Festivals with kids: a survival guide
I remember going to my first festival pre-children as a young care-free twenty something and seeing what I thought at the time was a 'perfect' family. The children had long mops of hair, were in cute fancy dress outfits with wellies and they were mucky and happy. The whole family seemed so relaxed and happy… how cool, how perfect, how easy it all seemed. I remember seeing them and in that moment saying to Liam, "That will be us one day, they’re the kind of parents I want us to be." (HA HA HA)
What I’ve actually learnt since becoming an actual real life parent with kids and going to festivals with them is that the happy, relaxed brief moment in time which I had based my whole parenting style on all those years ago actually takes a whole lot of preparation, patience and organisation. And even when you’ve thought of absolutely everything there will probably still be quite a few tears and tantrums because, y'know… kids.
But what I’ve also learnt over the last four years of going to festivals with kids is that they can be so much fun and a wonderfully magical escape for all the family to let go, enjoy and get away from the routine and reality of life for a few days.
The most important thing is choosing the right kind of festival, preferably one that has a specific children’s area and lots going on for them too. Latitude in Suffolk is the one for us. It’s not too far from where we live, it has an award winning children’s area and it always has such an eclectic mix of things going on with some of our favourite music, comedy and drama acts headlining over the years. But there's so many to choose from, Camp Bestival, The Big Feastival and Jimmy's Festival.
The great thing about most festivals is that you can always get day tickets which are less expensive and don’t require as much preparation and packing and can be quite good practise before the full on camping experience.
If and when you feel ready for the full camping experience it is worth getting a decent sized tent, ours is a six person tent, which has two bedrooms and a living area and that gives our family of four plenty of space. I like to ‘glamp’ it up and take pretty blankets, bunting and fairy lights to decorate and give it that proper festival feel... much to my husbands annoyance as it means more to carry.
Having plenty of food and drink is also essential in keeping the kids satisfied and staving off any ‘hangry’ outbursts (for me too). We always take mini packs of cereal, long life milk, plenty of fruit that can last in the heat and snacks like crisps, biscuits, croissants and brioche. We tend to budget so we can eat our lunch and dinners out because festival food is so good and it's much less hassle. Keeping food fresh can be quite difficult and preparing dinners unless you're a seasoned camper can be tricky. But if you are, then pasta meals are a quick and easy camp stove option.
Whatever you do, do not forget your alcohol! Wine and beers to have back at the tent in the evening once the kiddos are in bed asleep = bliss.
We’ve always been pretty lucky with the weather and had sunshine but that can be quite tough as the kids get hot, bothered and grumpy. We look for the shade and undercover activities and always take wellies and raincoats in case too.
Latitude has an area that gives children free drinks, fruit, sun cream and a play area (like a nursery) and also does ‘baby bath time’ so you can bath your baby before bed – genius!
Aside from all the important safety stuff like ear defenders, suncream, food/drink etc the single most important thing that you can take or buy for kids at festivals though is... bubbles! No joke, their bubbly little magic has saved us many times! The kids go crazy for them and we get to watch our favourite bands and drink cold festival beer in relative peace, win-win!
During the evenings we take a double bike buggy so we can fit both the boys in and they can fall asleep in it. We decorate it with fairy lights and and pop pillows and blankets in it so they're comfy and we can enjoy the headliners (ear defenders also help with that). But if it's all getting a bit too much we're always happy to retreat and head back to the campsite if needed.
(I mentioned taking alcohol right?!)
As with everything in life though, compromise is the only way to do it, we spend lots of time doing the things they want to do, last year we watched lots of kids shows, went on a walk through the woods with the Gruffalo, made superhero capes, Loch got to screen print his own t-shirt and we all joined in making mud pies in the woods. It's where we tend to have the most fun these days. But we try and make sure we watch the bands we want too, one of my happiest memories is Loch sat on Liam's shoulders rocking out to the Maccabees and loving every minute of it. Another is having to hitch my dress up and feed Arlo because he was tired and a bit beside himself while Loch was laying next to me rocking out... in those moments we are the 'happy' festival family I dreamt we would be all those years ago... briefly, until the next crazy overtired meltdown anyway.