Seeing your favorite musicians perform live can be a costly experience, especially when you factor in the tickets, transport and expensive water-like beers from the bar. Often big festivals can be a great way to cut your expenses, because you can see several days’ worth of music for the price of a ticket to a single concert. However, while your per-act cost decreases, festivals require a bit more planning than driving down to your local venue, such as accommodation (or camping), food and alcohol for the duration, and the unexpected costs, like those impulse festival-fashion purchases that look ridiculous as soon as they leave the festival grounds.
However, there are ways to save money so that a single festival doesn’t cost you as much as a trip to Mexico, and you don’t end up broke for the rest of the month. With a bit of planning and some self-restraint, you can cut your costs, so that you can see even more live acts.
1. Pack More Clothes And Accessories Than You Need
This suggestion might seem counterintuitive, since most packing gurus will extol the virtues of minimalism and packing as if you’re in the military. While you certainly shouldn’t be lugging several suitcases along with you for a three-day festival, having spare clothes, towels, different accessories, and everything you need will make you less likely to waste money on that $60 leather bum bag that the intimidatingly cool vendor is trying to sell you.
If you have enough outfits to suit any weather or change quickly if you’re covered in mud, you’ll be less tempted to spend money at the festival stalls with massively marked up prices. If you’re wearing something neon and realize that everyone else there is into band t-shirts, you can duck back into your tent and change rather than buying something from the merchandise tent to fit in. backup sunglasses and shoes can save the day if your main pairs are lost or ruined.
2. Invest In Good Camping Gear (Or Don’t)
A good friend of mine has worked as security at a number of festivals, and as one of the last people around, he’s had the good fortune to pick up some great camping gear and free food that punters leave behind. Towards the end of most good events, festival-goers are often hungover, tired and ready to go home, and often leave behind their entire camp set up. While a $5 blanket and broken $10 tent are not really worth packing up, there’s always a surprising amount of really good, unblemished camping gear that people leave behind.
If you know that you’re a keen camper and festival-goer, the cost of buying new crappy gear each time you venture out can add up significantly, whereas good-quality tents, tarps, shelters, and chairs can last for years, and provide more comfort if the weather changes. On the other hand, lazy campers going for their once-a-year festival can probably get away with a cheap disposable camp set up, although it won’t be the most comfortable way to go.
Most importantly is to be prepared, and make sure you look after your stuff at the festival. Work out what kind of person you are and try to guess how you’ll be feeling when it is time to pack up. If you know you’ll be a mess, leave the expensive stuff at home, and bring something cheap. Or get your shit together and pack it up.
3. Volunteer For Free Tickets
This hack has allowed me to save thousands of dollars on festival tickets when I was a time-rich and money-poor student. Depending on the length of the festival, most volunteer gigs require a 4-5 hour commitment in exchange for a free ticket. The volunteer jobs you find yourself doing can be anything from giving people wristbands, picking up rubbish in the festival ground, or running around backstage catering to the artists! It’s not always glamorous, and you might have to miss out on one or two acts, but it can save a lot of money, and provide a great insight into how a festival is run.
The best time to start hunting for volunteer gigs is at the beginning of festival season. Typically I would make a spreadsheet full of the festivals that I want to attend, and then start visiting their websites to look for the volunteer sign up. Some festivals have a very organized volunteer management system, whereas others are more ad hoc in their process. If there isn’t an easy sign-up sheet online, look for the email address of one of the organizers to ask whether you can volunteer.
Another option is to email or call whoever is in charge less than a week out from the festival. There are usually volunteers that drop out at the last minute and leave the organizers a man down. Emailing the day before a festival was how I rerouted my Californian travel plans one summer to detour to Lake Tahoe and volunteer at a yoga and music festival. Be creative, be persistent, but most of all, ask, and a stressed organizer might just be in need.
Gabby is a career hopping traveler who works with small businesses and startups when she’s not eating or sleeping.
Image via Unsplash