The ultimate festival survival guide

We asked performers, organisers and festival veterans for their best advice and tips

9th July 2018

Festivals are brilliant but, for the uninitiated, they can be a little overwhelming. A vast sea of drunken bodies, writhing and frolicking in the sun; huge stages; loud music; the distinctive aroma-cocktail of body odour, fried food and cheap weed. Even for a seasoned veteran, there are aspects of festival life which can be difficult to navigate, and tips relating to harm-reduction and looking after yourself are worth bearing in mind however many muddy fields you’ve traipsed through over the years.

When it’s your first festival you’re bound to have a ton of questions. What will it be like? Where do I go to poo? Will there be food there? Will I have time to eat any of it between thrashing around to my fave bands and desecrating my liver with inhuman amounts (five cans) of piss-warm lager? What’s the personal hygiene sitch?

To answer a few of these questions and help you navigate these great big carnivals of merriment, we’ve assembled a crack team of festival experts, including bands, organisers and a few of our most festival-prone writers, to offer some words of wisdom.

Sarah Nulty, festival director, Tramlines Festival — 20 to 22 July

1. Don’t get stuck without a lift home. No one wants to think about the end of a festival before it’s even started, but if you leave planning such a journey until the last minute, you’re unlikely to get home at all. Most festivals operate shuttle buses or pick up and drop up points for cabs and the Taxi of Mum and Dad. Find out what your options are before you go, make a plan and stick to it.

When the sun does make a rare appearance at a UK festival, be prepared for it

2. Go eco-glitter! We all want to look the part at a festival, whether dressed as an oompa loompa or with a face covered in so much glitter that it resembles a disco ball. It turns out glitter is really bad for the environment, ending up in our rivers and oceans, so this year many festivals have banned it, Tramlines included. Go eco and wear bio-degradable — you will still look the part.

3. Think SPF — even in the UK! When the sun does make a rare appearance at a UK festival, be prepared for it. There’s nothing worse than having to sit in the shade on day two looking like a blistered prawn as your mates are bouncing up and down, throwing cider on each other in the sizzling sunshine. Take suncream with you, but check the festival’s website in advance as there’s usually a size limit to liquids that can be taken on site.

glasto

Lyle Broom, reporter, The Overtake

4. Meteorologists are voodo-witch-doctor-saboteurs, sent by the god of shit weekends to trick you and ruin your fun. Don’t trust weather forecasts. Always have something waterproof and a big festival jumper, even if Carol Kirkwood says blue skies all weekend.

Only go with friends you know are willing to do something stupid

5. Bring more alcohol than you think you’ll need. A lot more, in fact, because if you run out your choices will be between buying onsite (expensive) and trekking to the nearest supermarket (exhausting).

6. Only go with friends you know are willing to do something stupid — you’ll have more fun that way.

Connor White, festival manager, Budafest — 26 to 28 Aug

7. If your festival is abroad, check your passport well in advance! Make sure it hasn’t run out and take a photo of it, in case you lose it while you‘re away!

You can guarantee that one of your mates is going to lose their phone

8. Not all festivals keep you stuck on a site. At Budafest for example, you can also go and explore Budapest, so if you get the chance to do this, ask the locals where the best places are to eat and drink. They’ll give you some great tips that the average tourist might not be aware of.

9. Create your own meeting point. You can guarantee that one of your mates is going to lose their phone, so if that happens, you all need to know where to head to get the festival crew back together.

Ethan Shone, associate editor, The Overtake

10. Look, I might get some stick for this as they’re really not good for the environment, but you want to be taking an absolutely monumental amount of baby wipes. There’s an amount that you think you need, in your glorious naivety, but I am here to tell you, friend, that no, you are not thinking about taking nearly enough baby wipes.

11. The only exception to the “fun friends only” rule is that one friend — you know the one — who will happily spend time beforehand working out which acts everyone wants to see and putting together a schedule that you’ll mostly ignore but might come in useful at some point. This person will miraculously keep a fully-charged phone the entire weekend, will remember exactly where you parked the car and will probably even buy you a burger on the last day when you’ve lost all your shit and you’re on a mind-bending comedown. Thank them, profusely.

You’ll find that most people at festivals are open to chatting and making new friends

12. Get into the spirit of things. One of the best things about a festival is being around so many other people who have broadly the same interests and are here for the exact same reasons you are. This creates a really genuine sense of community and you’ll find that most people at festivals are open to chatting and making new friends.

Chris Brady, drugs and harm-reduction expert, The Loop

13. Festivals are busy places, full of new sights, sounds and smells. If you haven’t taken drugs before, be sure of your reasons for doing so. Using to impress someone, to be part of the gang or because you feel pressured aren’t the best reasons to be starting a drug-taking career. If you are determined that taking drugs is definitely something you want to try, make sure you educate yourself about all the effects, risks, dosages and harm reduction advice.

14. Stick with your mates and look after each other. Make sure you know what each other are taking if using drugs. If anyone has a problem after taking drugs, seek help immediately. You won’t be penalised for asking for support, and your safety has to be the priority.

Whatever you are using, start with a test dose to gauge the effects and give it time to work

15. Knowing what is actually in your drugs is a way of reducing the associated risks.  If The Loop are on site, use us. Your drugs will be tested and you will get harm reduction advice and information from a trained healthcare professional. Consider investing in a home testing kit or use the Welsh government’s drug checking service, Wedinos.

16. Whatever you are using, start with a test dose to gauge the effects and give it time to work. If taking ecstasy tablets, start with a quarter and regularly sip water — about a pint an hour if dancing in a hot environment. Wait at least 90 minutes before re-dosing. If using crustal MDMA, #crushdabwait: crush the MDMA into a fine powder, dab your fingertip into the powder and take no more than this, then wait at least 90 minutes to gauge the effects.

17. Taking drugs in combination can increase the effects and risks. For instance, mixing alcohol with Xanax is a dangerous combination that can be fatal. Check out the tripsit guide to drug combinations. Avoid alcohol where possible when taking any drug.

If your friend is unwell from taking drugs don’t try to force them to drink loads of water; get help

18. Drink water but not too much. About a pint an hour is recommended when dancing on stimulants in a hot environment. It is possible to drink too much and cause yourself problems when taking MDMA, so don’t drink too much, and if your friend is unwell don’t try to force them to drink loads of water; get help.

Robyn Vinter, editor-in-chief, The Overtake

19. People will come into your tent looking for money and drugs, especially during the night, and they’ll pretend they got the wrong tent if they get caught. Keep all your valuables at the bottom of your sleeping bag or under your inflatable mattress during the night, so you don’t get robbed.

If you’re skint, drink wine from a bag (boxed wine without the box) and store it in your bra/pants

20. If you’ve got money to spare, don’t bother bringing food because it’s an extra thing to carry and the food can be the best thing about festivals. If you’re skint, drink wine from a bag (boxed wine without the box) and store it in your bra/pants to get past the gatekeepers of the main arena.

Errr, which one is ours, again?

21. Pay special attention to who your neighbours are. If you’re pitched next to a big group, they’re probably going to be noisy. If you’re next to an interesting-looking tent, you’ll find it easier to locate your camp.

Harriet Sumner, travel and festivals expert, Snaptrip

22. If you’re a first-time festivalgoer or just a commitment-phobe, buying a day ticket is the perfect way to ease yourself into it. Most UK festivals offer day ticket options which are often half the price, and most importantly, you don’t have to camp. UK festivals including Reading and Leeds, Creamfields and Lovebox sell single day tickets starting from £60 which grant you access to music and other festivities until early hours of the morning.

23. In the midst of the excitement, festival-goers often forget to be streetwise with their belongings and a lost possession will certainly dampen the mood. Most UK festivals have teamed up with security companies to help keep people’s belongings safe, providing campers with lockers and cloakrooms to store their valuables whilst they go off and enjoy themselves.

There are apps that use GPS to locate your tent so you are not wandering around aimlessly looking for it

24. You’ve been walking around watching acts all day and you’re ready to head back to camp, but where on earth is your tent? If the worst part of camping for you is searching for your tent at 2am then you can now use your phone to pinpoint exactly where it is. Festival Buddy (Android users) and BC Tent Finder (iPhone users) are apps that use GPS to locate your tent so you are not wandering around aimlessly looking for it every night.

Ben Sledge, associate editor, The Overtake

25. Don’t wear a hat — it’ll get lost or stolen. Similarly, don’t wear a Native American headdress if you’re not Native American. Come on.

26. Take a bumbag. It’ll keep your valuables safe AND you’ll look bangin’.

Always go to secret sets or gaps in the lineup, often labelled ‘TBA’

27. Always go to secret sets or gaps in the lineup, often labelled “TBA”. You can always leave if it’s nothing, but Reading has had the likes of Green Day play on a tiny stage in the middle of the day before, and I saw Foals at a similarly small stage.

28. If going abroad, do a bit of research. I met a couple of school friends at Benicassim who accidentally took a €300 taxi from Barcelona airport because they didn’t realise that a) its fuckin’ miles away and b) there’s a €20 shuttle bus. Also keep your passport safe — there are too many horror stories.

The Hubbards, festival performers and attendees

29. Don’t waste your day getting to the front of an audience to see the band you went to see on tour or watched their full Glasto set on YouTube. It’ll definitely won’t be worth it and you’ll probably piss yourself. Time’s better spent seeing 10 others bands on smaller stages.

Don’t be that dick who watches a full set through a tiny screen

30. Take a couple of photos if you’re desperate, but don’t be that dick who watches a full set through a tiny screen. It’s shit and kills the atmosphere. Let your phone die and let your hair down. If you have a good time, there’ll be memories. If not, who wants a blurry photo of a shit gig?

Jennie Mossman, producer, Amplify

31. Festivals are full of opportunities to try new products and grab some great freebies. This summer alone, we have already seen the SuperDry Sounds curated stage at Field Day, the Alpro Planquet offering plant-based banquets at Isle of Wight and the opulent, beautifully designed Sipsmith Gin Palace touring festivals across the country… and it’s not even prime festival season yet. If you’ve got festival plans this summer, make sure you look out for those sometimes hidden branded areas — they just might be the places you get access to unique food experiences, get closer to your favourite bands, try out the latest technology or, more simply, get some free samples and a tote bag or two.

Leila Herandi, reporter, The Overtake

32. Take cash out before you get there because the cash machines run out or break SO QUICKLY.

33. If you have straight hair, dry shampoo is your best friend. If you have an unmanageable, untamable mane like mine then scarves and wigs are your best friend, especially three days in.

You can usually get a small reward for helping to clear the site

34. If they’ve given you rubbish and recycling bags, use them — you can usually get a deposit back/small reward for helping to clear the site. And do it from day one, as you go, otherwise all the best rubbish is gone by the time you’re packing up and you’ll be scavenging around for bean cans like a loon when you just want to be home and showering.

James Bargent, producer, MassiveMusic London

35. It’s important to drink water, maintain your chat and remember that you can always sleep when you get home.

36. In terms of music, it can be quite tempting to plan an itinerary to fit in all of your favourite artists, but I’d recommend spending some time just walking around to see what you can find — that’s the best way to uncover some hidden gems!

Pete Jordan, festival director, MADE Festival — 28 July

37. Get yourself a portable phone charger and make sure it’s one with built-in cables. No point bringing a charger and then realising you can’t actually plug it into your phone. It’s easy to lose your friends and without your phone, it’s not so easy to find them.

Bring a few thin layers in your rucksack and add/remove as necessary

38. Dress in layers. You never know how the weather will go at a festival — particularly if it’s a camping festival — and at night time, the temperature can drop. Bring a few thin layers in your rucksack and add/remove as necessary!

And a bonus from The Overtake team…

39. You don’t have to spend a fortune. Get full weekend tickets for Byline Festival for £38, exclusive to The Overtake readers. This year it’s on 24 to 27 August at the breathtaking Pippingford Park in East Sussex, headlined by Badly Drawn Boy and Pussy Riot, with speakers like John Cleese, Gary Lineker and June Sarpong. Boom!

9th July 2018