I recently got back from a trip to Marshfield, MA for Levitate Arts & Music Festival. It was only my second large-scale festival, my first being the Gathering of the Vibes in 2015. The Vibes has since been discontinued :(((( and I think I’d been avoiding any other festival for fear of being let down… But the two days of funk, reggae, folk, and jam-band joy was a blast! My friend and I cleared my Chevy Uplander, packed it with camping mattresses and blankets, and drove up to Marshfield in time to be the first ones at the gate!
We leave our worries, concerns, and daily routines outside of the gates and live in the moment! It’s something that’s so hard to do on the daily but you can’t really experience music festivals any other way. The vendors sharing handmade art infused with personality, the musicians bridging the space between you and the stage, and the other festival-goers build something interpersonal. It’s not perfect. There are sketchy people and bad trips and dehydration. But I let myself fall into the experience of mutual appreciation and flourishing creativity, because, why be a cynic when you could be dancing with strangers in the sunshine?
Read along for a comprehensive prep-list for all of your festival needs. As a van-life kind of lady, I’ll also bring you through some tips and tricks to camping in your van rather than purchasing a campsite. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me and saves me HUNDREDS of dollars. If the campsite will break your budget and you can fit in your van or car, I highly encourage it.
What to Wear?
This definitely depends on the festival you’re going to. If you’re headed to an EDM fest or rave, you’ll probably be into costuming and will have more prep work to do! Just be wary of the weather. In general, for folk, bluegrass, reggae, and other similar jam fests, less is usually more. I always opt for flowing, light weight tops and shorts or a skirt in a comfy fabric. If you love to dance, dresses aren’t usually the way to go, unless you don’t care about people seeing your bum! I never wear a bra (too hot!) but a bathing suit top or bandeau is a good alternative to strip down to if it gets too toasty. I see TONS of guys in cool robes, dresses, and skirts at festivals. Comfort is key! Think in layers, especially if you’re going to be on the grounds late into the night and anticipate the air to cool.
“The Essentials” Festival Packing List
- Tent if you’re camping!
- Sleeping bag, pillow, and/or blankets. I always bring a light sheet separate from my picnic sheet for hot nights where I still want a little coverage.
- Comfy shoes! Bring a pair of light sneakers as well as a pair of comfortable, non-chafing sandals.
- A lightweight scarf to wrap around your shoulders or head when the sun is glaring down. Can double as a top! Check out this link for making your scarf into different festival shirts! This is also handy to have at night when the air cools down and you’re feeling a bit of a chill.
- SUNSCREEN AND SPF CHAPSTICK! Make sure you can actually bring the sunscreen bottle into the festival grounds. If not, don’t forget to apply before you head through the gates! Treat your skin with love, please!
- Bug Spray if you’re camping.
- A hat and sunglasses. If you’re into floppy or wide brim hats, they’re great for protecting your neck and face from the sun.
- Tarp, blanket, or sheet to sit on. A long day (or weekend) of dancing and walking around will leave your feet pretty sore. Sit down and enjoy the show on a comfy blanket! Pick a light color to prevent it from heating up in the sun.
- Easy grab-and-go snacks like fruit, energy bars, and applesauce are ideal. Check in advance to see if your festival prohibits outside food.
- Light day bag or fanny pack. Check to see if your festival prohibits backpacks, or has any restrictions on bag size. Your bag should be light and comfortable on your back/shoulders or waist.
- Small sling bag or wristlet. I use mine to hold money, my birth control, and my phone. It’s pretty much all I need easy access to during the festival anyway! I use my day pack for a water bottle, light sheet, and any vendor items I might buy.
- Camping chairs. If your campsite is on festival grounds, this is awesome. You’ll be able to grab it and bring it to those extra-long sets at the end of the day when you just can’t be on your feet anymore. Plus, it’s great to have back at home-camp to sit around with friends and chat! If your campsite isn’t on festival grounds, consider bringing a lightweight camping or beach chair with a side pocket. The chair can double as a bag and usually nixes any restrictions on bag size.
- Solar charger and speaker. Solar chargers are great for festivals; nobody wants to go back to their tent or car during a great set to charge their phone! I usually leave my phone off during the daytime anyway, but if you plan on using yours and camping, be prepared to charge unconventionally.
- Phone battery bank. If you don’t have a solar charger, this can be a great alternative and is easily portable. Everyone’s phone bank is different though, so test it out before! Mine only has one full charge worth of battery in it, so I know to use it sparingly.
- Baby wipes are great for when you need to wipe down before crawling into your sleeping bag. I know for me, I tend to take my shoes off and trudge around in the dirt for hours. My feet need a SERIOUS wipe down before bed. Rubbing a baby wipe over my face, neck, and armpits makes me feel infinitely more fresh.
- Lysol wipes come in handy for unexpected spills, weird sticky stuff you put your hand in and can’t identify, cleaning plates and utensils, etc.
- Dishes and utensils! You’ll want to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner to keep your body movin’ and groovin’!
- Cooler– don’t forget to restock the ice. It’s annoying but necessary.
- Battery-operated fan for bedtime and afternoon naps between sets.
- Solar or battery operated string lights, head lamp, lantern. I have string lights in my van, which make it feel very homey when I’m traveling! I also have a lantern, which is easy to transport out of the van when I’m searching for the bathroom. If you’re camping on site, a headlamp might be most convenient!
- Hygiene essentials like a toothbrush, toothpaste, all-purpose castile soap, hand sanitizer, ibuprofen, contraception, a hairbrush and hair ties, deodorant, and moisturizer.
- Instruments, cards, games, frisbee, etc. for when you’re kicking back at the campsite with nothing to do! DO make friends with your campsite neighbors 🙂 Note: never bring anything to a festival you absolutely cannot bear to lose. If your instrument is a vintage Hohner accordion, you might opt to bring a harmonica instead.
- A way to make coffee!! I always bring coffee grounds, a large thermos, and a strainer. I put the grounds and water in the thermos when I go to bed and strain the coffee directly into a mug for fresh cold brew in the morning!
- A handful of plastic grocery bags. My family generally uses cloth grocery bags, but on days we forget, we end up with the plastic ones. They can be great for upcycling (check out this site on plastic yarn DIY crafts) or for festivals! You’ll use them for trash, dirty laundry, dirty tupperware, and other things you won’t think of until you need a bag… and conveniently have one on hand!
- Camping stove. I recommend single burner propane stoves like this one.
Depending on your festival needs and preferences, you might need more than what’s on this list. But it should give you a good place to start & a comprehensive list of essential items!
Van Life Camping Tips for Festival-Goers
- Scope out the surrounding area beforehand and see the sights! Gates don’t always open first thing in the morning, so you might have hours to kill before the festival starts. Find a public lake or beach so you can dip in the water and eat your breakfast somewhere peaceful.
- Find a place for dirty shoes. Nobody thinks of this in advance, but when you need a place to put your dirty festival sneakers and socks, you’ll wish you had! I usually use one a plastic grocery bag, which I carry in massive stock when I travel in my van. (Ideally, I’d like to keep as far away from those things as possible, but when you end up with them – use them for good!
- Get a 550 cord, command hooks, and industrial velcro. Wrap the cord around the perimeter of your van cabin using the hooks and velcro. It can now be used to hang keys, lanterns, string lights, to dry a bathing suit, and drape scarves or tapestries on for privacy and decor!
- Stay organized with boxes and crates. When it’s time to sleep, you’ll easily be able to put everything up front and use your whole back cabin!
- Don’t overpack! Space is limited. One bowl/plate, water bottle, set of utensils, a cooler, your plastic bags, wipes, and your travel bag are your essentials.
- Make an easy DIY sink AND have backup water by investing in a jug with a spigot. Makes brushing your teeth a whole lot more pleasant.
- If the festival doesn’t offer parking, find a nearby 24 hour Walmart. It’s stealthier, safer because of the well lit lot, and you can just hop out and go to the bathroom on a REAL TOILET.
If you’ve found yourself unprepared while sleeping in a van or at a festival, comment below and share what you learned! Goals: save future festival-goers from making the same mistakes we did 😉