Wellbeing on the road: how to stay healthy (and sane) as a touring musician

Classy hotels, luxurious green rooms filled with nice food and a bowl of M&M’s that had all of the brown ones removed by a spotty intern: touring life is the dream, or is it?

When I was getting ready for my first 2 weeks tour in Europe I had no idea that all of the above couldn’t be further from reality. As a matter of fact, it soon became clear that every single aspect of the touring life was designed to drive to insanity, whilst slowly killing you, one instant coffee at a time.

Up to 7-8 hrs a day in a crammed van, processed junk food, too much booze and very little sleep. All of this and the fact that you rarely get a moment for yourself to gather your thoughts make life on the road something that deserves a little more self-awareness and preparation than a road trip with your mates. Of course, this can also apply to other contexts, when you are travelling daily, on a tight schedule and constantly under a lot of pressure.

Like in all aspects of life, there are things we can do to help make this easier for ourselves and who knows, maybe even turn the experience into the dreamlike adventure that touring is made out to be.

Stay hydrated

Personally, I find this to be the top priority, more than ever when on the road.

The benefits of drinking lots of water are too many to list and it doesn’t take a genius to realize why it is advisable to do so: long periods of time sitting in a van will make your muscles tense up, leading to all sorts of pains that will in the long run, affect how you perform on stage, as well as in your everyday life. This, together with excessive alcohol consumption is probably the biggest threat to your physical and mental wellbeing. Keep a bottle of water with you at all times to combat the negative effects of sitting and drinking too much, for too long, even if it means you will have to ask the driver to stop for a toilet break every 15 minutes.

Stretching

Another key element in keeping your muscles healthy is stretching.

The issue with this is that you will rarely have the time/space to stretch properly, so it is very important that you take the opportunity to do so whenever possible.

I tend to try and use mornings to get a little “me” time, that is, when I manage to avoid staying up until 5 am with a bunch of Frenchmen eager for me to help them finish a case of their uncle’s finest red.

A bit of stretching in the bedroom or in whichever space has been designated for the purpose of sleeping (could be a barn, a henhouse or the floor of the venue you just performed in) or if possible a little stroll/run in a nearby park can do wonders to relax your body before a long drive. Another good opportunity to get some exercise is right after soundcheck and dinner: this will serve the double purpose of helping you digest while keeping you away from the temptations of the bar.

Eat well

Gone are the days where I could function properly on a diet made solely of pot noodles and watered down orange juice. If you’ve ever been a student or a terrible cook, or both, you will likely know what I’m talking about.

As if it wasn’t hard enough already, healthy eating is made even more difficult by the fact most venue owners will assume the band will be delighted at the sight of their banquet of cheese slices, frankfurter and stale bread, especially so when the band in question is from a country whose culinary traditions have been built on potatoes and the 1,001 ways in which they can be cooked.

In this case a little preparation is advisable: as well as ensuring the venue owners are made aware that you have been/will be on the road a while and that a nutritious meal is necessary for the whole team to work well, it is always best to have a plan B just in case you feel cheese & baguette might not quite hit the spot. The best way to go about it is by making sure you get your party to regularly stop at supermarkets when the opportunity arises. Stocking up on greens, fruit and canned, nutritious foods will prove to be a life-saver in some scenarios as well as save you money that would otherwise be spent on packaged, grey looking, overpriced petrol station grade sandwiches.

Alone time/silence

Last but not least, this one is often not considered at all what with being part of a rock band, for whom loudness is regarded as highly as posing in front of a brick wall, with the singer uncompromisingly standing in the middle.

Loud music on stage, in the van and the constant chit-chatting of fellow band members can have a dramatic impact on stress levels as well as being extremely dangerous for your hearing.

Whilst earplugs can help greatly, it is very important that you grab as many opportunities to be alone as you can. Take 10 after loading in to explore the neighbourhood, write on your diary, do some conscious breathing exercises or read a book. Although I love spending time with my travelling companions, I value my alone time, even more so when most of my awake time is spent socialising with people. A little awareness towards this can bring huge benefits in terms of feeling calm and grounded, as well as helping you deal well with unforeseen events, which, believe it or not, will come and knock on your door at some point.