Having recently collaborated with famed concert photographer Jay Blakesberg and written essays for the new book Hippie Chick: A Tale of Love, Devotion, & Surrender, we sat down with blogger Edith Johnson to talk about what it means to be a ‘Festival Girl.’ Her story tells the life of a beautiful soul learning to love herself and find passion through the freedom and expression of dance. Live music led the way for this graduate student, who left her perfect scores in the library to test life out in the real world.
“I started to realize that the information on festival websites wasn’t comprehensive enough, it wasn’t giving me the kind of information I was looking for, especially as someone traveling alone,” Edith says in a recent interview. “With The Festival Girl, I wanted to collect information that went beyond what the marketing team at a festival says. I wanted to know the real dirt, dirt I found by going to festivals regularly.” In Hippie Chick, Edith writes three essays: “Love”, “Devotion”, and “Surrender”. To read more, buy the book. For now, enjoy these ten travel guides for solo adventurers traveling abroad.
Once upon a time, a noob(ish) festival girl hit the road with an overpriced expedition pack stuffed to the brim with a jumble of dirty clothes and wide-eyed dreams of live music adventure. The plan was—there was no plan. Research the venue before arriving? No thanks. Buy a last-minute pass via Craigslist? Sure. Accept rides from strangers? Sounds good. That was me less than a decade ago. And oh, the places I went on the “no plan” plan. From hilarious hijinksville to wonderfully weirdsberg all the way to dangertown, having lived to tell the tale, I can laugh about (most of) it now. Still, the lows of winging it—which, if you’re traveling solo, range from semi-sketchy to downright scary—are really a drag.
When it comes to festival travel, a little preparation can go a long way: Memorize this proverb and multiply it by a thousand for festing abroad. You don’t want to be searching for your wallet or asking Siri stuff like ‘Which way is north?’ while missing a once-in-a-lifetime set of music. That said, here are my top ten tips for an easy breezy, ridiculously awesome festi travel experience:
1. Buy the ticket.
It’s one thing to road trip ticketless to a domestic fest with visions of face value extras dancing in your head, but it is quite another to gamble on a lot score abroad. To all my kindred wild women and men—I don’t mean this as a challenge! Seriously, buy the ticket first. Keep in mind that many of the marquee destination fests like Glastonbury (UK) and Tomorrowland (Belgium) have consistently sold out in under an hour. This means having to set an alarm and purchase a pass on local time. A lot of these festivals also require pre-registration, so it’s worth reading all the ticketing info on their websites. Glastonbury, for example, prints each attendee’s photo on her or his pass to avoid secondary-market shenanigans. So, if you haven’t registered and had your photo approved within the allotted registration period, don’t bother hauling yourself up at the crack of British Standard Time on sale day. It won’t work.
If you plan to set sail on a festival cruise, a pre-purchased pass is (obviously?) non-negotiable. Your name is required for the ship’s passenger manifest. The earlier you book your cruise, the better your options for stateroom selection. If you’ve been on a cruise before, or seen James Cameron’s Titanic, you know not all accommodations are created equal. Don’t wait until the last minute.
2. Know the territory.
A childhood lesson from The Music Man taught me that in order to become a traveling con-artist bandleader, I would need to “know the territory.” Thanks, Mom and Dad! But really, this same logic applies to festival travel planning. There are two main considerations here—laws and customs. Since breaking the law has more tangible consequences than offending the locals, let’s focus on that. At minimum, try to get familiar with the basics of what is legal and illegal wherever you’re headed. Some specific points of interest might be drug, alcohol, and nudity laws. A quick case study shows that a destination’s liberal stance on one issue is not an indication of an across-the-board attitude of anything goes. While it’s completely acceptable to run around stark naked at Roskilde Festival in Denmark, for example, the legal BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) limit for driving is 0.05%, which is significantly lower than the US limit of 0.08%. One of my go-to resources The Festival Lawyer has covered some of the major legal concerns at various destination fests here. He also fields questions, so take advantage by hitting him up.
When jamming aboard a festival cruise, you’re either subject to the laws of the state whose territorial waters you’re on, or in “high seas” you’re subject to the laws of the ship’s port of registry. (For Jam Cruise’s MSC Divina this is Panama; for Welcome to Jamrock Cruise’s Independence of the Seas, it’s the Bahamas; and just about every other festival cruise, including newcomer The Lebrewski Cruise, uses the Bahamas-registered Norwegian Pearl.) The bottom line on all the legal stuff is: Make an effort to get informed. If all else fails, applying common sense is your best bet.
3. Do as the Romans.
I know I said to focus on laws over customs, but try to embrace—or, at least, respect—the culture of the place you’re visiting. This is a lot more nuanced than simply not chewing gum in Singapore or covering your shoulders at the Vatican. (Wait…you’re festing at the Vatican??) Chances are you will commit a cultural faux pas or two at some point during a festival abroad experience. That’s okay—pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back on the dance floor. Learning on site is part of the adventure. Still, there are ways to educate yourself in advance. Guidebooks are a good place to start, but don’t underestimate the value of tales from those who have tread the path. Most likely, someone in the festival community has already hit the destination or itinerary you’re considering. Search the forums. Start your own thread, if necessary. Ask questions and gather information. Remember: Other people’s opinions are just that—opinions. Take what feels helpful and don’t sweat the rest.
Be patient with cultural differences. If you bump into a language barrier, understand that raiSING THE VOLUME OF YOUR VOICE won’t help. Try to learn a few phrases if you can. (Knocking yourself out with Rosetta Stone prior to Jam Cruise is great, but a simple mastery of how to say ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘please’, and ‘thank you’ in Spanish should suffice.) Don’t pressure yourself to be the ambassador of American decorum abroad, but do realize that as a visitor to someone else’s country, it’s on you to bridge the gap.
4. Pack like you’ve been there before.
First things first: Handle your paperwork. To fest abroad, you’ll need valid travel documents. Have an up-to-date passport in hand at least six weeks prior to departure, or prepare to fork over a bunch of cash in expediting fees as you ride the emotional roller coaster of wondering whether your application will be processed in time. Also, renew your passport if it expires within six months of a festival trip. (Some countries will actually deny entry to passports lacking this margin.) Going to Byron Bay Bluesfest or Lolla Brazil? You will need a visa. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you can verify the visa requirements of your festival destination country here. Photograph your passport—do the same for your driver’s license if you have one and/or plan to rent a car—and email to yourself, a friend, the Cloud, or all of the above. This will save time and reduce bureaucratic rigmarole if your documents are lost or stolen.
With papers in shape, you can focus on what gear to bring. Here are my two best pieces of advice: Travel light and invest in packing cubes. Bring lightweight, versatile clothes that fold up small. Choose pieces you can layer up and strip down, mix and match, wear multiple days and multiple ways—it’s a sarong, it’s a shawl, it’s a head wrap, it’s a satchel! Avoid anything “dry clean only” and bring one pair of closed-toe shoes in case you find yourself in a mandatory footwear situation. The best packing hack ever came to me from veteran festi goddess Erica Bernal of Brotherly Love Productions, who sold me on packing cubes as what she called a “game changer.” These inexpensive little organizational miracles are worth every penny. Use cubes to separate the dirty from the clean, the shorts from the shirts…even map out day-to-day outfits if you’re a real go-getter! The less time spent digging through your bag, the more time spent digging music. So thank you, packing cubes.
5. Start with a clean slate.
This might seem like a suggestion to begin your trip with an open mind. And yeah, definitely do that. But I’m actually just referring to the physical act of cleaning here. Don’t assume that your campsite, cruise ship cabin, hostel or hotel accommodation will have endless (or even any) hot, running water. Make sure to take care of whatever hygiene-related activities you consider essential before departing on festival vacation. Are you a leg shaver? A hair washer? A beard trimmer? A bikini waxer? No judgment. I totally get it. I also heartily recommend doing any personal grooming rituals pre-trip. I cringe to admit having once missed half a headliner detangling my hair. Please folks, don’t let this be you. Arrive clean, rinse as needed. 6. BYO everything.
On the most basic level, bring cash. Foreign transaction fees and out-of-network ATM fees can be brutal. Don’t pay more than you have to: Withdraw dough before you go. For the majority of festival cruises, you’ll establish an “on board” line of credit using cash or credit card and there will not necessarily be access to cash machines (The Lebrewski Cruise has one ATM; Jam Cruise has none). Let your bank know you’re traveling abroad so that when you do use your credit card, you’re not flagged for fraud.
Look after your health by bringing your own medical kit and a reusable water container. The medical kit doesn’t need to be elaborate. A solid travel stash includes any prescription medications, something to clean cuts or wounds, bandages, preventatives, and condoms. For preventatives, I’m thinking of things like ginger chews to address seasickness or magnesium to overcome sleeplessness. If you want to get fancy, consider including grapefruit seed extract (GSE), a multi-use liquid concentrate said to possess antimicrobial properties. I took GSE to the 2014 International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh, India, upon the recommendation an acupuncturist friend and it quickly became a travel favorite. I’m not a doctor, so absolutely consult yours to figure out what works for you. Point is, anticipate your needs in advance. You want to spend your time enjoying the music and culture—not fumbling around a translation app trying to figure out how to explain menstrual cramps in Portuguese.
Your reusable water container is your lifeline. Carry it everywhere and fill it often. Drink more water than you think you need, and double that amount if you’re also drinking alcohol. Don’t accept drinks or any other ingestible from a stranger. Period. Also, keep vigilant watch over any drink you’ve purchased or prepared. This may sound overly stringent, but when it comes to avoiding unwanted doses it’s always better to err on the side of caution.
7. Never go with a random person to a second location.
A fictional network exec from the mixed up mind of Tina Fey once warned, “Never go with a hippie to a second location.” But let’s not pick on the hippies. There is a big-picture truth in Jack Donaghy’s seemingly small-minded admonition. And this is a truth I have personally stared in the face and flagrantly ignored on multiple occasions. So, I relate to anyone out there who cheerily subscribes to giving strangers the benefit of the doubt or remains optimistic that lifelong friends can be made from hitching a ride. I’m not here to disabuse anyone of her or his utopic notions. A positive outlook can definitely help shape a positive outcome. Keep it up! At the same time, be aware that not everyone may share your good intentions. There is a delicate balance between being receptive to new people and unnecessarily risking your safety. My heartfelt advice from my own festival travel bumps and bruises is for solo travelers—and especially solo women travelers—not to get in a car, on a moped, or even walk to an unknown location with an unknown person. It’s a very personal choice, though.
There is a lot of good in the world. And when festing abroad, you will surely experience the unconditional generosity of a stranger at some point. Cherish that moment and express gratitude to your trail angel. If the opportunity arises, pay it forward someday.
8. Get yourself connected.
Tell at least one person where you’re going. Better yet, email her or him a copy of your itinerary. In the unlikely event you go missing, you’ll want someone to notice. If you change your itinerary, inform that person so she or he doesn’t sound the alarm needlessly. Memorize any important phone numbers and, if possible, upgrade to a global data plan for the duration of your trip. Post-fest blues struggle is real. Don’t make it worse by incurring a massive bummer of a phone bill. Where WiFi connection exists, messaging apps like WhatsApp are an awesome way to avoid exorbitant international data fees. If you’re super jazzed about portable Internet, you could always rent a mobile hotspot (or MiFi) with unlimited data for a fixed per-day price, though I can’t vouch for the efficacy of such a device on a cruise ship. Whatever devices you bring, don’t forget the appropriate chargers and adapters.
Do everything I suggested in tip # 8, and then give yourself permission to go off-grid. Be here now. Facebook later.
10. Take off your shoes.
I’ve saved the best for last, so please hear me out. If you haven’t been hanging in hipster cafes or New Age crystal shops, you may not know about “earthing” (aka “grounding”). No worries. You don’t need to know what it is to understand it. It’s completely intuitive. Earthing basically means walking around barefoot. I wish the “wherever you go, there you are” adage were literally true. But it’s not. If you’re a total festival hound like me, or even if you just dabble, you are likely on the road a lot. So, wherever you go, your body is probably more ‘Where the hell am I?’ than ‘Here I am.’ Traveling for music can be disorienting and exhausting, but it doesn’t have to be. Enter earthing. When you put your bare skin against the ground, the earth’s healing electrons are conducted into your body, helping sync your circadian clock with local time and flooding you with a slew of other electrophysiological benefits. Don’t believe me? Try it. As soon as you arrive to your festival destination—or at every port you visit during your festival cruise—seek out a patch of grass, dirt or sand and just stand there barefoot for 10 minutes. This will radicalize your energy level and sleep patterns while festing abroad.
Bon voyage, friends! You’re good to go.
-Edith Johnson, The Festival Girl
[Photo by Ian Stone]