Fitness

I didn’t go to Coachella prior to developing a mysterious illness, and now, part of me fears I never will. The relentless Indio sun is daunting even for able-bodied people, but the undiagnosed autoimmune disease rendering me blind in one eye makes the heat especially intolerable. As I read through the festival’s top-tier lineup, all I can think about is the slew of meds I’d have to carry around the campgrounds, the risk of dehydration, and the tens of thousands of steps standing between me and my desired venues. (This year, some stages are nearly a mile apart from one another.)

Coachella ADA services offer accommodations like accessible shower areas, assisted listening device systems, sensory support bags, and campsites closer to the festival grounds for those who need them, but for people with chronic conditions, it’s not always enough to make a major music festival worth it. Still — and although every condition is different, so people should always consult with their healthcare provider for personalized medical advice — there are ways to navigate Coachella with a chronic illness.

To get a better sense of how, or what that might look like, we spoke with seasoned Coachella attendees about how they managed their own chronic illnesses at Coachella, and whether or not they think it’s worth the hassle.

If You Can, Prep For the Occasion

Just like no chronic illness presents itself the same, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to preparing for Coachella. That said, there may be a few things you can do ahead of time to make the festival more pleasant.

“I actually train for Coachella like an athlete trains for a marathon,” says Kait Gardner, a beauty YouTuber who frequently shares her experience with conditions like hypermobile EDS, POTS, and dysautonomia. This year marks her fifth Coachella, and she’s been in full preparation-mode for the past four months. “When you have hypermobile EDS, your joints have a really hard time holding everything together. What that means is a lot of pain, and so, if my muscles aren’t very strong, then I’m going to have a very difficult time walking the 40,000 steps [at Coachella].”

To give herself a better shot at experiencing the festival comfortably, Gardner does everything from walk training to strength training, gradually lifting heavier weights to prepare her muscles for the event. She even exposes herself to heat a few months in advance in an effort to improve her heat tolerance. “There’s a lot that goes into the prep for [Coachella], and that’s for me to be able to have a good time and try to reduce the pain that I’m in, and try to increase my endurance,” Gardner says. “[Music is] like my entire world . . . if I lost this, I would have nothing.”

Holly Fowler can relate to this passion, attending Coachella in 2019 as a music lover with ulcerative colitis. “Everyone, chronic illness warriors included, deserve to go and have an amazing time at Coachella,” she says. “With a little bit of research and maybe a little outreach from the organizers, you can have an amazing experience.”

Tailor Your Packing List For Your Needs

Consider this permission to scroll past every generic “Coachella packing list,” because everyone’s looks different based on their own individual needs. Gardner, for example, has mastered the art of packing for Coachella. Some of her essentials include orthopedic inserts for her shoes, loose clothing — “you’ve got to make sure that you’re thinking about what you’re going to wear in terms of comfort,” she says — and a portable neck fan that blows cool air and charges like an iPhone. Mint and glycerin cooling patches are a more topical cooling option that act like a kind of portable wet washcloth (Gardner got hers from Amazon). Besides this gear, Gardner uses KT tape to hold her joints in place and reduce some of the knee pain caused by her hypermobility.

Just a note on packing your meds: Coachella typically allows prescription medication as long as it’s in the original container with your name on it (matching the name on your ID). Gardner says she’s only ever had an issue with her salt pills, which increase blood volume and help prevent fainting, but it generally hasn’t been an issue at Coachella. The ADA site notes that medications must be cleared by the medical team, and you can always ask a crowd management supervisor to help you find a member of the medical team upon arrival.

Consider Alternative Transportation

In 2019, Fowler remembers taking a “bicycle taxi” from the campgrounds to the venue gates. (This is most likely referring to these pedi cab services.) In 2024, however, the Coachella ADA website noted that accessible cart services are available — with shuttles to entrances, exits, parking, accessible showers, and accessible campgrounds — but in the interest of public safety, they do not drive within the Coachella festival grounds. To use the shuttle, you need an accessibility wristband, which are issued on-site by the on-site accessibility services hubs. Expect wait times of up to 40 minutes.

“Sometimes I just don’t go to shows because I know that it’s going to be too much for me to walk all the way to that venue,” Gardner says. “There’s no golf cart service that I can get. I’ve never seen a golf cart. I’ve never seen people being transported between stages.” It may still be a possibility (Coachella encourages people to reach out to [email protected] for any additional accessibility-related needs), but generally speaking, there aren’t many options for transportation within the festival grounds. Certain packages, including the safari campgrounds, come with golf cart transportation between stages, but it’s marketed as more of a luxury, rather than an accessibility-related resource (and it’ll run you upward of $9,000).

Knowing that it’s a long day of walking in the hot sun, try to conserve your energy accordingly, taking breaks when necessary, and finding spaces with shade, air conditioning, and water. You may also want to take the various venues into consideration when planning out your concert itinerary.

Plan Your Meals Ahead of Time

There are plenty of food carts on the grounds at Coachella, but the options aren’t always inclusive of specific dietary needs. In these cases, it can be helpful to plan ahead.

“I did a lot of research figuring out what to pack to eat all of our meals — which actually, I really liked, because I had control over all of my food,” Fowler says. This made a big difference because ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel condition that affects digestion, so the food you eat plays a big role. Although Coachella generally doesn’t allow you to bring your own food into festival grounds, there are several gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan food vendors, according to the ADA website. “I had my snacks, but I also ate at the festival,” Fowler says. “They had a lot of different types of food choices, so that was a positive. And I wasn’t stressed about not being able to eat.”

Gardner agrees that festival food anxiety is real (if you’re not prepared). “[As] part of having hypermobile EDS and dysautonomia, you have a lot of GI problems, and then it’s difficult to control everything that you’re ingesting because you’re not cooking at a festival,” she says. “So I always bring my GasX, my Advil, my Pepto Bismol, my Tums, all of the things, just in case.” You can contact [email protected] for more details about dietary needs and specific vendors.

A Note on Checking Into the Festival

Because there is no way to note your accessibility needs during the pre-event registration and Coachella does not sell specific “accessibility tickets,” you’ll need to register accordingly on-site. “Getting in and out of the festival is the hardest part,” Gardner says. “[I] asked for a little cart to take me into the festival and skip the mile walk in, but in order to wait for that cart, I had to stand in the heat for 20 minutes.” Gardner says she also had some difficulty getting her ADA wristband on-site because she appears to be able-bodied.

“They don’t want to give a ton of people wristbands because they want to make sure the people who really need it are going to get it, and I totally understand that. But I did have to fight for it a little bit,” she says. Gardner had a doctor’s note ready to go, which quickly solved the issue, but she says this is one of the more stressful parts of the Coachella experience as a person with chronic illness.

Know Where to Go During the Festival

Once you get into the festival, there are more places to look for shade, first aid, and air conditioning, including certain vendors and pop-ups, where you can hang out if you need a break from the heat. Some venues are also indoors, including the Yuma and Sonora tents. “Those are kind of what I lean on as my own personal little ADA,” Gardner says. “The ADA seating is very limited, and if you have a lot of people going who have an ADA wristband, if you don’t get there early before a show, you will not have access to a seat.” She adds that the ADA seating is also very far back, and often offers very little shade, which isn’t ideal if you struggle with heat intolerance.

Fowler says she had a great time overall, but the heat also proved to be one of the biggest challenges. Luckily there are water stations all around the festival, which she used to fill up her camelback and stay hydrated throughout the day. To manage her energy, Fowler planned her day around artists with smaller crowds, finding moments to sit (when possible), and leaving early to get extra sleep. “Most of the time we didn’t even see the headliners because they wouldn’t come on until 11 or 12 and we were exhausted, so I was done by 10, 10:30 every night,” Fowler says. “I was still really drained, from what I can remember, and needed a few days to recover.”

So, Is It Worth It?

While every person is different, both Fowler and Gardner agree that their Coachella experiences were worth the extra planning. “It’s truly the best feeling that I’ve ever experienced,” Gardner says. “And so even though there are these challenges, and even though it takes a lot of effort, it’s so worth it for me.”

Chandler Plante is an assistant editor for POPSUGAR Health & Fitness. Previously, she worked as an editorial assistant for People magazine and contributed to Ladygunn, Millie, and Bustle Digital Group. In her free time, she overshares on the internet, creating content about chronic illness, beauty, and disability.

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