A grin spread across my face followed by ripples of elation. Just hours earlier I’d been in my hostel bed devastated about losing a bag of my possessions, but it was really happening. I was dancing in a desert to Childish Gambino without a care in the world. But I’m getting waaaay ahead of myself. So let me take you back to where this all began.
This is the story of how I ended up going to Coachella with a stranger… for free.
My first day in LA
I’d been LA for less than 24 hours and I’d already spent 3 hours stuck on a grounded flight, lost my bag in a tired stupor and attended my first TV show as an audience member. It was a whirlwind day and I needed to decompress.
After spending an hour walking up Melrose Avenue getting distracted by the bright lights and shiny toys I finally settled on a ramen shop for dinner. I was three-quarters of a bowl into my noodle coma when I heard “Hey! What do you have? That looks way better than what I ordered.”
This is how I met Erika.
Like so many others I’d met in LA she was an actress/writer. She seemed to me like the kind of woman who knew what she wanted and wouldn’t stop ‘til she got it. Strong opinions and strong values, but someone who if you were in her circle would do anything for you. This was affirmed when she nonchalantly said: “Well you seem cool. If we get on you can come stay with me.”
We spent five minutes chatting before the jet lag hit and I physically couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. After saying our goodbyes and exchanging Instagrams I thought this might be the last we’d hear of each other.
But it wasn’t.
The following day at breakfast I met some girls at the hostel who were proudly brandishing their Coachella tickets. “We just picked them up from this woman online” they cooed to anyone who’d listen. How much? I asked almost scared of the answer. “They were $500 each but we’d have paid anything. It’s the experience, isn’t it? You should come too! I’m sure you could find a lift here.”
For a moment I considered it. Although I had the slight issue of nowhere to stay, no tent, no sleeping bag and a 30kg bag filled with all my worldly possessions. Counting my remaining dollars I quickly snapped back to reality deciding against it. I went back to my day, catching up with messages. It was almost forgotten when a notification popped up on my Instagram feed. It was from Erika. She’d commented on one of my Instagram posts.
Confused, but intrigued I private messaged her before we jumped on a call. How much was I willing to pay for this? Would it be worth it? In true LA style, she’d just emerged from a facial and was video calling me as she went about her day “So I’ve got a spare ticket, I’ve rented a car and I’ve got somewhere for us to stay. You won’t have to pay for anything. Do you want to come… and can you be ready in 12 hours?” she peered down the screen at me waiting for my response.
Saying yes to adventures
Honestly, the words escaped my mouth before my brain even caught up to what was going on but it just seemed TOO GOOD an opportunity to miss. Immediately after I hung up I messaged my friend back in the UK who rightly so pointed out that I appeared to have no sense of stranger danger and that if something seemed too good to be true, it usually was. But at this point I had my rose tinted Coachella glasses on. Nothing would stop me in my pursuit of pleasure. Not even a potential kidnapping.
As the hours passed I did begin to consider the possibility that it could be an elaborate scam but what would she have to gain? Was this all just a big joke? Would she actually come through the next day for a total stranger? I checked my phone before I went to sleep the new pick up time would be 11 am and she’d asked for my address so she could come pick me up from the hostel. If she’d have wanted to murder me she knew where I lived, that I was travelling alone and that I would shortly be going to sleep. I’d either been ridiculously stupid or was about to get stupidly lucky.
11 am came around and there was no word from Erika. Then at 12.30pm, I get a text “we’re outside” and sure enough there she was in a car bigger than my room, tinted shades on, Louis Vuitton bags sprawled across the backseat, Coachella wristbands in a box on the dashboard and parked outside of my $30 a night hostel.
The game was afoot.
Accompanying us for the journey was one of her close friends *Alice who I was told: “likes to party and get free shit”. Eying me up and down I could tell she wasn’t entirely pleased with the idea of a stranger crashing their girls trip… but I didn’t care.
As we hit the highway I learned more about the girls and their lives. Ericka hosted AirBnB guests regularly in addition to DJing and acting. While *Alice was a teacher. Only 10 minutes into our drive she proved her ability to pick up goodies wherever she went as she emerged from the car next to us at the petrol station with a crate of organic tea from a rep who was refilling his car. I was impressed.
Four hours later we’d made it to our apartment in Palm Springs complete with a bar, outdoor lounge area and pool. Was this real life? We finally made it to Coachella just before the sunset ready for the evening ahead. As the girls sat on the grass exhausted from the day I danced and laughed my way through the evening not quite believing how the last 48 hours of my life had played out.
Thoughts on Coachella and Instagram culture
I’m not sure quite how it happened but Coachella has become synonymous with everything that everybody hates about Instagram culture. The incessant photo taking and special treatment for anyone with a high enough following or willing to blow money on VIP.
So what did I think?
As a self-confessed festival addict who’s experienced over 20 festivals around the world, I’ve learned that every festival style is completely different and you really just have to appreciate each for what it is. It’s also true that the people you go with or meet along the way can make or break your experience. I’m always reminded of one particular festival experience where the whole weekend was a torrential downpour. Despite this, it’s one of my favourite festival memories due to my sister’s unrelenting positivity and success in making sure everyone was thoroughly inebriated.
I know a lot of people view Coachella with preconceived notions of how pretentious and ridiculous it all is, but I tried to view it with as open a mind as possible. I thought the set up was beautiful, the art installations, the boujee bars and the acts I saw knew how to put on a great show. Maybe as a blogger, I’m more immune to the photo taking because I know that it’s some people’s livelihoods. Also, it’s none of my business how other people choose to spend their time or money. I loved seeing the creativity that went into everyone’s outfits and not sure I’ve ever seen so many beautiful people in one place.
That being said, given the amount that most people pay (an estimated $2000 for their first Coachella) – I simply don’t think it’s worth it. I’d much rather spend that money on a festival like Burning Man that I know is going to be truly unique and mind-blowing.
The joys of solo travel
I often say that one of the things I love about solo travel is the ability you have to say no to something. If it doesn’t excite or interest you you’re under no obligations to go through with it. The other magical thing about solo travel is being able to say yes to things. Embarking on wild adventures even though you’re not entirely sure they’ll work out. You learn to trust people you’ve met only moments before. You make snap decisions based on nudges from your intuition.
Sometimes, just sometimes, those nudges might not lead to where you expect and you’re left doubting the strength of your own mind. Or sometimes a nudge is a push encouraging you to go against what seems right or safe and it exceeds any dreams you might have had.
Attending Coachella after parties
The following day one of such nudges led me to a Coachella after party with the friend of our apartment host. Both of the girls were too tired to continue partying and stranger danger would tell you not to go off with a strange man who promises the world, but curiosity got the better of me.
While one side of Coachella is the festival itself, the after parties or day parties are a whole other arm and are where many of the celebrities decide to position themselves over the weekend. Brands hire out hotels or estates to throw parties of epic proportions and of course get the word out about their products. Having already been to a private party earlier in the day and returning with armfuls of freebies I’d had a taste of this other world and I wanted more.
So shortly after 12 am, I hopped in his car and off we went with two of his friends. We pulled up to the grounds of a private estate where security guarded all the house entrances (note: though I say house my apartment could have fitted into these places ten times over). In order to enter you need to have been granted a spot on the guest list. James walked up to the entry indicating to the door staff that he’d been in earlier and “the girls are with me”. Moments later we were all given wristbands and passed through the gate into what looked like an endless community of mansions. I later asked why he hadn’t needed a spot on the list and he shrugged and told me he knew the owner.
Scanning around the party I didn’t know where to go first. I’d never seen luxury like it. There was a pool that snaked around the house, a pit filled with marshmallows and massage table (???), two photography stands complete with umbrellas and backdrops, an artist painting peoples shoes, an indoor stage and an outdoor stage suspended above the crowds, people shooting fake dollar bills out of a gun, a food truck and a bar serving free drinks carved entirely out of ice.
I just had to laugh at the audacity of it all, gulping my drink down as if half expecting it to be snatched away. All the while hoping I wouldn’t be exposed as a lowly commoner, a nomadic hostel dweller who had infiltrated the top ranks.
Even if only for one weekend.
PS: I kind of sucked at taking photos but if you want to see more of what went down (like the acts I saw and me spraying money out of a gun LOL) head to the Palm Springs highlight on my Instagram page
What about you guys? Would you go to a festival with a stranger? Let me know in the comments!
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