I was talking to someone about the road and they were saying it was such a hassle to pack and repack and it got me to thinking about how I do it, without even thinking. So let’s talk about packing for the road today.
First of all, I have a bright orange Samsonite suitcase. It is one of those hard shell ones and protects what is inside very well. But the orange part is the what sold me on the suitcase. I was in Amsterdam and passed a luggage store. They were actually selling this one at half price, I guess because it was so ugly. What occurred to me was how easy it would be to spot that suitcase on an airline carousel at baggage claim. EVERYONE has a black bag. My wife ties a bright yellow ribbon to the handle of hers so that she will know which one is hers. But with an orange suitcase, there is simply know searching, so right off the bat, I ‘ve got my suitcase, no doubt about it. And I travel with that suitcase only so that I have the one bag. My other checked bag is a case of CD’s. You are allowed two checked bags with no penalty.
But I am getting ahead of myself here. We have to pack this thing first. Then we can put it into the luggage lottery at the airport. For those of you who are unaware of my particular presentation, I am a solo performer. I travel with one guitar, a Roland Looping Station and an ME-50 effect foot pedal. They are solidly built, though slightly heavy, and I pack them in the center of my suitcase, in their own very light canvas bag, after putting down the concert trousers and the other pants that I will be using. I always bring seven pairs of underwear and seven pairs of socks which I pack around the equipment to keep it from sliding inside the suitcase. Then the toiletry kit (which includes the sample size of everything including aspirin, lozenges, night time cold medicine and a bic like razor or two—weight is always a consideration now that they will charge you fifty bucks for a pound over fifty pounds. Leave your electric razor and your humidifier home, you are on the road…rough it), the gym type shoes (I only travel with two pairs of shoes; one nice pair for performing and one pair of Addidas that I use for exercising and regular wear), then the shirts (6) and sweaters (2) and t shirts (2); cords, extra strings, gig incidentals bag, and my credit card swiping machine.
This all comes to 49 pounds. Perfect. The credit card slips and the picture postcards of me for fans I put in my guitar gig bag, which I carry on all the time. It is small enough to fit into every single overhead and I am always low profile, patient and courteous to all the airline employees. It is unbelieveable how far courtesy will take you.
I mentioned before that I usually fly to the last place on the tour and pick up the car and then drive it to the first gig. When the tour is done, I return to the airport into which I flew (so just one round trip ticket) and drop the car where I picked it up (no drop charge). I usually travel the next day in the shirt that I wore for the previous night’s performance. I bring that shirt to the gig, only wear it for the performance and then hang it on a hanger outside my hotel window to “air” for the night. Then travel in it the next day and retire it to the dirty clothes bag when I arrive at the next hotel. This sounds a little funky, but usually a shirt worn a couple of hours and then aired out will serve while you are traveling by yourself in a car. If you are with a band or other people, you must consider their comfort and discomfort. Nobody wants to sit next to someone that smells like French cheese. Given that, what I try to do is bring the least amount of clothing that I can get away with, but still bring enough clothing to protect the pedals that also go in the suitcase.
Once I land and collect my luggage, I go to the car rental place and, after picking up my car, load the suitcase into the trunk of the car. I never get a vehicle that has an exposed trunk area. You’re just inviting someone to break into your car and take all your stuff (which happened to me in NYC years ago, when I drove into town with a Toyota Celica hatchback. One screwdriver jammed into the lock and the hatchback pops open. They took both my Martins, all my clothes but one shoe (go figure), all my cash, which I had cleverly stashed in my $500 leather Remy sports jacket and left in the clothing bag and my pedals. So you want a car with plates that are from the same area you are. ( I had driven from my home in Santa Cruz across the entire country playing gigs, so I had California plates in NYC. A dead giveaway.) You also don’t want anyone to be able to see if you have anything in the trunk.
I open my suitcase right there at the car rental place and take out all my equipment, credit card swiper, etc. Everything that has to do with the gigs, and I place them in the back of the trunk. Now the car is loaded with all I need to do the gig. That stuff I don’t take out of the car again, except at the gigs. The suitcase now weighs about fifteen pounds less than it did and can easily be maneuvered up stairs and into elevators without herniating yourself. Don’t take your shirts out and hang them behind you by the passenger window. This is a dead giveaway that you are traveling and probably have something in the trunk.
I put my guitar on the floor between the front and back seats and I TAKE IT WITH ME into restaurants, …even rest rooms at gas stations. I don’t want to have another guitar stolen from me. You cannot believe how much it hurts.
And one more thing. When you check the suitcase and cd box, doing it at the curb with a skycap who has been tipped at least two dollars a bag is usually better as they are not so very strict about the 50 pound rule…just in case you didn’t heed my warnings and packed too much stuff.