Attending your first festival can be a daunting prospect if you are a first-timer. But, if you get it right, I’m sure you’ll get hooked and keep coming back for more.
Festivals come in different shapes and sizes from Glastonbury at 150 thousand plus attendees spread out over most of Somerset, to a more sedate local festival with, maybe, 5000 people. Whatever the size, most weekend festivals involve camping, partying and surviving unpredictable weather. This article is intended for those of you who have not been to a multi-day festival before and want to give it a try. It’s not an exhaustive list but it should give you a good idea of what to expect and help you to go to your first festival prepared.
Don’t forget your ticket or your wallet
You can literally turn up to most, certainly the bigger, festivals with just the clothes you stand up in, your ticket and your wallet and survive the weekend. There are shops and merchant stalls on site where you can buy everything from a tent to wellies to sleeping bags. There will also be food stalls and bars aplenty, so you definitely won’t go hungry or thirsty.
We do know people who have done exactly this. Not the cheapest way to do it but at least they didn’t miss out.
Take a Trolly
Don’t pack more than you can carry! Car parks and bus drop-offs can be a very long walk to the campsite. So, unless you have the carrying capacity of a mule, you will want to limit how much you need to haul over to the camp-ground. Once you’ve done a couple of festivals, you’ll be a packing genius. Obviously, don’t leave out essentials but don’t pack anything you can easily live without. You probably don’t need as much as you think.
First timers often don’t want to bother with a trolley to help move their gear. A couple of festivals in, it will become your most precious bit of kit. If you do go for one, get one that can handle rough terrain and mud. You will also want to get bungee cords to hold your gear on the trolley while you pull it along. It’s a lot easier than messing about with rope, unless you’re a sea-scout.
Get a site map
Before you arrive at your chosen festival, try and print a site map, so that you know exactly where you will be camping and where your favourite bands will be playing. Alternatively, you can pick one up when you arrive at the festival, but you may have to pay. If it’s raining (what are the chances) your map will be a soggy mess within the first 24 hrs but the map will have got you off to a good start and by then you will probably know your way around.
Buy or bring schedule
If you’re there for the music, rather than just sitting around the camping area trying to pull, you will need a schedule. Lots of festivals sell schedules on a lanyard, which means you can hang it round your neck, a handy place to keep it, if you plan on having a few drinks without losing it.
If you buy a lanyard you will instantly make an abundance of new friends who want to know what stage Bring Me the Horizon is on. Most of them will remain friends long enough to take a photo of your schedule on their phones.
An alternative to buying a schedule is to print off the clashfinder for your chosen festival before you leave home ( by visiting https://clashfinder.com ). Clashfinder also works pretty well on your phone these days but sometimes getting a data connection at a busy festival can be a challenge.
Think before you pitch your tent
Try and get somewhere flat. It’s more comfortable and you won’t end up in a tangled heap of bodies each morning, unless that’s what you want. Avoid dips and the bottom of hills or you could be a flood victim. Don’t camp anywhere near the toilets. It may seem like a good idea to only have a short walk to the loo but your tent could very quickly end up in the middle of a smelly swap and I can’t guarantee it’s all water.
Have a rendezvous point for friends
It’s really easy to get lost at festival you don’t know, particularly if you have had a drink and it’s a big festival. At a big festival, it can sometimes take all day to receive a message on your phone so it can be a pain to make arrangements on the fly.
To avoid getting separated from your friends until you return to the tent, decide on a meeting place and certain times in the day when you will go there. At all the festivals we go to, we also have regular places we stand to watch bands at each stage so there’s a good chance of finding each other there.
Make a note of what your friends are wearing and try and make friends with tall people. They are much easier to spot. Having something distinctive that you can hold in the air can also help you find each-other, if you do manage to make contact by phone.
Can’t live without your gadgets? Take a portable charger and spare batteries
Who can survive a day without their phone? Certainly not us. At the very least you need to be able to take pics to prove to everyone what a great time you’ve had. Take a portable charger with you, preferably one with enough charge to last you for the number of days you plan to be there.
If it’s a long festival, you may need to take more than one. Always assume other people are not as organised as you and will ask to ‘borrow’ a quick charge of their phone/camera/e-cigarette so take more than you need and good luck getting that charge back.
Take plenty wet-wipes
Festival camping can be hot and sweaty and cold and muddy all in the same weekend. Some festivals have showers but not all of them and sometimes after seeing them you may change your mind about using them. Wet wipes are a reasonable alternative, short term. I never bother with showers at festivals and its never spoiled my fun. Having wet wipes to get kebab grease off your hands and face can be a real bonus.
Take toilet paper
Most festivals are getting much better at maintaining the toilets. Particularly the portaloo style ones. They are emptied and freshened up daily and new toilet paper is usually provided. That said, toilet paper does run out but, more often, it gets dropped. A few handy sheets of your favourite, quilted, luxury toilet paper in your pocket, can save the day.
Take some hand sanitiser
Not wishing to be too germophobic but filthy hands and take-away food are a bad combination. To maintain hand hygiene, take hand sanitiser and use it after going to the toilet and before you eat anything. A festival is not a great place to have a nasty stomach bug.
Remember to some drink water as well as alcoholic drinks, especially if it’s hot and sunny. Dehydration can increase the effects of alcohol and make you ill. Most festivals have plenty of water points so stop and have a quick swig whenever you pass one or carry a water bottle around with you. Lots of people do these days. Alternating alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks is another way to stay hydrated over a long day/night.
Don’t get robbed or lose things
Most festival goers I’ve met are just there to have fun but, sadly, I’ve never been to a festival when someone didn’t get robbed, either. Tents are not secure and it’s not easy to go to a festival without at least some valuables. Your wallet and phone are basic essentials and it’s a royal pain if they go missing. Not all security measures are 100 percent effective but try to make yourself a hard target, if you can.
Do not leave valuables in your tent. Keep them on you, ideally in a zipped or buttoned pocket or hire a secure locker, which are available at many festivals. Small rucksacks, Bum bags (fanny packs) and money belts can also be a handy way to keep your stuff safe. If car parking is close by, as it sometimes is at smaller festival, it might be feasible to pop your valuables in your car during the day while you are away from your tent.
One clever hack to avoid losing your precious gadgets is to buy a wrist strap for your camera and/or phone. At some point you will probably want to take some pics or videos of bands. It’s a great plan until someone bumps into you and your camera/phone goes flying out of your hand. A simple wrist strap can save a lot of crawling about amongst a mass of mud and wellies.
Folding chairs also seem to go missing a lot. Whilst it’s not practical to carry your chair round with you, it’s a good idea to put them in your tent while you are away. It’s not fool-proof but opportunists will more likely go for a softer target.
Don’t bring your best clothes
I once saw a lad entering Leeds Festival on a day ticket, tiptoeing between clumps of grass, trying to keep his white jeans and brand-new Vans clean. I tried to explain that he had about a mile and a half of deep, wet mud ahead of him so he might as well just dive in the next puddle and get it over with. Not sure if he ever made it to the arena but I’m sure he went home a little wiser.
Don’t bring your best gear to a UK festival. It’s just going to get ruined. Embrace the shabby chic approach to looking good.
Prepare for the rain and the sun
You will go from happy to miserable in the time it takes for you to become wet and cold, if the heavens open. Your mum was right, take a waterproof coat. Even if it doesn’t rain it gives you something to sit on. A lot of people pack a foldable poncho.
I always take waterproof over-trousers as well as a good waterproof coat. I just like the smug feeling when I can carry on watching a band when everyone runs for cover.
It’s highly likely that you will be able to buy waterproofs at the festival, but they will probably be a bit more expensive.
On the off-chance it’s actually sunny, pack some high factor sunscreen and a hat. Keep covered before you burn and retreat to the shade frequently.
Don’t run out of money
If you get on a roll, festivals can eat up your cash pretty quickly. There are usually ATMs on festival sites so make sure you take a bank card in case you need a top up. I usually keep my card and some spare cash in my special hiding place in the car.
Some festivals are now going cashless, which is a great idea. It’s normally operated off a RFID chip on your wrist band that you load with cash before you go to the festival and you can usually enable an automatic top-up, in case you overspend. From experience, it’s still a good idea to have a debit/credit card available as occasionally the automatic top-ups can fail so you need to do it manually on site.
Wellies or waterproof boots are an absolute must for festivals. Rain and tens of thousands of festival feet will stir the ground up into a mud bath faster than you can say Glastonbury. The weather forecast might be perfect, but still take them in case the weatherman gets it wrong. It only takes a little bit of rain and all those feet will do the rest.
Make sure you take some old trainers as well as wellies. They are lot more comfortable, if the mud doesn’t arrive or is manageable. Because festivals always involve a lot of walking, I personally prefer walking boots to wellies. But they’re a bit expensive, if you’re not going to use them elsewhere.
Eating 3 meals a day from festival food vans can be very expensive. Save a bit of your hard-earned cash by taking as much food and snacks with you as you can reasonably carry. I’ve pretty much lived off cereal bars, nuts and crisps at some festivals, maybe having one decent meal a day from a vendor.
Some festivals allow you to cook hot food on a small stove and some allow barbecues and even small fires. These days we tend to be in the van more than in the tent, so cooking is much easier. The rules can vary a lot so check the rules of your festival before you pack the bacon.
Take a Multi-Tool Gadget
It’s surprising how many times a day you will need to cut, poke holes in, or screw things in or out. A Swiss army knife or equivalent multi-tool gadget will come in really handy when you do. If you do bring one, however, it’s a good idea to leave it in your bag in the tent so there are no misunderstandings with security.
I hope these tips to help you have an enjoyable first try at a festival. Wherever you choose to go, keep safe, and always travel in style and comfort.