How NOT To Camp at Coachella

We are officially one month out from Weekend 1 at Coachella 2016! I’ll be basking in the desert festival bubble During weekend 2, but I’m already in full-on ‘Chella planning mode. With ticket prices topping out at $400 and funds needed to invest in your festival wardrobe budget, the fest can seem quite expensive, thereby off-putting to potential Chella goers. The most economical way to do Coachella, and the most intimidating in my book, is car camping. You get a 30 x 10 plot of land for you and your vehicle and are mere yards away from the festival grounds. With this great access though, comes great responsibility.

I highly recommend camping on-site your first year as a rite of passage. I bitched the whole time, compared camping to a refugee camp and almost had a dehydration induced breakdown on day 2 (tequila and lack of water will do that to you) and made my angel friend Ryan miss the Phoenix set, but I wouldn’t change that experience if I could. Luckily for you, since I arrived at my first Coachella so unprepared to camp, I made almost every mistake in the books so you won’t have to. Check out my top tips for how NOT to camp at Coachella below.

Don’t buy your tent at Target the night before you leave
It somehow seemed like a great idea to do some casual tent shopping the night before the festival at the West Hollywood Target. Luckily, they weren’t out of tents (clearly that possibility hadn’t crossed my mind), but put in more planning than I did. Get a decent tent (our two person abode was cheap an small but did the job), but more importantly get an EZ Up (more on that later) and some tarps.

Don’t ignore your engineer father’s advice
My dad had the brilliant idea of crafting a three sided shelter over our tent with an EZ Up, zip ties and tarps. I laughed him off at being an overzealous engineer that worried too much. Boy, did I eat my words. EVERYONE who is a pro at car camping makes one of these sun shading sanctuaries. See below for an example of one of these refuges. Be sure to also pack stakes in case of a sandstorm, so your beautiful home doesn’t blow away.  I’ve learned my lesson – father knows best.

Don’t arrive on Friday night
If at all possible, take the day off work and head down Thursday night. We weren’t able to use PTO at our new jobs that first year, so we suffered through LA Friday rush hour and made it to Indio around 9PM after all the security checks. We were literally in the last row of tents on the camp ground. Coachella camping has so many amenities (food vendors, general store, showers, water stations,etc.), but we were about a 15 minute walk to all of this. You also won’t miss the whole first day of concerts. The only plus side to us arriving so late, was that our spot way out in East Jesus meant our bathroom remained very clean, since no one else wanted to walk so far to use them. If clean port-a-potties are a thing, then we had them.

Remember said tent? Don’t sleep in it.
Two words: air flow. The desert sun shoots up at 7:30AM, and you will start baking in that tent. Either sleep in your car or on the ground under your EZ Up and between your car and tent. If you followed step 2, you will still have privacy, but more important, a breeze and few extra hours of sleep.

Don’t sleep on the ground
My friend Ryan was smart enough to bring mats for us to sleep on, but bring an air mattress with a battery operated pump if you can. That desert ground is rough, and you’ll want to savor the few hours of sleep you can squeeze in.

Don’t sit on it either
Folding chairs are your friend! You’ll have several hours to kill before the fest, so you’ll want your site to be homey, inviting to new friends and with comfortable seating in between beer pong sets and yoga sessions (yes there is campground yoga #california).

Our rookie setup. Notice lack of shade. But at least we thought to pack a chair!

Don’t go light on the refreshments
Water is your life force at Coachella! You will be in the sun ALL DAY, so don’t just grab a few frozen bottles of water like I did. Bring more than you need or a large Camelbak to refill. Also pack some powdered Gatorade and breakfast treats. You’ll spend later meals inside the fest, but have some snacks on hand for after and in the morning. Check out some of my favorite packing lists here and here.

Don’t forget advil or emergen-C
Remember the tequila and lack of water induced breakdown I mentioned earlier? That and my missing of Phoenix’s closing set could have been easily avoided if I had Advil on hand. You will at some point get a headache or sore feet, so be prepared and don’t let a little pain ruin your well coordinated concert schedule.

But definitely don’t pack a hairdryer or straightener
Every year I stare in dumbstruck awe at the basic betches straightening their hair outside the trailer showers. Like, why is this necessary? If you wanted the glamazon Coachella, you should have stayed in the hotels down the street. Plus, once you start sweating, that hair labor will be for naught! Camping is all about embracing the grittiest bits of festival life and that includes *gasp* air-dried hair. Braids and waves look cuter anyway.

Don’t shower naked
Weird, but shower with your swimsuit on. Sounds gross, but you’ll be thankful to have the relief of a wet suit on during the oppressive mid day heat.

Don’t just pack for the heat
Once the sun goes down, so do the temps. Sleeping outside can get quite chilly so pack some sweats and socks to keep cozy.

Don’t get caught in the dark
Carry a small flashlight wherever you go. You can play the hero when the hot guy a few tents down drops his phone in the dark.

Don’t be an amateur
You WILL be searched upon entering the camp grounds. These are super thorough aka some years they even take paneling off of cars to look underneath. No glass is allowed (even jam jars will be confiscated), so pour your liquor into waterbottles and stash yo shit! Be smart and careful and you should be good to go. The wait for security checks is also a great time to pop open a beer and meet your future neighbors 🙂

Happy camping, friends! Are you headed to Coachella this year? Let me know if you’re going or have any other fests on the docket this summer!

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  • I've never been to coachella but this list gives good advice on what to do to prepare for a first visit! 🙂

  • This is awesome and hilarious! I've never been camping, period, but I at least feel like I could pull off a festival camp-out like this one! Indio gets SO HOT, it's amazing anyone survives out there at all! Thanks for linking up with Travel Tuesday!