Music festivals are ridiculous amounts of fun – but being well prepared for living in a field for three days with thousands of other residents makes them all the better, says music journalist and festival veteran Elaine Buckley.

We’ve all seen those poor unfortunates who’ve had their belongings stolen, or had their cheap tent feel the wrath of the weather, or who end up lost or sick or stuck in the mud. There are of course the obvious Festival Survival Tips – wear wellies, drink lots of water, pack a torch, bring toilet paper, etc. – but these are some of my own personal Survival Tips which I find make the whole camping-at-a-festival experience a LOT more enjoyable…

 CARRY OUT A ‘TEST-PITCH’ OF YOUR TENT

The single most important part of your festival preparations. You may have bought a new tent, or borrowed one from a friend, or dug last year’s out from the attic – whatever the circumstances, find an open space to test-pitch it! Besides it being great to work out how to pitch it properly – saving valuable head-scratching time when you arrive at the campsite! – you can detect any disastrous broken pole or missing peg scenarios in advance. Incidentally, you really shouldn’t bring a cheap single-layer to camp at an Irish festival – you know our climate! Pop-up tents are really handy to pitch – but it’s not so handy trying to wrestle them down come Monday morning…

You’d think I’d help my friends take down their pop-up tents – but no, I take photos instead.

INVEST IN A ‘FESTIVAL PHONE’

The widespread use of smartphones over the past few years has led to many a lost festival reveller – having no battery to find your mates via phone is a common complaint. Really, festivals aren’t the best environment for expensive gadgets – so best to leave the touch-screen at home. Instead, head to a mobile phone shop in advance and buy the cheapest possible Nokia phone that you can find, and make it new home for your SIM card for the duration of the festival. These phones are practically indestructible – and the battery life on them is astounding, by today’s standards. I’ve had my ‘festival phone’ for 3 years now – looking forward to dusting it off for its 4th festival season this summer!

 

BUY A CAMPING CHAIR

A fold-out camping chair with a handy carrying case will cost you no more than €15, but it’s an invaluable festival commodity – I never go to a camping festival without one. There are always opportunistic fellow campers on the hunt to thieve them – so if you’re leaving your campsite, don’t just put it in the porch of your tent, hide it away inside.

 Sure this chirpy chap is only DELIGHTED with his camping chair – and rightly so.

TRAVEL BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Now this particular tip may seem like festival PR drip-fed drivel to avoid traffic mayhem – but trust me on this one, if you are camping at a festival, leave the car at home. There are many reasons for this – but the ones which have converted me to the ways of the bus are – 1) You don’t pack half as much when you don’t have a car to load up, only the essentials – which makes the dreaded walk from drop-off point to campsite all the more doable, and bearable, 2) Driver fatigue is not an issue. You can stay up as late as you like on the last night, without having to worry about driving a car full of friends home the next day whilst struggling to stay awake. 3) Festival car-parks are not proper car-parks – they are fields. Heavy rain (prevalent at Irish festivals!) leads to cars getting stuck in the mud – the last thing you need of a Monday morning after a few nights in a tent!

 

PUT TOGETHER YOUR OWN MINI MEDICAL KIT

Festival sites aren’t the healthiest of places – it’s best to be prepared for every eventuality, as you may not always have the time and energy to seek out the medic’s tent. A trip to the chemist in advance can save you a lot of hassle – you never know what dancing around in wellies might do to your feet, or what that dodgy kebab might do to your insides. I never go to a festival without my own stash of plasters, antiseptic wipes & cream, painkillers, tummy tablets, rehydration sachets, and even antihistamines (no, really – one of my friends actually got stung by a wasp at Electric Picnic last year, for which I was able to provide the cure!)

 Dancing around a field in wellies for 3 days straight is not without its downsides…

GO TO THE ATM IN ADVANCE

This may seem like a given – but the ridiculously long ATM queues to be witnessed at any given festival prove that many MANY people do not have the foresight to carry out this simple action in advance. Do you REALLY want to spend two hours of valuable band-watching time in a queue? No, didn’t think so. Go to the bank machine before departing for your weekend of fun – set yourself a budget and withdraw that amount, and then stash your money (and your card, in case of emergency) in various different hidey-holes once you’ve set up camp. MUCH easier.

 

MAKE SCHEDULE CHOICES IN ADVANCE

Schedule clashes for acts you want to see at festivals are unavoidable. After years of trying to give myself the ability to be in 3 places at once, I’ve realised it’s never gonna happen… So, last summer I embraced the art of making a choice and sticking to it – and I highly recommend it. All festivals release the schedule of acts in advance – so print it out and get busy with the highlighters! It’s better to get a decent vantage spot to enjoy a full set of one act you REALLY want to see, rather than sprinting between stages and only seeing snippets of a few sets from the back of the crowd!

 Getting up the front at festival gigs means acquiring awesome souveniers such as THIS…

SLEEP WITH YOUR VALUABLES AT THE BOTTOM OF YOUR SLEEPING BAG

Put your phone, keys, wallet and whatever else you don’t want to go walkies into the bottom of your sleeping-bag before you put yourself into it. There are some nasty individuals who roam campsites looking to thieve from others, and some campers make it all too easy for them by leaving their valuables exposed just inside the entrance to their tent – a friend of mine actually had her iPhone stolen from her tent as she slept at a festival last summer! This is a simple precaution, but one that can save you a LOT of hassle.

 THE EARLY BIRD GETS THE HOT SHOWERS…

Sleeping in a tent for a few nights on the trot is bad enough – but I find the absence of a hot shower when I wake up each morning even more of a struggle. I always found the notion of communal campsite showers repulsive – but in Summer 2010 I could take no more. I started packing a swimsuit & towels for festivals, setting the alarm on my phone for 7AM, going to use the campsite showers, and then coming back to my tent clean & refreshed for another bit of sleep. This may seem crazy – but I’d rather get up early than spend an hour in a queue come midday! Plus, going early means the showers are in pristine condition, and hot water in plentiful supply.

 

FINALLY – YE OLDE ‘OLBAS OIL ON THE BANDANA’ TRICK…

PORTALOOS. The main grievance of any festival goer. They are disgustingly grim – and they’ll probably never change, so it’s best to find ways to deal with them. Ever heard of Olbas Oil? It’s a really strong smelling eucalyptus oil that you can buy in any good chemist for a few euro. Get yourself some Olbas Oil, douse a bandana/scarf in it, and keep it in your pocket or handbag for the duration of the weekend. Whenever you need to pee, tie it around your face before crossing that threshold – thus rendering the dreaded Portaloo stench un-smellable. Easy.

 Your new festival best friend…