I wrote this years ago and revise it every now and then. It’s part one of a five part “tutorial”. You cyberspace strangers don’t know this yet, but I’m kind of a Mardi Gras fanatic and over the years have been lucky enough to amass a second family of sorts in all the wonderful people I have met going every year. They are the people in these pictures, not some random crazy strangers. Now that New Year’s is over, it’s time to turn to the next big holiday – many of us plan all year but I try to hold the crazy at bay until January so I don’t burn out (and spend way more money than is necessary). This CAN be a simple trip, but over the years we sometimes get a little more elaborate with events and costumes…
What to bring to Mardi Gras? Is this your first trip and you don’t know what to expect? Expect anything and everything that you’ve never even imagined. These are just MY opinions, taken from many Mardi Gras – I’ve been going since 1998 with the exception of 2 years – and lots of travel. And who am I to say that you are anything like me? (Broke and always looking for a clean bathroom.) Mardi Gras can be really complicated or really simple, depending on what kind of activities you are involved in. But for the average attendee who is there to see the sights, this is for you.
Orpheus Ball, 2010
Think about most of your vacations, and what you packed. You probably took too much stuff “just in case”, right? This would be a good time to practice packing light. Especially if you will only be away for @4-5 days, you are flying and don’t want to pay extra to check tons of baggage AND you are sharing a hotel room with 3-8 people! (Maybe you aren’t trying to pack people in like sardines but many years we’ve made this choice for budget reasons so I don’t judge if you lie to your hotels.) Mardi Gras is really fun and it’s also pretty low maintenance – unless you have an elaborate costume for Tuesday or need to bring formal wear for a Krewe ball. Don’t think you need to thrill us with a whole new shiny outfit every day. You will be using the hotel room to shower and sleep, and the rest of your time you will be walking around New Orleans. WALKING! You only need ONE pair of shoes, and they better be comfortable! They are also going to get gross: covered in BUB (Beer/Urine/Barf). You think they won’t but wait until you trip into a full gutter on Bourbon Street. Some people bring old sneakers that are on their last legs and can be thrown away at the end of the trip. Put some cushy insoles in those babies and you are set.
February in the South doesn’t mean it will be warm! Bring a jacket or sweatshirt and a pair of pantyhose or silk long underwear to wear under your pants in case you need an extra layer of warmth. Layers are your friends! It’s up to you if you want to carry a small bag, or if all your necessities fit into your pockets, but a long sleeved shirt/jacket tied around your waist will be helpful when it gets cooler (and breezy) at night. Jeans are good – they will soak up any BUB that might get spilled on you. My suggestions for clothes (and everything should be able to take a beating – not your most prized items):
1. Comfy shoes. No sandals or flip-flops! – You will get stepped on, and there are streams of BUB.
2. Two pairs of jeans or other comfy pants (it would be good if they have a front pocket on them to hold important stuff) The bottoms of these pants will get nasty, especially if it rains and especially on Bourbon St.
3. A pair of pantyhose/long undies that fit -like you want to be pulling THOSE up all day.
4. Socks and undies (I know – sometimes you gotta list the basics or you forget to pack them!) If you feel a bit of exhibitionism coming on, you might want to pack the fancy underthings.
5. Jacket or sweatshirt that can be tied around your waist. Watch the Weather Channel before the trip to see if you might need something different. It’s seems to be getting colder for the past few years, or maybe that’s me getting older. I also don’t drink so I don’t get that protective layer of drunk keeping me warm like you might. A packable raincoat would be ideal.
6. A bunch of little shirts that don’t take up a lot of room, at least one with long sleeves.
7. Something to sleep in (I don’t care if you sleep naked at home- respect your roomies).
Your average Friday morning at Mardi Gras
And now, for your days on the town!
You will be out all day if you are not staying in the thick of it, so think about what you want to carry around with you. Some people only need cash, car or hotel key and some Chapstick and they’re set. Other people like to have a camera, umbrella, sunscreen, water…Just remember that unlike your mom, nobody’s going to carry your things when you get tired of doing it. Don’t put your purse down. Or your phone. Or your camera. Another thing to consider when deciding what to carry is how much you want to worry about something getting stolen. I don’t mean to make you paranoid but security is part of being a responsible, safe traveler. Your most important items should be in a front pants pocket (and I safety pin it shut because that’s me) or a travel wallet that sits around your waist under your clothes. If you have a backpack, can you feel if someone in a tight crowd is trying to unzip it? Don’t put important things in the outside pockets, put your water or spare TP there (I’ll get to the TP in a minute). What I carry around:
In my pockets:
2. One credit card (for “emergencies”, of course)
3. Hotel Key (and car key if I drove in from the ‘burbs)
4. Lip balm (I need this at all times or I panic – I know you know people like this)
5. Driver’s license
In my little backpack:
1. Wad of toilet paper or Kleenex pack, because by the time you are desperate enough to use a port-o-potty or bar bathroom, there will be none or it will be wet. Hotels will NOT let you in to use the bathroom. Believe it. And hand sanitizer!
2. Camera and extra media card/batteries. Think seriously about how expensive a camera you want to bring but bring one. Oh, the pictures you will get. These days, many people prefer to use their cell phones for pics but I still prefer a real one. Old-school.
3. Small bottle of water (nice to have in between alcoholic beverages)
4. MAYBE – a small umbrella (or risk having to buy the ultra-sexy tourist poncho if it pours!)
5. A small flashlight (oh yeah, port-o-potties don’t have lights either)
6. Cell phone for when I get lost from my group and so I know what time it is
7. Any obnoxious Mardi Gras accessories you might want (feather boas, masks, body glitter, whatever.)
You will also end up shoving plastic cups, doubloons, beads and other assorted parade crap that you pick up along the way if there is any room in the bag as well.
Bacchus parade prep. 2010, that trophy really got around.
Other stuff to bring on the trip (some of this is optional depending on your grooming or lack of):
SMALL travel sizes (not Sam’s Club sizes) of:
1. Sunscreen – even if it’s cold you’ll get sunburn being out all day
3. Shampoo (if you have a favorite)
4. Body wash or soap (how far will a hotel bar go between 8 people?)
5. Contact lens stuff
6. Deodorant (yes please)
7. Any medication you might need, including aspirin or sinus/allergy pills – yes, even in February. You’ll most likely be staying or walking near a Walgreen’s or CVS pharmacy if you forget anything. Many people I know proactively pack cold/flu medicine as well.
8. Barrettes/Ponytail holders (downtown is windy)
9. Extra batteries/chargers for cell phone, camera, accessories that light up…
10. Small breakfast bars if you need something in the morning right away and your hotel doesn’t offer it. My first MG, we stayed in the ‘burbs and parked far away from the Quarter and my friend insisted we have breakfast at this place she heard about. We walked and walked and walked. I was SO hungry and couldn’t wait to have a big ol’ breakfast, with bacon, pancakes, eggs, etc. We kept walking and finally got to…Cafe du Monde. You know what’s on their menu, right? Beignets. That’s it. Sugar covered fried dough, and juice or coffee. No bacon. While I appreciate Cafe du Monde now, I was kind of pissed at the time.
12. A small bath towel (if you are trying to pack a room to save money)
13. A pillow and blanket if you are sleeping on the floor (an inflatable camping or pool mat can help). No joke, I have slept on a pool mat on a hotel floor.
14. A plastic bag or two (at least, preferably a big duffel bag) to take home all your beads!
15. Earplugs! To protect you not only from street noise but roommates who snore. They think they don’t, but they do. You don’t of course. Neither do I.
16. A costume if you are costuming on Fat Tuesday (at LEAST buy a mask at the mask market on Monday!)
Masks are a Tuesday thing – you should get one!
What NOT to bring:
1. Expensive jewelry or camera that you would be upset about losing, including your diamond engagement ring. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard about people losing their rings while throwing beads or leaving a camera on a bar. I wear my wedding band and that’s it, except for cheap MG-themed stuff.
2. Anything uncomfortable that you can’t wear for an entire day.
3. A great big blow dryer and huge bottles of hair/face products. Embrace trial sizes.
I don’t care that you will see some very glitzy ladies wandering around the French Quarter, making you feel like a schmo in your comfy jeans – they are staying in centrally located, expensive French Quarter hotels. They can run in and out of them all day – changing, resting, fixing hair and lipstick, whatever. This packing list is also for people who stay on the outskirts and drive in every day, or are staying many blocks away!
Part of the Tuesday morning KOE parade
No, I didn’t say tits, but let’s talk about them. And alcohol. There is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON why you need to show anyone your breasts. None. You will bring home bags of parade trinkets and enough beads to cover the moon if you keep your clothes on. I promise. There are two arguments regarding the Boobie-Economics of “flashing”, both of them valid:
1. It is disgusting and degrading for women to bare themselves for worthless plastic beads.
2. It is funny that so many people will spend a lot of $$ on beads just to see some skin. It’s a win-win.
No judging here — it depends on how you feel and what the circumstances are. Flashing is illegal, just so you know. A caution about the French Quarter: almost every person is armed with a camera of some kind, and the ones on the street level are close enough to touch you. It’s what many of them wait for. If you really see something on a balcony that you like, don’t stand there debating with the person. The longer you do that, the more attention will be on you and a big crowd will be watching to see you do something. Either get someone’s attention and flash, or say no thanks and walk away. Many people will throw you beads either way. At parades, there is less flashing going on, and there are many families at certain parts of the parade routes, so it is NOT acceptable – especially during the day. (Of course, during the day is the best time in the Quarter – there are good beads and people aren’t quite drunk enough to be too dangerous.) At night, during parades that go down Canal Street you will see some men on the floats that want you to flash. They are going to throw beads out no matter what you do, and they are also not supposed to be encouraging flashing. You’ll get picky toward the end of the trip because you will have so many beads! Remember that there are men with cameras on the floats too. No guarantee that you will end up on the Interwebz for your dad to see, but no guarantee that you won’t. If you are interested in the flashing aspect in the French Quarter (which is a tourist thing) and have a mask that you can see out of, that might be a good idea. Clothing tip if you are comfortable with an occasional flash: go without a (gasp!) bra. Wear tight tank or athletic tops instead because readjusting yourself back into a bra is a pain. My pet peeve about flashing that I must share: women who flash for any old ugly beads that you can get at a parade – Ladies Demand Quality! For more on this topic, I suggest reading the Flashing Manifesto . Read it with a sense of humor and understand that flashing is not a requirement (or even a recommendation) for Mardi Gras. It’s not all Girls Gone Wild.
Alcohol reminder! You DO NOT need to drink to have the time of your life! Drinking too excess is wasting your money, it will make you feel terrible for your whole trip if you are hung-over, and your companions will be really pissed if they have to spend their time babysitting you. Plus, you are much more at risk of getting mugged (or worse) because you can’t defend yourself well and aren’t paying attention to what’s going on around you. And the more you drink, the more you have to… well… did I say hotels will not let you use their bathrooms? Hotels by all the action give wristbands to their paying guests to allow them access. And most restaurants will either be closed when you need them or not let you in either. You WILL get arrested for public urination. That being said, if you choose to drink in New Orleans I would suggest one of their specialties like a VooDoo, Hurricane, Separator, or Hand Grenade. When in Rome you know.
The Hand Grenade – a source of many bad decisions
There’s plenty more I could say, but hopefully this helps with your basic travel needs for Mardi Gras! To see the rest of my Mardi Gras advice series, just click the link in this post for the Flashing Manifesto and that post will have a link to the next and so on.
KDW marching in the Box of Wine parade