So, you’re traveling for a production. As Tank in The Matrix would say, “Very exciting time!”
But now you’re faced with a lot of questions. What’s it going to be like? What do I bring? How do I prep? Well, let’s explore.
For context, I co-wrote and produced a Netflix limited series that had me travel with the production to Morocco and Hungary for over four months. We had 75 production shoot days, all on location, including many, many night shoots. So, believe me when I say that this advice is coming from experience.
First things first
The big determining factors for traveling with a production are time and distance.
How long will you be gone, and how far is the location? If you’re located in the U.S. and you’re traveling to Atlanta or Seattle, there’s obviously less to worry about in terms of language and food and your favorite brand of toothpaste. But what if you’re heading to another country?
Talk to your cellphone provider. You will likely get a local SIM card so before you depart, so make sure your phone is “unlocked” and able to be used with another SIM.
If you have medication and you’re going to be gone for three months, reach out to your doctor and get those three months called in well ahead of time. You don’t want to be arguing with insurance as your flight is about to leave.
Also, find out the laundry situation wherever you’re going, and don’t overpack. Extra socks and underwear are never bad, but you're on location to work, so you shouldn't need more than a couple of fancy outfits. If you have small, specific items that you absolutely need such as work gloves, favorite pens, etc., then sure, bring extra just in case. But most of the time, anything you need will be available nearby.
If you need to have a passport or medication or important scripts or documents, keep them with you. Don’t check a bag you can’t afford to have disappear for a few days.
If your hotel room has a safe, put your important documents and money in there. You need not be paranoid, but better safe than sorry is never a bad rule in a new place and particularly a new country.
Sleep, sleep, sleep
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of sleep. A sleep mask and earplugs can be lifesavers. But so too can ZzzQuill or any other type of non-narcotic drugs.
Whether you’re trying to stave off jet lag or need help sleeping in after a long night shoot, talk to your doctor about what’s best for you. The hours are long and rest is important.
In the same vein, exercise. I know, I know, but you don’t need to go to a gym or get a personal trainer. Even some brisk walks before or after work can make a world of difference, especially if you’re stuck sitting at video village all day.
Shipping things to location can be helpful, but be wary, particularly if you’re out of the country. If you want snacks or items you know you need from home, try to pack them.
But if you or loved ones do ship them, do not list their actual value. Put $0 or maybe $5. I had over $100 worth of protein bars shipped to Casablanca that I never received because they were held by Moroccan customs, who demanded I pay a $400 ransom. I love RXbars, but I do not love them enough to pay $500 for a few boxes. Learn from my mistake.
The local crew are your friends. Treat them well, and they’ll treat you well. Not only is it an opportunity to meet new people and gain new perspectives, but it will make your time away from home that much easier. The local office PA or key PA can often help you with everything from getting your computer fixed or your new SIM card working, to telling you the best restaurants in town or how to rent a car for the weekend.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask specific questions. I spent months monitoring my phone’s data usage because I thought the limit applied to our entire stay, when it was actually per month. I could have uploaded so many more videos to Instagram!
Most important, though, is to be kind to yourself and to others and to try and have fun. Production, especially on location, is stressful. The hours are long and there’s often a lot of pressure, regardless of your position. It’s often necessary to remind yourself that you’re getting paid to travel somewhere new and do what you love.
Take photos, make friends, see the local sights, and, seriously, make sure to get some sleep.
Leave your own tips in the comments!