I’m writing this from yet another characterless hotel room where I will again lay my weary head, keep my clothes in a bag, and plant my guitar on the extra bed for the next month. I spend much of my work time traveling and have come up with routines and rituals that help me make it through the journey relatively unscathed. Although it’s said the worse vice is advice, here I go with my road-dog travel tips.
1. Hotels are, by and large,
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 &
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,
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
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
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
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