September has arrived, and while summer seems to have bloomed late here in Portugal, festival season is drawing to a close. Time to woefully pack away the pots of glitter and bum-bags for another year, as you mourn the passing of yet another summer of crowded fields, overheated tents and disposable camera photos.
Maybe you’re a seasoned festival-goer, armed with enough wet wipes, oversized Hawaiian shirts and not-so-ironic bucket hats to last you a lifetime. Maybe you’re finally admitting defeat, having hauled your way back onto an overpopulated coach with peeling sunburn and a raging, week-long hangover, vowing never again to subject yourself to such enjoyable torture. Or maybe festivals just “aren’t really your thing”, but you’re being dragged along by your more eager mates.
Having realised that everywhere else in Europe is better, warmer, and cheaper than the UK, British festivals almost seem to be a thing of the past. If you’re not jumping onto a 36-hour coach journey, then trudging across vast, arid desert-land to reach your campsite, then apparently, you’re not doing it right. Check out a list of some of Europe’s best and biggest festivals here.
This year, for my very first time, I hopped onto the bandwagon with two of my closest friends and most dedicated festival-goers, heading for Benicassim Festival. Taking me under their wing, I quickly learnt about the extensive list of dos and don’ts that come with a summertime festival; this military operation ensures maximum fun, minimum sunstroke, and copious amounts of glitter for all. Read on for my handy beginner’s guide to all things festival.
Do: bring a portable charger
It kind of goes without saying that tents don’t have plug sockets. Straying from your group of friends at 3am when all your phones are dead is not exactly ideal. Be smart: bring a portable charger with you. It’ll give you plenty of battery for that all-important Insta Boomerang later, too.
Don’t: bring a wheelie suitcase
I learned this lesson the hard way. Most festivals on the continent are located in fairly remote places, and are usually pretty far away from the nearest train station. Or, if your festival is near a city, you can bet that there’s a metro/bus/train ride waiting for you. I can personally vouch that trailing a wheelie suitcase along behind you will be an enormous source of frustration – not just for you, but for everyone around you. Invest in a traveller’s backpack.
Do: stay hydrated
I hate to sound like your mum, but DRINKING WATER IS IMPORTANT. Especially in 28+ degrees. If you don’t drink enough water, you can bet that your banging headache will time itself to appear mere minutes before that band you’ve been waiting all year to see. It can also prevent sunstroke, and cure your hangover pretty sharpish.
Most festivals now will have drinking water taps, so bring along a reusable bottle. If they don’t, then it’s always worth stopping off at a nearby supermarket and stocking up on bottles. You won’t regret it.
Don’t: leave your bag open
It’s a known and universally-understood fact that most people return from festivals with at least one less item than they originally went with; that’s because festivals are the prime environment for things to be nicked. When you’re being jostled around in a heaving crowd, dancing along to a particularly upbeat bop, you rarely notice someone’s hand slipping into your pocket/bag and grabbing your phone. Make sure it’s zipped up and hanging somewhere safe, e.g. across your chest.
Don’t: try to see every act in the whole festival
You will stress yourself out if you’re constantly dashing between stages and nudging through crowds to see every possible act. It’s not humanly possible to be at three different stages at once. It might be worth noting down the times and dates of the acts you’re desperate to see before you even get to the campsite; that way, you can spend some time enjoying the other parts of the festival, too.
Do: time your showers cleverly
Most people in the world are either a morning or an evening showerer. So, predictably, you can expect the queues at these times to be pretty hefty. Washing in the middle of the day or slightly later at night will almost definitely ensure you a spot in the showers. Otherwise, it’s deodorant and wet wipes. Yum.
Don’t: be too fussy about being clean
Day one of a festival is always the most exciting. Everyone has just arrived, is putting together their favourite outfit and making sure their make up is sleek and sparkly. Fast-forward a few days, and everyone is looking a little worse for wear, with sun-singed skin and bags under their eyes. But you’re all in the same boat. If you’re too fussy about having washed hair, or needing to pee in an actual toilet (instead of an undisclosed location somewhere to the side of your tent), then you’re not going to have much fun. You’ll have to just accept your bedraggled, slightly smelly state for a few days.
Do: leave the tent as early as you can every morning
It’s widely understood that tents don’t have a great ventilation system. So you can imagine the kind of heat and smell that accumulates overnight; especially when everyone inside has consumed a fair amount of alcohol, too. Leaving the tent ASAP when you wake up in the morning will air it out a little. Sitting in a small, sweaty greenhouse when it’s 32 degrees outside is not fun, either.
Don’t: try to push yourself every night
It’s okay to take a night off and recuperate. If there’s an evening without any particularly good acts on, or you’re all getting a tad grouchy, then it’s probably best for you to do something a little less boozy. The late-night chats as you’re perched on those tiny camping stools outside your tent could end up being a highlight of your festival experience – and could give you the opportunity to get to know your ‘neighbours’, too.
Do: keep on top of your sun cream regime
Burning, as you probably know, is not fun. If you burn yourself on the first day of a festival, then you’ve ruined your chances of sitting in the sun for pretty much the entirety of the trip. If it’s a beach-side festival, try to find a shady spot to lie in every few hours. Your skin will thank you for it later.
Don’t: bring a nice camera
I didn’t actually know this prior to packing for Benicassim, but a lot of festivals actually ban digital or professional cameras from being brought on-site. This is definitely for the best; the fewer valuable or technological items you have with you, the better. If you’re a keen snapper, then stock up on disposable cameras. They’re more of a festival-y vibe, anyway.
Don’t: leave your passport in the tent
Other than obvious things like your phone or money, leaving valuables in your tent is a fairly stupid idea. Most festivals will have lockers near the entrance where you can leave any belongings you (literally) can’t go home without e.g. your passport. Pre-book a locker online before you get there to make sure that you definitely have a home for your stuff!
Do: experiment with your outfits
Festivals are all about fun and freedom: so your outfits should reflect this, too! The wonderful thing about this environment is that literally anything goes. If you wanted to wear fancy dress every single night, no one would bat an eyelid. So make sure to pack that slightly risky pair of neon, translucent trousers you impulse-bought on ASOS a year ago. Now is the time to be bold.
Do: bring paracetamol
You will have a headache. You will also probably ache in many other places at some point throughout the trip. Paracetamol is your friend. Stock up.
Do: snack during the day
Festival food is hit-and-miss, and also ridiculously expensive; I’m still recovering from my disappointing 13-euro burrito with squeezy cheese sauce and a bit of carrot. If you’re hungry, overheated, and dehydrated, then that beer is going to hit you a thousand times harder in the evening. A quick trip to the local supermarket for emergency crisps and snacks is a must. Also, who doesn’t love nosing around ‘foreign’ supermarkets?!
Do: get there in good time for that act you’ve been dying to see
Time can often run away with you; as the festival goes on, you get more and more exhausted, your hangovers seeming to blend into one permanent state of nausea. If you leave it too late – following your afternoon nap – to get to the stage in time to see the band that convinced you to buy the ticket in the first place, you’ll never forgive yourself. If you can, try to get there a little early to make sure you get a good view.
Do: check out the smaller stages
If someone like Ed Sheeran or Ariana Grande is headlining, then you can guarantee that pretty much everyone at the festival will be gathered around their stage. But don’t overlook the smaller, more ‘indie’ stages. A more enjoyable and less crowded experience, you may stumble across a new undiscovered talent to add to your Spotify playlist. Ed Sheeran was on that stage, once, too, you know.
Don’t: wait until you’re desperate to pee
Since the dawn of time, the queues for female toilets have been significantly and infuriatingly longer than those at the male toilets. So if you feel that familiar little tingling sensation, but reckon you can hold it: GO. You never know how long you’ll be queueing for, and you don’t want to wait until it’s too late.
Do: bring a pack of playing cards
When you’re trying to conserve your energy, or still feeling a little delicate from the night before, it’s understandable that conversation isn’t exactly high on your list of desirable activities. A pack of playing cards can save you from this fate, and can also serve as the perfect way to make friends with other festival-goers.
Don’t: leave it until the day of your flight to re-pack your bag
I distinctly remember the drunken, 5:30am conversation:
“Our train back tomorrow is at 10, right? So we can get at least 4 hours of sleep?”
*checks phone in the darkness of the tent*
“Er…the train’s at 8…and we haven’t packed yet.”
Cue a long, grouchy train ride the next morning on only one and a half hours of sleep, nursing one of those hangovers that could well still be residual drunkenness. Do your future self a favour, and pack the majority of your bag before you even go out for your final evening. You’ll thank yourself later.