Ultimate Music Festival Survival Guide
Music Festival Survival 101
No. 1: CHOOSE YOUR FESTIVAL WISELY
Pick your festival based on your music preference.
Take note on the overall genre of the festival. If EDM doesn’t tickle your fancy, avoid all-electronic festivals like Ultra or TomorrowWorld. Other festivals like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Governors Ball, and Coachella (just to name a few) boast a more rounded lineup of diverse musical acts. Do some research before selecting which festival to attend, especially if it’s your first.
Location is key.
With music touching all cultures, festivals are sprinkled all across the globe. If the festival requires flying, be prepared to map out the logistics of shipping your camping gear. If you’re driving, make the most of your travel by spending a night or two before the festival to explore a new city along the way.
↓ Melt Festival, Germany (open-air machine museum)
↓↓ Suwannee Hulaween, Florida (woods and river)
↓↓↓ Exit Festival, Serbia (17th century fortress)
2. SQUAD GOALS VS. SOLO DOLO
Your squad will be v important.
This will potentially make or break your entire experience. Music festivals, especially camping ones, are unlike anything else. And as such, everyone enjoys them differently. Some festival goers like to attend the tranquil morning yoga class. Others prefer to shotgun y-bombs till dawn. To bypass any drama that might arise from conflicting priorities, go with like-minded friends.
Wander around on your own.
At my first camping festival (Bonnaroo ’13), my friend and I went our separate ways for a couple hours to see our own favorite bands. Splitting up resulted in some of our top highlights of the entire weekend. She ended up getting front row to The National, while on the opposite side of the festival I was sharing one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever witnessed alongside Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (click here and skip to 7:24 to see Alex Ebert swoon the crowd and bring a very deserving fan onstage).
3. NAVIGATING THE FESTIVAL GROUNDS
If you know me then you inevitable know my directional sense is less than sub par. It’s worse than sub par. It’s well known amongst my friends to “not let Alex navigate” bad.
Navigating new festival grounds is not an easy feat for me. Knowing this, I usually tend to stick with a friend who has some semblance of directional sense. After exploring the grounds on the first day, it becomes much easier finding your way around. Except when you are Bonnaroo and you name stages “What”, “Which” , “This” , “That” and “The Other”. Dick move ‘Roo.
4. PICK YOUR PACK: BACKPACK, FANNYPACK OR CAMELBAK
What you use to carry your belongings into the main stages, sometimes a 45 minute trek from your campsite, will play a serious role in determining how the rest of your day is going to plan out.
Backpacks are the best option for when you don’t plan on making it back to your campsite for awhile and therefore, need to carry more stuff. On the flip side, if its scorching hot out, backpacks are only going to make you that much hotter and dig into any unexpected sunburn.
Personally, I’m a backpacker. I pretty much always have a backpack with me at festivals. I like to have everything at my disposal that I might need to make the experience that much more enjoyable. Plus, I’m more often than not, toting my large camera around working as press writing for MusicFestivalWizard.com to get into festivals for freeee. Hollah hollah at saving those dollars!
Tip: The security at the main stage entrances will almost always go through the contents of your backpack. Plan accordingly.
Great for those who like to boogie and have the freedom of not carrying anything. These are most ideal for hotter festivals, just make sure you lather up in sunscreen before heading out since you probably won’t have space to bring it.
Bonus: When turned around, you can sometimes avoid the bag-check line and get into the main stage area quicker.
I know some that hate ‘em and others that swear by ‘em. If you already have one it’s definitely worth trying out. Personally, I’m a water bottle and backpack type of gal.
Tip: Be prepared for various strangers throughout the day asking for “just a sip of water”.
No matter how many festivals I attend, I never know how much cash to bring. As a rule of thumb, I always bring at least $60 in cash but typically by day 2 or 3, I’ll admit defeat to obnoxiously high ATM withdrawal fees.
As far as food purchases go, it’s really up to you. When I first attended music festivals I always brought sandwich and bagel ingredients. But after too many failed instances of lunch meat and cream cheese being conquered by cooler water, I started purchasing most of my food from vendors, ranging anywhere from $3 to $18 for a meal. Note: You won’t eat as much as you think you will.
Tip: I always bring an assortment of snacks including a combination of chips, nuts, crackers, Fig Newtons, Chex Mix, breakfast bars, and/or fruit for back at the campsite.
Don’t forget to budget for ice, ice, baby.
Fill the cooler to the brim with ice before heading into the festival grounds. It’s going to melt quickly so be prepared to buy a bag or two (roughly $5- $11 a pop) at the festival.
6. CAMPSITE ETIQUETTE
Your camping neighbor may be your new best friend or…they may be the naked girl tripping her balls off, running back and forth between campsites, stealing peoples stuff and then trying to sell it back to them until the police finally get involved, and escort her to the psychiatric ward of the closest hospital (true story: Summer Camp, 2015). The point is, you never know where you’ll end up camping.
Be sure to bring basic camping goods such as garbage bags, lanterns, canopy or shade tent, towels, portable speakers, folding chairs, solo cups, etc. Check out my music festival essential packing list for everything you’ll need to bring.
Mark you campsite in the sky.
This is where you’ll need to get crafty. One year we duct taped extra tent poles together, hung our college flag onto it and fastened it to a shade tent. Another tactic I’ve seen is purchasing helium balloons and tying them together above your campsite.
Tip: It’s not the end of the world though if you don’t have a campsite marker. Chances are, another campsite in close proximity will have some sort of flag or marker that you can use to locate your campsite.
7. TREAT YOUR BODY LIKE A TEMPLE
Don’t be like me and get pneumonia and strep throat at the same time because I failed didn’t even try to make healthy choices during a college spring break spent at BUKU in New Orleans and then Panama City Beach. Make smart choices people.
Water is life.
Bring a lightweight reusable water bottle that you can continually refill. Be prepared to taste an influx of sulfur and chlorine in your water. You’re at a festival, deal with it and drink the water.
Tip: However, try avoid smelling the water.
Make vitamins and Emergen-C your right hand man.
Your food intake will most likely be slashed in half, then substituted by fried food and concert goodies. Keep your body happy, take vitamins and drink Emergen-C before, during, and after the festival so your immune system doesn’t wind up kicking you in the a$$ later.
Tip: Sunscreen will be your frenemy, apply frequently for those summertime fests.
8. LOL, WHAT’S SLEEP?
Music festivals deploy you to front lines of sleep deprivation. Trying to sleep in tents during the dead of summer can become unbearable with the heat and humidity. Be prepared to not fall asleep before 3 – 4 A.M. and then have to evacuate the tent around 8:00 A.M once the sweltering sun rises. Bonnaroo was this festival every time for me. Those Tennessee summers can be excruciating.
For festivals in temperate areas or in cooler months, like Hulaween in North Florida, sleep will be much easier to come by. Be sure to bring an eye mask and ear plugs!
Take refugee from the sun.
If you don’t have trees around your camping spot, it’s vital to have a shade awning that you can rest under during the heat of the day.
Tip: If you don’t have access to a shade tent, fasten a blanket or sheet between two parallel car doors for a quick snooze spot.
Don’t put too many humans in one tent.
Although the box for your tent may say it fits 6, cramming bodies at full capacity inside an enclosed space in hot weather gets uncomfortable real, real, fast.
Having your own tent is ideal, trust me, you’ll want the privacy after a long day and night at the festival. But if that’s not an option try and fit only half the amount of humans the box says the tent can fit.
Pitch the tent before the festival to ensure there are no missing pieces.
Tip: Take melatonin before heading off for a snooze.
9. DON’T BE ‘THAT’ GUY
I always end up bringing a surplus of beer because nothing brings new friends together better than the offer of a cold beer. Consider packing a flask but be careful, many main stage areas prohibit flasks inside. If you can get one inside though, it will be extremely rewarding when your go-to whiskey and coke costs $15 from a vendor. Also drink responsibly, don’t be that guy.
Lucy in the sky with diamonds.
As with any event that attracts a large congregation of young people, alcohol and drugs will always be present. This goes right along with taking care of yourself. Make smart choices – encourage the use of test kits amongst your festival entourage, stay hydrated and always keep in mind the risks of never knowing what for sure is going inside your body if you choose to partake in illegal activities.
10. BE A HIPPIE, JUST NOT A DIRTY ONE
The 60’s were great and all but don’t pretend that your body odor is just hippie musk. After bathing even just a little at a festival, you’ll begin to feel like a brand new person washing off yesterdays shenanigans. Wet wipes or baby wipes are perfect assets for porta-potty trips and mid-day refreshers.
Try out a hippie shower.
Make sure to bring at least one gallon of water per person. Not only is staying hydrated essential, many times the showers will cost money to use them.
Tip: One way around the shower fee is to pour a gallon of water over your body with soap in leu of a real shower and prepare yourself for a refreshing “hippie shower.”
11. SAFE & SOUND
Even though festivals attract some of the most genuinely inspiring humans imaginable, sketchy people will always exist no matter where you go. Lock important or expensive things in your car while you’re away from camp.
While I almost always feel extremely safe within the festival grounds, I once had a pair of Ray Bands, cash, and camera stolen out of my backpack that was lying on the trunk of my car at the campsite WHILE I WAS NAPPING IN THE DRIVERS SEAT.
Being aware of your surroundings is always the key to success. If you feel like something is up with a situation, go to a staff member or security team member. They’ll be able to help you without casting judgement.
12. FESTIVAL FASHION
If water is life, then shoes are destiny.
Bring shoes that will be comfortable enough to walk in all day and night. However, pack shoes you don’t mind getting dirty and potentially ruined during those particularly muddy festivals. I’ve had many a shoe claimed by festivals far and wide.
Please note again, comfortable shoes. Bad shoes can make or break you when you’re walking 20k steps a DAY.
As with shoes, be comfortable with what you choose to wear. If you feel your best self in nipple tassels than have at it. If you prefer to dress up and wear lots of makeup then go for it! Whatever you do just make sure it’s comfortable and not time consuming to do.
Personally my go-to’s are sun dresses or a combination of bathing suit and skirt situation. For choice of shoes I always go with either my Vans or a pair of beautifully broken into Doc Marten boots.
Tip: If you plan on staying out until nightfall, tie a sweater or flannel around your waist for when the temperatures begin to drop.
14. POSITIVE VIBES MANNNNN
“The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude.”
The mud may ruin your shoes. The sun may come up at 7:45 every morning forcing you out of your tent and what little sleep you got. Don’t fixate on the small negatives that may pop up but instead soak in the new experiences that a music festival has to offer.
Standing for hours on end, feet covered in blisters, dumping gallons of timidly cold water over sunburnt skin to wash off the yesterday, creates an intense moment of surreal bliss. A bliss I hardly would have thought would occur among an absence of air conditioning, real bathrooms nor real beds.
As you become fully absorbed in the festival each day, the outside world will slowly begin to recede from memory for a brief period of time. Take this opportunity to unplug from reality and immerse yourself in the music and beautiful human experience happening right around you.
Before you know it, you’ll have survived your first camping music festival
Did we miss anything in our music festival survival guide? Share your own music festival survival tips below in the comments!
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