11 Tips To Save Money For Traveling Musicians

A penny saved is a penny earned, and the hardest thing to do with your instrument is to profit a penny.

Traveling, in general, is already costly enough as it is. On a conservative estimate from my experience, a one day trip from Ohio to Tennessee can end up costing $30 in strictly unhealthy junk gas station food and drinks. The accident to fill up your tank in Pennsylvania rather than its neighboring state Ohio the day before can cost $20. The mistake to purchase a hotel in Maine when your family members home are in New Hampshire where your traveling to the next day can cost you $60-$130. This can go on and on, and I feel the civic duty to share the money-saving lessons I have learned from 8 years of touring to my fellow musicians.

Here is a list of 11 tips I learned in most cases the hard way so that your next tour is smoother and more profitable.

1. Bring Your Own Food

When it takes on average $25 a day for food at gas stations or restaurants, 25 dollars of real food at a grocery store can last you a week.

If you think that there’s no possible way to fit a week worth of healthy food in a lunch box, your dead wrong. Some of you may be thinking, why do I mention healthy? Not entirely because healthy food makes you feel better, which helps you perform better, but also gas station food is typically processed unhealthy snacks that contain little to no vitamins or minerals (AKA empty calories).

Empty calories will keep you hungry even after eating a considerable amount of them. This will eventually lead to buying $10 worth of gas station food at every stop that’s still leaving you unsatisfied and thus constantly wasting money.

Although there are many ways to fit a week’s worth of healthy food in a lunch box that will not perish. The best way to do this in my experience is oddly enough Elvis Presley’s favorite meal, the peanut butter, and banana sandwich. Get a loaf of whole wheat bread, two packs of peanut butter, and some bananas.

  • Whole Wheat Bread: Fiber, B Vitamins, Zinc, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, the good Carbs, and many Antioxidants
  • Bananas: Potassium, Vitamin C, Fiber, Vitamin B6, Magnesium, the good Carbs, and Antioxidants.
  • Peanut Butter: Healthy fats, Protein, Vitamin E, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B6, Folate, Magnesium, and Antioxidants.

Bananas get messy with the finished peels, luckily gas stations only healthy food they carry are bananas. This is perfect considering when you stop for gas, throw out your old bananas, buy a few new ones. Always try to bargain for bananas or ask for deals with the clerk; they usually give in. By the end of your week, your total food cost should be $25. For those wondering about lunchbox size, the one that works for me on the road is the Igloo Playmate Gripper. It is the perfect size for touring and traveling around.

2. Bring Your Own Water/Drinks

Like the food mentioned above, drink cost of any sort ends up becoming costly. The amount you pay for gas station food, coffee, water, etc. does not hit you at first; they sneak up on you. I learned the hard way when I was supposed to profit 800 from a 10-day tour which ended up being 500. My mobile banking app primarily showed multiple 8-11 dollar charges of gas stations and fast-food restaurants. About 30% of each cost was a drink, that’s roughly $90 I could’ve saved.

What works best for me is to bring my own giant water jug (picture above) and fill it up completely every chance I get, whether it’s at the hotel or venue.

For coffee, if your a coffee addict like me, buy a small coffee bag from your local store. I brew enough coffee at the hotel to last me the day then put it in my capped Yeti bottle. It works like a charm for me.

3. Fill Up On Gas At The Cheaper States

It is odd how many neighboring states can have a big difference in their gas price. The average touring van takes roughly 28-35 gallons to fill up. A big vehicle with already poor gas mileage, along with all the heavy music equipment weighing it down, lasts approximately 350-400 miles. A 20 Cent difference in gas price doesn’t seem like much at first, but it most definitely adds up for the number of times you fill up with the poor gas mileage.

The best website to use that shows every states gas price is GasBuddy.com. Save that website in your phone; it will most definitely come in handy to figure out which states to fill up in. But even more important, if your touring from the united states to Canada make damn sure you fill up right before you hit the Canadian border. No offense Canada, but your gas is way too expensive. 

4. Ways To Save Money On A Hotel

There are a few methods to go about this

  1. Dealbase.com and Travelzoo.com have many hotel deals across the map and some of these deals are rather shocking, especially deal base. This will be best looked into an at least a few weeks before the tour.
  2. Call the hotel directly- If it’s the same day you want to book a hotel, call them and ask for deals. Hotels don’t like vacant rooms, they tend to have a bit more wiggle room on price when calling directly day of.
  3. Share 1 Hotel Room and bring some sleeping bags- When your band usually gets 2/3 rooms per hotel night, it may suck but you will save a lot of money with 1 room. I completely understand that nobody wants to sleep on the floor. But if your band is willing to save money on tour, and every tour to come, a few people may get stuck with the floor. A sleeping bag is the only option that works in my book for those who get the shaft. But If you’re like me and you despise the suffocating sleeping bag, I recommend Sleepingo Double. Though I’m no sleeping bag expert, Sleepingo does work for me.
  4. Use Points- Credit card points for hotels and flights it an incredible way to save on a hotel. This does need many months in advance to begin. If it’s to close for this tour to use points, there will be many available for the tour after.
  5. Make sure it has a complimentary breakfast- Make sure you and the band absolutely load up as you’ve never eaten before during every free hotel breakfast. If you watch dragon ball Z, eat like Goku does during this time, just don’t choke. This plays hand and hand with saving money on food cost. 

5. While Booking A Gig, Negotiate For Food and Lodging

Rule number one while negotiating with the venue’s booking agent, never be afraid to ask.

Far too many times, musicians are scared to ask if there is a food/drink discount or if the venue will provide a hotel for the band. Many say that asking for such during the booking process may make the venues booking agent mad. This limiting belief is simply untrue.

If you try to negotiate for food or lodging, it will never hurt in any way if you remain professional. A simple question of asking if food or lodging is provided will only give you a higher chance of receiving one or the other, but will never hurt your chances of playing the gig.

There are a few things to keep in mind when negotiating for free food or lodging provided by the bar/venue. For lodging, many places have their private band house or an individual deal with the neighboring hotel. For food/drinks, most venues provide these amenities for bands anyways. The problem from what I see is the musicians who don’t ask, don’t know and miss out. Don’t let that be you and your fellow bandmates, don’t be afraid to ask.

6. Get A Power Supply For Your Pedal Board

For those who still use costly 9 volts for each of there pedals, it is vital for many reasons to invest in a power supply. This will be a lot of money upfront, but will eventually save you money in the long run and a massive amount of hassle. 

The very cheap route to powering your pedalboard is the 9 Volt NorthPada Power Supply. This route actually will save you money in the short term considering its only $11. There’s an abnormally high chance you’re going to need to switch at least three of your 9 Volt batteries for your pedals on tour.

The quality, efficient, and professional route that I use is the Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus Isolated Power Supply. Although this power supply for your pedals is expensive at $169 and this article is ironically about saving money, a quality power supply is something you will always have. You will eventually save you money in the long run. It is rare people get rid of or replace quality power supplies for your pedals. If you are serious about music, consider investing in a quality power supply in the future. Better yet, apply these money-saving methods for this tour and use the money you would have lost for a power supply!

7. Couch Surfing

There are a few options to go about this.

  1. Family and friends- If your band has friends or family in the area your playing at, be sure to contact them before going through the process to book a hotel. You’ll be surprised how friends and family would be more than happy to have your band stay the night. It gives them bragging rights for when your band makes it big!
  2. Fans and new friends-This has happened to me a few times in my career, you make new friends at a show and trust them enough to let your band stay at there place if they ask. I only recommend this If your band is new to touring in the scrapping for change phase, or if it’s a group of women who invite the band (;
  3. Couchsurfing.com is a website where people host there home to let you crowd surf. I have never tried this but as odd as it may seem at first, but according to people who actually have tried it, it’s pretty legit. Each host has reviews you can look up as well. Like the previous one, I only recommend this if your band is scraping by.

8. Don’t Buy Anything At All In A Tourist Area Or Big City

Many places that you’re going to play at or near are major tourist attractions. It will ruin the tour if you don’t visit these areas while your there, after all, one of the beauties to tour is to take a paid vacation basically.

But If you are trying to save money while visiting these tourist attractions, you must eat a giant meal before visiting and carry your own jug of water you brought on tour from home. If your planning on staying at these tourist attractions all day bring your lunch box and make a cute picnic if you can!

9. Book As Many Shows Near A Family Members or Best Friends Home As Possible

Whenever one of my band “John Pagano Band” tours up to New York, we will book as many shows all bunched up on Long Island at a time. We would stay at the singer’s grandmother in-laws house killing two birds in 1 stone. We would save a lot of money on hotel cost, but most important, John can visit his grandmother in law!

The picture above is me and my extremely tall best friend Sean who I haven’t seen in years. We toured to North Carolina, and he was more than happy to let me stay the night at his place. This happens quite often with multiple family members and best friends. You will be surprised how thrilled and happy they will be to let your band stay. Again don’t forget, it gives them bragging rights when your band hits it big!

Ask all the members in your band to look at all the areas where their families or best friends live. Do your very best to research all of the venues in that area and schedule accordingly. This is a great way to save money, play shows, and visit the family at once!

10. Ways To Save Money On Guitar/Bass Strings

Let’s face it, we want to sound good but we don’t like spending more money than we have too.

Strings are not cheap, especially bass strings. There’s a small line whether the strings are still good for another few gigs or they’re ready to be changed. Dead skin cells, sweat, changes of climate/humidity from traveling state to state, and grease from food are all factors that kill your strings and frets significantly faster when touring and playing every day. 

Luckily there are ways to prolong your new strings to keep them sounding bright. Microfiber cloths designed to wipe an instrument does an immensely better job at getting rid of all the grime, dust, sweat from your strings, and fretboard than any household cloth.

The one that works flawlessly for me is only 7$ on amazon called Fender Factory Microfiber Cloth. Again, this may be a $7 investment upfront, but it will save you money on possibly this tour and the rest of your music career by prolonging your strings life/brightness.

Another way to prolong your strings life is to wash your hands before you play, especially after you eat. Dead skin cells and grease from food will kill your strings.

11. Cigarette Smokers

Purchase your cigarettes in bulk at any of the states in the lightest green color. Whatever you do, steer clear from purchasing cigarettes in the northeast of U.S.A primarily New York. Check this link here for the price of cigarettes per state. When your band reaches one of the cheaper states, get a carton. Maybe a more substantial investment upfront, but it will most definitely save you money eventually.

The Bottom Line

Traveling in any form is very costly. From my experience, multiple small charges at gas stations are the sneakiest and biggest drainer of your bank account. Follow these steps in the best possible way you can. Send this article to your bandmates, primarily the one who books the hotels to look into the hotel deal websites.

Most all, never let the need to save money on tour ruin your touring experience. Find the happy that what works for you, make it a habit, forget about it! If you’re interested in getting better stage presence, see our 16 Tips And Tricks To Boost Your Stage Presence For Guitarists And Bassists.

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