A few years ago, my friend Susan and I traveled to Costa Rica. She was impressed that I brought everything I needed for a 2-week trip into a carry-on suitcase, while still having enough variety to accommodate beach and day-trip attire, a few nice outfits for dinners/evenings out as well as work-out clothing. She suggested I write a blog post about packing efficiently…and so, here is my ultimate (and oh-so complete) guide to packing for tour!
First off, a few rules of thumb:
1) If I can’t carry all my luggage from the house to the car in one trip, I’m bringing too much. Portability is key: I need to be able to take public transportation from the airport to my AirBnB in Montreal, for example. This approach is also a much-needed when traveling in the van with 3 other adults and a toddler. My total bag count is the following:
- One carry-on sized suitcase:
- This is usually my checked bag (since I usually have too many liquids/gels to bring it on the plane
- My guitar (with a super-duper hard-shell case):
- I usually carry this with me through airport security and gate check it.
- A small backpack:
- This is my day pack - I usually take it to gigs, on touristy excursions on days off, etc.
- A purse
- Recently, I've opted not to bring a purse. Instead, I'll pack a clutch into my suitcase and use it when I'm going somewhere and don't need my day pack (meeting up with friends for supper, for example).
2) I only pack things I am 100% certain I will use. To me, “just in case” items are luxury ones and if I don’t have space for them, they don’t make the cut. The only other luxury items I make room for are:
- Underwear: one pair per day (+ one extra) up to a max of 14 pairs (It's the number of pairs that I consider "luxury"... not the underwear part ;-).
- A re-fillable water bottle, travel mug and a couple Tupperware containers
- Flip flops: they are handy to have, but ONLY if there is room. I wear them around the hotel (to the pool if there is one, etc.).
3) If I know I’ll be attending one or two formal or dressy events, I won’t pack options for me to decide what to wear when I get there; I make that decision when I pack my suitcase.
4) I don’t bring an item of clothing unless it can be integrated into at least 2 outfit combinations. This rule also applies to shoes – I won’t bring a pair of shoes that will only be worn once.
5) Many people think rolling clothing takes up less room…I’m not convinced. I usually just fold my clothing neatly.
6) My carry-on suitcase expands – but I NEVER expand it before I leave for tour. I reserve that extra space in case I buy something while on the road (you never know what treasures you’ll find a thrift stores!)
Getting through security with a guitar in a hard-shell case: tips
Since I travel with a guitar in a large hard-shell case, a lot of musicians ask if I get a hard time from airline staff when I tell them I’m bringing the guitar through security and to the aircraft. The short answer is: sometimes.
First off, the important thing to clarify with airline staff is that I’m not bringing the guitar on the plane. If I did, my guitar would in fact be way too big.
Instead, I carry my guitar with me through airport security. I leave it at the bottom of the gate before I board the aircraft so that it is stored under the airplane during the flight along with all the strollers. I retrieve it at the foot of the gate once arrived at my next destination. Some airlines call this “sky check”, others call it “gate check”.
I need a special baggage tag to do this and can get one from the airline employee when I check my other bag upon arrival and check in at the airport.
If I’m met with a bit of resistance from airline employees, I mention that my guitar isn’t bigger than many strollers some parents bring through security. That usually seals the deal! However, I had a couple airline employees who were more insistent that my guitar wasn’t allowed. They decided to verify the rules, just in case. We learnt that gate checking my guitar is not against any transport rules (in North America, at least!).
- I wear the clothing that takes the most space on travel days (especially days I fly). This would be the day I’d wear my jeans, sweater, warmest/bulkiest jacket and biggest pair of shoes. Need to bring a good pair of winter boots, but they are too bulky to fit into your suitcase? Wear them, and pack your smaller day shoes in the suitcase instead. Sure, it makes for really toasty feet in the airplane, but its’ worth it to me.
- Riveter outfits: we usually cut the number of shows we have in half. If we perform 6 shows, for example, we’ll bring 3 outfits
- I calculate the number of non-riveter outfits as follows:
- If I’m gone for 1 week, I’ll rotate 3-4 outfits.
- If I’m gone for 2 weeks, I’ll rotate 5-6 outfits. I’ll usually also try to do laundry half way through the trip.
- If I make space for my running shoes, I’ll pack socks or small tank tops inside them.
- Wherever possible, I use small re-fillable containers/bottles for toiletries
- I store all my liquid and gels in giant Ziploc bag to contain spills that may happen while in transit.
Here is look inside my suitcase for a 1-week tour:
Toiletries/first aid/pharmacy/beauty products:
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss
- Razor and blades
- Complex 15 (face moisturizer) and a small re-fillable container of body lotion
- Makeup removing cloths (I buy them in bulk and transport 7 of them in a Ziploc bag)
- Mini container of ibuprofen (I also buy larger bottles and refill my smaller container before I hit the road), decongestant nasal spray (I can’t sleep with a plugged nasal passage!), vitamin C, tea tree essential oil, peppermint essential oil, oregano oil, a pack of oscillococcinum (homeopathic remedy for cold/fever), a couple band aids (smaller ones and two larger ones for blisters on feet), Polysporin (or a small container of salve), cough drops (without menthol), diva cup, lip balm, hair elastics and bobby pins
- Makeup (for both every day and on stage)
- Comb (curly-haired people don't use brushes!)
- Nail clipper and file
- Mini re-fillable bottles of shampoo, conditioner, face cleanser, exfoliating cleanser and hair products (curl defining cream, moose and hairspray)
- Travel blow-dryer that folds in half + diffuser
- Ear plugs
- Jewelry: 2-4 pairs of earrings and 2-3 necklaces.
- Hand-held dual sided mirror (sometimes there just aren’t enough mirrors in the hotel or green room pre-show!)
- 3 Riveter dresses, two boleros, three belts, one fascinator, one other hair accessory
- One pair of jeans (or a pair of shorts/skirt)
- One pair of leggings or pair of shorts
- 2 tank tops
- 1 sweater
- Two long-sleeve shirts that can be layered and or/worn alone
- One other top I can wear with both my jeans and leggings
- Space permitting, I’ll bring something a bit dressier – such as a sundress (or sweater-dress in cooler climates) …even though this breaks my “it must be used in two outfits” rule. If I have space, I’ll pack this luxury item!
- Underwear (one pair per day)
- Bras (2-3)
- Bathing suit (in case the hotel has a hot tub!)
- 2-3 pairs of socks
- 1pair of heels for performance (that matches ALL my dress options)
- 1 pair of sandals (in summer) - or flip flops in winter if space allows
- 1 pair of running shoes and one outfit for exercise (I pack shorts, a t-shirt and sports bra inside my running shoes to save space).
- Close-toed shoes depending on the season:
- Spring/Summer/Fall: 1 pair of Keds or other closed-toe shoe that is weather appropriate and works with all of my outfits
- Winter boots (I have a pair of winter boots that are insulated, waterproof AND fashionable (who knew this was a thing!?). ... yes, they were worth the $280 I paid for them!).
Seasonal items that may find their way into my suitcase:
- Scarf, tuque, mitts and wool socks (+ winter jacket)
- Water-proof rain jacket + scarf
- Sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray
A look inside my small backpack for a 1-week tour:
- Laptop and charger
- A book
- Aluminum water bottle, travel mug
- Pens, sharpie and a mini stapler (I organize my receipts on the go)
- Tea bags
- Phone and charger/cable
- Food: I usually pack a lunch for my first day on the road (the Tupperware is then super helpful later in the week to pack leftovers from our green room hospitality, for example)
- If space allows, I’ll bring pencil crayons and my coloring book
Best tip of all: keep it simple!