Why Everyone Should Go to a Festival Solo at Least Once

Why Everyone Should Go to a Festival Solo at Least Once

Attending a music festival alone is the new frontier of solo travel. Anna Hart unpacks why everyone should try it at least once in their life…

this summer, I started daydreaming about an upcoming
trip, and something strange happened: my pulse raced, my palms
perspired, a nervous lump formed at the back of my throat. I’m
trying this new thing where I try not to suppress negative feelings
with whisky, Netflix or frenetic chatter, and so instead I threw
myself onto the bed, allowing the waves of redolently adolescent
feelings to wash over my frontal lobe, and wondered what the hell
was going on.

I’m an adventure-travel writer. And the challenge defeating me
wasn’t some three-month Antarctic feat of endurance. Instead I was
destined for Port Eliot Festival in
, to deliver lovely little adventure-travel writing
workshops, pegged to my new travel memoir, Departures: A Guide to
Letting Go, One Adventure at a Time. The following weekend, I’d be
speaking in the Books Tent at Wilderness Festival and, later in the year, in
The Imaginarium at Shambala. Why did this series of
treats and privileges loom like horrific ordeals on the horizon?
Well, thanks to a recent break-up and friends that flaked-out for
various reasons, I’d be going to all three festivals alone.

Somehow, showing up solo to a festival felt scary. I’m one of
the UK’s mouthiest advocates of solo adventure travel at the
moment, and the irony of being emotionally floored at the thought
of getting myself to a handful of music festivals in order to
promote my book about solo adventure travel was not lost on me.
Travelling alone around Laos made me feel bold.
Paddling a kayak across Sweden
solo felt serene. Turning up at
a festival alone, well, that made me feel like a loser.

Festivals, I suppose, have been comprehensively fetishised over
the past decade, wrangled by our imaginations, Instagram feeds and
Vodafone adverts into something so much greater than a glorified
gig. Attending a festival is proof of social worth, an exercise in
personal brand building, with cultural capital to be gleaned from
attending the right £250 gathering in a field. As well as being
about fun (which they still are), festivals are about status and
therefore shot through with status anxiety, where we feel critiqued
on our families and friendship circle. They are billed as sexy and
romantic affairs, where couples bond frenetically over shared
delight or ambivalence in bands, half-pills and vegan tacos. A
place where bohemian families gather merrily around child-barrows
and cavort with goblets of homemade mojitos. Or where entire tribes
of aggressively be-sequinned university chums Instagram the shit
out of each other while smearing glitter from body to body, much
like the clap. Festivals are not marketed as trips where lone
30-year-old females pitch up alone.

Then there were the sheer logistics of it all – and nothing
makes me feel lonelier than logistics. The challenge of getting
myself, my tent, all my camping gear, along with my laptop and
presentable clothing to Cornwall via buses and trains and Doc
Marten boots suddenly seemed insurmountable. For the first time,
really, since my break-up, I felt glaringly single and unsupported
and alone. Finally I dragged my camping gear out of the basement,
bought a Terra Nova one-man tent that rolls up to the size of a
wine bottle, and realised that I could just about cram everything I
needed into my Millican rucksack. Admittedly, weather-wise, I’d be
winging it: travelling with little more than four vintage dresses,
a pair of cowboy boots, some oatcakes and a hip flask of mezcal.
But one of my top travel tips has always been this: wing it.
Because “winging it” means doing something you might not have done

This summer became my summer of winging solo festival-going. And
I LOVED it. I was a nimble, highly effective festival-goer, able to
leap out of bed at 9.45 to catch Lucy Mangan at 10am in Port
Eliot’s Bowling Green, or manoeuvre between stages and bars in
minutes rather than hours. In a festival posse of more than three,
it seems you’re always waiting for someone to come back from the
portaloos or the bar. I was a selfish festival goer, and I
extracted maximum juice from this particular fruit. I drank and ate
better, because I didn’t get caught up in rounds of ciders and
could follow my own tastebuds rather than settling for the most
crowd-pleasing food truck.

The moment I arrived at Port Eliot and pitched up my tiny tent,
I was greeted by three lovely female crew workers, who encircled me
like protective witches, checked in on me at night – “Are you
safely back, Irish?” – and even stuffed my rucksack back into my
tent when it began re-raining as I attempted to dry off my soggy
sleeping bag.

The unseasonable lashing of rain at Port Eliot only tightened
the nuts and bolts on our hastily assembled pop-up civilisation.
Every successful festival is a pop-up community, a firefly city, a
fleeting society, and a successful festival brokers bonds fast. I
relied on them at Port Eliot, Wilderness and Shambala. I sank into
them gratefully, and I felt their support. The thing about support
is that you don’t notice it until you need it.

There was the Australian stag
, a party of twenty men and women, who adopted me as I lay in
the grass at Wilderness and kept me on as a dancing companion all
night. There were the delightful families of naturists I met as I
swam in the lake here too, and joined for a naked pop quiz at the
Club House, grabbing bare waists as I did my own (fully clothed)
conga around the room to ABBA songs.

There were countless supportive smiles, faces I saw over and
over again in myriad mosh pits and around moonlit firepits, and
even the food-truck chefs and traders I saw at all three festivals,
who all played their part in making my lone festival experience
entirely unlonely. As a solo traveller, you are only ever as alone
as you want to be – and festivals are feasts of faces, so perhaps,
it makes sense to show up hungry.

Anna Hart’s travel memoir, Departures: A Guide to Letting Go,
One Adventure at a Time
was published by Little, Brown & Co
in February 2018.

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