Okay, so you blew your tax refund on a ticket to Coachella. How do you make these the best three days of your life while on a budget?
It’s not easy. Last year, writer Marc Ballon asked a bunch of people how the hell they afforded Coachella. Most estimated they would spend at least $1,000, and that was on the low end. They’d also been planning the splurge for months in advance, juggling multiple jobs and squirreling away a couple hundred here and there.
But, oops, you forgot to do all that. Now you have a ticket, but no idea how you’re gonna get there, where you’re gonna stay or even what you’re gonna eat.
Because we believe no one should be punished for living on a whim and making last-minute plans, we collected our best tips into a guide to “Coachella on the Cheap” without looking like too much of a cheapskate.
You’re on your own for drugs.
1. Shop at actual thrift shops.
Yes, it’s dumb to shop specifically for Coachella, but, hey, you’re probably gonna do it. Just don’t spend $200 at a “vintage” boutique in Silver Lake for an outfit that’s going to look ridiculous everywhere except the polo field or a Stevie Nicks costume party. Instead, drive out to a Goodwill, where the high-waisted, acid-washed, cut-off short shorts, feather-and-fringe crop tops, turquoise and leather bolo ties and beaten-up booties actually ring up under twenty bucks apiece. Bonus: You won’t flip out when a freak downpour or dust storm ruins your $150 white-lace nightgown that you’re wearing as a dress.
Another option: Dude, Nordstrom Rack. I’ve scored $70 Diane von Furstenbergs there, but skip the wrap dresses and beeline to the Free People section. There are always at least two full racks of crocheted triangle tops, gauzy peasant blouses and multi-tiered, embroidered maxi dresses. Walk in an executive assistant, walk out a flower child.
2. Stock up at Ralph’s.
No, you can’t bring a snack pack into the festival. They want you to have a four-course “Dinner in the Rose Garden” for a mere $225 per person (for that kinda cash, a date with Michael Voltaggio should be included). So before you leave town, go to Ralph’s. Buy granola bars, apples, dried fruit, beef jerky, Twix bars — toteable food you can stick in your fanny pack, eat right before you walk in and save yourself the cost of lunch. Also, forgo dropping $20 or more on water (seriously, kids, stay hydrated!) by bringing your own (empty) non-metal water bottle and filling it up at the filtered-water stations.
3. Take the train. (Or even the bus.)
Driving to Coachella is a great way to start off the weekend in a shitty mood. Unless you get lucky or set out on Friday, you’re likely to spend most of your drive feeling like you're already in the parking lot. Plus, while gas prices have dipped, you’ll still drop about $60-$80 on a round-trip fill-up.
Instead, book a business-class seat on Amtrak for $58-$62 round trip. Uber (or sweet-talk a friend into dropping you off, you lil’ hustler) to Union Station, crack open that bottle of rosé — no one has to be the designated driver! — and arrive two and a half hours later.
There are multiple departures on Thursday from L.A. to Palm Springs and one to Indio; on Monday, the Indio departure is sold out but there are still seats available from Palm Springs. Go ahead and stay up all night Sunday. You can sleep on the way home.
Another option: If the GNR reunion has you feeling especially nostalgic, take the Greyhound and pretend you’re Axl in the “Welcome to the Jungle” video. There are a ton of departures and returns to/from Indio on Thursday and Monday; the drive time is a little under three hours each way, and the round-trip cost is $51, including taxes.
4. Camp. Yes, even if you have never camped.
If you were hoping to nab a cute little Airbnb for $85 per night — ha! Lodging is what gobbles up most of your money on any trip, and with the advent of Airbnb, Coachella has become a second Christmas for residents of the Coachella Valley. A quick search on Airbnb turned up an average price of $277 per night for a shared room, and very few of those shared rooms remain, anyway (there is a one-bedroom casita still available for $1,650 a night, owned by a full-time law enforcement officer who mentions he’s a full-time law enforcement officer twice).
Your best bet for a cheap bed, then, is a tent. Only a few minutes from the festival, Indian Waters RV Resort is where you’ll find that $85/night rate. Plus the resort offers shuttle service all three days for under $100, saltwater swimming pools and complimentary coffee and free continental breakfast Friday through Sunday. They only accept phone reservations, though, so call them. Now.
If you want to try and crash your more, ah, responsible friends’ hotel rooms, come bearing booze. Many bottles.
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5. Use the shuttle.
After a long day at Coachella, your calluses from those cool cowboy boots you didn’t break in are smarting, and chill bumps are replacing rivulets of sweat. The last thing you want to do is wait for a ride. After all, you have parties to crash! The temptation to order an Uber will be strong. Overcome it. Uber surge pricing will be in effect for all 72 hours of Coachella, and the dude picking you up won’t be able to find you among the cool cowboy-boot-wearing hordes and will just end up canceling, anyway. Besides, you already paid for that shuttle pass, right? (When you click that link, scroll down; they're $60 a pop and still available last we checked.)
Have fun, you cheap bastards!