11 Things To Always Have In Your Tour Van

Tour buses come equipped with fantastic amenities such as couches, beds, outlets, fridges, bathrooms, bars, TVs, cupboards, groupies, blow, you name it.

Tour vans? Not so much.

Most touring bands don’t get to upgrade to the bus level until a hit or two. Touring can be very profitable – even for baby bands – if done smart.

There’s no need to get a tour bus if you’re only playing to a few hundred a night. No matter how rock star you’d like to feel. At $30,000 a month (not to mention gas) it’s just not worth it.

I’ve toured many times. Some van tours. Some SUV tours. Some Corolla tours. I haven’t done the bus tour yet, but been in a few when friends have come through town. They’re nice. But expensive.

Here are 11 things to remember to bring on your next tour that can reduce stress and make the experience as enjoyable as possible.

1. Internet

Most smart phones can be turned into wifi hotspots. Make sure you get a data plan ready for the tour that can support all the laptops and iPads in the van. If your data plan is restrictive (not unlimited) make sure everyone knows they need to limit their YouTubing, Netflixing and boyfriend/girlfriend Skyping.

2. Power Strip and Converter

Those big, white, totally unsafe, gas guzzling 15 passenger vans that every band seems to tour in, have cigarette power inputs, but typically no standard AC outlet. So double check what kind of outlet it has and get a converter if need be. And a powerstrip so you aren’t fighting over charging time.

3. Security System

The last van/trailer tour I did, we had about 3 attempted break ins to our trailer. Luckily the padlocks we had were the uncuttable, indestructible, don’t lose the f’ing key, kind. They couldn’t break it. AND we had a deafening alarm system had they broken the locks (or smashed the van windows). Make sure the alarm system is obvious with bright blinking lights or even big stickers advertising which alarm system guards your gear.

If you’re touring in an SUV, like I’ve done many times, make sure you have a King Size sheet to cover up the gear in the back whenever you stop for food or to sleep. If they can’t see what’s inside through the windows they’ll most likely move on. If they can see something valuable that they could get in a 15 second smash-and-grab, they’re much more likely to attempt it.

4. EZ-Pass

Or I-Pass (they are interchangeable at tolls). These can be used in 14 states to get through tolls quickly and without having to hop out and trade CDs for coins with the car behind you. A must for East Coast and Midwest tours.

5. Pillow

Seems like a no brainer. But most of your time will be spent driving – much of it at night. Don’t forget that pillow!

6. Trash bags

If you don’t, you will be living amongst banana peels and coffee cups.

7. Canteen

$2 bottles of water add up. Save some coin (and the environment) and fill up your canteen at rest stops and gas stations.

8. Frisbee or Football

Or whatever your game of choice is. Getting in 10 minutes of exercise whenever possible is crucial at keeping your sanity. Plan into your travel schedule some extra time for frisbee toss.

9. Nuts

The healthy snack. Get them raw or dry roasted. Instead of stuffing your face (and your love handles) with gas station nachos, swing by a Costco and pick up containers to last the tour.

10. Phone Mount

The standard Garmin GPS system is going the way of the camcorder. Each new driver can just pop her phone into the mount on the dash or the glass, open Google maps and soldier on. Make sure you have a charger dedicated for the driver’s phone.

11. Tire Jack

And all the tools you need to change a tire. I’ve gotten a few flats on tours over the years. One time I was in Utah on the highway with zero cell service. Luckily, I had the tools. The car only fell on me twice. I’d call that success.

I took this photo when we drove off the road into a ditch after hitting some black ice. Surprisingly enough, none of us were injured.

15 Responses

  1. Paul Resnikoff

    Ari, I thought you said to never drag a trailer!

    • GGG

      I also vote never use a trailer unless 500% necessary. They scream here’s a container with thousands of dollars of stuff in it. They eat up gas because you always end up packing more than you need, and they add another bad element of driving in winter weather (if you’re touring in snowy areas).

    • Ari Herstand

      I did – unless you have to. We had to. 8 person tour. We had tons of gear. Unfortunately there was no way around it. But fortunately, I wasn’t covering expenses.

  2. Jenna

    Great post! Definitely a few things I may forget from time to time. I agree with that AAA comment though. It definitely helps, even for local touring. I’ve had my bus break down right in front of a venue and had to tow it to a parking spot so we could do the gig.

  3. Vail, CO

    Bad habits are BAD, like

    leaving trash around
    talking loudly on phone
    waking people up
    not chipping in
    not carrying stuff enough
    be douchy
    talking too much
    not driving enough

    It all ads up and breeds resentment over time.

  4. experienced enough

    . contact cleaner
    . WD 40
    . tape
    . medical kit
    . backup cell phone
    . a real map printed on paper
    . some cash and change

  5. Jeremy Arndt

    $30,000 a month for a bus?!? Where are you getting that figure Ari? You can buy a converted Prevost, MCI, or Eagle Coach from the 90’s with a strong, reliable diesel powerplant for around that. Yikes! I’m guessing it’s rental fees.

    If you have bands that want/need a bus?!? Why not a low-mile used RV or converted school bus?!? There’s lots of reliable options out there. An old, low mile diesel RV or School Bus will give you many relatively maintenance free miles. I have several touring musician friends who are touring on Waste Veggie Oil in converted school buses. I am currently searching for an old school bus to convert, as the cost for a Diesel Van is higher than the cost for a school bus with much more room. But… I have lived (and toured) in a VW Bus, Toyota Van (in Australia), Chevy Colorado truck, etc. I’m ready for some space!

    Great article though!

    Some things I would add:

    A cooler and cookstove: Buying and making your own food saves TONS of money. Granted, with a whole band, cooking and cleaning could be tedious. But… you can eat well without having to cook. My average food cost per day is $5-7 and I eat very well. 3 healthy meals (no ramen), plus snacks. Lot’s of fresh, healthy veggies, salads, nuts, fruit, etc. We even toured Australia on a $7 per day food budget per person and their food is extremely expensive! I maybe go out to eat once a month. It’s hard to go out to eat when I enjoy my own cooking more and I can feed a couple people for the price of a plate at a restaurant 😀

    GPS: I know you said a phone mount. But… I still find the GPS more useful. It tells me the speed limits, seems to be more reliable, and I can use it as a backup. I usually find my address on the phone and use the trusty GPS to save my data (to use while tethering and answering those emails)

    Tool Kit/Vehicle Essentials: Having a basic tool kit is essential! You may not just need to change a tire. Simple things can add up to big bills if you don’t have the basic tools needed to fix something on the road. Also, duct tape can help immensely if you have any hoses, wire, etc. come loose. Having a basic knowledge of your vehicle can be helpful for a touring musician who, most likely, isn’t touring in a new, warrantied vehicle. A gas can is very important… especially when touring out West in the USA. Sometimes there are some LOOOOOOOOONG stretches between fuel stations. You forget to stop when you are at 1/4 tank and you could be screwed! Don’t forget your AAA! It will save you a lot of money if you get a AAA Membership with towing. I have used mine on several occasions and won’t travel without it.

  6. Dave

    Great article. It’s been years since I’ve been on the road and you’ve added some great updates. How about an address book, stationery, and stamps. Actually writing to your family and friends back home is huge for them. I know it’s kind of analog, but it is truly a big deal to get a letter or note from you, especially on extended trips.

  7. Alex Kane

    Toilet paper and ideally dont have shoe laces as shoe laces and Mens public toilet just dont mix unless you like dragging them through strangers urine in every truck stop. Slip ons for when youre doing alot of flying as well to get through customs without wasting yours or others behind you time.

  8. Anonymous

    Why all these analog touring stories on a digital music site?

    Most artists lose money from touring and make 90% of their income from download sales.

    • CHase

      Most artists lose money from touring and make 90% of income from download sales?!?! WHere’d you pull that number from?? Obviously you’ve never toured. Most of the income comes from the artist guarantee and the merchandise sold at those concerts. I would say most touring bands make 90% or their money on the road, whereas download sales MAYBE account for 10%, while Spotify gets a majority of the plays.

  9. Hazel Owens

    That’s good to know that 15 passenger vans typically don’t have a standard AC outlet so it’s best to get a converter or a powerstrip. My family is planning a trip with my kids and my sister’s so we end up having 8 kids total and 4 adults so we are thinking of getting a 15 passenger van to accommodate everyone and our stuff. Once we find where we can rent one we’ll have to make sure we get a couple converters so we can still charge our phones if we need to later on. http://unitedtruckrental.co/