My First Coachella: Highs, Lows, and What I Wish I Had Done Differently

Although I went to Coachella three months ago, I’ve been struggling to describe my first-time Coachella experience ever since. It was a whirlwind.

But all in all, Coachella was one of the most fun weekends of my life, and turned me into a full-blown festival addict.

But there are a few things I would have done differently. (Namely packing. Packing did not go well.) To help you guys with your first time to Coachella, I wanted to break down everything I navigated as a Coachella first timer: the festival layout, schedule, costs, and the emotional highs and lows.

Coachella First Timer

The Festival Layout


Coachella takes place in Indio, California, a town roughly 20 miles from Palm Springs.

To enter the festival grounds, you scan your wristband at the gates next to the Ferris Wheel. Once you enter, there are myriad things to do: you can browse boutiques, eateries, and art installations. There’s even a huge craft beer garden!

If you’re camping, the campground is to the left of the Ferris Wheel on the map above. Depending on where you park the first day, it can take from five to 30+ minutes to reach the festival grounds.

The main shows take place across two stages and three tents. Each tent specializes in a different type of music. My favorite tent? Definitely the Sahara tent, where the EDM shows take place. At Coachella I was like a moth to the EDM flame.

The Lowdown on Camping

Coachella First Timer
Our awesome campsite, with blankets, tables, chairs and a canopy tent – all of which we brought from my friend’s house in Orange County.

When my friend Mike and I drove up to the campsite, I was shocked by how beautiful the grounds were. I had pictured a desert, not luscious green grass. It turns out the Coachella campgrounds are beautiful, backed by the quintessential Coachella scenery of palm trees and the Ferris Wheel.

On Thursday, the first day of the festival, you park at the campground. Parking spots at Coachella are first-come, first-serve, so arrive early. I recommend arriving at 11 a.m. to get a parking spot as close as possible to the festival grounds.

Next, you meet your neighbors. As the parking is random, it’s a crapshoot who your neighbors will be. Some years your neighbors are your new BFFs, other years they remain strangers. Sadly, we didn’t befriend our neighbors as they were quiet and a lot older.

Some campsites consist of enormous groups of people (20+) and are incredibly tricked out. We hung out with a giant Khmer group that had an IV and hospital bed set up.

The worst part of camping? The Porta Potties. By day two they were filthy, and got even worse due to the hot sun. Gag.

Surprisingly, the showers were immaculate – though expect to wait at least 30 minutes in line.

The Schedule

Coachella First TimerOur Coachella schedule went as follows:

  1. Wake up seven or eight, as the tent is stifling once the sun rises.
  2. Head to the festival grounds for coffee and breakfast burritos.
  3. After breakfast, return to the campsite, laze around, and play drinking games.
  4. Head back to the festival grounds at around 3 p.m., to see our first show of the night.
  5.  Spend the next nine hours dancing, sprinting from show to show, and braving Porta Potties.
  6. After the last show at around midnight, meander back to campground. Possibly check out the silent disco (which is so odd by the way).
  7. Party until 3 or 4 a.m.
  8. Rinse and repeat.

One night I was dancing at midnight and realized I hadn’t eaten since 9 a.m. (Albeit craft beer is quite filling). Coachella truly is so much fun you forget about everything but the music.

The Music Highlights

First Timer Coachella
Purity Ring at midnight

There were so many shows I loved at Coachella that it’s hard to pick a favorite.

Purity Ring blew my mind. I loved the lights and the colors, and their music was so intense live.

Matoma had the most amazing setup, with all of the flying boxes below. Chainsmokers was also incredible, and got bonus points for bringing out THIRD EYE BLIND who played “Jumper”.

Coachella First Timer

Sia was unreal – her set was like performance art. And though Jack Ü was extremely crowded, I will never forget frenetically dancing to “Take Ü There”, the crowd pulsating with energy.

Chvrches was also amazing – I cried during “Gun” (cue monkey covering its eyes in shame emoji). Chvrches played on the main stage at Golden Hour, known as one of the prime sets of Coachella. The sun setting over the palm trees while listening to “Leave a Trace”? Magic.

Coachella First Timer

The Coolest Part of Coachella – the Surprise Guest Artists

One of the parts of Coachella was the surprise guest artists. Halsey brought out Panic at the Disco, which made my inner 16-year old so happy. Disclosure brought out Sam Smith and Lorde. And while I wasn’t present at the show, Gallant brought out Seal.

Coachella has me spoilt for concerts forevermore. At several points during Coachella, I wondered to myself, “How will I ever go to a normal concert again?”

My least favorite shows? Ice Cube underwhelmed me, as he shamelessly promoted his latest Barbershop movie the. entire. time. Also ZHU, whose music I love, was a bit boring live.

The Emotional Highs and Lows

Coachella First Timer

Coachella was a series of highs and lows.

My favorite part of Coachella was what I love about backpacking: meeting people from all over the world, a “you’re in it together” camaraderie, and nonstop, self-indulgent fun.

The lows were mainly due to anxiety and exhaustion; Four nights and three days is a long time to dance all day on little sleep. Camping was particularly trying because there’s no escape if you need a break. It can be tough for introverts who occasionally want to chill and read a book.

As I’ve written about before, my anxiety tends to flare up when I drink too much. So by day four, I was feeling a bit depressed and anxious.

And it turns out that PCD, or Post Coachella Depression, is real. I felt depressed for about a week after Coachella, as the real world just felt so unstimulating. It was like I had gone from technicolor to black and white.

What I Wish I Had Done Differently

Coachella First Timer

I wish I had bought my ticket in advance.

The morning of Coachella, I flew to LA without a ticket. Luckily, I snagged one via Craigslist for $500 at NOON, right before driving to Indio, which was basically a Christmas miracle. (I was about to buy a ticket for $780 on StubHub, so thank god I was patient. And thank god for the Craigslist mobile app.)

All in all thought, I wouldn’t buy my ticket last minute again – so stressful.

I wish I had packed more.

This may be an uncommon problem, but I wish I had packed more. I only brought three outfits, so when I wanted to wear something else or a shirt was dirty, I was SOL.

I also wish I had brought a fanny pack – so many girls had them and they were so handy.

I wish I had taken more pictures.

I wish I had brought my GoPro and polaroid camera – it would have been so much fun to hand out photos to people. Instead, I just have my lackluster iPhone photos.

How Much Coachella Costs

Ticket: General passes cost $399, while VIP passes cost $899.

Car camping spot: $100 (can split between group)

Food: I spent around $15 a day on food and drinks. I also split groceries with the group ($50 each) that lasted us the whole weekend.

Here are my favorite songs from Coachella 2016!

Have you been to Coachella? What was your experience as a Coachella first timer like?

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

17 thoughts on “My First Coachella: Highs, Lows, and What I Wish I Had Done Differently”

  1. I’ve never been to Coachella or a music festival where you camp out, actually! It sounds so cool and I have a friend who posts her pictures on Facebook all the time – she looks like she’s having a blast. But that’s a lot of days in a row of partying for me. I think I could get away with just dancing like a fool without drinking, but everyone around me might exhaust me! It might be worth it to try once, though. :)

    Cool look inside of Coachella! Thanks for your post, Ashley!

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience at Coachella – it seems like a super interesting/stimulating/exciting/exhausting experience! I’ve never been to a music festival like that, though I’ve always kind of wanted to go to Bonnaroo…. maybe someday! Now that you’ve had this experience at Coachella, do you plan to go to other festivals in the future? Or was it more of a bucket list thing that you’ve now ticked off? :)

  3. Sounds like a wonderful experience! I’ve only been to festivals in Denmark where I live, and that is always a very rain and mud filled experience.. A festival in a desert would he nice for a change :P

    • The day I went to the craft beer tent I definitely spent more. But generally I just had a burrito and then ate the rest of my meals at our camp, which we purchased before the festival started.

  4. Ahh I want to go to Coachella so badly, but the cost is really making me apprehensive! Is it worth doing once in your life?

  5. ‘Love the post Ashley!

    I’ve never heard of Coachella, but I live in Germany and I’m British, so I used to go to music festivals all the time lol!

    It can be tiring, muddy, wet (UK!), and dirty but the atmosphere is to die for. I’ve also been to a few “secret” last minute festivals on farms or in clapped out old industrial docks. So cool. I once lost my boot (1 boot!) at a festival (don’t ask), and had to walk around barefoot until we got into town, so that I could buy a new pair. It wasn’t so unusual though, as loads of people were walking about barefoot!

    And of course, in Berlin where I live, we used to have the Love Parade Techno Music Festival where people would (illegally) just camp out in the huge park!

    I can’t do that stuff anymore though, as we’re talking of years ago, so unless I’m in a VIP glamping tent, or off-site sleeping, it isn’t going to happen, as I can’t stand the filith and dirt anymore lol!

  6. Thanks for your travel blog, Ashley.
    I’ve read your experience at Coachella. It sounds so cool!
    I live in Russia and I’ve never been to a music festival. Possibly, I’m a bit old for such a blast. I’m used to convenience and quiet life. But, I’m going to do something crazy after hanging up fiddle. Perhaps, it will be visiting a musical fastival.
    And after year and half since that travel, have you visited other music festival? Or do you plan to go there in the future?

  7. Thank you Ashley for this informative review of Coachella. It’ll be essential for festival novices like me lol. What I’m worried about is the weather. What would be your advices about clothes for feeling comfortable during the day and night? Keep it up and waiting new posts about new festivals.

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