Trinidad Carnival Survival Guide: Do’s & Don’t for First Timers

Trinidad Carnival Survival Guide

It’s Carnival season in Trinidad and the absolute epicness of the parade is less than a month away! If you’re a first-timer making your debut at the Greatest Show on Earth, the excitement is REAL! But, I completely understand if your anticipation is tinged with just a hint of apprehension. After all, no video, no blog post, or even first-hand accounts from your friends can truly prepare you for what to expect. Here’s hoping this Trinidad Carnival survival guide gives you an idea of some of the key do’s and don’ts for the road.

Trinidad Carnival Survival Guide

Here are the “Do’s”

Adjust your costume

I know, you paid a whole lot of money for very little costume so the idea that you still have to make adjustments may be unsettling. However, those gorgeous works of art weren’t custom made to your exact measurements. And although they will most likely fit well enough as is, “well enough” isn’t good enough when you take into consideration you’ll be jumping, wining, walking and who-knows-what-else for over 12+ hours in the hot sun and (possibly) pouring rain. So, be sure to try on your entire costume in advance. Walk around in it. Wine in it. Jump in it. Take note of anything that doesn’t feel “right” and alter as needed. Key problems areas to pay attention to:

  • Bra: Is it covering everything it should? Wire bras can be easily molded to fit your boob but if the bra is just too big or too small you may have to go to costume swapping sites like fineahband.com or carnivaljunction.com and see if you connect with someone looking to make a trade.
  • Bikini bottom: Is it too big, or too small? Does it require a simple adjustment or a complete swap?
  • Backpack: Is the frame digging into your shoulders/back? If yes, wrap it with foam then covering that up with spandex or ribbon to give it extra padding.

Monitor your drinking

The drinks will be flowing in your all-inclusive band and having shelled out a few hundred US for a bedazzled bikini and feathered backpack I can understand the urge to want to “get your money’s worth” by shutting down the bar. Try to resist it. We’re talking about two full days in the sweltering heat. You’ll need to be on top of your game if you intend to actually enjoy (and remember) the experience and make it to Las’ Lap. So, imbibe within your threshold and be sure to stay hydrated by filling those cups up with water every now and then. 

Protect your skin

Note to my brown skin girls: melanin isn’t impenetrable armor. Playing mas means two whole days of your skin being fully exposed to the sun. I know that “black don’t crack” but that doesn’t mean we don’t require a little SPF coverage under such extreme conditions. So please, slather on that sunscreen before putting on your costume and spray on a little extra for good measure after you’ve geared up – yes even over your stockings. Plus, added protection means reducing the likelihood of the most ludicrous tan lines from your costume.

Have a road kit

It’s cuter than it sounds and unbelievably essential. A road kit is a small bag/wristlet/fanny-pack with some useful and crucial items that will make your experience on the road a lot easier. What items might I be speaking of? For everyone, some essentials may be different and as you venture along the path from virgin to veteran you’ll fine-tune your needs. However, for a first-timer I recommend the following:

  • Neutrogena oil absorbent wipes
  • Bandaids
  • Hand sanitizer (attach to bag)
  • Lip gloss
  • Safety pins (you never know when someone decided to give way)
  • Safety pins
  • Headband (to secure your cup to your wrist)
  • TT $100 in cash (just in case)

Wear comfortable shoes

Having your costume in check is critical but comfortable shoes are mandatory when it comes to surviving Trinidad Carnival. Family and friends always tease me about my miraculous ability to pump for two days in a row without complaint, despite the fact that my lungs appear to be on the verge of collapse after climbing a flight of stairs. I always give the smug answer that “the music carries me”. But the real reason is that I do everything I can to ensure my feet feel like they’re wrapped up in an uber-comfy carnival cocoon (even though I use impractical looking boots). How? Easy:

  • Dr. Scholl’s inserts
  • Toe-less stockings (you’ll be surprised the difference it makes when your toes aren’t restricted by nylons)
  • Thin ankle socks
  • Band-Aids (place on your baby toe as that’s the one mostly rubbing against the inside of the shoe)
  • I also know some people who bandage their ankles, which I guess helps if you have weak ankles

Know the music

Soca music defines the Carnival experience. From the parties to the parade, the infectious beats are what keep masqueraders pumping non-stop. Each year, a handful of tunes that truly embody the spirit of the season rise to the top of the pack and they will set the tone on the road so make sure you know them. When the spirit takes you, you’ll want to join your fellow masqueraders in singing along. DJ Private Ryan Soca Starter series is usually a good place to start.

And these are the Don’t’s

Feel obligated to dance with ANYONE

Carnival may be the season of “wine and jam” but that only applies to your bumper (butt) if you’re so inclined. Just because you’re out in public in a “skimpy” costume dancing your heart out to infectious tunes does not mean anyone has the right to feel entitled to dance with you, touch you, or invade your space in any way. Yes, wining is a big part of Trini fete culture and a central ingredient to the carnival experience but you are under no obligation to subscribe to that mindset. Bottom line: don’t do anything with anyone if you don’t feel comfortable – be it a stranger or otherwise.

Lose your crew

Tens of thousands of people on the road. A few hundred of them wearing your exact costume. No cell service. No wifi. Losing sight of your crew is almost inevitable. However, reuniting with them need not be a struggle in futility. At least, not if you have a regrouping plan in place. For me and my girls, it’s a truck. A music truck to be exact (because the bars are too crowded).  Clearly numbered and always in the same order, we agree that if anyone gets lost, meet on the right side of Truck 4. So even as the band is moving your meetup point remains unchanged. So, before you get on the road pick a truck, confirm a side and hoof it over there as soon as you lose sight of your group or you realize you’re a (wo)man short. 

Miss crossing the stage 

The wait may be long. It may seem overrated. But whatever you do, don’t miss crossing the stage. As amazing as it is to tramp through the streets of Port of Spain with careless abandon, there is NOTHING more exhilarating than dancing your costume on the Big Stage at the Queen’s Park Savannah, and now, also at the Socadrome in the Hasley Crawford Stadium. After all, there’s a reason soca artists pour their hearts and souls into producing music specifically to inspire us to dominate the stage. For a masquerader, it’s our Mount Everest, our Olympics, our Carnival Pinnacle. Don’t listen to anyone who’s done it before and claims it isn’t worth it. Try it for yourself, then you be the judge.

Trinidad Carnival: Crossing the stage

Be “That Girl” 

I’m not here to shame anyone. If you can hold your head high the morning after, regardless of what extreme and socially unconventional actions you carried out on the road, power to you. But, if you know you’re going to want to crawl up in a hole and never emerge until your grandparents, parents, and godparents have all forgotten you were born, then just don’t be that woman who loses her mind wilding out on Monday and Tuesday. Because you will surely die of mortification the moment the videos start to circulate on Ash Wednesday. Keep your head on. Act right. Respect yourself. Enjoy the experience with dignity. 

Trinidad Carnival is without a doubt one of the most incredible festivals in the world. If you happen to be a first-timer, I hope the do’s and don’ts outlined in this Trinidad Carnival survive guide help you navigate what will undoubtedly be two of the most rigorous but also glorious days of your life!

If you’re still looking for some motivation to get hyped, check out my post on why playing mas might be better than a wedding!

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Trinidad Carnival Survival Guide      Trinidad Carnival Survival Guide

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