How to save money on tour in Europe
Many bands still think that the key for covering their costs on tour or even being able to save some cash is to earn higher fees. That might be the case for popular bands, but if you usually play in front of less than 200 people, then you also need other ways to save money.
If you tour outside of your home country you have to consider if it makes more sense to fly over and rent a van and equipment or if you drive over in your own or a rental van. If you for example rent a van in Sweden or in Czech Republic it would probably make a huge difference in your finances. But if you get a low priced rental van at home and bring your own equipment, it will probably be cheaper to drive.
If you think about flying over, don’t forget to calculate the costs for the transport of the music instruments, especially with low cost airlines it can be quite expensive. Perhaps another airline with more expensive tickets is more tolerant about luggage. With booking the right flights you can save a big part of your tour budget.
Most airline rules regarding instruments appear randomly and are incomprehensible. I’m working on an article about the transportation of musical instruments. Meanwhile check out this website for more info.
Reducing your travel party to a minimum not only saves you money, it also saves the promoter or the venue money and therefore increases your chances to find shows in the first place. Especially if the promoter has to organize private sleeping places in bigger cities where most people live in small flats, it’s really difficult to find space for 6 or 7 people. If your band consists of 3 or 4 people also the costs for catering are lower.
Of course it’s nice to have a big crew, a driver, merchandiser, tour manager, roadie or your own sound engineer, but it’s as simple as that – if you can’t afford them, don’t bring them. Many bands drive themselves, sell their own merch, carry their own gear and do the accounting, because they are realistic and prefer to go home without debts. Even if you have a friend helping you for free, you might feel guilty at some point and giving him something.
A good tour routing not only solves the entertainment problem, because you don’t have to spend your entire day in the van, it also saves you lots of money. Book yourself shorter distances or ask your booker to do it, otherwise you will spend all your hard-earned income on fuel. It is even more expensive when you travel through countries with high road taxes like France or Italy.
Also inform yourself about speed restrictions and parking rules in the countries where you will tour or you might have to spend money on unexpected fines weeks after the tour is over.
If you rent a van you should compare prices, because the extra kilometers can make a big difference, especially if you have to drive long distances. It also doesn’t have to be the largest nor the newest model. As long as it’s well maintained also an older tour van can bring you safely through Europe. You also don’t need a luxury vehicle with TV or DVD player. Take a tablet with a bunch of movies and earphones with you, then you also don’t have to agree with your band mates about the programm and the others can sleep while you are enjoying your favorite movie.
Calculate carefully how much merch you are going to bring on tour on the basis of sales numbers from previous tours. Better bring too much merchandise than not enough; it costs you a lot more if you have to reorder new shirts or albums while you are on tour. Postal charges between different countries in Europe are quite high. You can achieve lower prices with ordering larger quantities of shirts. (If you order for example 100 shirts for 4 € per shirt, the same shirts will probably cost you 6 or 7 €, if you order 40, 30 and 30.) Better invest more money beforehand.
Never buy food at highway gas stations. Food at gas stations is always expensive (and bad), but at the highway it’s just ridiculously overpriced. In Germany there are cheaper alternatives at the highway called “Autohof”, gas stations with restaurants which aren’t directly at the highway but nearby.
If you need to eat between breakfast and dinner I recommend to either take sandwiches from your breakfast or stock up with snacks like bread rolls, pastries, fruits etc.in grocery stores or bakeries before driving on the highway. Don’t buy a bottle of water at each stop for 2,50 €. Either buy water in supermarkets or fill up an empty bottle with tap water.
The tap water in most European countries is safe to drink (you should only be careful in Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Ukraine, some regions of Serbia and also some regions of Spain). In Germany for example many people wouldn’t spend money for buying water without bubbles, because they just drink it from the tap. By the way, if you want to order water without bubbles in a restaurant you have to order explicitly “still water” (German: “Wasser ohne Kohlensäure”, Italian: “Aqua Naturale” etc.).
To use your phone from overseas on the road for tour business is pretty expensive and you should consider to either swap out your own phone’s SIM card for an European one (works with an unlocked phone) or use a second phone with a local SIM card. For more details check out my article about What you should bring on tour in Europe.
In most European countries venues and promoters usually provide sleeping places for bands, but exceptions prove the rule. On a day off you might need to book a hotel/hostel as well. You can save a lot of money if you book online in advance. I book most hotels through Booking.com, they often show the best prices and in many cases rooms can be cancelled free of charge until one or two days before the booked date. (Please don’t abuse this service or they won’t provide it for a long time).
It is much harder to find an affordable place in popular destinations like Amsterdam, London or Paris for example. If you play in those cities it can makes sense to book a hotel somewhere on the way to your next destination and leave directly after the show.
Services such as Airbnb or Wimdu list private accommodations. You can rent rooms, apartments or entire homes for a single night, but these platforms are more likely designed for longer rentals. You can of course also rent your room at home while you are on tour.
At the shows you have the opportunity to build up a network of friends; perhaps some can help you with a place to stay on the following tour. Perhaps even strangers may help you. Take a look at Couchsurfing.
If you tour in summer and have several days off you also might consider staying at camp sites. That usually costs much less than a hotel, but obviously you will need tents for that. If you cannot borrow tents from friends you can buy cheap ones in bike, outdoor, hardware or superstores. Cool Camping Europe offers a „hand-picked selection of exceptional campsites“.