I’VE BEEN A PERFORMING MUSICIAN since I was 12. It never mattered what type of gig it was — a school concert, a parade, a recording session, a festival, a club, a wedding, a tour — I’ve done them all, and for each one the time spent packing, setting up, and breaking down (“the schlep,” as it’s known) typically more than doubled the actual performance time.
Knowing how to pack is essential for touring musicians. And while “How to Pack Like a Rock Star,” by Shaun Huberts, is aimed at that specific market, the tips inside are golden for anyone who travels extensively.
The book is extremely visual, utilizing both pics and diagrams — very helpful, considering step-by-step text instructions on how to fold a shirt can be pretty tedious. And every section is accompanied by quotes from experienced touring musicians. Some offer extra tips, some contradict Shaun’s advice, and some are just plain funny.
Shaun’s overall concept is to treat packing like a game of TETRIS — getting your clothes and gear into the most efficient shapes, then fitting them together like a puzzle. There are illustrations showing the best way to fold shirts, pants, and jackets in ways that are not only space-saving, but allow you to see labels so you know which pair is which.
There are tips on packing order: heavy to light is generally ideal. Shoes get their own special section, as do skivvies. The book also provides you with a checklist of clothing, toiletries, and extras like ear plugs and power adapters. (If you’ve never been on tour before, some of these are things you don’t want to learn about the hard way. Like shower sandals.)
I thought the section on extras like souvenirs was particularly thoughtful. Despite my best efforts at being thrifty and keeping my bags light, I inevitably pick up a little something to add to my luggage. (And by “little something” I mean a one-pound fudge sausage.) How to Pack Like a Rock Star tells you not just how to fit these things, but how to make them useful — like using books as dividers to separate your cleans and your dirties.
While that’s all great information, most musicians and long-term travelers know enough to at least start their trip with a well-organized bag. The tricky part is actually living out of it for weeks without the whole thing falling into disarray, with clean clothes mixed with almost-clean mixed with reeks-of-sweat-and-smoke. The book has a clever answer to this: switch your game from TETRIS to Jenga. I won’t explain it. It’s worth checking the book out just for this section.
Shaun also provides a legit “Laundratic Equation” to help you figure out how often you’ll need to find a laundromat based on the length of your tour and the number of pairs of underwear you bring. Perhaps even more brilliant is the illustrated step-by-step guide on turning two t-shirts into a laundry bag — something I’m going to try out at the next available opportunity.
All packing tips are dependent upon the type of suitcase you have. Near the end of the book is a great section with the pros and cons of hard and soft cases to help you pick the best one for your situation. And the airport section is absolutely something anyone who’s never done a tour or extended travel with heavy equipment should read. It seems so obvious, but I learned this the hard way:
More bags equals more money and a higher risk of losing gear.
Heavy (albeit fewer) bags also equals more money, and a higher risk of having to leave things behind, since airlines won’t accept bags over a certain weight limit.
Oh yes, I’ve done the frantic last-minute redistributing the weight of drum equipment dance with a line of angry passengers behind me. It ain’t pleasant.
That may seem like a no-win, but really, you just have to know how to pack efficiently. This will help you bypass pretty much all the big rookie mistakes.
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Michelle is a musician, writer, and teacher just trying to see the world while doing what she loves for a living. She's taught ESL in Salvador, Brazil and kindergarten in Suwon, Korea, and now she's a full-time freelance writer living in Seattle (just to keep the city alliteration going). She'll try pretty much any food once and believes coffee is its own food group.
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