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15 Things I Learned as a First-Time Coachella Camper

In Lifestyle, Meanderings, Travel by Liana Lozada

Broke, ambitious, and adventurous, my friend and I decided to pitch a tent and camp onsite for our first Coachella experience in 2014. This was no glamping exercise, nor was it what all those style bloggers had us believing it would be. Instead, we battled a sandstorm and raging temperatures like a bunch of newbies. A few camping logistics have changed since our amateur attempts, though. Despite the recent upgrades (supermarket shuttles and a farmers market), these tips and eye-openers still hold true.

Driving from Los Angeles to the campgrounds? Arrive as early as possible on the Thursday before the concerts: It’s no secret that LA  traffic is a nightmare, and Coachella adds to the outgoing gridlock. After crawling towards Palm Springs, there’s a waiting line to get onsite. We left LA on Thursday afternoon: From start to finish, the whole ordeal took about eight hours, with more than six of those hours spent sitting in the car.


We got lucky because our car spot was right next to one of the massive light poles, but most people had to set up in the dark (a battery-powered lamp would prove helpful here). The camp site also harbors a number a cool, kooky activities; arriving early on Thursday makes it easier to get acquainted with the grounds before the concert schedule begins.


Gas up before you enter the grounds: We didn’t, and though we survived, it would have been nice to have some gas in the car to run the AC during the day, heater at night, play music, and charge our cell phones.


Ice is expensive: A bag of ice was $10. It’s a ridiculous price to pay, but people pay it, and unless you have a magical ice making machine, you will too. Budget for at least a bag a day because it melts pretty quickly. Luckily, we brought three Styrofoam coolers: We filled one with pre-frozen water bottles surrounded by ice, one with nonperishable food items, and one with small perishables on ice (yogurt, fruit, etc.). Using this strategy kept the bottled water frozen through Saturday morning, saving us at least two purchases of $10 ice bags.


Coachella is where cell phones go to die: My phone was dying the entire weekend. BRING AN EXTRA BATTERY. The camp sites and concert grounds have cell phone charging stations and WiFi areas, but they were ALWAYS PACKED; Their power was weak (and whole units would blow out), so it would take almost two hours to charge a single phone. Whenever I wasn’t going to be using my phone, I set it on airplane mode, which helped a little. If you go with a group, come up with a meeting spot in case you separate; don’t rely on your phone being there to help.


Empty your phone’s memory card: Mine got full while I was there, and with so few sockets around, it was hard to back up anything onto my computer. Which brings me to…


Go laptop free: Unless you’re on assignment for someone, leave your laptop at home. Sockets and WiFi are limited: The one or two lounges on the campgrounds were always packed and had limited hours.


Coachella style blog posts can be misleading: I get it, you want to look cute at Coachella. But if you’re camping, lower those stylish expectations and replacing them with functional clothing options are a SMART move. Mirrors and sinks are hard to come by as a camper. Shower lines get long during peak times. It’s hot as hell during the day and freezing at night. Your makeup melts. I barely saw people in heels – let alone wedges – on the campsite: There was just too much walking (and dirt, and jumping around) involved for all that.


When I went back to LA to look through the Coachella style snaps, they were mostly of bloggers who had stayed at hotels, attended private events, or slipped in and out of VIP. These photos did not speak to the full Coachella experience we had, so don’t fall for the “what to wear” pressure. The first day, I walked around in a bathing suit top and shorts, and I still wanted to swim in a pool full of ice water (but I needed my ice, $10!). Bottom line: Be comfortable and functional, pack light, and think layers for nighttime.


Check the weather and prepare for sandstorms:  Call me naive, but I never realized why people wore sunglasses at night during festivals or bandanas over their mouths. The Coachella Sunday night sandstorm made headlines, and it was just as bad as they made it sound. When we got back to our site that night, a bunch of tents had blown over. If I licked my lips, I was crunching on sand. The wind made it even colder, so we slept in the car. It was awful. Be prepared.


Most places are cash only: Come prepared but don’t be reckless and put all your money in one place. Depending on your spending habits, if you leave the site or not, or how much you bring with you, I don’t think you need more than $200 for the weekend.


People can be disgusting: The worst part of Coachella—particularly on the campsite—were the Porta Potties. I don’t know what people were eating, but just be aware that there are no regular bathrooms anywhere: Be mindful of how much you eat and drink.  Be courteous to those who have to step into a potty after you destroy such a tiny space. And girls, if you get your period, put your plugs in a plastic bag and then toss them: Finding used tampons around was foul.


Your tent becomes a sauna during the day: And then the North Pole at night. You’ll be out of that thing by 9 a.m. or risk melting away. The last two nights were cold enough to have us sleep in the car. Sleeping bags are a must that we failed to bring: Ours didn’t fit in our suitcases, so we really should have bought some on the way there. The experienced festival campers have tarps and bigger tents over their sites that acted as “walls,” thus keeping the heat and heavy wind out. If you can manage that, do it!


Despite all these physical barriers, people still have sex: Duh, right? But we woke up one morning to a used condom behind one of our back tires. Watch your steps.


Packs things you can dispose of before you leave your campsite. I brought underwear specifically to throw away because the thought of dirty laundry just hanging around for four days grossed me out. We brought old towels and blankets that we used for showering, shade, cleaning, walking on the grass, etc. – and then tossed them. Our coolers were disposable. We brought hand wipes to serve multiple purposes. We also threw away our shower sandals. It made the return trip home much lighter.


People share: People are chill and communal, and share their wealth. Be nice to everyone around you and they’ll be nice to you and look after your stuff if needed.


Coachella is a marathon, not a race: Pace yourself! Drink water. It’s hard not to be excited upon arrival, but remember the days are long and hot, and nights are cold: There is a lot of walking, and the toilets are not pleasant.


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