12 Lessons from Trinidad Carnival and Tips for Surviving Your Next Carnival

12 Lessons from Trinidad Carnival and Tips for Surviving Your Next Carnival

Tips for Surviving Carnival in Trinidad

Playin’ mas, i.e. participating in carnival, has been on my bucket list for a while. I was finally able to cross off carnival as done in February 2020 when I went to Trinidad for carnival. As a first-timer, I knew there was a lot I did not know. Therefore, I did a lot of reading and talking to experienced feterans beforehand. However, there are still some lessons that I learnt the hard way and fortunately some I was prepared for because of my reading. Here are my top lessons and tips for anyone thinking of playing mas (in Trinidad):


1. Sunburn hurts and Trinidad sun nuh normal

I’ll admit, I’m not a regular user of sunscreen and I’ve never been sunburnt before. I’m not against using sunscreen. In fact, my daily face moisturiser has sunscreen. At the same time, you won’t typically find me lathering on sunscreen for a day at the beach.

However, after doing my pre-trip research and knowing that I’d be potentially spending multiple days in the sun, I grabbed a travel-sized bottle of sunscreen. And I promise, I did use it… when I remembered. I used it when I went to the beach, I used it on Carnival Monday AND I did use it on Carnival Tuesday. However, I forgot to apply it in the morning and this is when I think I got sunburnt.

The next day I woke up, my chest was red and irritated. I wasn’t quite sure if it was an allergic reaction (I have no known allergies) when it hit me. Was this sunburn?! After some googling, I came to the conclusion that it was indeed sunburn, which was later confirmed a few days later when the skin on my shoulders also started to peel. Fortunately, I had aloe vera at home and I was able to return my shoulders and chest to a beautiful glow.

Born and raised in Jamaica and never did I get sunburnt. Trinidad neva affi do me like dat. Apply sunscreen regularly when on the road for Trinidad Carnival. Don’t be like me. 

2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

I cannot stress this enough. Water is life. Water is crucial. Trinidad Carnival is a marathon, not a sprint. There’s a reason they have water stations in a marathon. And remember what I just said? Trinidad sun nuh normal. Plus you’ll probably be doing a lot of drinking at fetes, on The Avenue and on the road. Therefore, it is important to remember to drink your water and stay hydrated.

I was able to successfully stay hydrated throughout my trip, or at least hydrated enough to ward off any headaches. My main strategy for doing this was drinking a bottle/cup of water after every one or two drinks. After a while, friends who I went to fetes with knew to just bring me water regularly. However, I have to admit that this strategy wasn’t suitable for being on the road, particularly with regards to using the bathrooms on the road (discussed later). Therefore, what I did instead was to ensure I was chugging several bottles/cups of water at the end of each day.

3. Using the bathroom on the road will be a struggle

This one is more for the ladies. I’ll admit I didn’t really think about this one much before and honestly, I can’t say it will really affect my outfit/costume choices going forward. I’m already not much of a romper/jumpsuit person so not much can be changed beyond that.

I first realised this during A.M.Bush. Obviously, if you’re having several drinks on the road, you’ll eventually need to urinate. Hopefully, your bladder is good to you and it’s during a rest stop but if not, there are usually bathroom trucks at the back of the line of trucks. That’s the first hurdle.

Everyone is walking in one direction in the parade and suddenly you have to walk through the crowd of people in the opposite direction of traffic to get to the bathroom. Once you get to the bathroom, you might start to question whether you REALLY need to use the bathroom because they are dis.gus.ting, especially the later you go in the day. I also hate porta-potties with a passion. When it comes your turn to use the bathroom, have fun stripping out of your costume. If you’re wearing a monokini, one-piece, or a costume that has all these different parts that need to be untied and fishnet stockings, GOOD LUCK!

There’s not much that can be done about it. If you have to go, you have to go. You can always factor this into choosing your costume but who’s really out here choosing a costume based on ease of bathroom use? The only other advice I can give is to try to empty your bladder before you hit the road, at rest stops or while waiting for your section to cross the stage so that at the very least, the truck isn’t also moving. If possible, minimise your bathroom use if your bladder is strong enough. You can also consider having few strong drinks instead of several fruitier cocktails to lessen your liquid intake but BEWARE, you know yourself so always ensure you don’t overdo it on alcohol. (I did not do this.) Fortunately, Bliss had fancier porta-potties so using them was less painful/disturbing.

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4. Beware of the lunchtime nap

On Carnival Monday and Tuesday, a lot of people will take a nap during lunchtime. By the time Monday and Tuesday roll around, most people are sleep deprived and try to sneak in a nap any chance they get. Some people can take a 10-20 minute nap and wake up like they got new batteries. However, if you are not a napper, you might want to keep your eyes open during lunchtime. You know yourselves. If you have 10 alarms to wake you up in the morning, I’m talking to you. If you always claim you’re going to close your eyes for 20 minutes and wake up groggier than when you went to sleep or wake up 4 hours later instead, it might be better to push through the fatigue and hunt down some coffee while everyone else naps.

On Carnival Tuesday, I fell victim to the lunchtime nap. While eating my lunch, I watched as everyone around me started to doze off but I had no plans to take a nap. However, after feting almost nonstop for a week and when the food coma hit, I gave in. When the time for the band to get back on the road and I was awoken, all I wanted to do was keep sleeping. I tried convincing my friend to return to our hotel so I could take a proper nap then find the band later. In retrospect, that would’ve been a horrible idea and I’m glad my friend talked sense into me (and the rideshare app wouldn’t find me a ride). After a few minutes back on the road, I shook off my post-nap grogginess and felt fine again. If it had been up to me, I would’ve returned to my hotel to take a “nap”, woken up in the middle of the night and regretted my decision.

5. Some group travel logistics

If travelling in a group or going to a fete with others, ensure you have the numbers of everyone in your party in case anyone gets separated from the group. Even if someone else in the group has the phone numbers, you should too. You never know whose phone might die and suddenly you’re missing a person and no one else has their number.

As a plan B, when you get to a fete or the parade, you should all agree on a meeting location if you get separated. There is a good chance your phone service won’t be working. If you’re on the road, choose a particular side of a specific truck “right side of Truck #2” and if at a fete, choose a fixed location “front of the stage by the right” or “by the main bar”. I recommend choosing somewhere that you can still enjoy the fete so no one ends up waiting 15 minutes for people and not enjoying themselves. At least by the bar they can still be getting drinks.

ALSO, if you know you are travelling with a group and decide to leave the group for whatever reason, let them know. Don’t ruin their night by causing them to worry about you and your safety. Be considerate and communicate.

6. And some costume logistics

You see the costumes online and you fall in love. Most of us are coming from outside the country so we don’t get to see the costume in person until we pick it up from the band a few days before the parade. What you might come to realise is that this beautiful costume is a collection of several pieces and suddenly on Carnival Tuesday morning you find yourself wondering which string goes where and how to tie things together. So a couple of things:

  • If you pick up your costume yourself, which I recommend, see if the band has a fitting area. Try on the costume to make sure it fits and also to get help figuring it out. This will also help you check that you have all the necessary pieces and know where they go. You might even be able to snag some extra strap to help provide more support on the road.
  • In the fitting room, you won’t actually put on the full costume or maybe you just didn’t pick up the costume yourself. Before Carnival Tuesday, also do a practice run of putting on the full costume so you don’t waste time on Tuesday figuring out what goes where and how to tie straps. This is also a great opportunity to practise how you can most easily get out of the costume to use the bathroom.

7. Also some packing logistics

I’m not one to plan out my outfits before a trip. In fact, I’ve had trips where I’m packing mere hours before I have to be at the airport which often results in be just throwing some things when push comes to shove. However, because I had to plan my outfits for fetes, I pretty much thought through most of my outfits ahead of time. I highly recommend packing complete outfits together. You can use ziplock bags, packing cubes or even just ensure you put them together in the suitcase. When you’re living out of a suitcase, it’s much easier to be able to grab the things you need without digging through your bag to find what top goes with which bottom. This is especially beneficial if you have back-to-back fetes so you can quickly go home and change when necessary and focus on getting ready. 

You also want to leave space in your suitcase for all the goodies you will get. When you pick up your costume, you’ll get a goodie bag with products from the band’s sponsors and designers. You might also get souvenirs from some of your fetes, particularly all-inclusive fetes. At the very least you’ll end up with a collection of cups. If you get a checked bag and a carry on free with your flight, I recommend only taking your checked bag and bringing a bag that you can use as a carry on for your return flight. Yes, you really get that much stuff. I brought home at least six cups/mugs from fetes and my bands.

8. What’s the rush?

Don’t leave on ash Wednesday. If I could go back, this is the first thing I would change. I really wish that I had gone to the beach more than once. I had also hoped to make it to Tobago but because of my fete schedule, I wasn’t able to find flights to Tobago that fit in. I also spent most of my days sleeping in (when I did not have a daytime fete) to recover from staying up the night before. 

You just spent several days or a week partying like there’s no tomorrow. By the time you’re done, you need a vacation from your vacation. If you’re like me, you might also want to spend some time exploring the island “outside of carnival”. Visit the bird sanctuary, hop over to Tobago, lime on the beach.

Next time I’ll definitely stay at least the rest of the week.

9. Additional Tips for Surviving Carnival

  • Try to find out when your band crosses the stage. I missed crossing the Savannah stage both day because Bliss crosses pretty early in the day and this is something I didn’t think about beforehand. If crossing the Savannah is very important to you, you either want to choose a band conducive to your sleep schedule or plan properly so you can make it for crossing the stage.
  • Get a driver. We thought about getting a driver to take us to all our fetes but ended up defaulting to TTRideshare. On a normal day, the rideshare app was fine, but during busy times, it was basically useless. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough drivers to meet the demand so we were often left stranded (to walk) after fetes. We eventually got the phone numbers for some taxi drivers and prearranged pickups for some of our fetes.
  • Ensure that your driver knows how to get to your destination. For example, A.M.Bush is known to be in some back a bush (secluded) area in the middle of the morning, hence the name. Unfortunately, the driver we had arranged to take up to the location, the Trinidadian, did not know where it was and expected us to give him directions. Fortunately, a member of our group stayed awake during the ride and had data on her phone and was able to look up directions.
  • For the parade, j’ouvert and A.M.Bush, you’ll get your cups beforehand. Get some tape and paper, write your drink of choice and tape it to your mug. The general setup on the road is music truck – drink trunk – music truck – repeat. So imagine all the music around you and trying to shout up to the bartender on the truck from the ground while it is also moving. When the bartender on the truck is asking for your order, it’s easier to point to your note than trying to shout over the music trucks on either side of the drink truck.

Hopefully, some of these carnival tips and lessons are helpful to you for future carnival trips. I’m not a doctor so none of this is medical advice. You should obviously do what is best for you, medically and practically. If your favourite carnival tips/hacks were not included, do share them in the comments. I’d love to hear them.

Happy feting and carnival planning!

57 thoughts on “12 Lessons from Trinidad Carnival and Tips for Surviving Your Next Carnival

  1. Love this! We have a carnival similar to this (obviously on a smaller scale) in Toronto every year! I always love the costumes/envy the girls for wearing them because they look so heavy!
    Looks like fun!!

    1. Oh yes, Caribana! I was planning to go this year but my trip got cancelled so I won’t be making it. The costumes aren’t really heavy. The backpacks probably are though. I only got a collar (small wings) so it wasn’t bad. Hopefully, you can make it to Trinidad one year because it’s truly an experience of a lifetime!

  2. I have never been to Trini carnival but the videos I’ve seen in the last two years reaaaaaaallly makes me want to go and these are AMAZING tips!!! Never even thought about the bathroom situation and how your outfit can affect haha great funny post

    1. Thanks Bisola! I reaaaaaaallly hope you make it one year, at least but beware, once you go you’ll want to go back every year haha

  3. Great read Juleen! Thanks for sharing! I’m actually planning on doing Trini carnival with my girlfriends next year so this is super helpful and I will be sharing with them. Take care!

    1. Hi Jacquelyn! I’m so excited to hear that! I hope you have a blast. Definitely start looking for a place to stay and keep your eyes on flights right now and keep an eye out for my planning guide.

  4. Oh my goodness! This looks like so much fun and you’ve mentioned tips I wouldn’t have thought about before going! Thank you!

    1. Hi Paula! That’s so exciting. I know Brazil’s carnival happens the same day/s as Trinidad’s but I hope you can make it to Trinidad one year too.

  5. Looks like you’ve had a brilliant time! Love the tips and photos and that video made me giggle, you really look like you are enjoying yourself. 🙂
    The carnival we have in Munich – Germany each year looks almost boring compared to this haha

    1. To be fair, I’m not sure any other carnival can compare to Trinidad’s. I’m from Jamaica and I have to admit Trinidad’s carnival is unmatched.

      1. I have always wanted to go to carnival. These tips are great. I would have never thought of the difficulty of going to the washroom and choosing a costume that would make washroom breaks easier.

  6. Really loving your new blog design! Also great tips. It made me excited for 2021.. or maybe 2022. I’m not sure yet but playing ‘mas is on my 30 before 30 bucket list. You’re so right though. The Trinidad sun is not normal AT ALL.

    1. Really hoping you go in 2022 cause that’s when I’m planning to go next. We can go to fetes and stuff together!!

  7. I love how practical and informative this is – the carnival looks so much fun! And you look like you were having an amazing time! 🙂

    1. I did have an amazing time. My aim was to share information that I wish I had had before I went so I’m happy you found it useful

    1. Yes, I hope you make it soon. Let me know if you have any questions and hopefully you’ll find my planning guide useful when you’re ready.

    1. The costumes are breathtaking. There’s a whole show to reveal the costumes for the year in the summer before each carnival.

  8. I would absolutely love to be in Trinidad for carnival! It looks like such a fun event! I’ve been to one carnival parade in Italy a few years ago but it was very small compared to this. Checking out Trinidad and the beautiful landscapes there would be great too haha

    1. Was it the carnival in Venice? I had wanted to go but I studied abroad in Italy in the fall instead of the spring. Hopefully I’ll make it one year. I’m sure it’s a unique experience as well.

  9. This sound like so much fun! I hate that you experienced your first sunburn though. They are no fun! Your tips were great!

  10. I loved this article! I met someone from Trinidad & Tobago during a trip to Jamaica who made me SO interested in seeing carnival. Your post hooked me, and I’m so excited to visit. I had no idea what to actually expect though, and got a ton of great information here. LOVE IT!

    1. Thanks Stephanie! I’m glad you’re interested. I hope you make it and get to experience it for yourself. Let me know if you have any questions and keep an eye out for my upcoming planning guide

  11. This looks so much fun, Juleen. I have never been to a real carnival before so your post really has me intrigued now. I hope I can go experience one someday!

  12. Sounds like so much fun! We were actually recently discussing this as a future trip idea! I would love to go and experience a real carnival – the costumes look great!

  13. After having visited many other Caribbean isles, I always wanted to go to Trinidad. However, I’m not sure if Carnival season would be the right time for me since even in Brazil, I wasn’t really fond of it.

    1. I’ve never been to Brazil but carnival is definitely not for everyone. I don’t recommend it if you are not fond of crowd, since it is a parade.

  14. Trinidad looks like such a beautiful place to visit and I cannot wait until I am finally able to go after the quarantine. It looks like such a vibrant, welcoming place – I would absolutely love to experience Carnival, and would definitely use your tips!

    1. It really is a place that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Can’t wait for you to visit!

  15. Trinidad Carnival looks like so much fun! Thanks for the useful tips – hope I get a chance to see it with my own eyes one day!

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