[FESTIVAL/PHOTO RECAP] Tips For Surviving Your First International Camping Music Fest
I’m driving through the middle of Hungary on a two lane highway not recognized by my brand new GPS, looking for VOLT Festival – ranked the country’s best mid-sized music fest – without a clue as to what I will see or do once I arrive. My trunk full of camera and camping equipment, the task is to find somewhere to park for the weekend that doesn’t find me walking miles in the middle of cow-ridden fields. Stay calm, I remind myself, this isn’t your first rodeo – you got this.
When I arrive I am immediately overwhelmed by the size and scope of the festival: much larger than I would have expected for the tiny Magyar town of Sopron; with a population of just over 61,000, the festival will dwarf that by at least 10K over the 5-day event.
I turn to park and am immediately told, “Ez nem, ahol állítólag parkolni.” (That’s Hungarian for “This isn’t where you’re supposed to park,” in case you were wondering.) After much broken back and forth, I find the press check-in and get my credentials. Thus starts my next adventure toward the camp site and into the uncharted waters of my first Hungarian music festival.
VOLT Festival was an amazing experience on many levels, and it taught me a lot about how to really succeed in a foreign environment where you might not fully understand the variety of intricacies involved. Between finding your way around, placing your tent, ordering food and drink, and interacting with the local population, it can feel a bit overwhelming even for the experienced festival goer. Tapping into my experiences at VOLT, I have compiled a short list of tips and tricks to help you survive your first international camping music festival. Check out the list below:
Expect it to break all expectations you have of festivals.
There are a lot of things that music festivals have in common: music, people, crowds, expensive drinks, etc… But there are plenty of opportunities for festivals to challenge the status quo. With international fests, there are many experiences that may leave you scratching your head, in a sort of ‘WTF?!’ disbelief – in both good and bad ways. The point is, don’t go in with any sort of expectations; you will invariably leave disappointed if you do. Instead, embrace the differences and similarities and keep yourself open to everything you are experiencing in the present moment.
Be prepared to ask a lot of people a lot of questions.
There will come a time when you have no idea what the fuck you are doing. Are you in the correct line? Do they except Euros or Forint (the current Hungarian currency)? Where the hell can I find an ATM? Don’t be shy or arrogant and assume you know the correct way to go about something. Stop and ask someone next to you! Often, you’ll find their is an easier way and you might end up making a new friend in the process.
You don’t need to speak the language, but it helps.
When traveling around the world, it’s always a good idea to brush up on the local language and dialect. If nothing else, the locals will appreciate your effort and will reward you with a big smile. It makes things a helluva lot easier when you are in a rush and know the one word for ‘bathroom?’ You don’t even need to carry around a huge dictionary these days, as you can now download full language libraries from apps such as Google Translate and refer to them even without a Wi-Fi signal. I can’t tell you how many times this came in handy in a tight spot.
Get used to walking around with all your gear (and wear the proper footwear).
If you’re a veteran of camping festivals, this type of thing might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s always good to remind yourself that you’re going somewhere you have never been before and often the small things are what slips your mind. How do I get there? Did I bring the correct currency? What’s the weather going to be like? are all larger questions that often supercede the small things like, What type of footwear should I have on when arriving at the fest. Don’t assume that you can bring your car into the campsite (or that parking and camping will even be close to each other), and be prepared to hike a little ways with all your gear before you find a good spot to settle down for the weekend.
Axwell /\ Ingrosso
Porta-potties are not where you would expect them to be. Plan ahead!
I can’t speak for all international festivals so I won’t generalize here, but at VOLT Fest there sure as hell weren’t bathrooms where or when I needed them at all times (aka first thing in the morning)! Entire campsites were barren of the magic, blue cubes save for the entrances to said sites. The forest became refuge for most who needed relief – and I imagine that this isn’t the ideal situation for all. With that said, find out where you need to go in advance of when it comes time to go. I’ve always said that some of the best festival experiences are just making it the bathrooms on time, so don’t leave yourself or your fest gear open to a shitty experience (every pun intended).
Don’t just listen to the same old bands again and again.
You’re at a music festival because I assume that you love music. So, take the opportunity to go find some new music! There are hundreds of unheard of, up and coming, and underground groups out there dying for attention, so why not take the time to explore and give them your love. I garauntee if you spend a couple hours doing this at every festival you attend, you will absolutely find new sounds to fall in love with. You might not understand the language the lyrics are in, but music is a universal language and all it takes is a good beat or melody to have you bouncing along with the rest of the crowd. Here are two of my favorite new finds from VOLT Festival in the form of folk-rock group Vera Jonas Experiment and the deep, tech sounds of Icelandic-based Gus Gus.
Get out of your head and jump into new experiences.
In other words: Embrace the uncomfortable! Eat food you wouldn’t see anywhere else in the world. Go talk to that beautiful face in the crowd, even if you can only communicate in hand signs. Explore the depths of that dark crevice emenating beautiful melodies. Whatever you do, challenge yourself to get outside the box. Music festivals offer rare opportunities to let go of the everyday ‘you’ and become whoever it is you want to become. Enjoy that freedom by letting your vulnerabilities shine. You will be surprised at what comes out the other side. Sure, you can hang back by the bar and suck down your 15 beers and fall asleep soundly in your tent, but will you really be experiencing anything different than any other US music festival? You’re out traveling the world for a reason, now go and experience everything that bold new life has to offer.