The best thing you can do to ensure your first time at Coachella goes smoothly is to be prepared. As a Coachella festival veteran (Well I went last year) I’m here to show you exactly how you can be as prepared as possible so all you need to focus on is which stage your favourite band are playing, Coachella fashion and making sure you’ve enough stamina to go for it all day and night.
1. Get there on Thursday morning
We arrived at about 11am on Thursday which in hindsight was perfect. We were close enough to the arena gates to be able to go back to our tents for a drink and far enough away to not be too close to all the people who were staying in hotels nearby and staggered around the entrance after the chucked everyone out.
Arriving at Coachella on the Thursday is a great idea. The campsite opens at 9am and it’s the perfect opportunity to get in the festival mood first. You can get a good spot and check out the area where you’ll be spending the next few nights too.
There’s no action in the main arena at Coachella on a Thursday but there are a few events in the smaller arena off the campsite.
2. Get involved with Carpoolchella
We made the journey from our hotel in Palm Springs to Coachella Festival in 30 minutes at about 10am on the Thursday. Along the way we saw loads of people getting in the spirit of things and joining the Carpoolchella car decoration competition. Unfortunately with everything else we had to think about we hadn’t got round to joining this – you can win loads of stuff if you do though.
3. Be patient with getting in to Coachella
We joined the queue to get in the festival. It only took us about five minutes to get to the first checkpoint. We showed our wristbands and they literally whooped us in. One of the biggest USPs of Coachella is the fact that all the staff are so friendly. Everyone was telling us to have a ‘Happy Coachella!’ and giving out high fives.
We joined the queue to get our car checked. We joined a bad queue. The group of teenage guys in front of us were getting their car totally raided. The security team pulled out his speakers, took out the spare wheel and were checking every part of it – all good entertainment for us and the kid seemed to be taking it pretty well.
“I’m sorry I lied. We’re just trying to have a good time ok?”
He was probably terrified they wouldn’t let him in.
I felt so nervous, for no reason. Well, I had a glass bottle of Modelo in my bag left over from last night. I was scared that if they found the glass that they’d totally ransack our tightly and expertly packed car.
We got out the car, they took me to one side and gave me a pat down. Then they made me pull out the front part of my bra. Never had that done before, but makes sense. Any drugs would drop.
They gave the guys a quick pat down. Then they made us open the ‘trunk’ and pulled out a pillow. They took one look and sent us on our way.
We all got back in the car and felt let down that we hadn’t looked interesting enough to search. Must’ve been our demure demeanour that put them off the search. Back in the car and we crawled until they showed us where to park and again exclaimed ‘Happy Coachella’.
4. Take all the food you think you’ll need
Here’s a list of all the food we bought from Walmart beforehand to give you an idea of what to take. Of course there are loads of stalls around the festival, but only serving the usual burritos, pizzas, burgers and other delicious yet fatty foods. You will not feel good if you stick with this all weekend.
5. Fill your boot / trunk with drink
One of the best things about Coachella Festival is that you actually camp with your car. This means you can absolutely pack your car with booze and food.
Coachella is at a polo club and the camping area is in the car park. The white car park lines mark the boundaries of your spot and you can do whatever you want with the space.
Some people had the most amazing sites set up. If you go in a big group they have an area where you can wait for all your friends to arrive and between you all you can pretty much make a tented mansion. As many people did.
Be aware though that you’re not allowed to take glass into the festival grounds though, you need to decant it all. My Coachella Drinking Guide will be coming next week too, for more on what you can and can’t do at Coachella. The fact we had so much alcohol meant we could give it away to our neighbours no bother – a great bonding tool.
6. Make friends with your neighbours
The guys opposite us, who we borrowed a pump off, had inflatable sofas, a fridge, and big vans to sleep in. Others had set up tarpaulins between all their big monster trucks with long tables laid down the centre. Some people slept on the roofs of their cars to make more space for the day, while the guys next to us slept under their car. It was carnage.
We had our car packed as expertly close to the edge as possible, about a metre of space with our chairs and cool box, and then our two tents lined up. I honestly think we did so well with our Coachella shopping and kit list, considering it was our first time. Proud of us.
After a beer or two from the cool box to warm our new home we were ready for action.
You’re going to be living next to each other for the next few days and in Coachella, that’s a lifetime. You can help each other out, look out for each other and have fun.
We made friends with our neighbours on the first day after they leant us some tarpaulin, and the ones over the way thanks to borrowing their air pump. The guys on the other side weren’t quite so friendly, especially when they were blasting their truck engine to sit in the air con while the exhaust pumped into our camp.
They did turn it off after we asked them nicely, well, 10 minutes later.
7. Camp for the most fun experience, hotel for the most fabulous
I camped when I went to Coachella, but it’s not for everyone. As I say, it was hot. But the great thing was we were just by the entrance and could easily come back to the tent in the day to chill. It also meant to annoying and crowded (I presume) transport. We could see the front gate from our tent so knew when it was going to open and could just saunter over.
Camping at Coachella is great fun, but I’d definitely recommend you take notice of my camping advice for Coachella to really make the most of it. And so you’re ready for the heat and desert conditions.
One of the differences with Coachella compared to the British field festivals you might be more used to is the fact you can stay in a hotel. Lush!
If you do want to stay in a hotel, like many others do – definitely all the people who look good – then you should check out my accommodation guide for Coachella Festival. Whether you want an air stream, a hotel, and apartment, you want it as cheap as possible or as close as possible, then take a look. I update the list with the latest availability whenever I can.
8. Be generous and kind
The Coachella spirit is one of the best things about the festival and you need to be a part of it. One girl we met gave us some of her dad’s birthday cake, we gave out drinks and as I’ve said our neighbour gave us tarpaulin. There’s no place for selfish douchebags at Coachella – share the love man.
READ MORE: 12 Things You HAVE to Do at Coachella
9. Refine your packing list
You need to take in everything you’re going to need as there’s nothing to buy once you’re in there. It’s not like an English festival where you can buy a premium price tent in the grounds. I’ve written a Walmart packing list (on its way) and a Coachella clothes packing list to make sure you’ve got it all covered.
9. Plan your outfits
As there’s no shopping at Coachella, you need to plan all your outfits for that ‘Coachella’ look, or whatever style it is you’re going for.
10. Pick up a copy of the Coachella magazine
Look out for the Coachella magazine landing in front of your car so you can catch up with the Coachella goings on, including the celebs and parties you probably missed as a first timer, and about the day ahead.
11. Don’t take drugs in
The car in front of us going through security got absolutely ripped apart because it looked like they’d found some drugs in the guy’s bass speakers in the back. They’d pulled out his whole sound system. He seemed to be taking it very well, but I’m sure it wasn’t ideal. There are coppers everywhere too – and drugs abroad are never a good idea.
12. Take showers
The showers are clean, plentiful and an absolute must at least once a day to escape from the heat of the Coachella Festival desert. I’ve never taken as many showers at a festival as I did at Coachella. In fact, I’d actually never taken a shower at a festival before. Haha.
13. Go early to explore
Seeing as it was the Thursday you weren’t actually allowed in the main arena until the Friday. We went for a walk around the camping grounds and located the toilets (portaloos) and showers (cabins).
We also found the silent disco tent and the camping shop (all horrendously overpriced). Unlike Glastonbury, which has everything you could ever need for sale at the site, Coachella just had a few trinkets, ice creams, sweets and basic foods. There was just the one vintage shop too. I really liked this. It meant that you didn’t spend a fortune on stupid rubbish that you didn’t need after a few too many drinks.
We found a main activity area where they were having a massive game of Twister, an internet area where a disturbing number of people were using the computers (not that I can talk) and a lot of charger points. We also found a promise of a snowball fight later.
14. Take it slow
There’s no need to rush around at Coachella. The site isn’t actually that big, not compared to the likes of Sziget Festival in Budapest and Glastonbury anyway. There are plenty of chill out spots too, so make the most of them.
15. Don’t take your own alcohol into the arena
It would be horrifying to get thrown out of Coachella just for smuggling some drink in, especially if you’re camping. And especially if you’re coming from abroad. You will be searched at the gate. You can just drink at your tent and then wander in as you please. If you fancy taking a chance, check out my How to Smuggle Alcohol into Festivals guide.
16. Don’t get too drunk
When I say that what I mean is don’t let the security see you too drunk. While it might be fine to roll around the floor wondering where your life has gone at the likes of Leeds Festival in England, that behaviour will get you kicked out at Coachella. Think of it like the Stepford Wife of festivals – as long as it all looks ok on the outside, it doesn’t matter what murky underground you get involved in.
17. Drink plenty of water
There are plenty of water stations at Coachella, so make sure you use them. It’s easy to get dehydrated when you’re drinking alcohol, dancing and in the desert heat all day. The price of water is capped in the arena but on the campsite it costs a fortune so make sure you get it before. Sweet, delicious H20, get it down you.
18. Look out for the ‘Coachella’ stickers
In your Coachella wristband box you’ll get a kit to make some decorations for your car. We actually only got as far as putting the sticker on the boot though. As you drive into Coachella it’s fun to pick out all the people going to the festival and give them a wave. If you get stuck in traffic make friends! You may end up camping near them, or seeing them at the festival. More friends = more fun.
19. Watch yourself
If you’re there by yourself be careful who you trust and don’t be a dick by getting too drunk. The festival is awesome, relaxed and full of really good people but don’t be lulled into a false sense of security and keep at least some wits about you.
20. Have a meeting point
There is Wi-Fi for us internationals but it’s a good idea to pick a point where you’ll all meet at a certain time if you lose each other. Be careful about choosing the spaceman though – he moves!
21. Get some sleep
I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow every night – thanks to the time I actually got to bed and too much alcohol and dancing – but I’d suggest getting everything you can to ensure you’ve got a comfy bed. Take your earphones or some earplugs – Coachella is the festival that never sleeps…
22. Take warm clothes
Remember you’re in a desert so it can be pretty cold at night. You’ll at least need a hoody.
23. Under 21s will not get served
There are so many measures to make sure that under 21s don’t have access to alcohol so if I was you I’d just accept it and deal. Although I definitely wouldn’t be saying that if I was under 21. Ahh the benefits of getting older hey?
- Again, if you haven’t already, check out my Coachella Drinking Guide
24. Take enough money
There must’ve been ATMs but I never needed to use it as I took plenty of dollar. You can store it in your car so there’s no worries about losing it. Queueing for an ATM is the most pointless use of time at a festival ever. And you won’t want to waste any of it at Coachella!
26. The campsites are set up like streets
Our camp was on 110th Street and it worked its way backwards. We were near the front, a brilliant spot for taking a quick trip back to our car during the festival to stock up on booze.
27. Road trip to Coachella
Flights: you’ll need to fly to a nearby airport – the closest is Palm Springs, but why not make a road trip out of it?
Hire a car: and then hire a car for the ultimate Coachella road trip. If you’re camping you’ll definitely need a car but if you’re driving you might get away with it.
We flew into San Francisco and hung around there for a few days before taking a road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway ending at Palm Springs to pick up our supplies. Oh my god it was honestly just amazing. So many incredible points and amazing things to see along the way.
28. How much does Coachella cost?
Flight to California: £400
Coachella tickets: £330
Week of fun and booze: £250
Car camping: £50
Walmart haul for camping stuff: £100
– Starts from £1100