Coachella. South by Southwest. Bonnaroo.  Lollapalooza. The US isn’t short of world-class festivals, each with its unique take on the festival experience but all requiring a certain amount of know-how on the part of attendees to ensure maximum fun/minimum hassle. Below we’ve compiled a basic survival guide for newbies and stalwarts alike.

Bonnaroo is one of the US' biggest and most popular festivals, held every year in Middle Tennessee. Image by Alexander Howard/Lonely Planet

Sweet dreams are made of this

  • Sleeping might not be high on your priority list when there's so much else going on, but you still need to think about the options and plan ahead to guarantee you get at least a few zzzzs.
  • Pitching a tent is a great way to immerse yourself in the festival spirit – sleeping outdoors, making friends with your fellow campers and being close to the action.
  • Hotels within a festival’s fall-out zone will hike their prices for the duration, but if a proper bed and a decent shower are must-haves then book early to see if you can get a good deal.
  • RVs can be a happy medium between camping and hoteling: all the benefits of being on-site and mixing with fellow festival goers, combined with walled privacy and your own bathroom.

Eat, drink and be merry

  • Drink plenty of water and moderate alcohol intake (one glass of water for every glass of alcohol is a good starting point).
  • If cooler space is limited (eg, it’s filled with beer), pack canned or dried foods. Tinned beans or tuna make a great, nutritionally dense camp food – if your camp mates can stand the smell.
  • On-site food and drink options generally offer average quality at inflated prices so ask around for what’s good before joining a line. Have ID ready for alcohol-selling stalls and cash ready for all stalls (though cards are increasingly accepted thanks to mobile-payment platforms).
Food trucks are an easy, though not always cheap, way to fill up at festivals. Image by Alexander Howard/Lonely Planet

These boots were made for walkin’

  • You’re going to be on your feet a lot so heed the words of your grandma and wear sensible shoes.
  • Dress appropriately – we’re not saying dress like a Puritan, just dress right for the conditions. Expect to get dirty. Wear layers. Wear a hat. Wear whatever is comfortable. Wear virtually nothing (but see below re protecting yourself from the elements).

So clean, so fresh

  • You’re bound to get up close and personal with your fellow revelers, so you’ll need some tactics for staying clean.
  • Most festivals have showers, varying in quality but often good, along with wash basins for freshening up/brushing teeth etc. At other times a supply of wet wipes, hand sanitizer and talcum powder will help keep things fresh and dry.

I get by with a little help from my friends

  • You’ve no intention of getting drunk, but then somehow you end up a bit tipsy and that’s when the buddy system comes into its own. Having a friend to look after you if/when need be is essential for ensuring a safe time at a festival. Don’t forget to tell them in a slurred voice how much you love them.
  • Phone reception can be patchy so choose a rendezvous point and have a set meet-up time in case you get separated from your friends.
  • Be friendly towards strangers, but use common sense too – be wary of accepting any food or drink from them, and don't head off alone with people you've just met.

And I know it’s going to be a lovely day

  • Festivals are scheduled for when the weather is most likely to be good and so, along with great memories and dirty clothes, the most common thing people take home from them is sunburn. Apply sunscreen liberally and frequently.
  • Sometimes the sun forgets to shine so be prepared for wind and rain. A poncho worn correctly can be both stylish and practical – OK, just practical.
You can still have fun without the sun. Image by EMR/CC BY 2.0

Electric Avenue

  • Most fests have charging stations for your phone but don’t rely on them for staying connected – lines to use them can get frustratingly long. Instead bring an extra battery or a solar charger to keep juiced throughout. Or leave the phone behind – you’re supposed to be in the moment, man!

Everybody wants to rule the world

  • Although festivals are seen as a chance for some laid-back fun where rules are for fools, any event with tens of thousands of people needs some regulations and it’s worth familiarizing yourself with them before you arrive. Showing up with your pet python might sound great in theory (‘Who’s the cool guy with the snake?’), but in practice will probably mean the end of your festival experience before it’s even begun.
  • Event organizers rarely let alcohol (and sometimes food) onto festival grounds, and a few restrict drinking to specified areas. If you do try to smuggle it in, good luck – and accept the possibility of it ending up in the trash can rather than your mouth.

Ch-check it out 

  • Knowing when your favorite band is playing ensures you don’t miss one of the main reasons you’ve come to the festival in the first place. Many events have online schedule planners so you can coordinate your musical odyssey like a military campaign.
  • Factor in time too for wandering around and happening upon some group you’ve never heard of but which turns out to be your surprise highlight.

Eye of the Tiger

  • Not everyone’s here for the music/to have a good time. Keep an eye on your valuables, making sure they're tucked away, and keep a spare set of any keys/important documents in as secure a place as possible (most festivals offer lockers for just this reason).
  • If you do lose something always check with the festival’s Lost & Found team – there are plenty of honest, kind people out there who might just have handed it in.
Festivals are a good place to lose your inhibitions - just don't lose your friends or your valuables. Image by Alexander Howard/Lonely Planet


Lonely Planet’s festival checklist

  • Wet wipes
  • Rain poncho
  • Comfortable shoes
  • Dry shampoo
  • Water container
  • Sunhat & sunglasses
  • Change of clothes
  • Ear plugs (for a good night’s sleep if camping, and for making sure that tinnitus isn’t one of your festival souvenirs if you like to get close to the loudspeaker action)
  • A towel
  • A flashlight
  • Something to play with (a frisbee, a football, deck of cards)
  • Patience (festivals are busy, lines are long, fuses get shortened, but don’t be that guy/gal)

Explore related stories