The Van Mag Guide to Doing Festivals in Your 30s

Yes, sleeping outside will hurt your back

June 29, 2016

By Max Mitchell

We sent three generation-spanning teams (20s, 30s, and 40s) up to Squamish last year to see if music festivals really are for everyone. In other words, it’s worth a read before you book your Burning Man tickets.

At some point in recent history, music festivals became synonymous with camping. For those of us who would rather attend a funeral than sleep in a tent, that meant going to a music fest became about as likely as knitting a new car out of baguettes.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that Squamish Music Festival did not force its attendees to spend all three days living on the festival grounds, penned up like cult devotees. Armed with a new-found confidence that I would not be sleeping trapped in damp nylon surrounded by drug-addled minors, I opted to attend my first music festival in over a decade.

As a general rule, my baseline attitude towards camping lies somewhere between “why?” and “never,” but I do have true affection towards Sunwolf, a riverside Squamish campground that has renovated cabins and places to pitch a tent. Despite the proximity to nature, Sunwolf’s biggest attraction is its on-site restaurant, Fergie’s Cafe. It may look like a collection of picnic tables strewn about someone’s backyard, but the food is next-level glorious. I have literally driven 45 minutes just to eat their pulled pork hash, so sleeping as close to Fergie’s as humanly possible was my goal.

Screen-Shot-2016-05-13-at-2.55.08-PM
Another delicious morning at Fergie’s cafe

Unfortunately, my preferred Sunwolf accommodation, the coveted “logger’s cabin,” was unavailable. In fact, all of the cabins were unavailable, which forced my partner and I into one of their many tent-friendly—I don’t even know what they’re called—plots?

Determined not to sleep on the ground, we booked a camper van to provide both shelter and transportation. The van came from a “glamping” company called Wicked Campers and, I kid you not, was decked out in a psychedelic paint job that included a surfing eyeball and E.T. with a handlebar mustache. My girlfriend hated it. I loved it. Especially when I accidentally cut another driver off and realized that the words “When people talk behind your back, just fart” were emblazoned across the back of the van.

ET-van
Our cool ride was from Glamping Hub, with multiple other designs available. We spruced it up with some Ikea accessories to make things a little homier.

Accommodation
If at all possible, do your research and book accommodations as early as possible. As whimsical as it may feel to make a last-minute decision to hop in your sedan and beeline it towards your nearest Bumbershoot or Mountain Music Fest, you can pretty much count on sleeping in your car if you haven’t booked things ahead of time. You’re going to be spending 95 percent of your time at the festival, so don’t overpay for a hotel with tons of amenities you likely won’t use. Instead, try to book accommodation that offers frequent shuttle service to and from the festival grounds, because when it’s 2:00 a.m. and Drake has just wrapped his set, you will have zero patience for the time and distance between you and sleep.

Food
Lately music festivals have been putting more emphasis on offering a higher quality of food and beverage, but when we’re talking about taking a step up from sunflower seeds and fries, the results have been … interesting. Case in point, at last year’s Squamish Musical Festival I ate a $12 lobster corn dog that tasted exactly like a regular corn dog. Sure, when the concession kid asked me how it was, beaming from ear-to-ear with pride, I lied and said it was amazing, but inside I was cursing my Pavlovian response to food on a stick. Thankfully, most festivals allow outside food and drink, so load up a backpack full of dried fruit and nuts, wasabi peas, and maybe even some cured meat (pre-slice the meat, though, as security won’t take kindly to you wielding a knife of any kind). By bringing high-calorie snacks, you’ll stay satiated and keep your beer buzz respectable. You’ll also save some money by avoiding the festival mark-ups and you’ll spend less time lining up for food and more time wondering what kind of parent would let their teenager attend this thing without a chaperone.

backpack
We took waterproof backpacks from Fjallraven and snacks to avoid hanger where possible

Fashion and Regret
Oh, and go buy yourself a rain poncho. Do it now. I’m serious. If you’re at work, stand up from your desk, don’t say a word to anyone, fix a steely gaze and walk directly to your nearest rain poncho outlet and buy a simple, clear, cheap rain poncho. If you don’t do this now, you will regret it. I am the proud owner of the world’s least-stylish $35 black wind breaker (tapered sleeves!?) because I did not take my own advice and purchase a rain poncho in advance. At the first sight of clouds, every rain poncho in the whatever small town the festival is nearest to will dissipate into the ether and you will find yourself thumbing through the racks at the local Mark’s Work Warehouse. Your heart will turn black, as black as your new un-ventilated off-brand jacket.

Read about doing a music festival in your 20s here >>>

Read about doing a music festival in your 40s here >>>

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