How to pack for short-term & long-term gigs

4 weeks worth of luggage at NY Penn Station
Im sitting at Philadelphia International airport in what is dubbed the "Philadelphia Marketplace," waiting for my very delayed flight to depart for New Hampshire. Out of all of the airports that I've traveled through, I would say that Philadelphia has a pretty nice array of options for eating, shopping, and lounging. Im sitting in a white rocking chair in the middle of a long hall of shops and eateries, recharging my ever-drained phone from periods of boredom on the train playing Words w/Friends, Scramble w/Friends, and Draw Something. As I rock back and forth, I have been trying to figure out the next topic that I should write about. For a moment, I thought to myself how impressed I was that I packed in only 10 minutes last night. I remember the first few times I traveled as a teenager. How it would take me hours to figure out what to pack and I would have all of my belongings zipped away in my suitcase more than a day before I left. All of that has changed over the years, mostly due to the immense amount of traveling I did living in Houston and Seattle. Although, today, I don't get as nervous about packing when I travel, I do get nervous when I have to pack for an extended period of time.

How does one pack when traveling long distances to perform? It is much easier to pack for a gig when you are only going to be there for a period of a week or less. When I am traveling somewhere for a short amount of time, like I am right now, I typically pack just one small carry on suitcase and my backpack. I try to keep my backpack light, as the last thing I want is to put undue stress on my back. I tend to save my backpack for entertainment (like laptop, books, magazines, Nintendo 3DS, etc.), snacks, electronics chargers, and any other important items (medicine, etc). If I am planning on checking my bag, which I rarely do (to save money), I will be sure to pack a pair of ballet slippers and a dance outfit in the event that my bag is delayed. Other than that, you don't need a variety of items to travel. I will usually pack about 3 outfits for daily wear. For dance, I will bring the same amount of outfits for ballet, but I will bring enough dance belts for each day that I will rehearse and perform. I usually ask my employer what my shoe requirements are for the program. Even if dance shoes are provided, I will always bring one extra pair beyond what I am given or asked to bring in the event that something goes wrong. I have had shoes develop holes faster than expected on different flooring. I, even, recently had the drawstrings of a shoe untie and suck up inside of it. A nearly impossible fix for any male dancer.  Always be prepared. Be sure to bring your stage make-up and any toiletries that you need. Since I don't usually check bags on short-term gigs, I use small leftover containers to put things like hair gel and facial creme in. This is to be sure that they are the regulatory 3 ounces or less and will pass through security. I also always bring at least one jacket or sweatshirt , even if the forecast calls for warm weather. The last thing you want is to be caught off guard when the weather surprisingly changes or if your host likes to keep the air conditioner on full blast.

The more difficult gigs to pack for are those that take you away from home for more than a week. The longest I have spent away from home while freelancing has been 5 weeks. Not only that, it was in Alaska….in the winter. I remember being absolutely mortified about packing for this experience. Although I didn't start packing days in advance, it definitely took me a lot longer than 10 minutes to pack.

It is important to ask if you will have access to a washer and dryer prior to arriving at your destination. This may change your packing strategy. Obviously, you need to pack according to the season and climate of the area that you'll be staying. My first suggestion is to pull out all of the clothes you would like to bring and place them in an orderly fashion on your bed. I try to bring about one outfit for each day of the week, but initially start with about twice that on my bed. Anything beyond one weeks worth of clothes will definitely throw you over any weight restrictions. Obviously, you don't want to wear the same outfit the same day of each week. So, try to bring outfits that can be mixed to create multiple different looks. I tend to pack more dance clothes than I do regular clothes, as you will probably spend more time in dance clothes and you sweat through them faster in any given week. I also try to bring two options of dress outfits, shoes included. I am almost always invited to a company function or theatre event during my time on location. If it is winter, keep in mind that you will need to bring extra layers, including scarves, gloves, and hats (and maybe even snow boots). I also try to bring a couple of extra items to occupy myself in the event that I can't find transportation and am living in a more suburban area. I have been known to pack my Nintendo Wii for any gig that lasts longer than a week. I also have to assess which toiletries I will need while I'm away. Will my host family provide these items and, if not, would it be cheaper to bring them with me or buy them when I arrive? Also, will the weight of these items throw checked luggage over the maximum weight allotment?

Now that I have laid everything out on my bed, I have to assess what is a necessity, what is a luxury, and what is a comfort. Necessities obviously take priority, followed by comfort, then luxury. Although, at times you may feel like that extra trendy outfit is a necessity, it is always annoying when you finish a gig and realize that you haven't utilized certain pieces of clothing and that you had to pay extra to get your luggage on the flight because it was overweight. You don't necessarily have to pack all of each item (shirts, tights, etc) together. As I put my "necessary" items into my luggage and gauge how much extra space I have, I'll add some of my comfort and luxury items, while putting away clothes that I realize I don't need. I may repeat this process 4 or 5 times. Often, I will put my necessary tights in my big luggage and place the ones that are a luxury in my other luggage. By doing this, not only have I given myself time to assess my needs, but I have also split items up. This protects me in the event that any checked luggage doesn't arrive at my destination.

Now that you have packed all of your belongings, you can use a scale to make sure that your bag isn't overweight. First weigh yourself. Then, weigh yourself while holding your luggage. Subtract the "holding luggage" weight from your own weight and you should have a pretty good idea whether you are going to go over. If you are traveling via train or bus, it is much less likely that you will have an issue with weight for your bags, but check with the company's website prior to packing your things.  Lastly, for comfort, I suggest carrying a neck pillow in your travels. I use this item for two things. Not only is it great to keep your neck more upright if you fall asleep, but it also doubles as great back support in an uncomfortable airplane, train, or bus seat.

On a final note, I suggest that you always leave a bit of extra space in your luggage, so that it isn't overweight with all of the souvenirs that you purchased during your travels. The first time I freelanced away from home for an extended period of time, I was surprised that I can survive on a week worth of clothing when Im away. It makes me second guess how much I really need all of the clothing that is sitting in my closet and drawers at home. Be smart about your needs for packing. Try to pack more strategically and less emotionally. Though, always be sure to bring one or two things with you to remind you of home!

1 comment: