5 Things I learned festivalling with a toddler

Before committing to travelling the continent next year, I thought it prudent to see what the reality of camping with a toddler was like, versus my insta-worthy daydreams. I also wanted to see how Ava would find camping, and being outdoors for days on end. Would she get bored? Would she cope with the change of routine (i.e. no routine at all)? Would she be unsettled without her home comforts? A fun, introductory way to try this, I thought, would be to hijack mum’s camper again, and fulfil another long held dream by taking Ava to a family friendly festival for a weekend. I was envious of friends who’d spent their summers in heady abandon at festivals in their twenties, and had dreams of being one of those hip families who packed the kids in the car with the wellies, glitter and a carrier bag of gin-in-a-tin and spent the weekend partying with face-painted friends while our kids rioted around the campsite together. 

Trying to make this happen turned out to be harder than I thought. The ticket prices were extortionate this late in the day, and camper van passes on top of your regular entry ticket were eye wateringly expensive. Plus, all of my friends, no matter how hip, were having sensible family holidays in villas with pools. I couldn’t blame them.

Then, by chance, a colleague advertised her family ticket to Wilderness on Facebook, saying she could no longer use it and would sell it for half price. It seems to be a sign. I’d been especially enticed by Wilderness as the line up of family events sounded like a bohemian Disneyland. Plus there was a lake for wild swimming, which is something I intend to do a lot of while travelling. The ticket was for the family camping area, which meant camping in a tent, which I was apprehensive about. The last time I had set up a tent was my Duke of Edinburgh challenge 20 years ago. I didn’t even own one, or a camping stove, or the other myriad of things you need to sustain a family outdoors for 4 days. And how would I manage setting it all up by myself whilst responsible for a toddler whose favourite game is ‘chase’ and has no concept of getting lost? After a lot of asking around, I persuaded my sister to come with us for the first 2 nights so I at least had help setting up and settling in, and I discovered that one of my oldest friends would be there too, albeit in a different campsite. Things were looking up. Handmate Matt leant us a tent and stove, my mum supplied sleeping bags, and we were set!!

So, what did I learn, what would I do differently next time, and what tips do I have for others wanting to pop their family festival cherry? Here are 5 things I learned at Wilderness…

  1. Smoothies are an amazing way of getting nutrition into your child. 

Did you know Tesco has an entire aisle of dehydrated food? Neither did I, and I thought I had hit the festival jackpot when I found a pot of Disney Instant cheesy pasta, just add water, with Elsa beaming on the front. How perfect for a camping trip – what toddler wouldn’t want to eat that?! Mine. I bought one for each evening, dutifully boiled the water on our precarious camping stove, flinching any time Ava came near, and threw away each pot untouched every night. Instead, she ate chips, ice-cream, and more chips, and a bit of battered fish. By the morning of day 3 the mum guilt was real and I had visions of her developing scurvy, and then I remembered the smoothie stand. I ordered the aptly named ‘hangover cure’ for myself, and was amazed and relieved when she asked to try it and downed the lot – kale and all. All of her 5 a day consumed by 10am. Kid happy, mum happy, wallet less happy (£4 for a smoothie?!), but the peace of mind was worth it.

2. Forget the schedule.

Remember the Bohemian Disneyland line up? I had tried to memorise the running order of each tent prior to arriving, to ensure that we didn’t miss any potential for #makingmemories. I was expecting to hop from puppet show to craft activity to dress up time and finish with the kids disco every night. What happened was that we arrived at camp at 7pm on Thursday night, set up camp, made (and threw away) dinner, and by then it was 9:30 and we were ready for bed. Ava, however, was having the time of her life bouncing around the tent and didn’t pass out until 11pm. As a result, she conked out in my arms the following day before the activities had even started, and slept for 3 hours!! We missed all the shows I’d planned to see, and when she woke I spent a good hour trying to find something she’d eat (fish and chips turned out to be the answer). We went back to the family area and nothing seemed to be running to time, and I realised that trying to schedule the day was pointless. Instead we went back to camp to grab our swimming things and headed to the lake. We spent the next 2 days in free flow, following Ava’s lead, resting and exploring while she napped and allowing her to choose what interested her rather than marching her from tent to tent. We didn’t ‘do’ as many of the things as I’d hoped, but I spend my life dashing from home to nursery to work to home to playdate to lunches and ushering Ava along impatiently alongside me, so it was important for me to let go of ‘the plan’ for once, and just go with the flow. The nightly disco was a winner though, and I’m proud to report that, after witnessing our skills, the host invited my sister and I onstage to demonstrate The Macarena to a tent full of baffled kids. #stillgotit.

3. Make sure you do something for you each day

In spite of my attempts to ‘let go’ of a plan and focus on Ava, I did suffer a bit of #FOMO, watching the childless adults enjoy a very different weekend to the one I was experiencing. As well as indulging in yoga, debates and crafts by day, the bleery-eyed people queuing for coffee and cheesy crumpets each morning signalled a hell of a party the night before that I’d inevitably had to forego – never before have I envied someone’s hangover. I had wanted to join a class or watch a talk during one of Ava’s naps, but the trouble with naps is you never really know when they were going to happen, or how long they are going to last! So scheduling your adult time is hit and miss. On the Saturday, while Ava napped, I decided to explore the Green Crafts area, abound with opportunities to create, forge, hone and whittle. I found a tent offering workshops in natural toiletries – perfume, hand sanitiser and bath bombs – bingo! It took 10 minutes, was relaxing and creative, and I got to make something I knew I’d enjoy using the night I got home. A small win, but it was enough. And then I was content to follow Ava’s lead for the rest of the afternoon. If you’re one of those hip families going with friends then I’d suggest taking it turns to mind the kids so you each get some grown up time to enjoy what the festival has to offer. And if you’re brave enough to go solo, then make the most of nap time!

4. Take a decent buggy or trolley

The buggy was a lifesaver for me and I put it through its paces!! I initially wasn’t keen to take it as pushing it round a field sounded like hard work for a mama who’s toddler is a serial buggy-refuser. Lots of families take or rent festival trollies for the weekend – basically a bed on wheels that you can heap stuff or children on as you see fit, often adorned with bunting and fairy lights. Some people had really gone to town with their trollies and my iCandy was feeling a little square in comparison, so on the first morning we headed to the kids crafting tent and made some metallic pink and gold bunting to decorate it with (which is still going strong!). Seriously though, the buggy was essential for carting our camping gear from the car to the field, hauling a day’s worth of snacks, water, clothes, sanitiser and sun cream, and keeping us mobile while sleeping beauty napped each day. And far cheaper than renting a trolley for £5ph.

5. Toddlers are a great way to pick up friends!

I was nervous about being alone at the festival with Ava – nervous about feeling lonely, bored, overwhelmed – but I needn’t have been. Cute kids are like friend magnets. Everywhere we went she caught people’s attention, and as she’s naturally sociable she makes buddies easily. And where there are kids, there are parents, all in the same boat and generally happy to adopt couple of strays. On the first evening while watching Jake Bugg I spied a gang with a toddler about Ava’s age – we made a beeline for them and within minutes Ava and Frieda were comparing ear defenders and chasing each other in circles. Meanwhile I was able to have a boogie with the grown ups and enjoy some adult conversation. Another evening Ava had a dance off with a man dressed as a crayola crayon, who then bought me a drink. I should take her out more often!

Anyone else out there festivalled alone or have any other tips for next time? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below…

3 thoughts on “5 Things I learned festivalling with a toddler

  1. We festivalled with babies, toddlers and young children! We loved it and tell our 22 year old that he likes Chumawamba because he saw them live at the age of three months. We stopped for a while when the eldest turned 13, as many festivals at the time forbade young teenagers to to the drugs issue. I don’t know if that’s still the case.

    The downside: I lost our then 6 year old youngest son at Glade. Gone from my side in a split second. Very frightening, although the crowd around me all joined the hunt for him. The worst bit was realizing that Security were slashing open tents to look for him –they were assuming a kidnapping. Of course the monkey had somehow found Daddy in the food queue, who was then apprehended by Security and brought to me for confirmation that he was was indeed legit. Didn’t need to tell the monkey off, his big brother (all of 10 years) did that very well and was applauded by a relieved crowd…..

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  2. Wow! You are clearly one of those hip families I have envied. Losing your son must have been traumatic – I obsessive compulsively sharpied my mobile number on Ava’s arm every few hours for fear of losing her! Her favourite game is ‘chase’, which is not great in a crowd. I lost her once when I thought she was playing right outside the tent and came out to find her gone – but thankfully she was just few tents down.

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