Seven ways to a stress-free family festival

Magical fairgrounds, open fields to run and play, the chance to dress up and mess up – no wonder children love the new breed of family festivals! Here's our top tips

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1. Choose your Festival
It might have been dubbed as “Three Days of Peace & Music” but turn back time to theWoodstockheyday of 1969 and you’d find the festival spirit steeped in a hazy mist of marijuana and zonked-out grown-ups. Not so the new breed of family festivals that have sprouted up and blossomed in the past decade. Maybe it’s as the punks have grown up and settled down to have little punks of their own and now crave a little more sophistication, but the vibe of many festivals is firmly on family fun. And you are truly spoilt for choice with the number of festivals happily catering for families, so how do you choose?

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If you’re looking for some serious music and big names, the more established bigger festivals like Camp Bestival in Lulworth Cove, Dorset, Original Cornbury Festival near Banbury, in Oxfordshire and Latitude in Suffolk, will have some big headliners: last year, Camp Bestival had Primal Scream, Mark Ronson and Blondie; Cornbury had James Blunt, Cindi Lauper and the Faces with Mick Hucknall on lead vocals, while Latitude had Suede and Paolo Nutini. Music aside, another consideration is the size of the festival: first-timers might prefer to test the water with a smaller, more bijoux festival, like Blissfields or Larmer Tree. The Just So Festival in Cheshire, now in its third year, is definitely one of the best if you’re festivalling with babies and very young children: there’s no big name music, just lively skiffle or folksy bands and magical goings-on in the fields and woodlands. Another great way to have a ‘taster’ of festival life is to buy a one-day ticket rather than camping for the duration, or try a one-day festival like Ben & Jerry’s Double Scoop Sundae, which takes place simultameously on Clapham Common in London and Manchester – where the free ice-cream is bound to go down well.

2. Eliminate Stress factors
The festival vibe, of course, is all about peace, love and understanding, and the idea is that you get to chill out and relax too, in the delightful company of your happy brood. That moment will come, hopefully, when you’re all languishing comfortably on a big blanket, on a hazy sunshiny afternoon, listening to some great music, sipping a little libation, as your child merrily scampers and skips, catching bubbles in the air. Before then, however, you have the journey to your destination with all your clobber in tow (a consideration when choosing your festival); the queuing to get into the camp site (hence, it’s a good idea to arrive the day before, really early, or late to avoid peak times); and the joys of setting up camp (which can be fun if that’s your thing; if not, consider taking advantage of the many offerings of ready-made boutique camping from stylish yurts to pods, Airsteam motorhomes to campervans). Another option is to book a B+B in this vicinity, but bear in mind, these are likely to get booked up early, and it can be tricky organizing transportation to and from the festival site.

3. Pack THE Essentials
One of the best ways to minimize stress is to be super-organised to cover all eventualities, so it’s time for check-lists! If you’re camping, your tick-list should also include all the obvious essentials like sleeping bags, inflatable mattresses or yoga mats for more comfortable night-times, torches (and extra batteries), first-aid kit (including insect repellent, bite cream, and plasters for blisters inflicted by brand-new wellies), wet wipes, toilet roll, bin bags, snacks and drinks… It’s up to you how many home comforts you want to bring – but don’t forget to check the proximity from the car park to your pitch, which is likely to be over bumpy terrain. To make transportation easier, check whether you can hire a wheelbarrow on site or, even better, hire a wheelbarrow and a straping youth to lug it all for you. You’ll be able to buy most things on site (at a price, so don’t forget your toothbrush or literally pay – twice – the price).

Most festivals also boast an impressive showcase of great takeaway foods, from bacon butties and a cuppa (or a more wholesome smoothie) in the morning and tea and homemade WI cakes in the afternoon, to all manner of world foods from pizzas and fish and chips to more exotic curries, sushi and all sorts, so you can happily dine out from dawn till dusk if you want a break from cooking. The weather can also have a big impact on your enjoyment of festivals, so be sure to cover every climactic variation in your wardrobe, from torrential downpours (wellies that don’t leak, umbrellas, foldaway macs and waterproofs) to bursts of blazing sunshine (wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, sunshades, plenty of sunscreen). Also, pack clothes that can be worn in layers: cardigans, jumpers, leggings, even woolly tights to wear under jeans, for the possibility of chilly evenings. Endless downpours can definitely put a dampener on the festival spirit, but at least if you’re dry and warm, it’s more bearable. Finally, an essential piece of kit for babies and toddlers is a pair of Peltor Kids ear defenders to protect delicate ears from thumping baselines – and look like little rock ‘n’ rollers!

4. Dress the Part
Fancy dress is a big part of the fun for children – and quite a few grown-ups. Expect to see wacky families dressed as the Three Little Pigs or Elvis and his entourage – anything goes. There are often craft activity stations where children can make flower garlands and masks, and of course, face painting and fake tattoos are de rigueur. Festival often have dressing-up areas where children can borrow or hire outfits, and there’s often the opportunity to buy outfits too but, again they may be more costly than buying before you go. It’s also a good idea to stock up on festival memorabilia: bubbles, glowsticks, battery-operated flashing wands and, if you have a boy of a certain persuasion, weaponry (yes, even if the festivals are all about peace, you’ll find a lot of valiant young boys packing a pistol or sword for impromptu play battles in the fields). For real festival aficionados, the flamboyant festival wagon is a must – a gloriously customized Radio Flyer or pull-along truck to transport slumbering babies and flagging toddlers, nestled alongside boxes of wine. You’ll see some brilliant ones bedecked with kitsch gingham or fur-lined interiors, festooned with flags, ribbons and fairy lights – just perfect to give children a psychedelic experience too. You can also hire on some sites, but best to book in advance.

5. Get Lost Strategies
The aim is to stay together but, in all the crowds and excitement, it’s inevitable that families can sometimes get separated, so it’s a good idea to have a contingency plan. Most festival have special wrist bands for children with a space to write your mobile telephone number, and you can be doubly safe by investing in a child’s safety bracelet – they come in lots of child-friendly designs. The only trouble is that, depending on your network coverage and the site of the festival (often in a field in the middle of nowhere), mobile phone reception can be patchy. Add to that, the difficulties of keeping your phone charged over the weekend (invest in a solar charger and hope for sunshine, or visit one of the recharger stations on site, but there will usually be a charge, and a queue, for this) and this is not necessarily a fool-proof plan.

The good news is that all the family-orientated festivals will have a Lost Child policy, so point out where this tent is, as well as pointing out the T-shirts worn by officials whom your child can turn to should she get lost. Also, when you first arrive at the festival, take time to point out some landmarks to help your child get orientated, and an easy meeting place, like the Lost Child tent, should anyone go astray. A fun way to make your tent stand out among the crowds is to design a family flag and fly it high.

6. Share & Share Alike
Now you’ve got most of the organization out of the way, you might like to have a few ground rules to make sure everyone gets the most out of the festival experience. So, assuming that you don’t want to spend all of your time in the children’s tent, watching Mr Tumble or Charlie And Lola, you might want to strike up a few bargains that allows a couple of hours of kiddy time, followed by an hours dancing to the beat of, say, The Beat, or whichever band you’re looking forward to. A good ploy to try is to turn your child into a mini music fan, too, by playing Greatest Hits CDs of some of the bands appearing, so that’s she’s familiar with some of the songs she’s likely to hear – then she too can enjoy the thrills of hearing, for example, Blondie belting out Heart Of Glass.

Another trick is to let your child run wild and free in one of the adventure playground for an hour or so before the band’s appearance, so that she’ll have a snooze while you boogie (don’t forget to pack a fold-away plastic-backed blanket). If you travel with other families you can work out a duty rota to allow everyone a mix of grown-up and kiddy time. Another alternative is to book boutique babysitting, available at most festivals – again, book well in advance to avoid the disappointment of missing the headline band.

7. Chill out & Have Fun!
The most fun at a family festival, however, has to be the time you spend with your children, just sitting, daydreaming, and watching the colourful festival world go by. Or dancing barefoot in the fields with flowers in your hair, perfecting your circus skills (or failing badly to master the diablo), indulging in some arty crafts, catching a bit of light comedy or discovering that your toddler actually quite likes Ed Sherran, too. Well, he does sing about Lego houses, after all.

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For a few heavenly days, how about relaxing the usual rules and giving everyone a refreshing break. Okay, so you’re all unlikely to be at your most squeaky-clean hygienic best, but it’s only for a few days, and you can always stand in line for a shower if you really feel the need (again, go for a boutique camping option and the queues for your ‘posh showers’ are likely to be shorter). Otherwise, you can easily freshen up with some wet wipes and antibacterial hand sanitizer. And besides, won’t make it so much more fun languishing in a deep bubbling bath when you finally make it home…