A few months ago as summer began in earnest, I went to a local festival called Wychwood.
It was a laid-back affair, with groups drinking coffee in the sunshine, a neighbourhood parade and teens hitting the open mike with their best Liam Gallagher drawls (yep, Oasis has become ironic material for generation Z).
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This was not Rage Against The Machine pouring forth their punk-rock fury at Reading ’08. It was not a mesmeric performance by Bob Dylan, or Nirvana lighting up the crowds.
No-one burned down the Portaloos or cracked their heads open trying to stage-dive. And yet, despite this – perhaps even *because* of it – it was brilliant.
Bringing people together
Call me old, but I feel like I’m becoming aware of a different side to festivals these days. It’s no longer about passing out in a tent with people clambering all over you to get in and out (or if you’re really lucky, vomiting on your feet).
Instead, I’ve tuned into that invisible festival thread that seems pulls everyone closer. No matter what craziness is going on outside, from deranged world leaders to the Brexit train wreck, festivals are a place of togetherness.
Real life gets put on hold for the weekend, and instead you fly high on simple pleasures: live music, ice-cold cider, the call of the crowd.
“I’ve played here three times now, and there’s such a magical feeling,” one singer dressed incongruously in scrubs and a pair of eagle’s wings told the Wychwood masses. “You get a happiness that stays with you all week, and you pass it onto other people.”
Breaking barriers down
At a time when people everywhere are building walls, festivals break them down. They’re a zone where you can down your Insta filters and simply be yourself, in the company of like-minded folk.
“I spent the weekend at Eskfest in a tiny valley in the English Lake District,” says Flash Pack’s operations manager Jenni Shaw.
“There was no phone signal and we were sleeping under canvas, wild swimming and having a truly old-fashioned good time. There is an amazing sense of community at a festival, you bump into the same people and form a unique sort of ‘friendship’ that finds you dancing away with complete strangers well into the wee small hours.”
“I do not need any excuse to get out my flower garland, cover my face in glitter and embrace my inner hippie and a festival provides the perfect platform for this,” Jenni adds.
“Nobody knows you and nobody cares – there were definite times when I was dancing like a crazy fool, by myself and I didn’t feel any sense of judgement or embarrassment as everyone was just embracing it and having a really good time. Now, sitting at my desk on Monday morning, I am still buzzing from having had such an awesome weekend.”
Spreading the love
No matter what Kool Aid you’re drinking – craft ale, Bubble Tea, two-litre pints of orange squash – festivals spark a particular kind of magic.
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At risk of sounding like an out-and-out hippie (guilty as charged) you feel at one with other festival-goers, and at the same time free.
And interestingly, this feeling doesn’t stop the moments the lights go down. Instead, you pack up those sunny vibes and take them with you into the world at large.
“Whenever I come away from Glastonbury or another event, you want to be a bit nicer to people, you’re a bit happier with yourself, the world, what have you,” Dan Burner, the man behind another of my favourite festivals, Chalfest, tells Good on Paper.
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“That’s the sort of thing I want people to take away from it [Chalfest]. We have people who have lived in the same village for the last 30 years – haven’t seen them since school, but they’ve bumped into each other at the festival and started up the friendship again. I think the thing that works well about it is that it does appeal to everyone […] there was one elderly lady who went home for a little snooze in-between and later she was rocking away to Fun Lovin’ Criminals!”
Festivals and travelling with strangers
The alchemy of festivals is pretty unique, but one other outlet where you do experience a similar vibe is by travelling with strangers.
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“Going travelling is a chance to put your negative self-beliefs to the test,” psychotherapist Karin Peeters tells Flash Pack.
“It gives the opportunity to practise new ways of being. Behave as if the opposite of your belief is true. Test new behaviours. Be how you would be if you’d be confident and carefree. I don’t mean being fake. I mean being more yourself than you’d ever dare being with those who know you, and have already formed their opinion of you. Feel the new-ness of the situation, and the fresh energy that it brings.”
A sense of belonging
Like festivals, then, travelling with strangers carves out a window where you can let loose and be you. And like festivals, travelling with a group of like-minded strangers sets the stage for a strong sense of community.
When you’re sharing a series of intense experiences with people of a similar age and life stage abroad – away from the distractions of normal life – you can’t help but bond closely with your group.
People don’t travel with Flash Pack for lifelong friendship, they want adventure. Nevertheless, friendship is very often the result, whether you’re white-water rafting in Chile or hiking the Everest foothills.
These kind of vibrant events tie people together over laughter and late-night conversations, creating meaningful moments that would be hard to get anywhere else (particularly in an age where we wield our phones like body armour).
It’s a ready-made recipe for friendship and it blows people away.
“From hysteric laughter on crazy Hanoi cycle tours to overnight trains with wine and conversation flowing into the early hours, it was such a heartening testament to the common human spirit to see people from different countries, backgrounds and life experience pull together,” says Neil, who joined us in Vietnam and Cambodia.
“We supported each other through two intense weeks in close quarters with high energy, great humour and love.”
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Craig, who joined us climbing Rainbow Mountain in Peru, agrees. “It’s the perfect package,” he says. “With the space of a couple of hours, you will have built up a friendship with people that will last.”
So, if you want to keep the feel-good festival vibes flowing this summer, come take the plunge and travel with strangers.
You can even bring your glowsticks and flower garland too, if you want to…
Photos: Flash Pack and Shutterstock