While I wouldn't consider my first festival to be a failure, there are definitely things I was super happy about and things I wish I'd thought of beforehand. Below are just the basics, as everyone's festival improvement list is constantly changing, but hopefully will be helpful to anyone who has bought their first ticket to a festival and needs help from others' experiences.
1. Highly consider road tripping instead of flying.
For my first festival, we drove instead of flying to Chicago. The drive wasn't that expensive in gas, considering we went halfway across the country, and it made for some interesting conversations, especially during the 12th hour.
2. Know where you're going.
I was lucky that for my first festival, my group stayed with a local friend who lived in the city. It was so much less stressful being able to mindlessly follow a navigator than struggling with the subway stops at the end of a long day of music.
3. Read the rules of the festival security.
Seriously. Don't even assume that your off-brand, Camelbak-esque water bottle will be OK because I ended up almost abandoning mine at the gates. But thanks to some slight of hand, the water bottle was saved that day. Don't give your water bottle abandonment issues, just listen to the rules.
4. Know the line up. Prioritize and figure logistics into your day's schedule.
Yes, you are going to have to make some tough decisions; it comes with any festival. You are going to decide to skip one band for another. It will be hard, but you will make it through.
5. Budget down to the daily expenses for the duration of the festival.
You're not just paying for the festival when you buy your ticket; you need to eat while there and will probably want to come home with a T-shirt souvenir. Make sure you have enough cash or your debit card, but not enough to be taking a huge hit if you get mugged (God forbid, of course). Lollapalooza, as many festivals do, offered to link your card of choice to your wristband so you didn't need a wallet while in the park.
6. Budget for water.
Actually, though. Be sure to have enough h2o so you don't end up in the medical tent. Especially make sure you have a back-up plan with cash for water even if you are bringing in your own water bottle. Most festivals won't up-charge water because they want you to stay hydrated and avoid a ride in the ambulance, but still be set with cash for hydration emergencies.
7. Figure out what you're doing when you're not in the festival.
Unless you are at a camping festival, you will have downtime. And if you aren't dying from exhaustion, you are going to be looking for something to do. If the festival is in a city, maybe explore while meandering back to where you are staying or check out the cool bar you saw on your walk into the festival. My group happened to stop at a playground in the neighborhood on our way back every night, and it was great for the swing set and the stargazing.
8. That halter top might look wicked cute, but the sun is a powerful force.
Especially for the paler people of the world: Just because it's hot out and you put sunscreen on does not make the sun less brutal on your skin. Save yourself a couple wrinkles and possible skin cancer by wearing loose and airy clothing that still covers you.
9. Sunglasses are your best friends, but be ready to lose them in the mosh pit.
11. For the love of God, wear sneakers.
I know those sandals are "so boho," but your feet will be stepped on and you will not be happy. Also, people walk absurd amounts at festivals. If your feet are sore at the end of a work or school day in your shoe of choice, change it.
12. Unless you're Vanessa Hudgens that gets paid to wear such intricate outfits to festivals, ditch the runway-ready festival outfits.
Especially if you don't live close enough to commute from your house, don't pack jewelry or other truly unnecessary accessories. Bring the essentials, like a good backpack and sneakers, but I'm not saying you can't still wear a cool silk tank top and a denim jacket when the sun goes down. Just leave the beaded headdress to the locals, the celebrities, and the seasoned festival-goers.
13. The same thing goes for makeup; just don't bother.
Especially if it's mid-summer, your makeup will melt off and you'll look like the Joker before noon. Embrace our festival ancestors of Woodstock and go with the natural look. People will be covered in sweat, dust, mud, and/or rain by the end of the festival, and if I can't be bothered to put makeup on before my 8 a.m. anthropology class, then nothing will motivate me to pack makeup for a festival.
14. Make sure you eat enough.
Most festivals are in hot weather, which can often cause a loss of hunger for everyone. But you are also constantly distracted by the wonder each festival day brings, filling up on water, and are surrounded by albeit good but heavy fair food. I always managed to sneak in a couple packages of peanut butter crackers so I could eat something and not faint.
15. Even when you put in your best efforts, unexpected situations will occur.
I thought I had everything figured out to make sure I didn't faint, but my body and I were at odds. 10 minutes into Father John Misty on the first day of Lollapalooza 2015, enjoying the sultry crooning and sardonic wit of Josh Tillman, I wake up to, luckily, the two nurses enjoying the performance right next to me asking how I felt. One short trip to the medical tent, and I was off to the next performance. Regardless of how much planning you put into it, there will always be unexpected things happening and improvements to be made.
But isn't that the great thing about festivals? There is always going to be a way to make an already life-changing time better. If you are preparing for your first festival, I hope I don't freak you out from the above list. I can tell you that, yes, when the next festival happens, this list will always exist and will always be changing, but every festival you go to will be a great time and especially better than just doing your "regular weekend thing."