By Holly Downes
The UK population, I’ve noticed, is sharply divided into two categories: those who long to spend their summer camping in overgrown fields and those who grimace at the very thought. Undeniably, I fall into the latter. The thought of having to hike two kilometres to just go to the toilet, and waking up suffocating in an unbreathable polyester cocoon, with only a flimsy sheet as protection from whatever lies underneath, falls far short of being appealing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the freedom that comes with camping is rewarding. Of not being physically confined to one location, the giddy feeling of crawling into a tent after hours of talking endlessly with friends, and waking up to the sound of birdsongs, or in a festival context, people groaning at their hangovers. Not to mention the mystery of not knowing where you will end up in the evening, of not knowing what lies beyond your tent — a sense of uncertainty which appears rather liberating.
However, this uncertainty is not one that I find stimulating. Yes, opting to camp for a festival seems the only natural, and somewhat socially acceptable, choice. It’s what festivals are known for — the camping experience. The experience that will mature you and force you to prepare for the tough world waiting for you outside, and in my case, put you off camping for life.
I get shivers just thinking of my experience camping at a festival — getting woken up with condensation dripping on my forehead, groggily waking up in heavy, hot air and immediately becoming agitated by the number of layers I thought would insulate me rather than making me profusely sweat. Having to scramble out of the tent gasping for air to be greeted with another thousand confused faces peeping out of tents at 6am. Having to walk miles to simply shower, only to be besieged by sweaty bodies and sprayed with dust hours later. Having to brush your teeth with a bottle of lukewarm water whilst trying not to make eye contact with your fellow camping neighbours whose whole conversation you could hear at 4am. Yes, memories were made, but some I will never forget and not for the right reason.
I always remember ogling at those who chose to glamp — it was obvious they were glampers. Their hair was shining, their skin was glowing, and their fresh smell heavily contrasted to the intoxicating smell of sweat and beer from the morning rave that plagued the campsites. I wanted to wake up in an airy tent, be able to curl my hair, and shower without the fear of catching some disease lurking amidst the waters. I wanted to smell like coconuts, not have to rely upon wet wipes for my hygiene and be able to come back to my bed without the fear of something being stolen.
I know people will say this is just the festival experience, that there is no such thing as luxury at a festival as they are to be enjoyed slathered in mud, dust, and sweat, but I really don’t see the enjoyment in that. Some people are just campers at heart — they live and breathe camping, whilst those like me prioritise their sleep, and sanity for that matter, to prepare them for a day filled with dancing, singing, and drinking. I always remember escaping the muddy confinements of the festival grounds with my friend, us both looking at each other and bursting out laughing, saying ‘Never again.’
Perhaps my attitude towards camping stems from a rather traumatising holiday in the South of France as a child. With my father experimenting with family camping, we settled on the river Dordogne, a lively river manoeuvring around quaint French towns and small stone beaches — one of Europe’s many beautiful locations. Inviting herds of eager canoers, fishers, sunbathers, and a group I never thought I would fall under — campers. Regardless of the picturesque location, safe to say, we did not cope very well with the camping part. The first night my mother discovered that the toilets and showers were a fifteen walk away from the site, there were no in-built beds, and shock horror, there were no hairdryers. The following night, my dad saw a rat sprint across the tent floor as we were attempting to sleep on our flimsy beds. Every night we were awoken by the Scottish family in the tent beside us screaming at their daughter to sleep.
In a desperation to save the holiday, my father tried to upgrade to the forest cabins, but others smartly beat us to the race, and they were fully booked. As a child, I never realised how tragic the holiday was when my only requirements were an endless supply of pain au chocolats and somewhere to mindlessly float on my flamingo inflatable.
But I can confidently say that I now know. It really is unbearable. Maybe I’m being overly dramatic, but I really struggle to see why people enjoy being squished into a scratchy sleeping bag with only a thin layer protecting them from the mud. Maybe I need to give it another go and invest in a quality tent that doesn’t suffocate me in my sleep, but I think for now, I’m going to stick with the glamping option.
Illustration credit: Rosie Bromiley