Road trip resources

May 24, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

When I'm not photographing bands, I still spend a lot of time going to gigs. The bands I want to see don’t always play locally, so I often end up travelling. If they can't come to me, I will go to them if at all possible! I love travelling, and I've had a lot of fun over the years combining gigging with travel (and over the years have become reasonably competent at the planning side of things). This page is basically a summary of resources that I most commonly use. Most of these are pretty obvious, and I know I'm probably missing a fair few tricks, but if anything here helps even one person who shares my stubborn mindset, that's my job done...

DISCLAIMER: This post won’t give you more money, or free time, or motivation, or find you a babysitter, or fix whatever other things stop you from getting to see bands…and it certainly won’t miraculously make them play in your home town… (for a really good read on the subject of why bands play where they play, please read Hayseed Dixie's Live Tour Primer). I'm in the UK, so I've concentrated on 'local' resources but you can take these ideas and apply them anywhere.

When a band I really like announces a tour, I usually start out by looking at the state of our finances, laughing hysterically, plotting to sell anything left in the house that's not nailed down, and thinking about buying lottery tickets. Once all that is out of my system, I open up my calendar, make up a shortlist of dates that looks like it could be realistic (to start with that includes any dates on weekends, and if in the UK, any places driveable from home in an evening, so that I can avoid using up too much annual leave in one hit). Then I start to figure out whether I can actually make travelling to any of them work. I like to set things in motion as far in advance as possible so that I can spread the costs out (and have a few months to figure out how to raise extra money if I really want to make something happen - eBay is more definitely a factor in a lot of my plans). It's not always possible to do things on a shoestring, but if you do the research, you can improve the odds dramatically.

Over the years it's become a game to see how far a limited budget and finite amount of annual leave can be stretched, and success often hinges on whether I care about getting a full night’s sleep (I've used overnight buses from Glasgow or Newcastle to London on a Sunday night and gone straight to work from the coach station on Monday).

UK travel

If driving isn't possible, or is prohibitively expensive, I may use National Express or Megabus, and subscribe to alerts on thetrainline if I'm looking far enough in advance that cheaper train tickets haven't yet gone on sale. 

Going further afield

First, get the big picture: travel planning sites such as goeuro.co.uk or rome2rio.com are connected to a bunch of travel (airline, train, bus, coach, car hire) and accommodation sites, and will suggest routes and prices. Goeuro even allows you to specify any discount cards that you have for modes of travel that it suggests so that you get an accurate price reflected. Both sites will connect you to the site that handles bookings for your chosen mode of transport. It’s far from foolproof - some operators won’t timetable or book journeys that are too far in advance, and earlybirds may not always get the best price (depending on whether services have set schedules for releasing cheaper tickets), but it gives you a quick sense of what might be possible.

What I tend to do is use these sites to get a ballpark figure and get an idea of how much travel time & money is going to be needed, then go to the individual travel companies (or alternative ones) to price and possibly book each part of the journey individually.

It's ridiculous, but using budget airlines to get to venues in Europe and Scandinavia can be cheaper and faster than getting to many parts of England (the first time I did this was to go to a gig in Paris in 1994 when the artist wasn't coming to the UK or Ireland).

Google flightsKayak or Skyscanner are all useful to get initial info about airlines/price ranges for your potential destination and dates.

Accommodation

I always look up the venue, then go to Booking.com , which is really useful when it comes to advance planning (with perks for frequent users). I use the map view to see what's closest, weigh up locations for convenience, andalways look for deals that allow you to pay nothing upfront and change/cancel the booking free of charge until a day or two before the booking date. It can be a little more expensive than the pay upfront, non-refundable options, but I've had to make enough cancellations due to unforeseen circumstances over the years that I'll often err on the side of caution (it's sometimes possible to book a non-refundable, cheaper room closer to the day and then cancel the original booking, but that's not a given). universityrooms.com and hostels.com can be good budget options for some locations if know your plans are unlikely to change.

Sometimes you can improvise - there have been occasions where J and I have arrived at our destination with the intention of going straight back to an airport after a gig and taking it in turns to nap before a morning flight, but have checked laterooms.com on arrival for last-minute bargains. My favourite was booking a room in a 4* hotel for £28 while we were on the bus from Dublin airport, meaning that we could get a shower and sleep for a few hours before heading home. 

Other thoughts:

  • Asking friends, family and connections on social networks for help/recommendations is always a good bet. I've been a part of some great fan communities on the internet for many years now.  These can be great places to find gig buddies and transport buddies (and spouses, but that's a whole 'nother story!). People often post up alerts when they see cheap tickets going on sale, or if they have last minute spares, train tickets they can no longer use, extra seats in their cars, etc. Obviously you need to exercise a bit of caution, but J and I have met up with countless people over the years to facilitate getting to and from gigs, hosted people and been hosted in return, and made lifelong friends.
  • Research your destination online - if I'm going somewhere I'm not familiar with, I always look up the venue and accommodation on Google Street view so I'm not flailing around figuring out what to do when I arrive, and check walking distances and alternative travel options between key points.
  • Look up food shops, cafes and restaurants in the area - in Madrid thanks to a bit of research we found a great Mexican restaurant behind the venue we were going to which was open 'til 2am, great for post-gig snacks and cheep beers for those that wanted them.

  • Look for accommodation without breakfast, and pack some instant porridge, or shop locally for picnic food. Alternatively if you're heading somewhere that food and drink is comparatively expensive (Norway springs to mind), a hotel that includes an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast can be worth more than double what you pay for it.

  • Travel as light as possible so that you can comfortably walk around your destination without necessarily needing to stop by your accommodation first (I only ever take hand luggage that will fit comfortably under the seat in front of me).

  • Find out whether airport bus tickets can be bought cheaper online in advance (and be prepared to argue with bus drivers in Glasgow about print vs. pdf versions!).

  • If you need airport parking, try to book it more than a month in advance if you can - there's a massive price hike the closer you get to your departure date

  • Are you going to a city with bus passes/travelcards/multi-trip savers available?

  • Join membership/rewards schemes for hotel chains etc - perks may include things like include 10% off for direct booking, occasional free room upgrades, free wifi, early check-in or late checkout. Also sometimes cheaper than comparison sites.

  • If you're going to need to spend a lot of time at an airport, you may be able to research and book a cut-price lounge deal (and justify the cost of it with the food & drink that's included). 

  • If you're travelling in a group and don't mind room-sharing, many hostels (such as Danhostels in Denmark) have private rooms that will sleep 4-6 adults comfortably - this can cut costs significantly, as can booking rooms with shared bathrooms.

  • Hiring a car can sometimes work out cheaper than public transport for two or more people, depending on your destination and travel dates (approach this one with caution).

  • Check cashback offers provided by your bank! This month I got 10% cashback on airport parking by booking with my debit card and earned Avios at the same time by adding my reward number to the booking.

I will add more to this as I think of it, but spending a few extra hours planning can really pay off in the long run.


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