How to manage your mental health as a traveling musician

Musicians know that maintaining their mental health while enduring long hours cooped up in a van can be a challenge. This guide includes proven suggestions to prioritize your well-being.

by CRISTINA CANO from CD Baby’s DIY Musician

For most DIY Musicians, embarking on a tour is an exhilarating adventure, but let’s face it— it comes with its own set of challenges. 

The tight confines of tour vans, unpredictable schedules (or sometimes no set schedule at all), questionable food choices, the pangs of loneliness coupled with detachment from the familiar warmth of your community, the omnipresence of alcohol and other substances at every turn, and less-than-optimal sleeping conditions form a cocktail of stressors that can take a toll on both your physical and mental well-being. 

Yet, fear not, fellow road warrior! In the face of these challenges, we’ve compiled a rock-solid guide on how to not just survive, but thrive on tour, ensuring you hit every stop energized and in good spirits so you can put on an excellent show. 

Here are some tried-and-true ways to stay healthy on tour:

Get Those Zzzs

Maintaining a regular(ish) sleep routine might seem challenging on the road, but it’s crucial for your well-being. Nap in the van when you need to, and avoid late-night post-show hangs when possible. 

Invest in quality sleeping gear like a neck pillow or a sleep mask. These can make a world of difference, especially in cramped vans or questionable hotels. Bonus tip: Bring your own pillow or pillowcase for a touch of home comfort and hygiene.

Avoid the temptation of that post-gig coffee fix. Late-night caffeine can interfere with your sleep schedule, and no one likes a Grumpy Gus. Learn from my experience — skip the 2 a.m. Red Bull vodkas!

Stay Hydrated

Carry a reusable water bottle everywhere you go. While your bandmates might grumble about frequent pit stops, staying hydrated is non-negotiable for your health, energy, and overall performance.

Limit sugary drinks and alcohol. Dehydration is a touring musician’s nemesis, so make water your beverage of choice to keep your body in top form.

Balance It Out

Touring doesn’t have to mean sacrificing nutrition. Seek out healthy food options like fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. If you’re touring the U.S., fast food can still be healthy — think Chipotle, Mongolian Grills, and salad bars at places like Ruby Tuesday.

Stock your van cooler with essential snacks. A loaf of bread, nut butters, jams, hummus, carrots, bananas, apples, soda water, and trail mix can be lifesavers when you’re on the go.

If you have a rider, always include healthy snacks. Grabbing nutritious items at the end of the night not only satisfies your post-show hunger, but also saves your wallet from late-night fast food runs.

Pump That Blood

Turn every pit stop into a mini workout session. A set of thirty jumping jacks and squats might sound minimal, but they’ll keep your blood flowing and your energy up during those long drives.

Utilize hotel gyms or get creative with bodyweight exercises in your room. 

Take advantage of your surroundings. A run or brisk walk around the venue or hotel not only provides exercise, but also gives you a chance to enjoy some alone time, clear your mind, and discover the area.

Set Fun Routines 

Is there an album you’ve been meaning to listen to more intentionally? Make it your tour anthem. Pop on some headphones every day, and let this be your opportunity to get obsessed with something new.

When you establish a daily routine, even if it’s a bit unconventional, it can add a sense of structure to your touring life. Maybe it’s your noon meditation session, or listening to a favorite song with your eyes closed. Discover and prioritize ways to ground yourself. 

Tour crafts can help break up the monotony! Consider bringing your sketch pad, knitting needles, crossword puzzles, sudoku, or other fun activities to keep yourself and your tourmates occupied.

It Takes a Village

Touring can get lonely, but staying connected with friends and family through calls or video chats can alleviate the isolation.

Connect with fellow musicians or locals. Meeting your audience after shows and engaging with fans not only fills you with feel-good vibes, but also builds your community. 

Limit Your Vices

Be mindful of your alcohol consumption. Drink tickets can be sneaky, and excessive drinking can disrupt your sleep and overall well-being. Pace yourself not just for your sake, but for the sake of your bandmates and your performance! 

Fans might offer you stimulants or jazz cabbage, but choose wisely. Not every gift is tour-friendly, and some locations have strict laws. Do your research, and remember: Safety first.

Practice Stress Management

Spend time outdoors in natural light to help regulate your circadian rhythm. It can make adjusting to different time zones a little easier. 

Touring with bandmates can be intense, and conflicts are inevitable. But just because your bassist chews their lunch loudly every single day doesn’t mean you need to flip your lid. Choose your battles wisely; not every disagreement is worth the energy.

Try a daily check-in to reset the tour vibes. A “60 seconds to whine, 60 seconds to highlight the positives” game can help everyone process their feelings in a healthy way, and maintain a positive atmosphere.

Setting a budget helps alleviate financial stress and allows you and your tourmates to focus on the music.

Invest in a journal. Vent it all out on paper, not on your drummer!  

Pack Essentials

Pack a small first aid kit with pain relievers, bandages, and any necessary medications. 

Bring personal comforts from home, whether it’s a favorite stuffed animal, a partner’s sweater with their cologne, or mom’s brownies. 

Don’t worry about having too many stage outfits. Instead, create a little capsule wardrobe that you can alternate out each night. Believe it or not, you can fit a month-long tour in an overhead bin suitcase. 

Include a portable humidifier, face masks (a must-have in 2024), and hand sanitizer in your essentials. Tour life involves lots of handshakes—keep it clean!

Stay Informed

Research emergency services in the areas you’ll be visiting. If there’s a crisis, knowing where to turn in will make the situation much easier to navigate.

Familiarize yourself with health facilities and local healthcare resources to make sure you and your tourmates have the information they need if someone gets sick.

Be Kind Everywhere You Go!

In the whirlwind of touring, don’t forget basic etiquette. Saying thank you, cleaning up after yourself, and shaking hands with your fans go a long way to build a positive atmosphere wherever you go. Remember that touring isn’t just traveling — it’s a part of building reputations, relationships, and future opportunities. 

There are many reasons why  artists like us seek a life on the road. There’s always something new to see in every town you visit, a fan to meet, and a new food to try, and it’s an incredible way to share your music. 

When you arm yourself with these health hacks, you’re setting yourself up for a successful tour as a music professional, and as a person. So, whether you’re headed home to the familiar embrace of your community, or gearing up for the next adventure, carry these tips like a backstage pass to a healthier, happier touring life. 

Curious to delve deeper? Tune into episode #354 of the DIY Musician Podcast featuring Cristina Cano and Rachel Bearinger.

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