I post a lot of pictures and text from different festivals, but they mostly have to do with the music and less the overall festival experience. So I thought, now that I’m doing a real camping festival a long way from home, why not make a little Festival Survival Guide.
I am heading off to Ilosaarirock in Joensuu in Eastern Finland tomorrow (Saturday), with headliners like Mustasch, Portishead and Alice in Chains. I did a quick headcount and came to the conclusion that it is probably around my 50th or 60th festival, depending a bit on what you consider a festival. So at this stage, I should have some idea of what I’m talking about.
I will be updating this blog out in the field, so stay tuned for more, but let’s start with covering the basics.
The key to a good festival experience is preparation. The better prepared you are for all eventualities, the smoother everything will go.
1. Tickets. Don’t rely on buying a ticket at the entrance. They are often sold out.
2. Travel. Where is the festival? How will I get there? How will I get back home? Good to know this stuff in advance, don’t you think? The festival websites usually have good information on transportation. It’s worth checking out if there are special festival transports, some organisations rent special buses that you can book yourself onto, and it’s usually cheaper than regular public transport. If you are travelling by car, make sure to check out where you can park. And if possible, book your return ticket before you go partying – that bus money has a funny way of disapperaring once the fun begins …
3. Accommodation. There are usually a few different options. If you want the full hotel experience, start booking as soon as the festival dates are announced. Hotels (and most hostels) are filled rapidly if it’s a big festival, especially if it’s a small town. Most festivals have some sort of school or public hall sleeping arrangements – more info is usually found on the festival’s website. A good idea is also to check out different couchsurfing and airbn’b-sites. A lot of people like to make a little exra buck by renting out rooms for the duration of the festival. If there is decent public transportation or you can get someone to drive you, it might also be a neat idea to try and get accommodation somewhere outside the city where the festival is taking place, It’s usually cheaper, too. If you decide on camping, we’ll cover that later.
4. Timetables. Don’t do minute-by-minute timetables for yourself, they only stress you out, but it’s nice to have some idea of when to be where and see which band. It’s a bummer to pay 100-150 euros and then realise that you missed your favourite band because you were playing strip poker in the tent area (not that I would ever).
5. Documents. Plane, bus, train tickets, festival tickets, ID card – all these are naturally essential to have in advance. But I also recommend printing out a festival area map, a city map if the city is not familiar and a concert program – these are not always available on the festival. Just in case, the local taxi number can be handy. Today there are naturally all sorts of festival apps and stuff, but you never know what the reception is like at these gatherings.
6. Packing. Oh this is a science all of its own, we’ll get to that later …
One of the most crucial parts of getting the most out of your festival experience is knowing what to bring with you and what not to bring. Of course this varies depending on the person and the festival, but I have come to learn that there are some basic truths.
1. How to pack. As a general rule – keep it light and portable. When it comes to clothes and stuff – keep it to bare minimum. This is a festival, not fashion week. If your bag is so heavy you can barely lift it, you are officially moving – not travelling. I recommend an old school backpack. Unless you are going straight from the station to the hotel, don’t bring a roller suitcase. Especially not if camping. The general rule for packing backpacks is: heavy stuff on top, light stuff in the bottom. Strap all you can to the backpack, it leaves your arms free and lets your hips take the strain, if properly packed and strapped.
2. Sleeping gear. As covered above, there are many different varieties of festival sleeping. If you’re not sleeping at some sort of hotel/hostel, I recommend bringing a sleeping bag/blanket, a bed sheet and one of those rock hard camping ”mattresses” made out of foam plastic – sleeping pads I think they’re called in English. Pillow is optional. They take up lots of packing space, but you can sleep almost anywhere as long as you have a pillow. If you have a vacuum packer – you are awesome. Some people use blow-up mattresses and pillows, personally I’ve never really gotten used to them.
3. Footwear. Girls – leave the heels at home. There will be mud and gore. You only need one pair of comfy, durable shoes – be it doc martens or sneakers or some other type of footwear. If the weather forecast says rain, rubber boots are nice – although they are heavy to pack and not very comfortable to walk in. An extra pair of lightweight sandals can be nice. Don’t bring your best fancy shoes, they’ll be ruined.
4. Clothes. As aforementioned – this is not fashion week. Everyone will be dusty and muddy and sweaty. One set of change in basic clothes per day should cut it – that is underwear, socks, t-shirt/top/sweater/dress/whatever your taste is in these matters. Bring a warm sweater/coat and an extra pair of pants for cold nights. And a rain coat. Swimwear if there’s a beach nearby. And that’s it, really. A hat, if you must. Because hats are cool. Not fedoras, though. Go nude, release your inner hippie. Go commando. Swing that thing. Release the milk factories. It’s the summer of love. (No, don’t, really. Woodstock is gone. It’s just bad taste. Unless you are really, really hot. Then go for it. But beware the consequenses.)
5. Camping gear. So, we are going camping? Then number one is the tent (unless you are sporting a trailer, in which case you are one lucky guy/girl/person). There are cheap ”festival tents” you can get at departments stores. I got mine at Clas Ohlsson for 36 euros. And apart from sleeping gear, that should really be all you need for camping. Bringing grills and gas stoves and stuff like that is just overkill and unnessecery junk to pack. Festival camping areas usually have some sort of grill area and food stands. Some dry groceries or canned food may come in handy for breakfast or nighttime snack, and a bottle for water is essential. Don’t bring a bloody jerry can, though, there are water posts at the festival. A camping chair can be nice if the ground is wet, but a plastic sheet of some sort can sort that out.
6. Sanitizing and medicating. Bring your basic toiletries. There is usually a designated shower area, water posts and porta-loos at the camping area, other accommodations usually have the whole works. Paper towels or toilet paper is a festival goer’s best friend. Always keep a bunch with you. Wet sanitizing napkins are awesome for post-festival-day-cleanup. Important: if you are on any kind of medication, or have any sort of allergies, bring your drugs. Other: a) pain killers are absolutely essential for hangovers, sore feet and backs, blisters, headaches etc. b) sunscreen. You will be outside all day in the middle of the summer. c) Diarrhea pills. I cannot tell you how many times my festival companions have been happy I’ve had these with me. Between the dubiously cooked festival grub, all that alcohol and all those dirty porta-loos, you are almost guaranteed to get the runs at one out of three festivals. It’s ugly but true. d) Contraceptives. If you want to get laid – go festival camping. It even works for me, and that’s saying a lot. And by contraceptives I mean condoms. You don’t want to get those nasty festival crabs. e) band-aids. Good for blisters, scratches and I once repaired a pair of pants with band-aids and a safety pin. True story.
7. Other stuff. a) a small mag-lite. Handy when camping. b) needle and thread, safety pins. Takes up almost no space, but you are so happy to have them when you rip a pair of pants or a top strap. c) a piece of string, rubber bands, duct tape. Will repair absolutely everything. d) scissors or a pocket knife. You can’t bring it to the festival area, but might come in handy when camping. e) a couple of plastic bags. Good to keep things dry, to collect trash or sit on when it is wet. f) phone charger. It’s a bummer when your phone dies and you can’t find your friends. Nearby cafes or bars can usually charge them – some festivals even have charging services.
8. Don’t bring: a) umbrella. They are forbidden at most festivals: you can poke people’s eyes out with them and they block the view of the bands. b) spiky stuff. All sorts of bracelets and collars and such made of spikes and nails will be confiscated at the entrance. c) professional cameras. Only accredited photographers can use professional cameras at festivals. Professional basically means any camera that has removable lenses. Pocket cameras are usually fine. d) your own booze. This varies from festival to festival – but generally you have to leave your own alcohol at the camping area. e) any valuables. Festivals are great places to either lose stuff or get pickpocketes at – and don’t ever leave anything of value in your tent.
Well, that’s about it. You are now ready to go pogoing. See you in the moshpit. Stay tuned for more festival secrets in later posts!