For my last job, I had to live on a tour bus, and almost everything I Googled to try to figure out what this life would be like was pretty useless.
The only thing the internet told me, on every single site about living on a tour bus, was don’t poop on the bus.
But there are a lot of other little quirks to living on a tour bus that I figured out over the last five months of living on one.
Tour busses can be laid out a bunch of different ways. For our show, there were 9 of us living on our bus and it had 12 bunks.
Bunks that aren’t claimed by a person are called junk bunks. Since we had 3 of those, we actually had a decent amount of storage onboard. If all of the bunks are used, then the places you can store your bags are really limited.
To pack to go on tour, I had one large suitcase, a small duffle bag and my backpack. The large suitcase lived under the bus and my duffle bag and backpack lived in my junk bunk, which I shared with 3 other people.
My duffle bag held a few days of socks and underwear, an extra pair of jeans and a few t-shirts. It also had a towel, flip flops and shampoo, conditioner, body wash, etc.
My backpack had my computer and anything I needed for work. It also had my toiletries bag that had my toothbrush and toothpaste, facial wipes, contacts, makeup, etc.
My backpack would come into the venue with me every day. My duffle bag would only come in on days I would shower. When I ran out of t-shirts or underwear, I would swap out what was in my duffle bag with what was in my large bag under the bus. I kept about a two week supply of underwear and shirts. A few days before I completely ran out, I’d check with our Head of Wardrobe about when I could do laundry at the venue.
Pro Tip: Never wait till the very last day to ask if you can do your laundry – either everyone else on your bus will have done the same or something will go wrong with the show laundry and no one will be able to do their personal laundry that day. Or, my favorite, you’ll wind up in a crappy theater that day that doesn’t even have washing machines.
If you’re used to showering every day, touring will teach you a new level of how gross you can be. It’s a careful balance of making sure you never smell so bad that everyone on the bus notices and sometimes pushing it right to that limit.
This happens because some venues don’t have showers (which is always awesome, because it’s pretty rare, but it will inevitably happen on the days when you wake up thinking I am absolutely taking a shower today – and then life laughs at you and says no). This also happens because there’s no set time to shower, you shower when it fits in your schedule. For me, the ASM and our Head of Wardrobe, that was usually after morning coffee and before lunch, since that was our slowest time of the day. For TD and carps, it was usually during lighting focus. For the electrics crew, it was usually after dinner but before the show started. That being said, if anything goes wrong, there goes your shower time. Do we need to do some kind of giant reblock? You can be the ASM and I are working through shower time trying to figure that out. Are the locals a total nightmare? Then perhaps focus goes until doors open and no one on electrics is showering that day.
And, honestly, you start to just get used to being a little gross. Your standards of cleanliness definitely change.
Since we’re talking about showers, which happens in bathrooms, let’s talk about the bathroom rules on the bus.
First and foremost is that you don’t poop on the bus. The plumbing it terrible and can’t handle it well, but mostly it’s that the tank that holds it isn’t emptied all the time and the entire bus will smell terrible.
So where do you poop? In the venue, generally. Or when the bus stops at a truck stop. Or when you ask the bus driver to stop at a bus stop.
You also usually don’t want to drink the water on the bus. It comes from holding tanks at trucks stops that have last been filled who knows when. We kept a large supply of bottled water for teeth brushing and drinking (or just brush your teeth in the venue – way easier). Our busses also had showers that we never used, instead we used them to store our shoes.
In our bus, everyone also had an assigned drawer. You can put whatever you want in it, but mostly mine held food and medicine. The bus had a fridge, freezer and microwave that you could use to cook. If your load out runs late, you definitely wants some food you can eat onboard because busses can’t go through most drive-throughs and even fast food isn’t open that late.
That being said, make sure you’re considerate about shelf space in the fridge and freezer, since everyone is sharing. Don’t bulk buy things when you know 8 other people are trying to share the same space. After a few weeks, we realized that few people bought things that go in the freezer, but the fridge would fill up quickly after every Walmart run.
I really recommend getting onboard with some kind of vitamin, cold prevention system. After a cold went around quicker than any I’d seen, my drawer always contained NyQuil, DayQuil,, Cold-Eeze, Emergen-C and apple cider vinegar. I found Emergen-C and some apple cider vinegar in a bottle of water really was an amazing preventative, as long as I drank it every day. As soon as I’d miss a few days, if everyone was already sick, I’d wind up sick too.
The reason colds get around so ridiculously fast is the air on the bus. It just circulates from bunk to bunk. I honestly think bus air is the worst air I’ve ever dealt with and I had plenty of ship plagues from the cruise ship years and the air on the circus train wasn’t so hot either (in all fairness, a co-worker from this last bus tour is now working out on the circus and one of his comments was about how he thinks that air is the worst – it could be a little subjective).
That being said, I always kept my vents closed and just let bunk get a little hot. I’d crack my curtain open for air before opening those vents. They blow right on your face all night.
Speaking of sleeping, always sleep with your toes to the front end of the bus, so you don’t break your neck if there’s an accident while you’re sleeping.
You also need to remember to be quiet whenever going through bunk alley. If someone’s curtain is closed, they’re in their bunk either sleeping or just trying to enjoy some quiet alone time – they might be reading a book or watching Netflix, but they just need some time to themselves (it’s hard to find on a bus). People also take naps at all times of the day, so it’s always important to be quiet back by the bunks, especially if you’re crossing through from the front to back lounge late at night, no matter how drunk you are.
On our bus, the beds were stacked three high on each side. The bottom bunk vibrates more. The top bunk sways more. I preferred the middle bunk, which was a little of both worlds. Also, when the bus is on windy roads, you can sleep with your knees toward the outside edge of the bed to help keep you in it – so you may want to pick your bunk based on which side you like to sleep on.
The bus comes with a pillow, sheets and a blanket. They weren’t bad, though I can see how some people doing a really long tour might want to spring a little for their own comforter and pillows. I had brought a pillow from home.
One of the more useful things I rigged up was a pencil pouch held up with two Command hooks. I attached that to the wall next to my bed and kept tissues and chapstick in there. I could also put my glasses in at night. I also kept a bottle of water in the corner of my bed.
The biggest tip I have is to put effort into finding something you like about everyone living on the bus with you. If you can just think of them as family, it’s a lot easier to live on top of each other. That means that you try to have al little more patience, but when something is really bothering you, just address it, just like you would with a sibling. It’s better to have a small fight for a day and sort that crap out then to live uncomfortably for months. However, putting effort into being considerate and patient with everyone makes life a lot more pleasant too.
Finally, be aware that at the end of the tour, it’s standard to tip your driver. If he got you from place to place alive the whole time it’s about $75. If he did it in a way so you could sleep well every night, it’s about $100. If he did all that and occasionally went out of his way to pick you all up somewhere on your day or drop you off, it’s around $125 and if he was just out of this world (like ours – who brewed moonshine at home and would bring us some after every layoff), it’s $150+. Just plan ahead so you don’t get hit with that expense unexpectedly at the end of the tour.
Have you ever lived on a tour bus? Got more tips to add to this list?
Also, here are a few resources that were a little helpful while I was trying to learn more about living on a bus: