The Expert’s Guide to Surviving Coachella

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Coachella.

Some think I love it a bit too much and truth be told, they might be right. I spend the months leading up to the festival predicting the line-up, preparing with extended gym sessions, and hunting for car decoration supplies in dollar stores. This is my third year attending the festival (and definitely not my last), so I’ve learned a few things—to say the least.

I first heard of Coachella on my local radio station in 2010. The lineup sounded completely unreal, and I knew I had to go. Things got a little more complicated when I learned the Coachella Valley was in California, but I managed to recruit five of my girlfriends to agree to buy tickets right then and just figure the rest out later. We purchased a car camping pass; four of us got a van, and arranged to pick the other two up at the Palm Springs airport. Road tripping from Victoria, B.C. down to California – that should be easy, right?

I mean, we had a GPS…

TIP 1: Plan your route accordingly, or risk driving off the highway.

Taking the scenic route down the Oregon Coast Highway would have been a lot prettier had we not driven the whole thing in the dark. And don’t be fooled – driving all night is not easy. There will always be a point when everyone wants to sleep at the same time. In our case, this meant sleeping in Safeway and Wal-Mart parking lots in middle-of-nowhere Pacific coast towns. Plan which specific cities you’d like to stop in overnight, because the GPS doesn’t supply notes on which cities are safe, and which are not. Driving for hours past city exits because you’ve only heard of them in Afroman songs isn’t fun when it’s 2 a.m. and your eyes are half shut.

If you can stay awake, driving through the night is a great way to cover as much ground as possible, as quickly as possible. There’s less traffic on the highway, and as long as you don’t mind weaving in and out of 18-wheelers at ~140 km/hr., you can really get things done. Embrace energy drinks. They will be your friends, and you’ll need something to wash down all the yummy American chocolate bars we don’t have in Canada, anyway. You can’t avoid junk food on this road trip, so you might as well take it in with open arms.

TIP 2: Label those water bottles, girl.

We stopped at the grocery store to load up on food, seven 60 pounders of vodka, and two boxes of wine (I know, we’re hardcore). We spent two hours in the parking lot pouring all the booze into plastic water bottles and strategically hiding them in the middle of the water flats, sleeping bags, spare tire storage, under seats, etc. The guy at the car camping security line barely made us open the door. Two hours of hard work: totally unnecessary. Not to say we should have had the bottles lined up on our dashboard, but if you’re traveling with a group of girls in a car packed to the brim, they’re probably not going to give you much hassle.

Clearly marking which water bottles are filled with vodka is a must! On Sunday afternoon when you’re parched beyond belief, reaching up for that last, lonely bottle of water that’s been sitting in the sun for three days, and instead taking a huge gulp of boiling hot vodka is easily on my list of top five things I’d rather die before doing. We all had little spray bottles with fans attached (another festival must-have) and, starting at my feet and working all the way up to my face, I soaked myself with vodka. With no easily accessible showers around, I was forced to add this to my growing list of things I’d rather die before doing ever again.

TIP 3: You’re not eating a balanced diet this weekend. Get over it.

Don’t bring fresh produce into the festival, because it will rot. Within hours. It is so bloody hot by 8 a.m., you’ll be cooking in your tent, and the last thing you want to eat is a black banana or a brown, floppy carrot. The only food and drinks you should bring in are those you’d normally snack on while drunk and/or hung over, because realistically, you’ll be one of those two states for the whole weekend. Don’t forget lots and lots of Gatorade. Anything else you may or may not need, you can buy on festival grounds – they sell everything you can imagine.

TIP 4: Shell out for a bed to sleep in, at least one night.

The road trip down on the second year was much more efficient. Three of us drove down the coast again (in daylight this time). We slept one night in the car, and got a hotel the night before the first day of the festival. After a good sleep in a proper bed, a space to re-organize our bags, showers, and free breakfast, we were like new again. I wouldn’t recommend pre-booking any hotels, because you can never be sure how far you’re going to get, and if you pull in to a decent hotel after midnight, chances are they’ll give you a pretty good rate.

TIP 5: Make friends.

Last year we joined campsites with four neighbours, made a ton of new friends, and partied hard. So hard, in fact, we missed a few good shows, as we kept losing things (“omg, where’s my wallet/camera/keys/friends”), and finding them again, to lose them again, and so on. Despite the shows we missed and things we lost, I’ve never had a better weekend in my life.

TIP 6: Seriously, drink more water – also: travel insurance.

With almost no bumps in the road, last year’s trip seemed too good to be true as we pulled away on Monday morning to start the journey home. We were all terribly hung over and tired, one of my girlfriends was passed out in the backseat and the other was dry heaving in the passenger’s side. Two of us started to feel better, but we had to take the other to the hospital for dehydration in the middle-of-nowhere. Whoops. You live and learn, right? DRINK MORE WATER!

With our third festival quickly approaching, there are just two of us original diehards left.  Coachella worshippers, if you will. We’re not planning too much for this year, since you can never be sure what will happen. I am almost certain all the outfits I’ve been planning out for the past six months (as I do every year) will probably stay in my bag. Coming from Canada, it’s hard to not run around in your bathing suit the whole time, because you can’t go home without a tan.

Here’s to another crazy Coachella!


Jacq Magi is an enthusiast of many things, but mainly brightly-coloured clothing, music festivals and cardio exercise. She wreaks havoc in Victoria, B.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jacqmagi.

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