The alternative festival survival guide

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Spork: yes. Didgeridoo: no. Washing: never. Festival first-timers listen up – you could be just one false move away from spinal damage or inadvertently flashing your parents ...

Get in (and go home) early

As the age of austerity continues to kick workers in the wallet, long weekends continue to replace expensive foreign holidays for many.

Increasing numbers of folk, then, are arriving early to milk the maximum amount of value out of their tickets and wristbands – with many sites opening an extra day early this year. As a result, arriving on Thursday (or even Wednesday in some cases) is now near-compulsory if you want to nab a decent camping space well away from the hum of the toilets. Doing this also means less distress about leaving early: there's something pretty liberating about making a traffic-free dash for home on the Sunday afternoon, rather than facing up to the waking hell of a Monday morning hangover-and-everyone-trying-to-exit-at-the-same time scenario.

Avoid the 5am warzone

Nobody goes to a festival for a good sleep, and no amount of muffling is going to save you from Skrillex or Cancer Bats should you opt to turn in for an early night. But the humble earplug is still an essential. Why? Because as the average age of punters and the number of families attending events soar, campsites are increasingly becoming hateful battlegrounds between youthful big-gobs who (understandably) want to have an all-night party, and knackered parents who (understandably) want to get a few hours kip. Luckily, £2 worth of sponge from Boots can avert these two worlds colliding – and if you're on the party side of the divide, it'll stop those irritating kids from waking you up when you're trying to sleep it off.

Raise a flag

Unless you're the sort of outdoorsy Oddie oddball who can read the stars and work out what direction you're facing, you're going to spend much of your time at any festival utterly disorientated. The doomsday scenario involves putting up your tent, enjoying several pints of nutty local ale, then returning to the campsite only to find five thousand identical abodes have been erected ("ours is the blue one, no?"): you're kipping in a bush. A visual marker, then, is utterly invaluable, be it Spongebob Squarepants up a pole or a laminated Lamb Of God LP. And no: not a cross of St George. As Euro 2012 looms large, 17,480 other people will have already had that idea.

Prepare to 'go dark'

Like Jack Bauer on black ops, be aware of the fact that festival land is a treacherous third-world country with abysmal communication links. Mobile networks tend to melt at bigger gatherings as thousands try to stay connected, and at more isolated events there may be no signal at all. Don't bank on texts reaching destinations: instead make old school plans to meet up with people at set places and times. To preserve battery, turn all the settings down on your contraption (contrast, volume, brightness), turn vibrate off, and stay off the 'net: who wants to know what the muggles in the real world are doing, anyway? With any luck, it'll still be there on Monday.

Don't make any major life decisions

Being in a truly wonderful place surrounded by delightful smiling people can sometimes be so overwhelming that you start feeling strange new emotions like love, compassion and happiness. In this curious altered state, you'll probably decide you've had enough of life as accounts manager of a small West Midlands-based gasket firm, and would much rather become a Tai Chi instructor or organic farmer. This may be absolutely true, but remember: now isn't the time to act. Look in the mirror. You've got your face painted like a tiger, right? This is not reality. Do not phone your boss and tell them to shove it. Do not impulsively propose to your loved one via a Jumbotron TV. Do not announce that you're moving to India to study meditation. By Monday morning, you'll be back at your desk with a liver full of hate and a bad coffee. Decide then.

B.Y.O.B.

Festival booze now costs roughly the same per gram as platinum, so get yourself clued up on what you can and can't bring in, and decant spirits into plastic containers (vodka can be passed off as water – take that, the man!) Remember: most places won't allow glass bottles, so load yourself up like a Welsh pit pony.

Take a tall person

Tall people – preferably over six foot five – are a terrific asset at festivals. If you don't know one, look up and try to befriend one before going. Make the overgrown galoot wear a distinctive hat and carry a flare or torch, and hey presto: a lanky beacon visible from up to half a mile away, to act as a reference point for any ragtag band of travellers.

Follow the worst diet imaginable

There are several reasons to go junk food crazy during festival season. Firstly, it's a delicious and irresponsible way in which to act, which is part of the point of being there. More significantly however, if you carefully eliminate fibre, vitamins and general goodness, it's possible that your digestive system will seize up for long enough to avoid the horrors of the "long drop" toilets. Have an apple when you get home, eh? And if you're going to bring grub along with you, go for bread, cake and stuff that still tastes good after it has got squashed in your bag. Perfect.

Don't 'get them out'

Your dad's watching on BBC3 and the broadsheet "reportage" photographers are everywhere, you know.

In the land of the big bagged man, the spork is king

Travel light, and try and make as many of the things you can bring multi-purpose. Whether it's a spork or one of those five quid devices from Maplin that incredibly managed to be both a torch and a mobile phone charger, the solution to osteopath-worrying mega-backpack weight is out there. When it comes to bringing valuables to a festival, mentally rewind to the film Gone In 60 Seconds and think: what would Nicolas Cage do? Never bring anything that you'll regret losing. Because you will lose it, sieve-head.

Be carefree

Timetables are for buses, and making plans are for dullards who sit on borough councils and say things like "going forward" in meetings. By all means make sure you catch a favourite band, but for the rest of the time, ditch the map and roam the site like a carefree tinker, seeing what wonders cross your path. It'll almost certainly be worth it, whether you catch an unknown act that turn out to be superb, rave at a silent disco or get healed by a hippy. Virtually every festival now has much more to it than a big stage and lager kiosk. If you don't venture much beyond them, you're bypassing 90 per cent of the fun.

Don't dress to impress

Beta Band frontman-turned-solo artist Steve Mason once declared: "the key to a successful festival is lots of pockets to put your bits in, like a children's entertainer's dungarees." He's got a point: the ultimate festival outfit would be a multi-zipped gimp suit made from detachable binbags and wellington rubber. Until this beautiful dream becomes a reality, the simple basics of sturdy boots, sunglasses, something warm, a waterproof and a hat are perennial winners. Pack enough gear for a small fashion show and you'll only regret the heft of your bag and the mud-stained garments.

Do not create a miniature shanty town

By all means camp alongside your mates, but please try to avoid the temptation to create a Waco-style complex with barriers and ropes around it – it's galling for anyone else trying to negotiate the site, closes off valuable space that other people could use, and it's shamefully anti-social, anti-festival behaviour of the worst ilk. Incidentally, if you're thinking about bringing a gazebo to a music festival, perhaps you should consider not going to a music festival – you gazebo-owning oaf.

Prepare to stink

Humming is a great leveller, and the process of cleaning yourself to a vaguely civilized level is a headache – lengthy queues for water and people tutting as you huddle under the tap for your second round of shampooing. It's liberating, therefore, to make the early decision to abandon all sense of decency and embrace the rot. It's only for a few days, after all – and the bath you have when you get home will be the most satisfying of the year. If you boringly insist on some level of hygiene, however, the basic baby wipe and anti-bacterial hand gel are life savers.

Do not bring a Didgeridoo

Unless you're a genuine, full-blown Aborigine. In which case, crack on.

Avoid the post-festival blues

Ask a seasoned festival-goer how to avoid the horrors of a Monday back on civvy street, and they'll tell you to keep drinking. But while five lunchtime pints may be a soothing option if you're the drummer in Primal Scream, it isn't an option for most of us, especially if you drive a bus for a living. Instead, get as much sleep as you can before returning to the grind, take milk thistle in a futile attempt to appease your liver, drink water and – if possible – try to carry the positivity you nurtured over the weekend back to work. Good luck!

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