As anyone who enjoys getting wet, muddy, bruised and sore in the name of live music knows, packing and preparing for a music festival in the UK is stressful enough. But what about international events, where there's also a whole new part of the world to explore, not to mention the joys (and frustrations) of airline packing restrictions, unfamiliar public transport systems and scorching temperatures? That’s where this guide comes in. Consider it a cheat sheet for making the most of your next international music festival (especially if it’s doubling up as your summer holiday).
All my tips and tricks are from personal experience, having tried and (somewhat) failed to cram Primavera festival, a Barcelona city break and a Spanish beach holiday into one week last year. They’re also predominantly geared towards other European music festivals — namely my upcoming trip to Budapest’s Sziget festival (taking place this year from 10th to 15th August).
Don’t forget your tickets to the festival and your travel tickets
It seems obvious but you probably secured your festival tickets so long ago that it’s easy to forget them — or to forget that you need to consider how you travel to the festival. Plan your journey well in advance to secure the cheapest flights, train or coach tickets (early birds always make a saving). It’s also worth checking whether your festival offers any all-inclusive packages or travel additions — like Sziget's airport shuttle bus — which can remove a lot of the stress. You’re likely to meet other festivalgoers on your flight or airport collection so it’s a great way to make new friends, too.
Double-check your passport is valid (and make sure you don’t lose it)
When we went to Primavera in 2022, the festival coincided with my friend’s birthday. Perfect, we thought. We can celebrate with sangria and tapas at the beach during the day and then out at the festival in the evening! That was until my friend realised her passport had almost expired. She got a slot for an emergency passport but the appointment was in Glasgow — and we live in London. Overall my friend had to shell out £50 for the flight up there and £155 for the fast-track passport renewal. Moral of the story: Double-check that your passport is valid for European travel, especially since the rules changed when the UK left the EU. Most EU countries now require your passport to have been issued less than 10 years before you are due to enter the country and to expire at least three months after the date you return home. You can check the travel advice (and up-to-date COVID information) for your country here.
Once you’re all set with a valid passport, you don’t want to lose it. You may need to carry it with you as your ID so get yourself a handy passport carrier. If not, most hotel rooms have a safe where you can store anything valuable.
Consider getting travel insurance for health and other emergencies
Health insurance rules have also changed since we left the EU. If your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is still in date, then it’s still valid; if not, you can apply for a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which is very similar. Both should cover you for an unplanned A&E visit. For everything else it’s best to consider getting additional travel insurance — you’ll be so glad of it if you get ill or in other emergencies like theft, lost luggage and accommodation cancellations. Head to the NHS website for more information on healthcare abroad.
Print off all your important documents and itinerary
This sounds very 'dad in airport mode' but if disaster strikes, you’ll want to be able to access all the important information quickly. Your phone battery is a precious commodity at a festival so it's a good idea to have all this info printed out rather than saved in your emails or notes app. In a similar vein, this year I’ll be writing out a full itinerary of our travel information: where we’re staying, how we're getting to and from the festival, the artists we want to see and when they’re on, plus any other key information. I'll store it carefully in a mini notebook or folder that doesn't take up too much space in my bag.
Think about your accommodation carefully and plan your travel to the festival
Whichever festival you’re off to, you need to do your research about your accommodation. Sziget, for instance, offers free onsite camping (basic camping only) as the festival is held on the island of Óbudai-sziget in the Danube (read our guide to camping festival essentials here). If your festival is mainland-based or if, like me, you want to experience city life, then things get a little more tricky.
Last year my friends and I booked an Airbnb in the heart of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter — it was the perfect base for exploring tourist hotspots and wandering around the city's winding alleyways. We didn't anticipate, however, that this would make getting home at night difficult. Primavera is held at Parc del Fòrum, on the coast towards the north of Barcelona, so when the music finished in the wee hours, we found ourselves traipsing the streets around the venue, looking for night buses and trying to flag down taxis.
I’ve since learned to double- and triple-check public transport at all hours of the day and night, adding these routes to my itinerary. I’ll also be making the most of Sziget's Citypass, which gets you unlimited public transport for three, five or nine days. Since a lot of your money at an international festival goes on travel, this is a no-brainer — plus it’s perfect for those who want to sightsee. You can also use it from the airport straight to your accommodation. If you really want to take the stress out of the equation, some festivals partner with nearby hostels and hotels (Sziget has teamed up with Márton Áron Hostel, a 20-minute walk away), though these can be more expensive. If you have the time, I suggest doing some window shopping and comparing prices.
Do your research and pack accordingly
What does the weather forecast look like? How is the venue set out? What's the local currency? What have you got planned each day? The best way to prepare for any music festival (or holiday) is to pack lightly but wisely, doubling up on items where you can. Check what your Airbnb, hotel or hostel provides so as not to pack unnecessary items (this often includes things like towels, toiletries and a hairdryer) and communicate with your travel buddies — you don't all need to bring a pair of hair straighteners and one first aid kit between you will be plenty.
Most importantly, know your luggage allowance
There’s nothing worse than packing for a holiday only to realise at the airport that your suitcase is too big or too heavy and you have to shell out for the excess. To avoid this, shop carefully for a case that fits your airline’s requirements. These are the free-bag dimensions for the most popular airlines:
My go-to for short city staycations is the Cabin Max Anode 30L Underseat Case, £46.95. Measuring 45 x 36 x 20 cm and weighing 2.2kg, it's designed to fit easyJet's free luggage requirements. Mine has seen me through many a budget flight and I'll be packing it again for Sziget (I love that it's a hard case). If you're flying Ryanair, which has even more restrictive size requirements (40 x 25 x 20 cm), then I recommend Aerolite's 3 in 1 Cabin Luggage, £42.99. The best budget buy is SZLX's Large Travel Backpack, £33.99, which measures 42 x 31 x 17 cm and opens up like a suitcase, with lots of pockets and compartments to keep your things organised.
If you're willing to pay a little more for a cabin bag, then the following are at the top of our list. A travel backpack especially is a must for those travelling to international camping festivals. For the best of both worlds, Eastpak's Strapverz S, £150, combines a backpack with a wheeled suitcase (its dimensions are 51 x 32.5 x 24 cm).
Pack savvy with packing cubes
Make the most of the space you have with packing cubes. These are great because they also force you to prioritise the essentials.
Buy your liquids there
The great thing about most European music festivals is that they take place near or in a city and you’re allowed on and off site each day. This means you can easily stock up on toiletries once you’ve arrived.
Be heatwave-ready and sun-safe
Packing for a music festival in Europe is very different from packing for one in the UK, mainly because the weather tends to be better (especially if you’re heading to southern Europe). Prepare for hot weather — you’ll be outside, dancing and sweating for hours on end, and not many festivals are known for having lots of shade coverage. Pack a sunhat, sunglasses, SPF (these are our favourites), after-sun, a hand fan and a refillable water bottle. If you're staying offsite in a hotel or Airbnb, you'll be extra far from your suitcase so make sure you have everything you need before you head out for the day.
Prepare for chafing
Wear comfortable shoes
You won’t just be dancing and walking miles around the festival site, you’ll also be pounding the city streets as a tourist. Be sure to pack only your most comfortable shoes (and whatever socks you need to wear with them). As it’s likely to be hot where you’re heading, we recommend a pair each of sturdy trainers and supportive sports sandals — cool, chunky styles like these from Timberland are great for nights out, too.
Pack swimwear just in case (yes, even for the festival)
Because of the beautiful weather and their beachside locations, many European festivals also offer the opportunity to cool off in the sea, pool or lake. Top of my list for Sziget is the festival’s own private beach (complete with a Tanqueray gin bar). I’ll be wearing a bikini in case there’s a chance of an afternoon dip and sunbathing.
Get yourself a hands-free bag that works as a carry-on
A brilliant way to minimise your packing is to take items that do multiple jobs. A hands-free bag — be it cross-body or a backpack — that fits your airline’s carry-on restrictions is a great shout (sometimes you can sneak a small cross-body bag through the gate if you keep it on yourself). Opt for one that's not too bulky and has thick straps for comfort and lots of pockets to hold all your essentials. A neutral colour will match all your outfits.
Get yourself a battery pack
Even if you’re heading back to a hotel room with charging points at the end of the day, a battery pack is a festival must. You’ll likely be using your phone for everything, from taking pictures and videos to paying for food and following the festival map, so your battery will probably deplete far quicker than usual (yet another reason to write down all the important info about where you’re staying. You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere, at night, with a dead phone and without the address of your Airbnb!). I've taken this Anker power bank to Primavera and two Glastonburys and it hasn't failed me yet.
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