Some of the hardest working people in entertainment spend their nights sleeping in a small bunk space on a bus, leaving one city at night (or early in the morning) only to arrive in a new city when they wake up the next morning (or later the same morning) to do it all over again.
It's an interesting culture in America of the people that not only choose to live this lifestyle, but thrive on this lifestyle -- these are people that might not know what to do in a "normal" job.
Although many think I'm crazy, I have had and continue to engage in opportunities to be on tour myself. My situation is atypical in that I am married and have kids, but I generally take part in tours with limited timespans that provide opportunities along the way for me to see my family.
I have to be honest and say that my first on-tour experience made my nervous and I don't necessarily get nervous about a lot of things. A big part of the reason for that was the fact that I was transitioning from a lifestyle of always living in a house or apartment with all of the amenities typically taken for granted -- big bed, bathroom, washer and dryer, etc. and trading that for a small bunk space on a bus.
When people ask me in detail about life on tour, these are the things we generally talk about:
- Sleeping arrangements. Most tour buses provide you with a small bunk space, which is your only private space on tour. Typically buses are configured to sleep 12 people in these bunk spaces, so you essentially have 6 bunks on the passenger side of the bus and 6 bunks on the driver side of the bus -- these are configured 3 high by 2 long. I honestly haven't done enough tours to particularly care about what bunk I get, but people that do this for a living typically have an exact bunk location that they prefer on the bus and there is much trading of spaces and negotiating that goes on at the start of tour. For those of you that are curious, I seem to have a found a comfortable place on the front, lower, driver side bunk (shit, I might be one of those guys that has a preferred place already). Note that the sleeping areas have no outside windows and are dark 24/7 -- when you see a tour bus, the sleeping area is generally the center section that is all made of metal.
- Privacy. There really isn't any except for your bunk. Each bunk has a curtain that can be pulled closed. As I said before, the only personal space on a bus is your bunk and no one goes into anyone else's bunk when the curtain is closed. Everywhere else on the bus is shared space.
- Bathrooms. Buses have bathrooms, however, they are liquid-only -- that drives the adage of "no pooping on the bus". Basically if the bus is moving and you need to do something non-liquid, you have to ask the driver to stop or dispose of things into a bag (an action affectionately referred to as "hot bagging"). Generally the waste tank is emptied daily, but you have to make sure that you are aware if it is getting full so that things don't overflow.
- Living space. Generally the buses have a front lounge and a back lounge that is shared space. Some buses have the back lounge set up to be able to be turned into a living suite and it largely depends on the tour and the bus that they have chosen as to how things are configured. I've certainly been on buses where someone was living in the back space and it was their private area unless you were specifically invited in. Nicer buses have a pop-out in the front that can be deployed once the bus is parked to allow for a larger front lounge.
- Washing and showering and hygeine. Some buses have showers and some do not. For that ones that do, you take a very quick military-style shower where you quickly wet yourself, turn off the water, soap yourself, and then quickly rinse off; generally the holding tanks don't hold that much water, so you have to make sure that there is enough for all 12 people to be able to have a shower if needed. It is important to note that many tours go to facilities that have showers available and there is not necessarily a need to shower on the bus. Buses generally have sinks both in the bathroom and somewhere in the front lounge area -- the water that comes out of these faucets is fine for washing hands, but you want to use bottled water to brush your teeth and you don't want to drink the water coming out of the tap.
- Storage. For the most part, all of your stuff goes into the cargo bays underneath the bus. Generally there are some storage drawers and compartments for things such as shoes and toilet kits. All of the storage space is shared, so you cannot necessarily unpack, but there is usually room for a small amount of clothes, some equipment, some shoes, etc. On buses with 12 bunks that do not have 12 people, empty bunks are turned into what are called "junk bunks" that are used for overflow shared storage areas -- if additional people hop on the bus for a limited time, the junk bunks have to be cleared off so that temporary people can sleep there.
- Laundry. There are no laundry facilities on buses, so either you send your laundry out to a laundry service or you do laundry in a hotel on your days off or utilize venue washing equipment if available and allowed while you are at the venue.
- Days off. Generally during days off tours provide you with shared day rooms if you are not spending the night somewhere or with overnight hotel rooms if you are spending the night -- depending on the tour, overnight hotel rooms are either shared or private. Shared day rooms can be used for showers, naps, a place to store stuff that you want to launder, a place to watch tv, get work done, etc.; basically you just have to remember that it is "shared", so one person cannot monopolize the space by themselves.
- Food. Generally you are provided 3 meals per day at each event stop. In addition, most tours provide a daily per diem of some amount that is paid every day you are on tour -- typically you are paid the entire per diem for a week in advance of the week so that you have 7 days worth of per diem in your pocket with every week start. Typically per diems are spent on days off when catering is not provided. Additionally, most tours provide some sort of budget for stocking items on to the tour bus and these might include things like cereal, peanut butter, jelly, bread, snacks, etc. All of the bus stock is shared with everyone on the bus and stored in the common lounge areas; most buses have coffee machines and toasters for preparing things on-board.
- Entertainment and internet. Most tour buses have entertainment systems and televisions -- typically the buses have satellite television services. Depending on the tour, the bus may provide internet service through Verizon or other wireless providers that you can connect to via wifi, however, this is not always guaranteed. Outside of DirecTV, most buses have DVD players, some have game systems, and there are a variety of different configurations that allow video content to be played on different monitors; many buses have flip-down screens in the bunks that can display content as well.
- Cleaning. Generally everyone on the bus tries to keep the common areas as clean as possible; what you do in your bunk is up to you. The drivers usually do a daily run through of sweeping the common areas and wiping things down. Typically most buses have internal rules about leaving shoes, equipment, etc. in common areas that require everything to stowed away, but that varies by tour. The bus companies provide bedding for the bunks and typically the driver will launder the bedding once per week during the tour -- they are not stripping or making your bed for you, but you give them dirty sheets and they return clean sheets.
- Drivers. The bus drivers drive and care for the bus. Generally they are sleeping in hotel rooms provided by the tour during the day and they are driving the buses at night. Essentially you're likely to see your driver before you go to bed and when you wake up, depending on your sleeping schedule. You want to be nice to your driver and comply with any rules that they set out for the bus -- basically they are ultimately in control of your house.
- Buses leaving venues. Everyone seems to have heard stories about people being left behind, and it does happen. Most tours post schedules all over the place, starting the night before, of the anticipated bus call time for each day. Generally you want to try to be on the bus about 15 minutes prior to the bus call time because generally that time is the hard deadline as to when the bus starts driving. Depending on who is in charge of the tour, there may not be a headcount taken before the bus starts rolling and if you're not on, you either have to try and hop on another bus leaving later or somehow figure out how to get to the next city on your own dime.