Summer music festivals are kicking into high gear — with Bonnaroo, Coachella, Electric Forest, Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, and many others offering a muddy, long weekend worth of outdoor shows at locations around the country. The big draw to these festivals is to squeeze in seeing as many bands as possible in a short time while indulging in a days-long party. Some festivals focus on a particular genre, while others are praised for their diverse lineups that can appeal to all music lovers. Summer festivals are a great place to get exposed to new music that you otherwise might not have seen, see a bunch of your favorite artists within a couple days, or catch a huge headliner for less cost than a ticket to see that artist in a different venue.
But these festivals aren’t all fun and games, as they involve being outside for long periods of time in the heat, using dreaded port-a-potties, having limited access to decent food, and no sleep. Being properly prepared for the inevitable discomforts that come with summer festivals will prevent you from letting a small hiccup ruin your chances of catching your favorite band. Here are some tips for dealing with the heat, exhaustion, lack of showers, and other inconveniences you’ll encounter.
1. Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen (don’t forget to reapply)
This first tip may seem like the most obvious, but it’s also the most important. A really bad sunburn from your first day at the festival, during which you were too excited to remember to slather up, could ruin the rest of your time. It’s also important to keep in mind that putting a healthy layer of sunscreen on first thing in the morning won’t keep you protected all day long. Carry a bottle of sunscreen with you to reapply while standing in line for the port-a-potty or waiting between bands to keep your skin safe. Chances are doing so will also gain you some unexpected festival friends who perhaps weren’t so thoughtful and want to borrow your SPF. Sunglasses and a hat or bandanna also go far to shield your face (and scalp) from the sun’s rays.
2. Plan your schedule wisely
A good tip for planning your show schedule is to make time for rest, especially if you’re going to a particularly hot festival like Bonnaroo or Coachella. You might think from your air-conditioned home that you can rush between stages and see almost every band, but in reality you’ll probably need resting time after standing in the hot sun. Prioritize the groups that you really don’t want to miss, then consider the ones you’d be okay with ditching to rest or nap in the shade.
3. Food and water
Depending on the weather forecast, eating and drinking might take more preparation than you think. At really hot events, it can be difficult to get oneself to choke down a hot meal, and food vendors are often frighteningly expensive. Granola bars, apples, and meal-replacement shakes are excellent options to keep on hand at the campsite. Even if you don’t feel like eating, forcing down a meal shake can give you the energy you need to rock out into the night.
Carrying a water bottle with you at all times is an absolute must if you don’t want to get sick and miss the rest of the festival. Heat-related injuries are common, and even deaths from dehydration and hyperthermia aren’t unheard of at music festivals, so this is one tip you really don’t want to blow off just because carrying around a water bottle can be a pain. Don’t substitute alcohol for water. Alcohol is dehydrating, thus worse for your body in the heat than not drinking at all. There are typically water bottle filling stations made available to keep everyone hydrated, but the festival’s tap water can sometimes taste a little funky. If you don’t feel like you can handle sulphour-y water, then stock up on jugs of the purified stuff before arriving.
4. Bring the right toiletries
Music festivals aren’t the place to be glamorous, so leave your shelf full of hair products and makeup at home. Showers will likely be few and far between, so prepare to be dirty. Some good things to carry with you at all times are a small bit of toilet paper or travel-sized pack of Kleenex, since port-a-potties aren’t always reliably stocked, as well as wet wipes and hand sanitizer. Extra towels are convenient, should you drop one in the mud or if the humidity won’t allow a wet towel to air dry. Facial wipes and hand wipes are good ways to wash without easy access to showers.
5. Exercise care with alcohol (and other substances)
You’re at a music festival. It’s a given that there will be a lot of people on all kinds of drugs. People will try to sell you drugs, give away free drugs, and use lots and lots of drugs. Plus booze. By the time evening rolls around, most people’s water bottles won’t contain water. The most important thing to remember if you plan on imbibing any substances is to be safe. Festival hippie love atmosphere can make you feel like it’s safe to be out of control in public around a bunch of strangers, but even though everyone’s half-dressed, covered in mud, and irrationally happy just to be at a music festival, you’re still in public around a bunch of strangers. So be careful.
Refrain from trying things you haven’t tried before, as freaking out during a festival could definitely ruin your night or even result in a hospital trip. Remember that the heat and exhaustion you’re feeling will make your body’s response to drugs and alcohol different than usual. Plus, alcohol is dehydrating. All those trips to the port-a-potty may seem daunting, but failing to drink water on top of booze could have much worse consequences than frequent bathroom breaks.
6. Sleep when you can
In the days leading up to an anticipated music festival, it’s common to get really excited and exclaim, “I’m not gonna sleep at all! I’m gonna see everything!” The unfortunate reality is that you’re going to need sleep, and sleep is going to be hard to get. Don’t compensate by drinking a ton of caffeine. This goes back to the whole dehydration thing, which could leave you dizzy — or dead. Sleeping through a full night is difficult due to noise alone, and depending on where you are, there could be heat and bugs to contend with as well. It’s a good idea to plan out times to rest during the day as well as trying to sleep as much as possible through the night. This goes back to the whole scheduling thing. If there’s some band playing that you’re slightly apathetic about during prime afternoon nap time, then it’s worth it to skip the show and catch some zzz’s under a tree. You’ll feel that much more energized for the shows by your favorite artists if you skip the less important ones to get some rest.
7. Carry a flashlight
There is nothing worse than trying to use a dirty port-a-potty in the dark, tripping over stoned people laying in the grass, or suddenly finding yourself unable to distinguish your tent from hundreds of others in the dark. It might seem like useless over-preparation, but having a flashlight with you at all times to help navigate unfamiliar grounds after dark will come in handy, and potentially stop you from using a port-a-potty you don’t want to use.
8. Electronics are mostly a no
Good rule of thumb for attending a music festival: don’t bring anything that you wouldn’t want to have stolen. It might seem like a great idea to bring your laptop so you can write about your experience each day or your fancy camera to indulge your photography hobby by snapping great shots of dirty hippies and your favorite musicians, but I wouldn’t even advise keeping a smartphone on you without being extremely careful. There’s water and mud and heat and rowdy crowds, all ready to damage your expensive device, and if you choose to leave it at the campsite, it can fry it in a locked car or risk being stolen from your tent.
If you plan to bring your smartphone with you, I’d recommend investing in a decent case for the device, and keep it safe inside your backpack/fannypack/purse or whatever contraption you’re using to carry around your water, money, and sunscreen. Phone charging is frequently difficult at festivals. Even if they claim to offer complementary phone charging, the lines for such a service can be hours long. Investing in your own personal solar charger is worth it if you want your phone to be reliably functional throughout the event. A waterproof watch is also a good investment to ensure that you don’t lose track of time and miss your favorite band, even if your phone is dead.
9. Have a plan for your car
If you’re camping at the festival site, then your parked car may seem like a great place to sleep, store things, or charge up your electronics. Wrong on all counts. Your car is going to be more or less useless — especially if its hot. The car is a good place to keep anything locked up that you don’t want to be stolen if said item can withstand the heat inside a locked car parked in the beating sun. Toiletries should not be kept in the locked car, as well as food or anything else that can melt. Some medications can’t be stored in high temperatures, so pay attention to that for any meds you might have.Some make the rookie mistake of choosing to sleep in the car rather than spend money on a tent and other camping gear. Unfortunately, those high temps will linger in your vehicle even as the night cools down, and sleeping in the car will keep you off the cool ground.
Some useful functions for your stationary automobile? The car can serve as a sanctuary if it rains and your campsite is flooded. Or it can be a great way to heat up food in the afternoon. Instant mashed potatoes can be cooked simply by adding water and placing the package on the roof of a car parked in the sun for a few minutes. This also works for oatmeal or cream of wheat. To keep your car safe without carrying around your keys, they make magnetic boxes that you can put your keys inside and attach to the underside of your car. Some of them even have combination locks for extra security.
10. Have fun!
If all these tips are giving you anxiety, take a deep breath. These tips are here so that you can have an optimally good time without a small hassle or discomfort throwing you off. Music festivals are amazing opportunities to see a wide variety of bands, meet fellow music lovers from all over, and maybe even seen the next big band before they break out. Some festivals inspire a collaborative atmosphere that results in jam sessions that couldn’t happen anywhere else. If you come prepared, you’ll deal with the heat, exhaustion, and other discomforts like a pro, not letting them get in the way of having an amazing experience.
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