Borrow a tent and bring food: how to cut the cost of UK summer music festivals

Volunteer to get free passes

You can get into festivals for free by offering to work during the event. Websites such as Festaff offer easy ways to volunteer for roles such as stewarding.

Oxfam, which often has a campaigning presence at festivals, also sells goods in shops. Volunteer and you can get crew camping, a meal voucher for every shift, hot showers, free tea and coffee, and phone charging.

At the time of writing, there were still festivals you could sign up for this year, including Glastonbury on 26-30 June.

You will typically have to find money upfront for a deposit, which will be refunded once the event is over, as long as you have fulfilled your volunteering obligations.

Book travel in advance

Vix Leyton, a consumer expert and host of the False Economy podcast, recommends booking train or coach tickets in advance, which means “you can work out the cheapest times to travel, and use railcards to save even more”.

She adds: “You also get train discounts if you book for three or more people, so booking as a squad can save you money.”

If you want to travel like a VIP on a budget, she says, you can upgrade your trip with Seatfrog, an app that allows you to bid as little as £12 for same-day travel in first class and which, depending on the line, includes everything from snacks to a full catering service and bar.

Leyton also recommends carsharing, which is not only great for saving money but also better for the environment than some other options. Website Liftshare connects passengers with car drivers so that you can find someone travelling from your area.

If you opt for a coach, Big Green Coach has good deals for lots of festivals, including Leeds and Reading on 21-25 August. A return ticket to Leeds festival from Chester – just over 80 miles – will (at the time of writing) cost you £68. You can split the payment into instalments.

The four-day Shambala festival in Northamptonshire on 22-25 August encourages guests to travel in many ways, including cycling. It partners with Red Fox Cycling to offer guided bike rides to the festival site from London, Bristol and Birmingham.

Reef playing at Camp Bestival. Photograph: Dan Reid/Rex Shutterstock

Cyclist tickets are £30 cheaper than regular entry tickets because the festival is keen on sustainability. From Bristol to the festival is 150 miles across three days and will set you back £156, including camping costs and meals en route (the outward plus return price is £192). You can make a holiday out of it before you even arrive.

Save on gear and outfits

“Chat with friends about what you have as a group. Split the costs on items with a larger price point, like tents … You will probably use them together again,” says Leyton.

Check out sites such as Facebook Marketplace, and keep an eye on Lidl and Aldi, as they sometimes run summer special deals on camping and festival kit.

Natalie Hitchins, home products and services editor at consumer group Which?, says you do not need to splash the cash.

“Research has found that expensive does not always mean best – the Eurohike Snooze 200 sleeping bag (£10-£12 at some retailers) was our great value sleeping bag pick,” she says. “You could also look into borrowing or renting camping equipment rather than buying new if you don’t think you’ll use it again.”

Rental marketplace Fat Llama lists camping equipment, including tents, and some prices are about £4 a day, which is reasonable and a good option if you do not do much camping all year.

You can get a bell tent for yourself and friends if you want something bigger, which, when we looked, was £55 a day. Items on Fat Llama are offered by individuals around the country, so your choice will be limited by where you live.

It can sometimes be costly to buy accessories at festivals, so look for bargains before you go. You can also pick versatile clothes that can go with a range of looks.

The Go Thrift website has a festival vintage range, where you can get blazers for about £30 and crop tops for £15. It is also worth looking through reselling apps and sites such as Depop and Vinted for bargains.

Another option is to rent the perfect outfit. Rental platform By Rotation, which launched in 2019, has a range of items including platform boots from American festival brand Jackalope Land. They retail at £600 but, when we looked, there were some available from £24 to hire.

Don’t forget to pack a raincoat. You can find secondhand ones on eBay for about £15. Asos, Marketplace and Oxfam also have good deals.

Camping at Glastonbury: rental marketplaces such as Fat Llama offer tents for hire, as a cheaper alternative to buying. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

The consumer rights expert Martyn James says: “Your big expense should be a decent pair of comfy hiking boots and lots of thick socks. You’ll be on your feet a lot, so that’s the one item you should spend your cash on.

“However, some online sports shops seem to have a semi-permanent sale. My boots cost £40, down from £90, and are still on sale, two years on.”

Bring your own food

Food at festivals can be pricey, so it’s a good idea to pack snacks. Cereal bars are a good option for an easy and cheap breakfast.

Bring a simple gas cooking stove and you can make hot drinks using tea and coffee bags, plus instant noodles and porridge pots. You can get one from Halfords for £18.

Make sure that anything you bring on to the site is recyclable or compostable, so you do not end up with loads of waste at the end of your trip. And check that it is allowed on site: most festivals will not let you bring glass containers.

This year, Camp Bestival, in Dorset on 25-28 July, has introduced a £39.99 pass aimed at families. It offers meal tokens that cover six kids’ meals, three sweet treats and unlimited fruit and filtered water. The organisers say it saves festivalgoers on average more than 35% of the cost of buying meals and snacks separately.

James says: “If you can fit them into your luggage, toilet rolls and wet wipes will win you friends and are great for trading. A decent solar-powered phone charger is invaluable, too.”

He adds: “It sounds a bit manky, but some protein powder can save you a fortune in long queues for overpriced lentil bakes. A medium pack with a mixer (a plastic mug, basically) will mean you can eat even when you don’t feel like it – and not become an early casualty.”

James also recommends putting emergency money in a separate place to your main source of cash. He says: “Remember, you might forget where your tent is, or lose your bag. So think where you could stash some emergency cash.”

Enjoy a festival at home

The DJ and co-founder of Camp Bestival, Rob da Bank, says one option is to “bring the festival spirit to your own home”.

He adds: “Festi-themed parties and music in the garden with lots of fancy dress, dancing and food and drink can make the most memorable summer moments, especially with an added camp-out.”

The Guardian

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