Whether you’re a battle-hardened festival goer or you’re taking your first foray out into the mud and music, you’re constantly on the do’s and don’ts learning curve of a successful festival experience. To help get you off to a good start, we’ve put together a collection of festival tips in a guide to surviving festival season.
You can check out our festival checklist so you know you’ll be well prepped for the whole weekend and we’ll whip you into shape so you’ll be a grizzled festival veteran by the end of the summer. Let’s get started!
How to Survive a Festival
Arrive early. First things first – arrive early! You may think you can rock up whenever you please and get set up, but the reality of the situation is the later you arrive, the further from the action you will be. Festival campgrounds are huge mazes of tents and everyone wants to be as near to the main stage as they can. If you beat the crowds you will cut the travel time between your tent and the stages, as well as avoid never-ending queues for the facilities on offer.
Location is key. You’ve shown up on time and you have all the space in the world to choose from, but picking your spot is an art. For example, you may think being close to toilets is a good idea for convenience. This idea won’t survive a long, hot day after they are used a couple of thousand times. Similarly, if you camp too near a path, you’ll need to listen to the constant stream of people passing by. Choose a spot that’s not too remote but is not a magnet for disruption by the intense goings-on around.
Don’t get lost. Take some time to work out where your festival tent is in relation to any landmarks. Many guides will suggest planting a flag to locate your tent by but then you’ll have to pick out one flag from the endless sea of flags everyone has planted, thinking they’re a genius. The best thing to do is to work out where the nearest stretch of path is and any memorable landmarks, such as the toilets, posts, trashed tents, or markers of any other kind. This is especially important at the bigger festivals such as Glastonbury and T in the Park, which lay home to many tens of thousands throughout their duration.
Team up. If you’re camping with friends, form a circle with a communal inner area where you can relax. This may seem a little anti-social but you’ll be glad for your own personal space. Try and pack your tents as close as you can or people will likely take the space between them. This also means that your group aren’t the obnoxious ones hogging huge areas of the campsite.
You’re going to need a bigger tent. Just because a festival tent says it sleeps two, it doesn’t mean two people should sleep in it. If you’re a regular camper who is used to cramped conditions and compact camping, you can handle being cooped up, but most festivalgoers will find that they have a more comfortable night if they go up a size, allowing more space and extra storage. It’s also a good idea to pitch it at home first so you know how it’s done.
Protect your tent. At the end of a long day making the most of all the festival has to offer, you may well find yourself a little clumsy and exhausted. It’s easy to trip on guy rope and bring down your tent, or jump into bed covered in mud. These are a surefire way to have a bad time, so plan ahead. Have extra guy ropes, duct tape and tent pegs for any repairs, and keep a change of dry, clean clothes just inside your tent too for a quick change if you need it.
The criminal element. Don’t be put off by this, but like with any large gathering of people in one space, there are going to be thieves operating. The best defence against this is simply to not carry anything worth stealing – prevention is better than cure. Keep valuables on you at all times and just leave all your gadgets and pricey items at home. Some think a padlock is a good idea but it will simply attract thieves who’ll think they have struck gold and a knife will make quick work of a tent, lock or no lock. When sleeping, simply keep valuables inside and hidden away.
Be a good neighbour. While not being nasty to anyone around you is always a good idea in general, being friendly with neighbouring groups of tents can come in handy. Think of them as an extra set of eyes to spot anyone rummaging in your tent who shouldn’t be. Plus, if you’re not difficult with them, they generally won’t be difficult with you. Respect is crucial in this case, so keep your noise to an acceptable level in the wee hours of the morning and do not leave trash lying around on their doorstep.
Know the score. Most festivals will have some basic rules for camp sites. For example, some don’t like people having glass bottles; some may not like you using disposable barbecues. It’s well worth familiarising yourself with these rules beforehand or you may find yourself with no way to cook your food and nothing to drink, or in the worst instance – kicked out of the campsite!
Bring a torch. Head torches are hands-free and compact, plus, they can make all the difference when you’re walking back to your tent late at night. It’s funny how difficult to spot guy ropes can be in the dark and you don’t want to be the one who pulls down several tents in a mess of rope, angry shouts and crippling embarrassment.
Be well stocked up. We’re not suggesting you bring enough food to feed an army but make sure you have plenty of food to keep you going. Non-perishable stuff is the most straightforward. Of course you can choose to partake in the food being sold at the festival, but if you don’t have an arm and a leg to spend on three meals a day, it’s worth bringing plenty of your own.
Bring easy-to-cook/eat food. Let’s face it, you’re there to see bands and not to cook dinner. While you may want to bring a barbecue or stove, you want to aim for quick and easy non-perishable items. Cereal bars, noodles and nuts are favourites, bread and spreads like peanut butter are also an easy option for snacks that refuel your body.
Don’t be a litter bug. Remember to keep track of your mess. Far too many people simply dump rubbish and this quickly creates a hellish wasteland that’s bad for the environment and will have to be cleaned up by some poor soul later! Bring a couple of bin bags to keep waste in. The campground will likely have bins where you can put rubbish once it’s all collected and sealed. Make sure to take home everything you brought with you that you haven’t used.
Hydrate. While there will be copious amounts of alcohol on offer, it’s important to remember to drink water. Dehydration is easy, especially when you’re out in the sun all day drinking alcoholic beverages. It’s advisable to keep some water on you at all times and if that’s not possible, make sure to take a break to drink some water every so often to help prevent dehydration.
Germs. Festivals aren’t the cleanest sites in the world and on Sunday you’ll find the toilets aren’t quite up to the same standards as when you arrived. Make sure to bring some of your own toilet roll and plenty of hand sanitiser. While festival staff will generally supply these, you never know when they might run low. Baby wipes are also a good idea when the chances are you won’t be seeing a shower at all.
Sunscreen. While festivals are often known for mud and rain, you’re going to see plenty of sun too (hopefully!) so it’s important to remember to bring sunscreen, and apply it. Sunstroke isn’t fun, and neither are burns that develop into painful blisters. Slather up generously and reapply as needed, every two hours. You can also take aftersun lotion too just in case the sunburn hits you hard.
Earplugs. Feel like sleeping? Earplugs will be your best friend. You’ll be contending with the music which will go on late into the night, as well as people partying around you probably all the time. A simple pair of earplugs works wonders and is essential for a relaxed night’s sleep.
Don’t freeze. It may be mid-summer and the sun is blazing but the weather can turn at a moment’s notice. Particularly in the evenings, it can get pretty cold and you can’t simply head inside to warm up. Have a warm jumper at the ready and enough clothes to keep you warm if the temperature starts to dip.
Sensible footwear. This covers a couple of issues. First and foremost, you’re going to be on your feet pretty much all day. Uncomfortable shoes are an awful idea; you won’t be having fun when your feet are mashed to pieces. Similarly, those nice shoes aren’t going to survive a weekend of muddy fields and massive crowds. Wellies and walking boots will be your friend if you don’t want to go home crying over your ruined white trainers.
Save your car. When the weekend is over and you shamble wearily back to your car, bus, train or lift, have a spare change of clean clothes you can change into. These can be stowed in your parked car or kept in a bag in your rucksack or tent. Trust me, you’ll be glad not to have to get the car deep cleaned when you finally arrive home and just want to collapse into bed. Using a steering wheel lock as well may not be the worst idea.
Have a blast. Needless to say, you won’t be short of things to do. Whether you’re at Download, Reading and Leeds, Glastonbury or any other one of the seemingly limitless stream of festivals, there is loads of music acts, things to do, food to eat and lots more. It’s worth having a bit of a game plan as to what you want to see and do, and coming to a compromise with friends in advance. Don’t overplan though as some of the best moments at a festival are found by accident, so fit in time to explore, see a lesser known band and try something new.