- Buyer's Guide
Traveling Musician Packing List
Joe X. Jiang is a musician and filmmaker based in the Pacific Northwest. He currently tours with The Slants and Jessica Dennison + Jones and is also a producer, songwriter and videographer at Track Town Records in Eugene, OR.
I started traveling as a musician about three years ago and went from a 40L backpack full of electronics, a duffel bag of clothes and way too much glamping gear to what you see in the pic. This is currently my grab-and-go bag for short music tours and fly out gigs. The electronics here are all mainly for songwriting and producing on the road. I really got into minimalist travel and have gotten used to only carrying one change of clothes (the merino wool burrito in the pic). Hand washing does the trick most of the time. Depending on climate and laziness, I can always stuff more clothes in the bag. The Osprey backpack can fit a surprising amount of stuff. Anyways, thank you r/onebag for the inspiration! I hope this post is useful to someone who comes across it. Feel free to ask me any questions or offer suggestions.
When I made the choice to go from a 40L to a 20L bag, the requirements I had included that it be lightweight, able to fit an older 15″ laptop, flexible enough to expand or cinch down and have a separate compartment for gym clothes (or laundry when I’m traveling). Also I didn’t want to spend more than $100. I ended up trying every backpack at REI, Patagonia and a few other stores in Portland and the Daylite Plus was the only bag that fit all the criteria. When I’m traveling minimally, it has a very tiny profile. I removed the extra straps it came with and cinch it down to the point where I can wear another backpack over it (technically my Taylor guitar padded bag that can be worn like a backpack). The only issue with this bag is the terrible water bottle holder design. I actually returned the bag the first time I bought it because of that, but after testing a few more bags with more limitations, I decided I could just live with the crappy water bottle holders. The solution ended up being using a carabiner to secure the bottle.
I always have a water bottle on me. When I’m on tour, I often carry a bigger bottle and fill up at hotel gyms so I don’t have to spend money on bottled water.
Money clip for cash and cards
I’m not a fan of wallets because they just start collecting receipts and cards I don’t need, so I found a money clip at a thrift shop and never looked back. This is usually in my front pocket, but at airports I have a secret hiding spot in the bag that I slip it into.
Keychain with a guitar pick holder
I always have extra picks on me because I lose them all the time. This goes in the top front pocket of the bag where the key hook is.
MacBook Pro 15″ laptop with charger
This a 2012 model that I got used and I plan to drive it into the ground since I don’t have the money nor the interest in upgrading to the donglebooks that are out right now. I do all my music production work on it as well as other freelance work such as video editing and administrative tasks. For a lot of my music demos, I will plug my MIDI keyboard in, and then just record my voice or acoustic guitar into the built-in mic.
Notebook with Sharpie and pen
I don’t really use the notebook much but in case I’m out of power, I like to have some paper and a pen just in case. I’m always in situations where a Sharpie is needed, so I always have one on me.
This is a $6 pouch thing I got at TJ Maxx. It has two zippered areas and another mesh pocket. I put all my essential small electronics in it and also some Tylenol and vitamins. It’s nice to have this because if I don’t need my laptop, I can technically just throw this in my guitar case and run out the door.
A fast tiny drive that I can edit videos with. Pretty useful.
iLok (for Pro Tools)
Pro Tools have a cloud activation option now but if I’m going somewhere with bad internet connection, I’ll still use the iLok.
This is a 6000mAh charger with built-in cables for Lightning and micro USB. I can get almost three charges out of it for my old iPhone.
iPhone SE with cable and plug
I actually upgraded my phone recently, not completely by choice, to the iPhone XR. As great as it is to have a new, more powerful phone, I have to say the SE was/is the perfect phone. I used it all the time for music, either composing with Garageband or recording ideas/scratch vocals with Voice Memo. It was nice to be able to operate it with one hand and even nicer that I didn’t need an adapter just to use my favorite headphones. If they updated the SE with new hardware and a bigger battery, I’d trade in my XR in a heartbeat.
I got this out of necessity for live band performances but ended up using it all the time as ear plugs. I have nice ear plugs but they always fall out of my ear when I use them for sleep. These solved the problem because I can just wear them unplugged or play some white noise to drown out snoring bandmates.
I recently had a computer hard drive crash at the recording studio I work out of and went through multiple days of file recovery to salvage some new recordings. For whatever reason, I stupidly decided to wait until the end of the night to do the file backup instead of having this drive plugged in and backing up throughout the day. Anyways, it was a good reminder to always be backing up and always have multiple backups.
I use this keyboard all the time to compose and for recording into Logic Pro on my computer. I’ve written songs with it on the road, at the airport, in the back of the venues or just at home in my bedroom. Often, the MIDI recordings I make with this end up being used in the final product. It’s just an awesome tool that easily fits in my backpack.
I just grab whatever is available as long as it’s 3oz or less for flights. Usually I try to go for a natural brand.
I’ve been to way too many festival porta-potties that ran out of sanitizer. Plus I’m a germaphobe and generally like to have one of these around whenever possible.
I like flossing.
I’m a fan of toothbrushes that can be capped into their own handle. It feels possibly cleaner.
This is an essential item for guitar/bass players for sure. I swear I can never predict when my nails will grow out all of a sudden. If I start to hear clicking sounds on my strings when I’m playing, I’ll break the clipper out.
I got this on a Delta flight and couldn’t believe I didn’t get one earlier. I’ve had some nice deep sleep in the middle of the day with these and my in-ears.
Minimal packing clothes bundle
For short trips or when I have access to a hotel room overnight, I tend to just pack one change of clothes in my backpack in addition to what I’m wearing. This is partially due to laziness of having to carry laundry and also being in a band setting where showers are not always had. If it’s multiple days, I’ll usually hand wash the worn clothes and hang to dry overnight. If I’m on a longer trip, I can easily fit a few more changes of clothes into my backpack or guitar case.
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