It’s Not A Holiday: Travel Versus The Music Tour

AKA WELCOME TO THE ART OF NOT TRAVELLING AROUND THE WORLD LIKE A GROUP OF ITINERANT BOG-RATS

As I write this I’m on a train somewhere between Siena and Rome. Out the window, the plains country looks exactly like home (Australia): all lonely fences and dry grass. It reminds me of every van tour I’ve ever been on. It reminds me of those music tour experiences except that I’m happy and I’m completely at ease and my girlfriend is sitting across the aisle.

And there’s no itinerary.

And I haven’t driven for weeks on end.

It’s bliss.

Yet she had to really cajole me into this trip:

Me: ‘Seven weeks on the road in a foreign country? Are you kidding? I need a holiday!’

Her: ‘It’s not like touring. It’s travel, it’s different.’

That’s how it went. I’d never really travelled at length. I’d only toured with bands.

So, we had the conversation over and over until I relented.

In short, she was right.

Here are three ways in which travelling beats touring:

#1 No One Is Waiting On You

Booking a tour and managing that tour while it’s in-progress is hell. You’re dealing with one of the worst things there is: hobbyists trying to do something professional. And that ‘something professional’ involves all the most terrible things about professional work: travel with colleagues, drunken colleagues, daily deadlines, intense project management and high pressure public interaction. This is the sort of work that professional business people avoid unless they’re George Clooney’s character in ‘Up In The Air’. Add to which the pay is lousy.

But the worst of it is the daily deadline. You have to be in a specific place every day. The whole point of the day is getting to that place. If anything stops you doing that, you may as well have not gotten up that morning.

People are waiting for you when you tour.

#2 Expectations Are Neutral

When I write that, ‘People are waiting for you when you tour,’ I need to clarify that from time to time, these people number in the tens, not the hundreds. Sometimes, when it all goes wrong, these people are the bar staff, the tired sound person, the shitty club owner (who made a mistake booking you, but now has to deal with it), the support bands (phoning it in because it’s a shit show) and the five or so paying customers who wished they’d chosen something a little less awkward to do with their friday night than stand in an empty bar with your band.

When you travel, every day is just what it is.

Every day you retain your passport and your wallet is a win.

Every day you avoid food poisoning and see something new is a win.

It’s easier.

You expectations are easy to manage when you’re travelling.

When you’re touring, you expectations are difficult to manage.

You’ve booked the shows, you’ve sent out press releases, posters, handbills, updates, emails and crossed every finger. You have to maintain the expectation that what is about to happen will be a unique, exciting, romantic and moderately successful thing because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t do it because it’s shitty work (see #1). It’s job application syndrome all over: you can’t convince others of your potential greatness without half-convincing yourself in the process.

#3 No Sleep Till <Insert City>

I am a jedi master of accommodating a touring rock band. I haven’t slept on the floor of a promoter’s share house in years.

I drew a line under that shit.

(And really, that’s all it takes. The only way any band gets out of floorcore is by making the decision, sticking to it and finding a way to make it work.)

But a bed is only half the problem. There is a reason people hire those tour buses: the hours are terrible, the morning starts are early and the travel times are long. Most of the time if you’re DIY-ing it, you don’t sleep a great deal.

When you’re travelling, you go to sleep when you feel tired.

Sleep is no biggie when you’re travelling. It’s just there if you need it.

Thesis: I’m an idiot

For years, I loved touring. It was my direct line to everything I wanted from new places: rock clubs, fun bars, new friends and the city at night.

I’m not sure if it’s getting older but that attitude of mine just seems a little vacuous now. There’s something a bit messed up with only travelling the country / the world and just visiting the inside of the same buildings and the same vegetarian cafes. As travel, a band tour isn’t much different from a Contiki tour or a seniors coach trip. Isn’t getting a bit loose and seeing some bands in a room pretty much the same everywhere?

It’s not like my travel plans for today: from Siena street festival to whatever wonders of the antiquity Rome holds in store.

If something catches my eye in between, I can stop and look at it.

If I’m tired I can sleep. If I’m hungry I can go eat, anywhere. If hate the sight of people, I can hide in the hotel.

Look, I’m not knocking touring. I can’t.

I’m not saying don’t do it either. Just pause to think about it as well as go and do it.

(Which, as I’m finding out is pretty much the mission statement of this entire blog)

Touring is great.

It’s just about the fastest way to make new friends ever invented. And it works, generally speaking. It is often a cheap way to promote your band in a meaningful way. But what it delivers to you as a person is not the same as the benefits of travel. It doesn’t properly give you that time away from regiment and order. A tour can be chaos, sure. Most people aren’t in Slug Guts. You pretty much know what’s going to happen on tour: shows, cancellations, drinks, and so on. The benefit of travel over touring is that you can be self-directed, independent and loose if you want it to be. If you’re a musician, travel jumps you out of the grid in a way a tour can’t. Travel takes you away from the routines of practice, shows, community and city.

It opens you up a bit.

So try and be a bit smarter than me.

Music touring is addictive like travel.

But don’t mistake one for the other.

Next in Part 2: ‘Touring VS Travelling’ – Wherein the author wanders around Europe desperately searching for a show to attend. And fails. Repeatedly.

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