Travelling and your voice

Travelling and Your Voice

The touring artist is very familiar with how traveling can wreak havoc on the voice. However, there are ways to reduce the strain of travelling and increase the odds of surviving tour.
Dehydration

Whether you are packed into a tour bus or flying across continents, travelling results in dehydration. On a tour bus, riders tend to drink less water. There may also be the compounding effect of drinking alcohol. In the case of air travel, the above still applies, but this is worsened by the re-circulated, dehumidified air.

When you exhale, you release humidity from your body into the air (think of the “steam” you see when you exhale on a cold day). Your body hopes the air it inhales will replenish what it has lost but, in the case of airplane air, this doesn’t occur. Sweating due to an overly warm cabin will result in more water loss.

To manage these losses, do the following:MB&S_Vocal Health_Travelling and Your Voice

  • Drink water
  • Do not drink alcohol
  • “Pee clear” — – you’ll know you’re hydrated when your urine is clear/pale yellow. And when the person sitting next to in the aisle wants to strangle you for climbing over them every 2 hours.
  • Medical grade personal humidifiers —- These devices are designed to deliver water particles at the exact size needed to get humidity into your body. Cheaper drugstore models create particles that are too large, resulting in a moist mouth, but not much else.

Sleep

No one gets a good night’s sleep when travelling. Add the distractions of your neighbor watching a movie, the in-flight announcements, and the uncomfortable positioning, and you are getting to your destination exhausted.

If a new time zone is entered, your sleep-wake cycle is thrown off and it takes time to adapt. A rested body sings better, and more healthfully. To manage sleep when travelling, consider the following:

  • Book travel during the day —– you lose the day but are able to sleep in a bed.
  • Sleep when you can —– Europeans enjoy a siesta for a reason. These midday naps are extremely restorative, even when they are only 45 minutes long. Cat naps will make up for losses while travelling.
  • White noise —– Noise- cancelling headphones or white noise played through basic headphones minimizes awakenings from cabin noise. Download a white noise track and play it on repeat while you doze.
  • Sleep for the time zone you are entering —– Try to sleep when it’s nighttime where you will be. Adjusting even 1-2 hours in flight makes it easier when you arrive.
  • Sleep aids —– If deemed safe for you, sleep aids like Benadryl or melatonin can help you fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep.
  • Treat medical sleep problems —– Sleep apnea is one of the most undertreated disorders in the modern world. Seek evaluation to ensure you do not have a sleep disorder. Inefficient sleep results in suboptimal performance.
  • Turn off electronic devices —– The stimulation from these devices makes it hard for your brain to wind down for sleep. You will fall asleep quicker—, and get a more restful sleep—, if you fall asleep reading or simply drift off by closing your eyes.

Illness

You’re trapped in a metal container with re-circulated air for hours on end. The cough of the person 10 rows behind you will release viral particles that will eventually be pumped through that annoying circular wind tunnel above your head. To avoid contracting passenger 26A’s respiratory illness, do the following:

  • Hydrate
  • Optimize health before travelling —– Manage your medical conditions (especially allergies) before you fly. Your immune system can fight bugs when it’s not distracted by a pre-existing problem.
  • Use Nozin —– This, and other similar products, are swiped on the inside of your nostrils. There is an anti-viral compound (usually alcohol or something similar) that may help to reduce inhalation of viruses.
  • Get a medication travel pack —– It is difficult to find medical care in another city, and even harder in a different country. Partner with your laryngologist to travel with a pack of medications. If illness strikes, you will be armed with what you need.

I don’t do that but my band members….
While you may be doing everything right, the band member who grabs a smoke at a pit stop will re-enter the bus with smoke clinging to their clothes. Just as children of smokers get asthma from being near smokers, the singer whose band smokes will find their airway irritated from second-hand exposure. If you can’t eliminate it completely, suggest electronic cigarettes (which have less inhaled toxin), patches, gums, or, for other substances, oral consumption, to avoid the irritating fumes.

Laryngitis from second-hand smoke. Notice the white mucous, grayish vocal folds, and prominent blood vessels.

In general

Being on tour is extremely hard on the voice. Back-to-back performances means little time for rest and vocal recovery. To improve the chances of surviving a demanding tour schedule, consider the following:

  • Change time zones gradually
  • Book a day off between performances
  • Use backing tracks if permissible/acceptable
  • Travel with a sound technician —– This reduces the singer having to push due to bad sound engineering.
  • Do interviews/press in a quiet environment and limit the number of interviews
  • Do not go out between gigs. The touring singer needs to use down time as vocal rest time. Silence is ideal.
  • Have a laryngologist resource —– It may not be possible to know of a laryngologist in every city you travel to. But if you have a laryngologist in your home city you trust, you can call this person if you run into trouble. They should be able to connect you with someone reliable, wherever you are.

Many of these things are easier said than done. While few can adhere to every guideline, I tell my touring musicians to do as many “right things” as they can. Every positive decision lowers the risk of injury and makes surviving tour that much more likely.


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Dr. Reena Gupta is the Director of the Division of Voice and Laryngology at the Osborne Head and Neck Institute (LA, California). She is a laryngologist/voice specialist who has devoted her career to caring for professional voice users. Dr. Gupta’s desire to care for voice patients stems from her passion for the vocal arts. She began singing in elementary school and continued through college and medical school, while pursuing her love for the art of medicine. She completed residency at New York University School of Medicine in Head and Neck Surgery and the prestigious fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice at Drexel University College of Medicine. Dr. Gupta strongly believes in advocating for performers and designs treatment plans that enable her patients to thrive in their careers.