Losing valuables on tour is a given—for me, at least. It began when I was playing gee-tar in a travelin’ band. Maybe it’s because of the pace, as tour travel is not the same as vacation travel. Depending on your level of success (I normally travel in vans), tour travel is often at lightning speed, and important decisions are made with little-to-no sleep, coffee or sobriety. If you have responsibilities besides playing your instrument, your mind can be in eight places at once all day long. It demands mental multitasking, and over a period of years, touring can reduce your mind to something resembling cooked oatmeal. This mindset lends itself to forgetfulness, which can be dangerous.
My general rule of thumb: If it’s not within eyeshot, it’s subject to being lost, left or stolen. This has included clothing, toiletries, electronics, guitars, money, wallets, important documents, food, books, medication and people. (One time, we left our drummer at a rest stop, which we discovered three hours later, when we got to the gig.) If I could, I would attach all of my gear, luggage and personal items to my actual, physical body and drag them around like a modern-day Jacob Marley. ’Cause it’s fucked-up when you go to reach for [insert item here] and realize you left it on the bar at the venue hours ago, and now the show is filled with people, and the shit is long gone.
Strangers can help you lose things, too. For most bands, it’s not a question of whether your van can get broken into, but rather what did they get when they broke into your van? It’s happened to just about every musician I know. Once, I parked our tour van behind a centrally located, popular club in London in broad daylight. When we finished sound check an hour later, a band member and I decided to take a stroll around the neighborhood to kill some time before the venue’s doors opened. As we rounded the corner behind the club, we noticed a pair of legs dangling out the passenger-side window of our van. We politely said hello, then my colleague proceeded to beat the intruder with a wooden chair leg he grabbed from a nearby trash bin. As the man ran off empty-handed, I searched the interior to find he had been the SECOND fucker to hit the van. A few of our backpacks had already been ransacked, and passports and tour money had been pinched. This is only one example; the tails of bolt-cutter-clipped trailer locks and oil spots where vans had been parked are too numerous to mention here.
Here are a few rules I live by in regard to “road security”:
Never take anything on tour you can’t replace. Forget bringing valuable instruments or gear you’re emotionally attached to. Cheap replicas are the call. And bigger doesn’t always mean better or louder. Always have backups.
Keep your money and ID on you. It’s preferred you use a fanny pack or backpack. If you can’t leave it with someone you trust during your set, take it onstage with you. Then sleep with it overnight.
Bring all valuables inside a home or hotel for overnight stays. Also avoid overnight parking in major downtown areas. It’s better off to be in BFE or the burbs—unless that’s not possible, and if that’s the case, have someone sleep in the van. Recently, I’ve developed a tic in which I have to sleep with all of my personal belongings arranged around me. This isn’t because I fear them being stolen in the night, but rather because if they aren’t within eyeshot when I wake up, I’ll forget to take stuff when I leave. Yes, I know: I’m losing it.
But the most important thing to remember is possessions are just objects. They are not as important as the things with real value in this life: people you love and trust, friends, family, and doing what you love. That said, getting burned sucks and doesn’t have to happen. So, when you’re on the road, keep your wits about you and your eyes in the back of your head. A little street knowledge can go a long way.