Secrets to enjoying a festival with kids
Every year we get lots of parents asking us how to make a festival with kids fun rather than a weekend of stress.
The reality is that going to a festival with your kids is not such a crazy thing to do any more. There are hundreds of festivals that welcome families of all ages and there’s usually more to do there than at many other holiday destinations so, rather than begrudging being dragged along, chances are your kids will have even more fun than you!
However, if this is your first time, then little a bit of preparation can make a big difference to how smoothly the weekend will go. This isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of everything you need to know (we’re writing a whole book for that) but browse the site and read the links to related blogs and you’ll be more than halfway there.
Find the right festival
Festivals range from the tiny to humongous and each of them will offer something a bit different. We have loads of family-friendly festivals on our map, and we’ve written family festival factsheets for most of them too.
The key to finding the right festival is based on your budget, the size, the line up, the audience, the activities, the facilities, the location… and all these things will be different for each family.
Any responsible festival aimed at families will have trained their stewards to deal with lost children. Some will issue kids with free paper wristbands for you to write your mobile phone numbers on.
Unfortunately after 3 days of mud, sweat and festival rain, these often become hard to read. They can be uncomfortable too, especially when trying to get to sleep. One option is a safety wristband, but a cheap and easy alternative is to just write your number on their arms with a biro or permanent marker.
Make sure you and your children know what to do if you do lose each other.
A lost child is distressing for everyone involved. If your kids are very prone to wandering, you might also want the extra back-up of a child locator gadget. But whatever you decide to use, there’s absolutely no replacement for proper supervision – see our guide to festival safety for young kids.
It is especially easy to lose kids after dark so glowsticks are not only fun, but an important safety consideration. LED Balloons are also really good for tying to your buggy/cart so your child can locate you or for your child to carry around, so you can easily locate them – you can get a choice of single colour or flashing ones.
My kids LOVE playing keepy-uppy in the dark with these. For an insight into how responsible festivals approach child welfare please read our guest blog by Angel Sam (of Angel Gardens): Diary of a Lost Kids Officer. We also have another post on Glow in the Dark Kids.
Arriving and Setting Up Camp
Sometimes you will arrive early only to find the festival opens up a new, and possibly better, camping field as an overflow the next day… grrr!
But generally speaking the bigger the festival, the longer the queues to get in. Some festivals will now allow you to arrive the day before and if you have the time then I would recommend this option.
It usually means you get a better pitch and gives you time to adjust to the surroundings and get to know the festival site before it is really crowded – and you don’t have to miss any of the action while you are setting up camp.
At most festivals you will have to park away from the camping field and carry all your stuff into your chosen camping field. This is where you will really appreciate a wagon or cart.
Many festivals have wheelbarrow or trolley hire, but if you have the space you can take your own and then use it to carry your kids around the festival itself over the next few days; read about carting your kids around festivals or our guide to festival wagons and trolleys.
If you have younger children, opt for a Family or Quiet camping area as you are less likely to be disturbed by the all-night party crowd. You are also more likely to be camped next to some willing playmates for your little ones. If you have Tweens or Teens then they may well prefer to be in the main action – if you can bear it!.
Good camping equipment really helps. If you’re not warm, dry and comfortable you’re not going to get any sleep no matter how well you choose your pitch.
Invest in decent sleeping mats and bags and get a tent with a porch. For beds, we find self-inflating roll mats the best compromise between comfort, size and weight. You don’t need a top of the range Thermorest, the cheaper ones do a reasonable enough job. However, if you are going to do a number of festivals or a lot of camping, spend as much as you can.
Non-camping airbeds can burst, most deflate a bit overnight. They don’t tend to insulate well from the cold, but if you are using one then don’t forget a pump!
Outdoor Megastore are usually one of the cheapest for camping equipment and they often slash the prices on tents in their sales. If money’s no object, they also sell the whole range of innovative Vango Air Beam tents, which almost pitch themselves!
It’s part of the fun and your kids will love it. Lots of festivals have a theme and some people really go to town on their outfits. Sometimes it’s like a walking theatre out there!
You can buy these things on site but they’ll be expensive so it’s worth packing some if you have space!
A festival holiday would not be complete without face paint, bubble wands, tattoo transfers and glow sticks. We recommend the ones with lanyards so they don’t lose them, and can also spin them for more fun!
They do not cost the earth – around £10-15 but could protect your child’s quality of hearing. They are also really handy for Fireworks Night, motor racing, etc. The cheapest place to get ear defenders is usually on Amazon.
Seating is always a compromise between comfort and practicality. Inflatable chairs are compact but can burst and need blowing up, pop-up chairs are more robust but heavier. Little tripod stools are fine for a while but will not be very relaxing for long periods, or you may be happy with a picnic blanket.
A small piece of tarpaulin, thick plastic, or a bit of groundsheet from an old broken tent can come on very handy for sitting on muddy, wet or dirty ground. Bear in mind too that chairs can be antisocial as you will block the view of people sitting on the ground behind you – so be considerate.
You can get little folding back-rests which are great. We recommend the Ergolife Chair – I have back problems so I use this myself as it gives proper back support.
Plasters for cuts, grazes and blisters, anti-bac gel, some paracetamol for you and the kids, hay fever tablets if needed and any regular meds. Something for upset stomachs and maybe even hangovers (well, nobody expects you to be a saint!). After a particularly bad stomach upset at one festival my husband was in need of some rehydration sachets. So it was just as well we had packed a few.
Some festival sites are prone to tics, especially of the fields are usually grazed by sheep, so a tic removal kit can be a useful investment – and don’t forget to familiarise yourself with the symptoms of Lyme Disease.
Of course, all festivals will have a First Aid tent of some sort. Make sure you know where it is and don’t be afraid to go and ask their advice if you are worried about any medical problem.
You may be planning to forgo showers for the whole weekend but you will still need toothpaste and lots of wet wipes. They’re terrible for landfill but they can be a real saving grace at a festival. Festival shops will charge you an arm and a leg for essentials so try not to forget them!
Even the most beautiful of face paint needs to be taken off eventually unless you want it all over your new sleeping bags. If you are willing to brave the festival showers (prepare for queues and cold water) then you will need a towel, shampoo, soap, etc.
Some festivals have great toilet facilities and even win awards. Some family-friendly festivals have child-only toilets so do look out for these, e.g. Shambala – pictured.
Festivals can have flushing loos, usually those held on racecourses, and some invest in posh ‘flushing’ chemical loos. Others have alternative loos, compost loos or even lats, but most rely on the stinky un-child-friendly portable plastic toilet units.
With all the best will in the world most festival toilets will become pretty manky. In the heat they smell, in the wet they become smeared in mud. They always run out of toilet paper, you usually find at least one particularly nasty spillage.
Rarely are there decent hand washing facilities. So to make the best of a bad situation take your own loo roll, some anti-bac gel and wet wipes.
For little ones a potty is a really good idea. You may also want to bring your own toilet, which is not quite as crazy as it sounds.
A relatively new product on the market is the hugely popular Boginabag, a compact lightweight folding stool that you put a disposable and biodegradable waste bag containing an absorbent pad into. Do your business then throw it in the nearest bin – easy!
I’m a big fan of the Kampa Bucket with Lid or Kampa Portable Toilet which you don’t have to empty after each time. You can line it with compost bags, and then throw them into either the compost or conventional toilets without having to clean the bucket.
There will be many magical moments to capture so don’t leave this at home! And when you get home, please email us some photos as we would love to share them on the site.
A torch is useful, as is a lantern for the tent. If you have a buggy or want to keep sight of your kids in the dark then some EL Wire or fairy lights are a great idea. Also, read about how you can light your kids up at night.
Some things that your child can amuse themselves with while you catch a band will come in handy. Depends how old your child is, but something like Usborne wipe activity books or Usborne Activity Cards are great.
You don’t want anything big or bulky because you will have to carry it around all day, just something small that they can do on the picnic blanket. Try not to make it too fiddly or something with too many little pieces that may blow away in the wind!. We have our favourite car journey games.
Festival food is often very tasty and well worth indulging in, but it works out very expensive over a whole weekend. You can freeze some hearty meals in advance and use them to keep your coolbox cold. Reheat them and eat once they start to thaw. You can also do the same with pints of milk so it stays fresh. We use a Coleman 36QT Xtreme Cooler which is the only cooler we’ve had which has kept food cold for a whole weekend. Only remember you’ll need to bring all the cooking equipment and crockery – sometimes it’s easier to budget a little more and just eat out!
Avocados, apples, cherry tomatoes, bananas, individually wrapped flapjacks, breadsticks, raisins, vegetable chips, etc. Having a ready supply of healthy-ish snacks reduces the whining ice-cream demands and will maintain kids blood-sugar levels and minimise mood swings.
For the sake of the planet, please use a refillable water bottle. Shambala banned disposable water bottles and drinking glasses entirely. Plus if you carry a smaller one around and refill it then it’s less to carry. You will need water to drink and also for tooth brushing at your tent.
Mobile phones & Walkie Talkies
Solar chargers help, or a spare battery if you have one. If you want extra assurance then invest in a Anker® Portable Charger which comes highly recommended on electronic websites. Best not to rely on your phone though. Some festivals sites have very poor reception when several thousand people are all trying to jump on the same bit of signal!
You can get good walkie talkies pretty cheaply – most have a range of about 3km, great for keeping tabs on more independent children. Just be careful you don’t interfere with the festival organisers’ communications.
Waterproofs and wellies, sun hats and sunscreen, warm jumpers and t-shirts and shorts… British weather can be so unpredictable. A minor rain shower has the potential to turn a festival site into a mud bath, so wellies are always a good idea.
Waterproof Dungarees are brilliant for kids because it gives them the freedom to sit wherever they like and run around while still keeping warm and dry underneath. Reusable rain ponchos are also great because they can be spread on the ground and used to sit on too. Here’s our blog on rain at festivals.
Layers are better for maintaining a comfortable temperature – and it’s always a good idea to take an extra warm layer in case it turns chilly because you don’t want to be trekking back to the tent more than you have to!
The risk of theft is relatively small but cannot be ignored. Last year it was noted at the UK Festival Conference that crime rates are increasing at smaller festivals. This is because organised gangs face tougher security at larger events and so are opting for easier targets.
You should really carry your valuables around with you during the day, so a day sack is useful. Security lockers are available at some festivals, for a price. Better still, leave valuable items at home.
Children get very tired traipsing round a sprawling festival site all day. If the ground is muddy, strollers are impossible but you may be OK with a 3 wheeler. We found ones with big thin wheels the best as they glide through the mud better. If you haven’t got one of those any more, you’ll probably resort to a lot of carrying so get a hip seat to help with the strain. Or hire/buy a lovely wooden wagon.
Sure you may have circled loads of must-see acts, but if you’re having a good time where you are then why shatter that moment by running off to another stage? Enjoy the moment that you are in.
You will never see everything you wanted to, but chances are you will see many unexpected equally amazing things if you slow down and let the festival pace carry you along.
Hope to see you in a field this summer 🙂 x