How to beat the post-festival illness

Festival, summer

Published: 25 July 2022. Written by: Cheryl Freedman.

Are you a festival fiend, but always find yourself coming down with a cold afterwards? It doesn’t have to be that way. These easy-to-follow steps will help keep you in tip-top condition even after the music has stopped. 

On the surface, festivals seem great for the mind and body: plenty of time spent in the fresh air, doing things you love, with good friends.  

But health and hygiene issues can be as unavoidable as muddy wellies and a damp tent. 

So, if you want to make it through your favourite music marathon without an upset stomach or catching a cold, here’s our expert advice.  

Get a handle on hygiene 

Festivals are famed for their mobile toilets, and not necessarily for the right reasons. But in recent years the long drop loo has undergone a makeover. 

At Glastonbury this year, every toilet block had hand-gel dispensers and even some had sinks close by. 

To stay on the safe side, Dr Alona Pulde, of nutrition app Lifesum, says: “Practising hygiene at festivals can include carrying hand sanitiser or sanitising wipes, having toilet seat covers and even a change of clothes.  

“Keeping your hands away from your face is also helpful to optimise health.”  

Bring ample toilet paper, keep a pocket-sized bar of soap on standby in case you do have access to running water. And remember, toilets often get cleaned first thing – figure out the schedule for those near your pitch.  

Not mad about being part of the great unwashed? Many festivals offer limited shower facilities, so it’s worth seeing if you can book in advance.  

If not, be prepared to queue and don’t forget your towel – lightweight microfibre travel ones dry fastest. 

A word on wristbands: studies suggest these are breeding grounds for germs.  

One UK study found that, over time, they accumulate 20 times more bacteria than clothes. Try not to let them trail in food or (heaven forbid) on toilet seats… or snip the ends off. 

Steer clear of stomach upsets  

Nothing spoils a wild weekend faster than ‘festival tummy’. The sheer variety of food available can be overwhelming, so choose wisely. “Many vendors will display their hygiene rating from one to five (with five being the highest rating), which is a good indication of food safety practices,” advises James Vickers, registered nutritionist and Vitality Expert. 

If you can, feast on dishes cooked in front of you (think woodfired pizza, veggie burgers and crepes) or veggie-rich but piping hot (chillies, curries and stews).  

Fresh foods that have not been out in the hot sun all day are safer bets at festivals,” adds Pulde.  

“Eating lighter also helps to avoid upset and uncomfortable bellies.”  

Dodge fried foods high in fat, sugar and salt, but if you can’t resist, “share things like doughnuts and chips to reduce portion size but still allow yourself to enjoy them,’ says Vickers.  

Stick roughly to your regular at-home routine to avoid being stuck in the loo. “At Glastonbury, I made sure I had at least one hot meal every day, with snacks throughout the day, and had my Berocca vitamin drink each morning,” says Hannah Loveday of Loveday Wellbeing.  

Evidence from the NHS has also suggested that probiotics can help ease symptoms of IBS or diarrhoea if you are taking antibiotics. So consider packing these in your bumbag.  

Covid and other respiratory viruses 

While most festivals are outdoors, it’s a good idea to practise the Covid-safe rules that have been drummed into us over the last two years.  

Consider standing at the emptier sides or backs of audiences. “Being amongst larger groups of people increases your risk of exposure to viruses,” says Pulde. “Although you can’t avoid Covid, you can minimise your risk by maintaining distance and keeping your hands away from your face, especially your mouth, nose and eyes.”  

Wear a mask in busy areas (inside enclosed tents and in crowded queues), use hand gel after touching toilet-door bolts, handles and touchscreens on payment devices. And don’t forget to pack paracetamol, tests and tissues in case you start to feel ill once you arrive. 

Stay well-hydrated 

According to first aid veterans, one common reason for feeling ill at a festival is dehydration. 

It can be easy to forget to hydrate amongst the excitement of back-to-back artists to see, but drinking enough water puts you at risk of headaches, urinary infections and dehydration. 

“Prioritise water over other drinks. Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol as these are diuretics that increase our risk of dehydration,” says Pulde. “If you’re getting extra-sweaty in the dance tent, replace lost fluids,” she adds. 

Take a refillable water bottle and top it up whenever you see filling stations.  

The NHS says we should aim for six to eight glasses of water a day, but on a sunny day some doctors extend this to 10. 

Protect yourself from the sun  

We all know we should wear sunscreen, but it’s easy to get caught out, especially when your mind’s focused on festival fun. According to a recent study by the British Association of Dermatologists, eight out of 10 people fail to adequately apply sunscreen. 

Slather it on before you emerge from your tent for the day and keep it in your bag for reapplications. Pack SPF30 at least for decent UVB protection and minimum four-star UVA protection.  

Apply half a teaspoon of sunscreen to your face and neck, one teaspoon to arms and one teaspoon to each leg. And don’t forget to wear a hat. If you forgot to bring one, any festival worth its salt will have plenty of options for sale.  

Limit the alcohol 

We’ve all been there. Sun, fun and time off work can lead many of us to get carried away. Rule number one: pace yourself.  

Vickers says: “Try to moderate your alcohol. It is easy to say go without it but, realistically, this is difficult for some. Reduce the amount you drink by alternating with water, reduce the size of your drinks, [so, a half rather than a pint] or introduce a time limit – only drink later or earlier in the day.”  

Sleep well 

Festivals are inherently noisy, meaning getting your head down for your non-negotiable eight hours can be tricky.  

“Balance fun with good sleep. Sleep helps optimise your immune system for overall health and greater protection,” says Pulde. “Bringing earplugs and eye masks can help. If technology is an option, using white noise [to block out external noise] can also be useful.”  

We’d also recommend bringing an inflatable travel pillow and mat for extra comfort, as well as a silky inner lining for sleeping bags. 

“Consider naps during the day if a full night’s sleep feels challenging,’ adds Pulde. Often there’s a lull in music schedules in the early afternoon, so that might be a good time.”  

Check out the wellness provision 

Rowdy crowds getting to you? Group yoga classes (Glastonbury had power ballad yoga this year), mindfulness sessions and massages are par for the course at many festivals, and might even be the best part of your weekend.  

Just because you’re at a festival doesn’t mean your usual fitness routine has to go out the window either. For Glastonbury this year, some cycled to the site, while other festivalgoers jogged around it at dawn.  

But if you don’t fancy cycling or getting up at daybreak, Pulde says that any movement is good for you: “Walking around a festival or dancing provides just that opportunity.”  

Take time out if you need to 

Festivals are by definition fun, but they can also be challenging mentally and physically. “As a 43-year-old yoga teacher and ex-pro dancer, I think of myself as being relatively fit and having good stamina when it comes to my experiences at festivals,” says Loveday, but even she needed some R&R to complete the “endurance test of Glastonbury”. 

There can be pressure to see and do everything, which is unrealistic. If you’re someone who needs time to themselves, don’t be afraid to take yourself off for a breather. “One thing to remember, if you are with a big group, is that you will want to do different things, so don’t be a people-pleaser,” says Loveday. 

The final thing to remember: let your hair down. “Having fun and staying healthy can go hand in hand – so prioritise both and enjoy,” Pulde recommends. 

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