Creating a Debt of Favours – Tips for the travelling artist

As I start to plan my 12th International tour, I’m fortunate to be watching a few other kiwis planning international journeys, including the likes of NZ Burlesque Festival Burlesque Exchange Scholarship winner Miss Bettsy Rose Lee and current King of NZ Burlesque, Chris Oh!. Travelling internationally is exciting, especially for us little ol’ kiwis who have to really spend some dosh and time to actually get there… it’s not like we can just drive across the border being a water locked nation. Over the last 6 years of touring, I’ve left what feels like a debt of favours in my wake as I’ve couch surfed, been chauffeured by, raided fridges of and spread glitter around the homes of the local burlesquers. These are my tips and tricks that may help you in your own international burlesque tour.

Where o where shall I perform?
Do your research on where you want to go and find the local shows that are there. This can be through google and social media (social media is great for this). Go through the pages you are following on Instagram and pages you have liked on your own social media pages as you may find shows that you no longer see on your feeds due to those darn algorithms. Find groups that you can join to announce that you will be coming to that city/country and introduce yourself. Watch those group for casting calls. If there is a casting call for the time you are in town FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS. Nothing worse than getting a comment which says “I’m available” when the instructions clearly say “email me”.

Get proactive
Find the actual emails of the specific shows you want to be in and email the producers. When you do contact a producer directly, be brief and to the point of who you are and where you are from (not a full bio folks). Include the dates you are available, the acts you are bringing and links to them, and a promo photo (low res). Importantly address them professionally by their show name… not doll, hun, babe or otherwise. Even if you know them, be professional. This is a business transaction after all. Do not contact through Facebook messenger unless you absolutely have to (i.e. you can’t find an email address for them despite going through the about section, looking on their website, googling it etc).

If you are heading that way because you are in a festival, always check if there is an exclusion clause or dates. You are subject to these regardless of how far you have travelled. Some shows may have these as well, so make sure you check before you book in the same area.

Self-care is not selfish
As you schedule your tour, make sure you build in enough time for travel and rest days. Rest days are important as it really does take it out of you travelling, let alone having to be “on” with performing, teaching and networking while you’re away. You’re representing your brand and your country while overseas, so having a rest day to recoup from being your alter-ego is important for self-care and sustaining a good reputation as a nice person.

I’m in! Now… How do I get there?
Woo hoo you got yourself some dates that’s brilliant! But reality hits and you’re a struggling artist and broke as fuck. So how do you do this on a budget? Try websites like Cheapflights, SkyScanner and Expedia. Look for those deals. Cheapflights is my favourite as it tells you if you should wait or buy based on the analysis of previous weeks prices. Obviously booking as far in advance as possible is good as you usually get some fantastic deals.

I also recommend apps like Rome to Rio which can give you a comparison of different transport methods and associated costs, plus of course download Uber to your phone if you haven’t already. Lastly in apps, I recommend you find out if where you are going has a public transport app for the city. Many do, and it’s great to tell you exactly what buses/trains to take and where and when they are leaving. Leaving local public transport is a great money saver. If the city doesn’t have an app, then google where your common destinations such as venues and studios are from where you are staying and that will also provide you with a where/when/what guide of how to get there. Plus, you can print them off if you really need a paper map (handy for when you have no international data)

Try and book and pay for as much in advance as you can. It makes life much easier on the road.

Ummmm… Where am I sleeping?
Remember that you just need a bed, so don’t be picky unless you can afford to be. You may want something decent on a show night though. is fantastic for getting great accommodation deals, but also don’t be afraid to couch surf. There’s a Burlesque Couch Surfing group on facebook which is full of burlesquers with a spare bed/couch/floor, and of course ask the producers of the show you are in if they know of anyone willing to take on a crazy foreigner for a night or two. Use those social media connections of yours and ask if anyone has family or friends in the area. I ended up staying in a beautiful house in San Francisco this way. Admittedly not being picky meant I also stayed in a monastery at Rome. But they didn’t mind the glitter too much. I thought it wise that I didn’t mention the stripping bit though.

Oh no! Border Patrol!     
Make sure you check and know what the visa and entry requirements are for the country you are going to for the country of the passport you are travelling on. Kiwi’s a lot of the time have it easy being a part of an Electronic Visa Waiver Programme. Be prepared to be stopped for security checks especially if you look a little “different” from your average tourist. Carry a copy of the visa entry requirements with you as well so if you get stopped, you have the evidence right there and then. If you are really not sure, call the country’s consulate well before you leave and check. Also, make sure your passport has a least 6 months on it before it expires.

For those of you who have bulky costume or prop items, then maybe look into shipping ahead of time. It’ll help keep your luggage to a minimum and reduce likelihood of getting stopped when you have 3 bags on a 4-day trip. On that note, it’s best to keep your luggage to a single checked bag and 1 piece of carry-on. I usually have my muggle clothes in my carry-on, and then costumes and makeup in the checked. Be aware of all your flights weight and checked bag limits as well. I’ve been caught out with the usual 23kg limit, and one of my flights had it at only 20kgs! Suffice to say I was very warm on that flight.

Alright I’m here at last. But I’m hungry…
Yes okay, not likely this will be the situation as you will have saved spending money right? But often you may be on a budget. I once went away with $200 NZD for 5 days in the states. I came back with $40. Use local grocery stores to save yourself money and ask the local performers where the cheap eats are at. For the USA Mexican is awesomely cheap, and also, I wouldn’t over order as the meals are LARGE! Usually a side dish is enough for one person depending on where you go. Create yourself a daily budget, and stick to it. If you underspend, then you can redistribute it across your remaining days and then maybe at the end you can shout yourself something awesome.

My Fans miss me, and I miss my Mum.
As we all know, promotion and social media is the name of the game for staying connected. Take unlocked phone with you and buy yourself a pre-paid sim card at the airport if you’re staying in the country for a period of time. That way you can contact people (including your mum and your producers) and stay connected back home. If you are only in town for a couple of days, it may be cheaper just to go roaming on your normal phone. But be clear on what the rates are as you don’t want to come home to a $300 bill for 3 days away, or worse!

Show me the money!
Make sure you negotiate how you are getting paid prior to arriving. A lot of the time (as a kiwi anyway) it’s costing you more to be away than what you earn while away so cash is good for using for food and special needs. You can also increase your income by teaching workshops and selling merchandise at the shows you are performing in when you’re away. You want something that is easily transportable and doesn’t take up too much space. Posters are great for this, as are magnets, keyrings etc. As well, these can be used as thank you gifts to give to the producers that book you, the people that housed you, and the drivers that chauffeured you around from free. It’s important to be gracious to your hosts after all. Make sure you say thank you to the stage kittens, tech team and anyone else in the production. Leave a good impression. Nobody like an ungrateful foreign diva. Oh…. TAKE BUSINESS CARDS! You’re promoting yourself for the future too you know 😊

Well there’s some handy hints to help you on your way. If you’ve got something specific you want to ask me not covered here, by all means hit me up! Each time I go away I learn a little more about travel planning as a performer and am happy to share that knowledge gained. Enjoy the rest of the week!