So you’re going to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta? AWESOME! Whether this is your first fiesta or you’re a seasoned pro, one thing is certain: you’re going to have a fantastic time.
dozens hundreds of balloons literally lifting off right before your eyes is simply astounding. But if it’s your first time, and you’re wondering, “What the heck do I take with me?” Well, I’m here to help answer that question. Shoot, even if this is your 20th time to the event, there may be something here you haven’t thought about taking yet.
The following list is assuming you brave the traffic, and drive to the park. I’m also throwing some ideas in just in case you’re taking kids. If you don’t have little ones, and if you take the Fiesta Express Park and Ride (great service provided), your list may look a little different.
Going to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta? Pack the following:
1. A (Canon) camera.
Okay, it definitely does not need to be a Canon camera, but the company is sponsoring the event this year, so you’ll get extra gold stars if you take a Canon. Just kidding, there will be no stars provided. In all seriousness, though: if you have a camera, this is the place to take it. The Balloon Fiesta is one of the most photographed events in the world, so get that clicker ready.
2. A backup camera and accessories.
Fact: if you’re taking kids with you, your hands will be full, so if you don’t think you can get out your DSLR, a smart phone will do. If you are taking a big camera, don’t forget to also charge those batteries and take any additional lenses you may want.
While a 50mm is a gorgeous lens, keep in mind that you’ll be up close and very personal with the balloons, so unless you want to literally bend over backwards to get part of a balloon in your frame, you may want to go with a wider lens. Pick up a tripod for your phone while you’re at it!
3. Wear Layers.
Albuquerque is a strange place when it comes to weather, especially in October. The mornings (before the sun rises) are pretty darn chilly (in the 30s), but come mid-morning you may start feeling the heat (in the 70-80s).
Dress in plenty of layers, and definitely wear closed-toed shoes since the grass may be wet with dew. Now is not the time to wear your favorite pair of heals or booties; you’ll be traipsing in dirt, wet grass, and maybe a little mud here and there.
For the kids I go all out: hats, gloves, thermal pants, fleece coat, and boots, and then I start pealing off the layers as the morning progresses. I’d rather have them complain about being hot than whine about being too cold. I typically wear a tank top, long sleeve shirt, and a sweatshirt/coat, and depending on the weather, maybe a hat.
I often wear glasses, but I make an exception on Balloon Fiesta days; I swap out the four-eyes for contacts. It’s all so that I can wear my sunglasses since the light shifts so dramatically during those morning hours. Trust me, even though you’re leaving your place while it’s still pitch dark, you’re going to want those sunglasses a few hours later, so make sure they’re in your bag!
No, those capital letters aren’t typos. You’re going to want to leave your house around 3 am, so coffee—or some type of caffeine—is an absolute necessity. Brew some at home and take it with you to drink while you wait to park.
Don’t worry, you can refill at the park, because just about every vendor will have coffee on tap.
6. Snacks and Water
Balloon Fiesta food is some of my absolute favorite, because New Mexico’s best restaurants are all in one place, and they’re all selling their most popular items.
When you enter the park you’ll see 1/3 mile long row of tents, and the majority of those are all food! However, the lines get very long, and if you’re at the other end of the park and have little ones begging for something to eat rightthisverminute, you don’t want to be caught without a snack on hand.
Pack some snacks with you and make everyone happy. Same goes for water. Stay hydrated, my friends. (No glass or alcohol allowed in, and your bags are subject to search.)
You know those lines and tents I mentioned in the last section? Make your food-getting adventure go a little bit faster by having cash on hand. There are also fun balloon souvenirs that you can buy throughout the park, and I’m pretty sure they only take cash.
Pro tip: Stop at the ATM the night before—you definitely don’t want to take a detour the morning of the fiesta.
8. Stroller/Carrier (for little ones)
Because the last thing you want to do is carry around a 30-pound child (or two 30-pound children), am I right? But more than that, you’ll have storage for all of your stuff, and they’ll have their own, personal front-row seat to seeing the balloons.
This is our all-time favorite stroller, but if you want one of the smaller ones, this one fits the bill, too. If you have really little ones, bring your carrier, too. Not only will it keep them warm, but it will keep them close to you at all times, so you won’t have to keep tabs on anyone running away.
This is more for the kiddos, but they’ll appreciate having a blanket to wrap up in while they’re sitting comfy in their stroller seat. Plus, if you end up sticking around after all the balloons have left the field, the crowds start to thin, and you can lay the blanket out on the grass and let the little ones crawl or run around.
10. A backpack.
To put everything in. Remember all of those layers I told you to wear up at the top of this list? Well, they all need a place to go! Backpacks are great since they zip up and you won’t have to worry about things falling out. This is my current favorite backpack.
Bonus: if you’re taking a stroller, you don’t even have to put your back to work—just toss it in the stroller.
*UPDATE September 2019: There are new safety precautions in place this year, including metal detectors, and increased security. If you’d like to use the “Express Lane” to enter onto the field, consider putting all of your belongings in a clear bag, or see-through bag, or container. Here is a large one big enough for all your things.
11. Lawn chair.
Totally optional, but I was jealous of the people who used them last year, so from now on I’ll always take one. There are picnic benches around, but finding an actual place to sit on them is harder than you’d think since everyone flocks to the few seats available.
If you have the space, or a cool chair that has a strap on it, put that baby on your back (the chair, not your actual baby). When the kids are all lounging in their stroller and you’re standing there like a sucker, you’ll wish you could sit down.
Cold weather makes the nose run, so nip that issue and stash some little packs of tissue in your bag. Your nose will thank you.
I know I’ve mentioned this already, but it’s very, very dark before the sun peeks over the Sandia Mountains, and with the exception of the glow from a few balloons getting ready to launch, you may want a flashlight to find your way around.
But most of all, have fun!
The balloon fiesta runs for 9 days)—balloons will pop up all around town, so if you happen to see one while driving around, try your hand at “chasing” one! It’s a ton of fun, and most of the time they’ll let you help bring it down. See more about balloon chasing here.
Have you been to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta before?
Would essentials would you add to the list?