Besides playing music, the best part of touring is exploring new cities. Have you always wanted to go to New York, Nashville, or Newfoundland? Well, you’re in a band, so go ahead and book yourself a tour!
At the end of my days, if nothing else I will have seen a lot of the world. Over time, I have developed some good habits for navigating in new cities, and making the most of my time at each stop. Sometimes, you’re only in a given place for 12 hours or less, so I like to use my time well!
Let’s start with the basics. First of all, how do you get to where you need to go?
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Musicians, Use Your GPS
Everybody has a GPS. If you don’t, I would get a smartphone for that purpose alone. If I didn’t have Google Maps, I would never have even figured out how to leave my hometown!
But seriously, use your GPS and trust your GPS. Generally, it knows how to get you to where you need to go better than you (or the locals) do.
My personal preference is Google Maps, even if you have an iPhone. I find that remote locations tend to show up more often in Google Maps, where they often don’t in Maps on iPhone. I also appreciate that Google has real time updating of traffic flow. This can help you beat the traffic (if you’re on the ball).
It’s always good to have a designated navigator. Usually, there is someone in your group that's particularly good at it. This also prevents the driver from being distracted, and you shouldn’t miss any important turns.
Plan Ahead When Touring
If you have multiple stops in a new city, it’s worth taking a few minutes and planning a route. Generally, the day before is best time to do this, especially if you have to make any appointments. Sometimes it can take a surprisingly long time to get from one end of the city to the other, so be aware!
It’s also worth taking a look the day before a long drive, so you are aware of where the pit stops are, the small towns, and keep your head up for important turns.
Follow The Crowd
If you’re out exploring a new city and you get a little turned around, don’t freak out! It happens to everyone. Use the crowds to direct your path. Notice where most people are walking – this will almost always lead to public transit.
Stand Back And Watch
The first time I ever used a subway was when I was on tour in a new (big) city. I had no idea how to do it! If you run into a situation like this, stand back and watch. The locals have done it many times.
Just Ask For Directions If You Get Lost Heading To A Gig
If there’s one non-musical thing I’ve learned on tour it’s that people are amazing. Nearly everyone I've met is helpful, kind, and generous – they far outweigh the nasty type!
I got over my pride long ago, and will now rejoice in asking for directions questions.
Listen To The Locals
Part of navigating a new city when touring is getting to experience some of the unique things it has to offer. Wherever I’m staying, there’s always a local I can ask for tips in their city. Everyone loves talking about their city, so don’t be afraid to ask!
My band has a bit of a tradition with breakfasts. Whenever possible, we make a late breakfast our big meal of the day, and don’t eat again until dinner (which is usually provided by the venue/promoter).
I always ask a hip local where the best breakfast spot is, and I am very rarely disappointed. If you somehow come up short, TripAdvisor has yet to lead me astray!
Even if a place looks a little sketchy, take a look inside – are the locals eating there? If so, it’s probably a) delicious, and b) safe to eat. The places I don’t trust are the nice looking, empty ones.
I also ask locals where the best place to go for a run is, what we should do with our day off, where the best coffee is, etc. I’ve attended a few open mics/jams upon the recommendation of locals, that have later turned into gigs!
Know When To Ignore The Locals
There are times when I don’t listen to the locals. Specifically, if someone is trying to tell me the best way to get from their city to the next city, I just straight up ignore it. Literally every single time I take the so-called “scenic route” or “faster way”, it ends up being a bad decision.
I was touring in the mountains, and I needed to catch a ferry to the next gig. I saw on my Maps that there was a short road that appeared to cut many miles off the journey, so I asked some locals if it was worth a try. They said, “oh yeah sure, it should be fine this time of year!” Nope. I missed my ferry, because of eight feet of snow in my way.
Long story short, your GPS knows the best route. Seriously. It does.
Learn Something Wherever You Go
I’m the only one in my band that does this, but I like to do a little research on each place we visit or pass on our journeys. If a town has a weird name, I like to find out why. If you find some strange public art, find out what it means.
Not only does this pass the time, it also makes for great talking points with fans, hosts, etc. Have fun with it!
Enjoy The Journey
Touring can be tough, but it really helps if you can learn to enjoy the journey. Our little breakfast ritual, all the cool thrift stores and coffee shops, every surprisingly good open mic, it’s all part of the journey that goes along with being a musician.
If you can learn to love these little delights on the road, touring will be that much more fun!