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1. Hotels are, by and large, disgusting.
You don’t have to be a forensic scientist armed with a black light to know that most hotel rooms are basically one big petri dish, teeming with somebody else’s funk. High volume, quick turnaround, and an overworked, underpaid and disgruntled staff makes for some nasty sleeping quarters. When first entering your rented digs, put on some rubber gloves if you have them, and throw that DNA-ridden bed comforter into the most remote corner of the room. Don’t touch it again. If it’s warm enough, do the same with those seldom-washed blankets and go sheets-only during your stay.
Speaking of sheets—though this may sound like a Howard Hughes level of mysophobia— take a quick look for bedbugs. They’re oval in shape, brownish/ reddish in color, and tend to leave tiny black spots (yes, that’s excrement) on linens and furniture. (Just typing this makes me a little queasy and itchy all at once.) Like Aerosmith after rehab, bedbugs have enjoyed a big comeback in the last few years, so it’s not a bad idea to pull back the sheets and see what you find. Though I’ve never actually found bedbugs, I’ve had a few nauseating surprises waiting for me between the top and bottom sheets— including many curly hairs, a soiled condom, a Jugs magazine, and an empty bottle of Lewis & Clark vodka.
While on the subject of vodka, ever poured a drink into a hotel glass and thought, “Gee, this tastes odd?” That’s because sometimes hotel glasses and coffee mugs aren’t washed, but instead given a hefty shot of Windex and quick wipe. You’d be better off taking your chances with a random dirty glass than ingesting that poisonous cleaner. Stick to the hermetically sealed plastic cups and give that coffee maker and mug a good washing in the sink.
One last safety tip: Don’t prop open your door, or open it to unexpected strangers. Kenneth Smith—a great player I toured with for years—got a knock on his hotel door one night, and opened it assuming it was a friend or bandmate. Instead, he was greeted by two armed men who forced their way in and robbed him at gunpoint. Kenneth is a big ol’ boy who pounds the hell out of drums for a living, but he was powerless when confronted by drug-fueled, gun-toting nut jobs. It sounds a bit fantastic, but this stuff actually happens.
2. Pack light.
A wise man said that those things we cannot do without we do not possess—but rather they possess us. Traveling is a good opportunity to shake off the stuff that quite literally drags us down. I can go for weeks with one pair of jeans, one dress shirt, four t-shirts, shorts for working out, and ample socks and underwear. I pack almost nothing in the toiletry department—relying instead on free hotel amenities for razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, etc.
I use that ubiquitous free skin lotion in hotels as a combination hair gel/shaving cream/moisturizer. I also use airline baggage tags as a lint remover—just pull it off your bag handle, open it up and start dabbing that sticky glue side to the dog hair on your stage clothes.
3. Walk your guitar on the plane.
Although baggage tags are handy, you don’t want them on your guitar case. Carry your guitar on and avoid having it get lost, broken or stolen before your gig. Airline employees will tell you it won’t fit in the overhead, but it usually will. When they give you the gate-check tag—take it passively, thank them cordially, then covertly rip it off the guitar and hide it in your pocket as you walk down the ramp. Cram that guitar into the first semi-open overhead you find, and be a nuisance if you must by moving other people’s bags around.
I take approximately 60 flights a year with a guitar, and with the exception of a big acoustic on a tiny commuter plane, my guitar always makes it up top. When boarding about 40 of those flights, a flight attendant will ask in a chipper, singsong voice, “Are you going to serenade us on the flight?” To which I reply in an equally happy, singsong tone, “Are you going to buy me a couple of drinks?” Sometimes that’s good for a Bloody Mary or two.
4. Be good to your body.
Life on the road can turn the most regular person into a producer of hard pellets. To avoid crippling constipation, pack some Psyllium or Metamucil to ensure you get your roughage, and drink lots of water as flights desiccate your body tissues. And try to get some exercise, even if it’s just a few jumping jacks in your filthy hotel room to keep things movin’.
5. When in Rome, enjoy and save your dough-re-mi.
If you tour out of the country at all, consider buying a magic- Jack—a device that turns your computer into a free international calling station. They cost around $40, with a $20 annual renewal fee. You could spend more than that on one hotel-room call from London to Hoboken.
Save more bread by packing plenty of strings, picks, capos and cables. All that stuff is wildly expensive when you leave the States and sometimes impossible to find, depending on how remote your destination.
If you’re touring Europe, bring along Rick Steves’ travel guides and work in some sightseeing between gigs. These books are loaded with great info and will help you make the most of your limited time and resources. Steves also has amazingly entertaining and informative free audio tours that you can download at home, put on your iPod and use as you travel.
Well, there it is musician traveler. Whether you’re a complete xenophobe or a life-long gypsy, some of these tips may help you along your journey to the next gig.
John Bohlinger is a Nashville-based guitarist who works primarily in TV and has recorded and toured with over 30 major-label artists. His songs and playing can be heard in major motion pictures, on major-label releases, and in literally hundreds of television drops. Visit him at youtube.com/user/johnbohlinger or facebook.com/johnbohlinger.