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What to take: a festival survival-guide
Festivals in general
Member Name: Bluebells
Festivals in general
Advantages: Seeing 50 acts in the same weekend, sharing the experience with your friends
Disadvantages: Crowds, discomfort, awful food, smells
I was a rather late-starter when it came to festivals, and for the first couple I attended, I struggled to really enjoy myself. Perhaps I'm just a wuss, but the combination of mud, sore feet, dirt, lack of home comforts, and the unbelievably smelly loos, were all too distracting for me to relax and appreciate the music and atmosphere. But as I became a little more experienced and used to the routine, I began to have much more fun - and at the more recent festivals I've attended, I've had a fabulous time, especially at Glastonbury last year.
Along the way, I've assembled a mental list of practical tips which I've found help make festivals a more pleasant and comfortable experience. Being a bit of a fusspot, my friends take the mickey out of my close attention to loo rolls and wet wipes - while they're busy letting their hair down and getting into the action - but I do think a few simple touches are really worth it. So here's my checklist, which might just be useful if you're a first-time festival-goer this summer.
ARRIVAL / HOW MUCH TO TAKE
Securing a prime spot for your tent is a competitive business, and it seems that no matter how early you arrive, virtually everyone else has beaten you to it. So it's really worth getting there absolutely as early as possible, to give yourself the best chance of pitching reasonably close to the arena, or the car park, or ideally both. If you don't manage to achieve this, prepare yourself for a walk of up to several miles from where you park, or are dropped by the bus, to your final destination. That's why I try and pack the minimum amount I can get away with. You really don't need a great many changes of clothes - a top for each day, and something to keep you warm. It's tempting to take piles of booze and provisions (at Glastonbury, I saw one guy with a full scale barbecue, complete with gas cylinder) but assess first how keen you are you to carry them all the way to your tent: those crates of beer will seem less appealing with every yard of the journey. Some people use trolleys, wheelbarrows, or even dustbins; but in muddy conditions, wheels are very hard work.
There are two approaches to your choice of festival abode. Last year, I invested in a good quality, if slightly expensive, tent from Blacks. It was a bit pricey at £75 but is much more robust than cheaper tents I had previously - easier to set up, stronger, will last for ages, and has some nice features such as internal LEDs. So you can either splash out on a 'proper' tent which will serve you well for many festivals - or instead buy a very cheap one (B&Q and big Tescos sell them for about £15) and regard it as disposable. That means you won't have the hassle of packing it up and lugging it home again afterwards, but on the downside it will probably be less robust. If you plump for this option, how you choose to dispose of your tent afterwards is a matter for your conscience. Glastonbury, for example, have a proper facility for dumping your tent: it will then get recycled or re-used. If you don't bother to pull out all the pegs when you strike the tent, bear in mind that they can be very dangerous for the livestock who will return to the field once you're gone.
As ever with festival packing, the issue is comfort v space/weight. If you have the budget, it's worth getting a good quality sleeping bag which will compress down into very small parcel, but still keep you warm - and will be breathable, and therefore not too hot if the weather is mild. A foam carry-mat to go underneath your sleeping bag in the tent is also highly recommended, to make the ground that bit less bumpy. Mats are very light. I also like to take a pillow, which might sound a bit of an indulgence (and takes up a lot of room in your rucksack) but in my experience is definitely worth it - I sleep much more comfortably with something proper to rest my head on. Alternatively, you could get an inflatable one if you have enough puff to blow it up.
This is an often-overlooked area when it comes to Festival planning, but in my experience it's crucial: if your feet hurt by the end of a long-day, those ninety minute headline sets will become torture. It's easy to forget just how many miles you will walk during an average festival day, especially if (like me) you try and see as many acts as possible. People usually say - make sure you take wellies, but I'd argue they are not the best option. Wellies don't support your ankles and become very tiring to wear and walk around in after a few hours. Much better is a pair of proper walking boots, which are not only just as waterproof as wellies, but way more comfy and robust. If it's dry, a comfy pair of old trainers are best. Flip-flops are a poor choice. They might seem light and airy, but they're far too flimsy to support your feet over all those miles, and they chafe. After wearing mine for a whole day at Glastonbury, I was left with a painful, bloody weal across my right foot.
KEEPING WARM AND DRY
It can get pretty cold in the evenings, and maybe very cold in your tent overnight. And it can rain - a lot. The trick is to take something which will keep you warm but not be too heavy and eat up the space in your rucksack. A good option is a proper outdoors fleece/rain-jacket: a fleece layer for warmth along with a thin waterproof layer, plus hood. North Face, for example, do one which is combined - you can separate the layers if need be depending on the weather. You might also want to take a spare hoodie to sleep in.
You need a mobile with you at all times to stay in touch with your friends and arrange rendezvous points if you split up or lose each other. But your phone battery charge is at a premium - your tent won't have powerpoints! Some festivals have stands where you can pay to charge your phone, but there are usually queues, and it's insufferably boring to stand there, waiting, watching a battery charge up. So my trick is to leave my iPhone at home - partly because I don't want it stolen or broken, but also because smartphones are very battery-hungry. Instead, I take two of my old handsets, smaller phones which use the battery more efficiently. I charge them both fully beforehand, and then swap the simcard between them after the first battery dies. I also use a phone for all photos - it's annoying carrying a camera around all day, and it's a very easy thing to lose or have stolen.
HYGIENE / LOOS
By the second or third day of a festival, I begin to feel rather smelly. But I have to content myself with the knowledge that everyone is in the same boat, and hopefully noone will notice! You can virtually forget any idea of having a shower over the weekend. Even if there are facilities available, they will in all likelihood be so far from your tent that it's barely worth the hassle, especially as the queues will be ludicrously long. Instead, take plenty of wet wipes and cleanse yourself as best you can with those. I also take a bottle of shampoo and try and sneak one proper hair wash at a water point - the water is freezing, and you hold up the queue, but both factors are justified by how much fresher I feel afterwards. I always envy blokes, who can strip to the waist outside their tent and wash their top half with a water bottle. Trickier for girls, unless you're an exhibitionist.
Men are also obviously in a advantageous position when it comes to the notorious festival loo arrangements - the stuff of legend. To say the loos are not for the faint-hearted is putting it mildly. All you can do is be brave, hold your breath, be as quick as you can - and never, ever look down. If you do, the diabolical sight will stay with you forever. There's not much else I can advise. At Reading, I saw one woman, queueing for the loo, who'd inserted ropes of tissue up both her nostrils - presumably to protect herself from the smell. Don't know if it worked, but it was an odd image - made her look like a walrus!
When you set off from your tent for the day, always take with you a generous wodge of loo roll - some of which you can use for seat-cleaning - and an anti-bacterial hand-wash. According to urban myth, some people take take Immodium before a festival to minimise the number of loo visits they need. Never tried this myself, but doesn't sound very sensible to stop yourself up for four days - especially when you consider how much junk you'll be eating, which leads me to...
Stock up on nutrition beforehand, because you'll be lucky to find any at the majority of festivals, where there's little alternative to relying for sustenance on what you can forage from the take-away stalls. These vary in quality, although they'll always be quite expensive. At Reading or V, you'll rarely find much beyond burgers, but Glastonbury (and more 'alternative' festivals) have a much wider-range, including better vegetarian options. I've never figured out how you can really take any of your own food - it's heavy, and will spoil. I usually pack a box or two of cereal bars, which are light and will give you a bit of energy in the mornings. At some festivals, for example Reading, you can walk into town and buy proper food (and queue in a pub to use a proper loo) - but the time it takes for the round journey is off-putting.
- A torch - very handy indeed, and take spare batteries.
- Sanitary products. A must, even if you're not expecting to come on, at the time.
- Smokers: I find myself smoking loads during festivals - even more than usual, I'm afraid to say! Loads of stalls will sell cigarettes, rolling tobacco, and Rizlas, but if you're fussy, like me, or want to save a little money, you might want to stock up in advance. I take a good supply of my favourite tobacco, as it's not always available on site. Also, at Glastonbury, Marlboros are not on sale anywhere (presumably on ethical grounds, as if the other fag companies are very ethical!) so Marlboro-lovers should be prepared.
- Campsite. If you're going to chill out with your mates by your tents, it's nice to have camp chairs - the comfort of getting a sit-down is worth carrying them from the car. A lantern also makes things more cosy, as does a battery-powered speaker dock for an iPod, to give you some music.
- Painkillers (for hangovers) and a few elastoplasts are also worth packing.
Hope some of this is useful for first-time festivallers. Although I've been quite detailed here, it's important not to worry too much about this kind of stuff. Instead, just enjoy the buzz and the music, and have a fantastic time!
Summary: A little planning makes for a more enjoyable experience
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