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By Leah D. Nelson
Going on tour is, for many, a road trip, but it’s also incredibly hard work. It’s work from a performance, planning, and marketing standpoint, but it’s also deeply important that you take care of your body while on the road. With all the planning and organization that goes into booking and executing a successful tour (and sure, having a bit of fun along the way), the idea of eating healthy, balanced meals may not even come to mind.
Furthermore, musicians primarily go on tour to make money and expand their fan base, so if you’re spending excessively on food, you’ll cut into your own profits. So what’s a hungry touring musician to do? How can you balance your energy levels and your checkbook at the same time? Here are some pointers for saving money while also eating healthy when you’re on tour.
Tip 1: Plan Ahead
Prior to hitting the road, you have to get organized and pack up all the gear and clothing you’ll need (making sure not to overpack). Firstly, the space you save by leaving some of your favorite T-shirts behind can be filled with healthy snacks. No matter the length of your tour, snacking is going to be your best friend on those long stretches of road. Secondly, make sure to pack a couple reusable grocery bags to use when you fill up on snacks at the store, so you’re not wasting a ton of disposable plastic bags.
A few days before you take off, make a trip to the grocery store to grab munchies like protein-rich nuts, jerky, fruit, energy bars, and other non-perishable foods. You’ll be grateful to have snacks on hand for those long stretches of pavement, and you’ll avoid overpaying at the gas station or fast food joints.
Tip 2: Always Eat a Hearty Breakfast
The late nights on tour typically equate a late start the next morning, but don’t let that stop you from eating breakfast. When you skip breakfast, you’re more likely to overindulge on unhealthy snacks to make up for the missed calories. Avoid this at all costs.
Studies have shown that school-age children perform better and are more attentive when they eat a good breakfast, so you’re more likely to be on your game when you eat a healthy breakfast on the day of a gig, or while driving long distances. Fresh fruit and instant oatmeal packets are inexpensive and perfect for the on-the-go lifestyle of a touring musician.
Tip 3: Hit Up Free Meal Sites
Believe it or not, you can find free hot meals while on tour. Yes, free! Food Not Bombs is a national collective of groups that serve vegan meals for free, typically once a week. You’re likely to find a Food Not Bombs in every major city across the U.S.
The more culturally adventurous can seek out free meals elsewhere — for example, at Hindi or Hare Krishna temples. Even if you’re not religious, you can take part in the free meals. Many temples that serve Sunday dinner have a donation box, so kick down if you can. Free meal sites provide a great way to experience local culture, eat a nutritious meal, and save money all at once.
But also consider where you can stay overnight on the road that may include a home-cooked meal, like with family, friends, shared contacts, or performing at house concerts.
Tip 4: Pool Your Money for Shared Meals
Touring bandmates share plenty — stage space, driving duties, tiny slivers of a freezing couch — so why should food be any different? Once you reach your daily tour spot, every member of your band is likely to be hungry. Instead of hitting up a sit-down restaurant and buying separate meals, pick up something that everyone can share, such as pizza and salad or a family dinner with sides from a local restaurant.
A shared pre-performance meal will nourish you without breaking your budget, and can even bring your band closer together. You could even consider funneling a percentage of the door take every night to a shared “food fund.”
No matter whether your tour route keeps you in a particular region or takes you across entire countries, you don’t have to sacrifice nutrition to save money. By planning ahead, getting to know the cities in which you’re playing, and eating breakfast, you can stay healthy on tour without breaking the bank.
Have you been hungry on the road? Share your stories with us below, or help educate the rest of the DIY touring community by joining and posting in our free online course, Touring on a Shoestring.
Leah D. Nelson started writing about music in high school, and never stopped. She loves thrift shops, dogs, live music, and riding her bike. After spending several memorable years immersed the New Orleans music scene, she is now comfortably settled in Boise, Idaho.