Coachella just announced the lineup for 2023, and it’s killer: Frank Ocean, Korean superstars BlackPink, and Bad Bunny are headlining, and you can catch both GloRilla and Gorrilaz. If you’re planning on attending Coachella (or the Gathering of the Jugglaos, or any other festival), I put together a list of some of the worst newbie mistakes festival attendees commonly make. Going to a music festival isn’t like packing for a trip to the remote wilderness—you (probably) won’t die if you’re unprepared—but still, if you’re new to the scene, you should know about these nuts-and-bolts screw-ups that could turn a joyous weekend of music and debauchery into a mini-nightmare.
Not worrying about security
Music festivals are generally not hotbeds of criminal activity, but as in any gathering of a lot of people, there are likely to be thieves about. Make things as hard as possible for festival cutpurses by keeping your valuables with you at all times, keeping anything valuable out of your back pockets, and carrying as little cash as possible. Many/most festival vendors will accept credit cards, and some festivals use RFID wristbands to make things even more secure. Check with the festival to see whether they require see-through bags. Oh, and make sure to keep track of your phone—festival phone thieves can be brazen.
Wearing the wrong clothing
Everyone wants to look festival-flashy, but make sure your outfit is festival-functional too. Priority one is the shoes. You’re going to be spending a lot of time on your feet and doing a lot of walking, so make sure you’re wearing sturdy, comfortable kicks. Priority two: the elements. Wear weather-appropriate gear so you don’t end up sweating or shivering. Think layers to account for changes in temperature—Coachella can be hot in daytime and freezing at night. But don’t forget to have fun with your wardrobe—it’s a festival after all.
Not staying hydrated
Dancing and partying can take a lot of moisture out of a person, so give a thought to your fluid intake and have a plan for water. You don’t want to get dehydrated. Vendors would be more than happy to sell you incredibly expensive bottles of water, but if you bring your own water bottle, you can skip that cost.
If your festival experience is enhanced by taking psychoactive substances, be smart about it. Don’t take drugs you’re not familiar with—festivals generally aren’t the best setting for experimentation. Also: If the drugs you enjoy aren’t legal where the festival is being held, understand the risks you are taking by possessing or using them. Festivals usually search you at the entrance, and some festivals even employ drug-sniffing dogs. Undercover police work festivals and are drawn to people acting suspiciously.
Speaking of drug dealers: Strangers selling illegal drugs are rarely people you should trust, and sometimes potentially lethal substances laced with fentanyl are encountered. That said, of the 250,000 attendees of Coachella in 2020, there were no deadly overdoses, and only 112 festival-goers were arrested—85 for intoxication, three for selling drugs, and the rest for property crimes and fake IDs.
Not using ear protection and sunscreen
Don’t forget the ear plugs or other gear to protect your hearing, and don’t forget to slather on sunscreen to protect your skin. Yeah, it’s a hassle, but seeing your favorite artists isn’t worth longterm hearing damage and the potential for skin cancer later in life.
Losing your car, tent, or bathroom
Take a few moments upon your arrival at the big festival to do some orienteering: Fix the location of your car, the bathrooms, and your campsite in your internal map using a central landmark as the reference point. Then take a picture of the locations of all of them, with something permanent in it. (I have hundreds, maybe thousands, of pictures of my car in various parking lots that I’m going to turn into a coffee table book one day.)
Relying too heavily upon technology
A lot of people are attending that festival along with you and your friends, everyone has a phone, and everyone is going to be uploading pics to the social meeds at the same time, so plan for phone service to be unreliable and perhaps absent. Set up a place to meet if your group gets separated and can’t contact each other. And don’t expect that you’ll be able to charge your devices whenever you want. Bring some spare battery packs; you’ll be glad you did.
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