyers with all the dates on them, so that you can lay them on the merch table and hand them to your fans or supporters.
Food on the Road Doesn’t have to be Expensive
Try to avoid buying food at highway gas stations. Food at gas stations is often overpriced (and bad). If you get breakfast and dinner provided at the venues, you can either take sandwiches from your breakfast or stock up with snacks like bread rolls, pastries, fruits etc.in grocery stores or bakeries before driving on the highway. Like you can see on the picture, some bands even bring a camping stove. Don’t buy a bottle of water at each stop for 2,50 €. Either buy water in supermarkets or fill up an empty bottle with tap water.
The tap water in most European countries is safe to drink (you should only be careful in Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Ukraine, some regions of Serbia and also some regions of Spain). In some countries people wouldn’t spend money for buying water without bubbles, because they just drink it from the tap. By the way, if you want to order water without bubbles in a restaurant in Europe, you should order explicitly “still water” (German: “Wasser ohne Kohlensäure”, Italian: “Aqua Naturale” etc.).
Phone with Local SIM Card
To use your phone from overseas on the road for tour business is pretty expensive and you should consider to either swap out your own phone’s SIM card for an European one (works with an unlocked phone) or use a second phone with a local SIM card. For more details check out my article about What you should bring on a budget tour in Europe.
In many regions local promoters don’t provide sleeping places for bands. Even in regions where accomodation usually is provided, you might need to book a hotel or hostel on a day off. You can save a lot of money if you book online in advance. On Booking.com, you often find the best prices and in many cases rooms can be cancelled free of charge until one or two days before the booked date.
It is much harder to find an affordable place in popular travel destinations like New York, San Francisco, Amsterdam, London or Paris for example. If you play in those cities it can makes sense to book a hotel somewhere on the way to your next destination and leave directly after the show.
Services such as Wimdu or Airbnb list private accommodations. You can rent rooms, apartments or entire homes for a single night, but these platforms are more likely designed for longer rentals. You can of course also rent out your room at home while you are on tour.
At the shows you have the opportunity to build up a network of friends; perhaps some can help you with a place to stay on the following tour. Perhaps even strangers may help you. Take a look at Couchsurfing.
If you tour in summer and have several days off you also might consider staying at camp sites. That usually costs much less than a hotel, but obviously you will need tents for that. Many campsites also offer different lodging options like bungalows, but they can be expensive again. If you cannot borrow tents from friends, you can buy cheap ones in bike, outdoor, hardware or superstores. For example Cool Camping Europe offers a „hand-picked selection of exceptional camp sites“ in Europe.