With numb feet, a sunburnt nose, hair that had taken on a life of its own, and eye bags that felt like they were physically weighing me down in the Palm Springs airport, you would have thought I just completed a triathlon. But honestly, in a totally-not-dramatic way, that’s exactly what Coachella as a first-time festivalgoer felt like to me. No kidding, I had to catch up on hydrating and felt so socially burnt out I went full goblin mode for a full week after I came back home. TBH though, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
As someone who has been watching YouTubers vlog their Coachella experiences since I was a tween, I had some preconceived notions about what attending the music festival might be like. I’d watched the TikTok GRWMs and the outfit-rating videos, I’d read the Twitter threads reacting to the lineup announcements, and I’d even swiped through the Reddit pages about the festival’s best-kept secrets — but ultimately, nothing could prepare me for attending the biggest music festival in the United States besides experiencing it for myself. Not to be one of those “this music festival totally changed my life” kind of people but… guilty! Seriously, it was the most fun I’ve had in a while — though there are some things I would do differently if I were to do it all over again.
Since April through September is essentially the span of festival season each year, you might have some plans coming up to attend another festival at some point this summer. If you’re a first-time attendee, it can be hard figuring out where to start as far as preparing both mentally and physically for the event — truly, watching all of the videos giving tips felt like I was a plebe in a sea of seasoned festival vets. But you don’t have to feel the same way, dear reader… I’ve got your back. Here’s everything the internet doesn’t tell you about going to your first festival and how you can make the most of your experience.
How To Choose Tickets For A Music Festival
Of course, the first step before attending a festival is to purchase your tickets, and admittedly, this initial decision will most impact your experience once you’re there. I had a VIP pass for Coachella, courtesy of Heineken, which granted me access to exclusive areas around the festival grounds so I could enjoy higher-end food and drink from local businesses and some clearer side views of certain stages. As someone who rarely visits the West Coast, it was fun to explore the California-based restaurants and bars in the VIP sections, and I’d never seen content creators share just how delicious some of the festival food really was.
Before you book, consider your priorities and budget. If you’re a die-hard fan and want to be up at the barricade of the stage for multiple artists, you might want to stick with general admission since you’ll be spending most of your time waiting in between sets to get the best, up-close spot. Higher ticket tiers might include priority access to merch tables, better bathrooms, and up-close stage views.
Some festivals sell tickets that include transportation options, so keep that in mind if you aren’t trying to cough up major $$$ on ride-shares. Festivals that take place in more remote areas like Coachella, Stagecoach, and Bonnaroo offer shuttles that make stops at several local hotels; you’ll just have to buy the ticket package that grants you this perk. For metropolitan festivals, you can always look into public transportation options before resorting to a surge-priced car service. Another lesser-known tip? Check if you have any credit card or rewards profiles that can get you into exclusive (air-conditioned!) lounges or activations on the festival grounds. At Coachella, for example, American Express and Postmates had special offers for account holders.
What To Wear To A Music Festival
Coachella isn’t the trend-spotting event it once was (#TBT to when Vanessa Hudgens wore maxi dresses and flower crowns). Now, comfort is key. In recent years, celebrities have been opting for more basic looks and influencers have even admitted that some OOTD posts are totally fake. You’ll be spending hours on your feet outside and putting in thousands of steps to get to and from each stage. My biggest regret? I should have just planned outfits around my trusty Hokas because my feet were sore for days after I wore boots and new sneakers instead.
My best advice is to elevate your fave (and comfiest) basics you already have in your closet with fun accessories — Hailey Bieber quite literally wore baggy jeans and a white cropped tank to Coachella this year but made it look more thoughtful with chunky earrings and a gold body chain. Unique accessories can be easily thrifted from your local secondhand shops or sites like Depop and Poshmark.
You’ll likely want to take photos at the festival — if you don’t post a dump, did it really happen? — so choose an outfit you feel good in and a backdrop that can make even the most toned-down look seem interesting to the eye. Candid is cool: Think laughing in front of the inevitable neon sign installation, smiling with a lit-up stage in the background, or blurrily dancing to your favorite song. This is your chance to be the main character.
Take this as your sign to feel deinfluenced by the music festival hauls that might grace your FYP. You probably already have something just as cool in your closet and by day three, you’ll want to wear an outfit that’s essentially glorified pajamas anyway.
What To Bring To A Music Festival
Besides the obvious phone, keys, ID, and wallet, grab your emotional support water bottle and SPF. You’ll be in for a long day and there will be water stations to refill your bottles throughout the grounds. Each festival will have its own specific rules about what is and is not allowed inside of the grounds — common no-nos include outside food or beverages, coolers, aerosols (my mini dry shampoo was taken at the door), and detachable lens cameras.
I’d also suggest bringing sunglasses, any travel-sized cosmetics that you can use to freshen up from day to night, and a portable fan if you have one, depending on the time of year your festival takes place. Another must? A portable phone battery because phone service can get janky when you’re in such a high-traffic area and you don’t want to lose your friends or feel stranded at the end of the night. While packing, I went full doomsday-prepper and thought I’d want to bring a full-sized backpack but ultimately ended up just carrying a small purse each day with all of my essentials instead. A bag like the viral Baggu crescent bag or a mini backpack would be ideal for this sort of occasion.
How To Choose Which Sets To See At A Music Festival
Keep your expectations reasonable. Choose about three sets that are absolute non-negotiables for you and go from there. Chances are, a few of the artists you’re excited about are going to overlap set times at stages that aren’t too close together, so seeing all of your favorite songs live might not happen. Also, don’t sleep on any of the smaller side stages at a festival — at Coachella, for example, Heineken had their own stage accessible to all guests no matter their ticket with a more intimate feel than all of the others, though the acts weren’t listed on the official lineup. Stages like this might be hidden in plain sight and can make you feel in on the action without having to wait hours by a barricade in the scorching sun.
While you can’t plan for everything a festival might throw at you (ahem, missing a Zendaya cameo or ripping your crochet pants the second you sit down), packing the right items and having a positive mindset that will make your weekend more enjoyable in the moment is the goal. Pack outfits you feel cute and comfortable in, plan out your transportation to and from beforehand so you don’t have to worry about it at midnight when you’re exhausted with a 10% phone battery, and have a tentative schedule for what sets you must see. Do all of this in advance and you’ll be able to chill out the day of the festival and simply sit back to enjoy the weather, overall ambiance, and, of course, the music.