DJ Travel Tips: International Gigs
Written by Rhiannon Roze for BPM Supreme
Booked to DJ somewhere abroad? Congrats! You are now “International DJ [insert your name here].” Pat yourself on the back and tell all your friends and family. Traveling to a far off-land to DJ is super exciting. The first time I was booked to DJ outside of my home country of Canada was back in 2007. Since then, I have gone on dozens of trips to perform in foreign places, including exotic ones like Japan, Suriname, and Tahiti.
Although it’s a great look for your social media, it’s not always glamorous. DJing in foreign countries was a learn-as-you-go experience for me, but it doesn’t have to be for you. Check out my Do’s and Don’ts below to tackle it like a pro.
DO: Learn how to say hello
Going somewhere to DJ where English is not the primary language? I recommend learning how to correctly say a few keywords in the language native to the country you’re visiting. At the very least, know how to express “hello,” “thank you,” “yes,” “no,” and “please.” If you can stretch your learning capacity beyond that and master “how are you?” and “where is the restroom?” as well, you’ll be super winning.
If the gig is well organized, you’ll probably be escorted around by someone who speaks both English and the native language. They’ll make sure you don’t accidentally order a baseball with a side of paper clips for dinner. They’re not going to be with you 24 hours a day, however, so it’s great to have some communicative independence. Plus, you are demonstrating a huge amount of respect and appreciation for your invitation by making a minimal effort to communicate in their language. A little goes a long way.
Pro Tip: There are some great language translation apps for phones these days. If you’re old-school like me, you could pick up a pocket phrasebook & dictionary by Lonely Planet instead and do some technology-free reading and studying on the plane. Also, don’t forget that a smile is understood everywhere in the world.
DON’T: Be overzealous about sampling foreign food
On one of my DJ trips to Indonesia, I made the mistake of over-respecting the locals by indulging in their native cuisine to the point that I made myself sick. It may have been food poisoning or it may have been the simple fact that my body had never been given the opportunity to digest cow brains before. (I know. Cringe.) All I know is that when the clock struck midnight and I was supposed to be dropping the needle on stage, I was in the nightclub bathroom stall instead, sweating and gripping the walls. Five Imodiums and a little prayer later, I managed to crawl to the DJ booth and deliver my show.
This was easily one of the most physically challenging (and traumatizing) nights of my life. I am certain that a very similar story could be told by replacing cow brains with a bottle of Mezcal…or simply an afternoon in the sun without sunscreen, a hat, and water. (Sunstroke is no joke!)
Think twice about saying yes to certain foreign offerings when your answer should be a polite “no, thank you,” which you know how to say in their language of course.
DO: Check your passport expiry date
Look at your passport. Is it expiring within the next year? You might want to think about renewing it sooner than later. Did you know that over 50 countries require that your passport be valid for three to six months beyond your departure date? This means that if you try to travel to one of those countries and your passport expires soon, it might be considered invalid and you won’t even be allowed to board the flight. Major fail if this happens to you on the way to a booked DJ gig abroad.
Even for gigs within your home country, make sure you always carry a valid piece of photo ID with you. Don’t assume that nightclubs won’t ID you because you’re the DJ. It has happened to me many times and once I almost missed a gig because of it.
DON’T: Get drunk and sleep through your alarm
Pretty self-explanatory. Don’t get drunk, sleep through your alarm, and miss a) your performance; or b) your flight home.
Think that could never happen to you? You’d be amazed at how traveling, jet lag, and excitement can affect you. In Tokyo, my set started at midnight their time. That’s 8:00 am Pacific Standard Time back home in Los Angeles, California. You better believe I had to nap after the flight and before the show. That “afternoon nap” was like going to bed at 4:00 am and having to wake up at 6:00 am to get ready and DJ. It was really difficult to get my a$$ up.
Since this was a super important gig (I had just flown across the Pacific Ocean for it), before my nap I called the front desk of the hotel to request a wake-up call in my room as a backup alarm. I may not have woken up for the gig otherwise. Remember that jet lag can be instant.
Once you’re at the gig and rocking it, feel free to get caught up in the excitement, get lost in the moment, have the time of your life, and all of that romantic stuff that is why we do what we do for a living.
But! Before or after your set, remember to check your itinerary for the following day and get organized. What time does your flight leave? How long will it take you to get back to your hotel, shower, pack, and arrive at the airport at least two hours in advance of your flight departure? Is your driver already booked? What time are they picking you up from the hotel? Are you already in touch with him or her on WhatsApp? Is your alarm already set to wake you up at the right time? Are you going to just stay up until it’s time to leave? You might get offers to ditch your ride back to the hotel after your show and hit the after party, for example. Hey, I’m not telling you not to go. Do your thing, but just be aware that once you do that, your safety is no longer the responsibility of the promoter. So your gut better feel pretty damn good about the people you’re going to party with. If it feels safe…party away! Just make sure you’ve got your sh*t together first.
DO: Have a backup plan
A backup plan for what you may ask? Everything! If you plan to take your laptop with you, start with backing up your entire laptop to a hard drive that stays home. Fortunately, I don’t have any horror stories about this but yes, when you’re traveling, sometimes things get stolen or magically and irrevocably dropped in water.
Sure, having to spend a couple thousand dollars to buy a new laptop sucks. But you know what sucks worse? Having to do that and lose all of your music, projects, photos, and files too. Expect the best and prepare for the worst. You won’t regret it.
What if your phone is accidentally misplaced at the airport or left on a plane that’s now headed back across the Caribbean to New York? Do you have the phone number of the person picking you up from the airport? Do you know the name and address of the hotel you’re staying at and the reservation confirmation? What about the booker’s contact info? These are the kinds of things that you should have backups of so write them down on a piece of paper and shove it in a safe place inside your carry-on bag.
One time I landed in Guatemala and discovered that my phone couldn’t get service and I couldn’t connect to the airport WiFi to use WhatsApp or email. I ended up having to pay a local to essentially “rent” their cell phone to make a call in order to make contact with my driver. You just never know so it’s important to think ahead and be well prepared for these kinds of situations.
Pro Tip: Bring at least a small amount of the local currency with you for emergencies. Exchange rates are whack but not as whack as urgently needing five measly dollars in a foreign currency and not having it. In some parts of the world, taxis only accept cash and you never know when you might need to remove yourself from a situation and dip back to your hotel. Knowing a few words in the native language can be huge in situations like this too. What’s the backup plan for not knowing the language? A good game of charades should get you somewhere.
DON’T: Settle for a middle seat at the back of the plane
Besides collecting airline points on my credit card and being in control of my itinerary, this is the main reason I insist on purchasing my own flights. Here are my best seat selection tips:
First of all, try to stick to one airline or group of airlines that are in partnership with one another (meaning, they share a points system). If you can get a credit card with the airline to gain points and status faster (sometimes instantly), even better. Make sure it offers mad perks. Most do because airlines are very much in competition with one another and they want to attract your loyalty because chances are it will be for your lifetime. The higher your status with the airline you’re flying with, the better the advance seat selection privileges.
No status yet? No problem. Here’s what I recommend: use whatever travel website you want to find your flights but don’t necessarily purchase them there. Once you’ve found your ideal flight itinerary, go directly to the website of the airline that you want to fly with and see how the price compares to purchase it there. More often than not the price is similar, if not exactly the same. Buy your flights directly from the airline and you will almost always be able to select your seats during or after the transaction.
The last time I got stuck in a middle seat at the very back of the plane where the seat literally couldn’t recline a quarter of an inch, it was because I had purchased the ticket on a travel website. The airline blocked me from selecting my seat in advance. The next time I flew with them I booked the ticket from their website and voila! Advance seat selection allowed.
Wait, there’s more! Can’t select your seat until check-in? Set an alarm for a few minutes before exactly 24 hours prior to your flight departure. Hop online and go to the airline’s website or app and log in. When it’s 24 hours before your flight, check in online and you will get first choice at seats. If you see seats that are already taken, it’s because those people have a higher status with the airline than you do. All good, you’ll get there! Just stick to the same airline as much as possible.
DO: Bring something to eat with you
Chances are high that airplane food looks and tastes like cardboard with a side of preservatives. Consider that restaurants might be closed by the time you arrive and your hotel may not have 24-hour room service. Also, consider that food is expensive on the road if you’re buying your own meals. I like to travel with breakfast at least – vegan protein powder and a sealable shaker cup to mix it with water.
DON’T: Pack liquids in your carry-on luggage
Unless the containers that they’re in are 100ml or less. They won’t make it past security at the airport otherwise. Buh-bye expensive perfume! Want more deets? GTS (Google that sh*t.)
DO: Pack earplugs, eye mask, blanket, and earbuds in your carry-on luggage
Yes, these are all items that are usually offered on flights, but some airlines charge for them or simply run out of stock by the time they get to you because you didn’t follow DON’T #3 and you’re sitting at the back of the plane.
DON’T: Drink too much alcohol on the plane
Puffy and drunk is not exactly the best first impression to give a promoter. For every alcoholic beverage you consume on the plane, drink a bottle of water if possible. You also might want to opt for that aisle seat for easy access to the restrooms.
DO: Wear multiple layers of comfy clothes
Even if you’re going somewhere warm and tropical, the airplane often has the air conditioning cranked in the passenger cabin. It can be an uncomfortable surprise. I always pack thick warm socks and a warm sweater in my carry-on luggage just in case. Sometimes I don’t need them but when I do need them, I’m very grateful I have them.
DON’T: Forget the little things
Start taking note (now) of all of the items that you use on a daily basis. Literally take note – on a notepad or something that you can leave lying around for easy access. Also note the really important stuff that you can’t leave behind like passports, ID, credit cards, cash, phone, headphones, USBs, laptop, power cords, etc. Keep adding to the list each time you travel. Notice something that you don’t have that you’d like to bring with you next time? Put it on the list. Having a pack list to refer to can relieve a lot of travel anxiety. If you feel anxious before a trip, you can simply ask yourself, did I check off everything on the list? If the answer is yes then great!
Want more travel tips? Check out Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel.
Want more tips about preparing for DJ gigs? Check out How to Advance a Show.
Did I miss a DO or DON’T that you think is important? Please share it in the comments below to help everyone out.
About Rhiannon Roze
Rhiannon Roze is an independent artist and internationally renowned DJ, producer, writer, vocalist, and performer. She grew up in Vancouver, BC, Canada and currently resides in Los Angeles, California. Rhiannon started DJing in 2001, playing vinyl records for the first eight years of her career. She currently studies music production at Matrix Sessions and collaborates with BPM Supreme. Rhiannon has toured extensively throughout the world and has opened for artists such as Tïesto, Deadmau5, Steve Aoki, and Chris Lake. She is famous for rocking crowds with her explosive live sets and magnetic stage presence.
Rhiannon is currently in the studio producing her own original tracks from start to finish; beats, lyrics, vocals, mixing, and mastering included. On the side, she is a voiceover actor, breathwork facilitator, and volunteer at two non-profit organizations: Journey Out Women’s Center in Van Nuys, California and Sinchi Runa Healing Center in Peru.