I've been debating whether or not I'd post about this because I didn't want to come off braggy. However a lot of people have asked me these questions, and I realized that sharing this could serve as an inspiration to my peers, so here we go:
When I was planning my summer tour, I did HOURS of research - venues, travel, routes, logistics. I also thought a lot about finance - how to offset costs without sacrificing my well-being and sanity. SO MANY musicians on forums online were saying the same things: "your first tours will be an investment, expect to spend way more than you'll make." or "you have to save up to go on tour, you have to expect to make no money, and you'll come out in the red."
But then my reaction was: "Ok, I want to challenge that."
First, OFFSET COSTS - especially lodging. I couch surfed the entire tour (which btw not once meant sleeping on an actual couch - at most hosts I had a private room). I only paid for a hotel one night, because I decided to leave a host city earlier than planned. Also, most hosts will want to feed you meals. Eat them w/ love and thank them profusely. Hosts also want to get to know you, and will likely come to your show and bring a friend or two. Thank them again.
Second, GET PAID. You deserve it. You've worked hours into your craft and you're providing a service. For all my gigs, I made sure I negotiated some sort of pay - either door cut, bar sales percentage, or a flat fee. If the place served food, I tried to negotiate a meal with my payment too. The key here is to ASK FOR IT. Some places won't be upfront about payment to see if they can get away without it (lame!), but if you ask they'll likely negotiate. If they're firm on not paying, MOVE ON. Unless it's an extraordinary opportunity that offers another kind of compensation, move on. If you keep knocking on those doors, they'll eventually open and they'll be ready to pay up! (also take note: most venues follow the unspoken rule and give touring bands a bigger cut of door/bar sales)
Last but not least, MERCH SALES. I want to say 85% of the bands I played with on this tour didn't bring merch to the show - AKA they're leaving money on the table. I can't stress this enough - sell some damn merch. I don't care if you're gonna get some products professionally produced, or go the DIY route, just make sure you have SOMETHING to sell. People tend to be generous towards touring artists, and they want to support you. Yes, a tip jar is cool, but it's even cooler if they have something with your music or band name for them to remember you by.
I am proud to say that following these 3 rules, I was able to come out on the other side having a profit instead of a loss. It wasn't a huge profit margin, but the tour paid for itself and more. That was my financial goal for this first big tour, and it's nice to have achieved it!
I hope this helps some of you! And I am happy to answer questions if you have 'em. Let's grab some coffee and talk shop.
TL;DR: answering questions about the tour, how to offset costs, get paid, sell merch, be profitable, etc. go on tour. have fun.