Touring is almost an inevitable aspect of many freelance musicians’ lives. Whether it’s a long or short trip away, time spent away from home can quickly take its toll. Lots of short journeys away make home seem like a pit stop in between trips, while long tours can make us forget what home even is. While everyone has their own way of coping, some are more effective (and healthy) than others. Nowadays, the conversation is really opening up as to how to stay healthy while away; read on for my personal tips…
1. Stay Healthy
Late nights, early starts – the erratic lifestyle that accompanies touring leads to a lot of burning the candle at both ends, especially after concerts where the adrenalin is still running high, meaning you might not want to head straight back for a (relatively) early night. The temptation to party is always strong, and while it can be fun to celebrate with colleagues and friends, it can all too easily become a habit. Many musicians use alcohol (or something stronger) as a way to manage the ups and downs of life on the road, but long term, it’s not sustainable. Luckily, this is being talked about more and more now, and where previously it was almost assumed that drinking was part of the lifestyle – especially with younger players feeling obliged to pick up the drinking culture in order to fit in – nowadays that pressure isn’t there as much, although there is still probably some way to go. Away from drinking, food is something else that suffers when away. The tiredness and strange hours lead to the allure of junk food. Trying to fuel your body in a way that will help you rather than hinder you will help more to cope with the overall experience of being away.
Whenever I’m away I bring my running shoes with me. I’m not the biggest fan of running, but it helps to keep me in shape, and it’s a nice way to discover a new place – especially if time there is limited (which it often is). If I have more time I’ll search out the nearest swimming pool and enjoy taking some time for myself that way. While not exactly ‘exercise’, I make time to meditate every day, something again which helps me retain a bit of perspective and balance. Many people have their own exercise that they do while away, and it doesn’t really matter exactly what it is; just having something to keep you in shape and find some time to be alone can help so much.
3. Enjoy Yourself
It’s easy to read this and think we have to behave ourselves 24/7, be the ideal touring musician and resist anything remotely fun in order to prioritise our wellbeing. Fortunately, this is far from the truth. A lot of the stresses that arise from spending time away from home come from directly that: the fact that we’re away and not at home, where everything seems balanced and more simple. We begin to associate being away from home with the consequent tiredness and stress it imposes, and before you know it, the two things are interchangeable. You dread travelling, building it up in your head as an unpleasant experience, a challenge that needs surmounting, a necessary evil that is an unfortunate fact about being a musician. While travelling with work is very far from the glamour my non-musician friends seem to imagine, I always take time to explore wherever I am, and find something to like about where I am. Sure, some places are nicer than others, and there will be times where I wish I was just simply at home with my boyfriend and my cat, but making time to enjoy myself wherever I am definitely eases the burden.
4. Enjoy Home
With this all said, make sure to also enjoy being back at your base for however long you get. As a freelance musician, a lot of my days are spent travelling to places not super far from London, but far enough to necessitate an overnight stay. Lots of these little trips build up and sometimes make it feel like my flat is just a glorified laundrette that I also have the pleasure of paying rent for despite the fact I sometimes never seem to be there. Try and remember what is nice about being at home, and don’t feel guilty about down time. More importantly, make sure your home life itself is what you really want it to be. Many people in less than ideal circumstances at home end up looking forward to tours (and all the debauchery that comes along with them) just as an escape from their home realities, and of course, while we can’t control every hardship that comes our way, making sure we are happy with the things we have agency with means that time at home is something enjoyable, rather than a stopgap between needing to escape from reality.
I suppose the first thing to say is that I don’t for a second think I’ve said anything original here; all the things I’ve mentioned are things that many people do every day in order to stay healthy – these are just things I feel apply more specifically to touring musicians.
Fundamentally, everyone has their own ways of coping with being away. I’m even hesitant to use the word ‘coping’ as it implies that travelling is something that needs to be coped with, that it is a burden that we resist but reluctantly take up in order to make a living. While there can be many pitfalls with travelling, just taking a moment to be mindful of what we’re eating and drinking, when we’re sleeping, if and when we’re exercising, can make travelling for work an enjoyable experience, and something that we can start to see ourselves as lucky to be able to be doing. The idea of being chained to the same office every day genuinely frightens me, so I feel very grateful to be able to travel with my work. Now, where did I put my running shoes…