Getting the Most Out of a Festival

Article by: unknown author

Mon January 07, 2013 | 00:00 AM


As I’ve “come out” about my festival fetish (or what I call a “festish”), I’ve been barraged with two completely opposite reactions from friends. One set is full of admiration and envy and feels sort of like a Walter Mitty appreciation for this vagabonding life. The other set becomes my mother (actually, my mom is generally pretty cool with this son in his 50s becoming so footloose – as long as I stay out of war zones). This collection of nervous nellies tend to ask all the classic, practical questions about what could go wrong in a festival: “Don’t you get tired of the crowds?,” “What if you can’t find a hotel room?,” “Don’t you miss your own bed?,” or “What happens if you get hurt in a country with poor medical facilities?”

There’s some logic in each of these questions and, yes, staying in six or eight different time zones in the same month can mess with your biological clock. But, the question I always ask them in return (at least those who are married or in long-term relationships) is this, “Don’t you know there’s better than a 50% chance your relationship will end badly? Why get in a relationship in the first place?” Given that I’m currently single, I guess my relationship is with the festival gods. And, I have to say I’ve never been happier drinking from the cup of “collective effervescence.”

Here are my eight basic tips for maximizing your positive – and reducing your risk of negative – when going to a festival:

1. PICK THE RIGHT FESTIVAL FOR YOU. First and foremost, while I’m a big believer in stretching your emotional boundaries, I also know that not every festival is right for you. Here are 6 key parameters: proximity to where you live, big vs. small, type (arts, sports, religious, etc…), immersive vs. spectator, your budget, and time of year. Rank these 5 from most important to least and then fill in the blank and this will help you create an editing function as you review all of the various festivals. What will create a peak experience for you and those you’re traveling with?

2. CHOOSE EARLY. One downside of festivals, especially in smaller towns, is the scarcity factor regarding transportation and lodging. And, basic economics of supply and demand tend to work against you (higher prices) the closer you get to the festival date.

3. BECOME A BOOKWORM. My favorite festival experiences have occurred when I did sufficient Google research (Wikipedia can be helpful for some of the basics) and even brought a book or two along that related to the town I was visiting or gave insight regarding the festival. This can also be helpful in defining the essentials to pack that you’ll have a hard time finding at your destination. And, if you’re traveling to a potentially dangerous place, check out for travel advice (especially around which countries require visas).

4. CONSIDER YOUR HEALTH. If your festival is in a remote place, do some research on the public health there and whether it makes sense to bring things like the antibiotic Cipro. Keep a list of your recent injections along with a photocopy of your birth certificate or passport. Consider getting travel insurance or consult with your health insurance carrier as to what happens if you get hurt in a foreign country.

5. LIMIT YOUR EXPECTATIONS. Some of my worst festival experiences have occurred when my expectations were sky-high. I wrote a whole chapter in my book “Emotional Equations” about Disappointment = Expectations – Reality. Very wise emotional math for the festival-goer. Most important, don’t over-plan and be open to serendipity.

6. DON’T OVERPACK. We all have baggage, some of it’s emotional. But, over-packing is a mistake as you’re likely going to want to buy some things at the festival and you can always wash clothes along the way. Just make sure you have a sufficient wardrobe for cold or rain. Limit the valuables you bring as they weigh you down physically when you’re on the road. Have a small backpack in your possession for day trips. I also have found extra plastic bags and manila folders to be helpful and they don’t weigh much or take much space.

7. GET TO KNOW THE LOCALS. If you’re going to an indigenous festival, all the better for you to make a concerted effort to connect with locals and be respectful of local customs. Your hotel is a good starting point for doing this as can be the internet or hanging out in a popular café. Just remember the ultimate translator for any international language is a smile.

8. BE CLEAR ON HOW CONNECTED YOU WANT TO BE. Some go to festivals to disconnect from their life back home. If that’s what you’re looking for, consider not bringing your iPhone, have a message on your email and your voice mail making it clear you’re disconnected for a couple of weeks, and know that it will create some peace of mind for you. But, many of us still want to be connected – even when we’re halfway around the world – so talk with your phone carrier to determine the cheapest way to get texts, bring your iPad, and just create an hour or two in your schedule every other day to reach out and touch someone back home. Don’t forget the right power adaptor and possibly some extra batteries.

In sum, going to a festival requires you to pack your bags well and be prepared for unpacking your emotions. The more free I’ve felt (as in lacking in distractions), the more I’ve been able to sink into the transcendent moment at a festival when I say to myself, “Wow, I feel so lucky to be alive right now.” I hope you say this to yourself numerous times in the course of your future festival travels.