“By the end of the week, you’ll be eating food half covered in dust and not even think twice.”
We say this with full confidence: there is absolutely nothing else in the world like Burning Man. Imagine 70,000 people camped out in The the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, giant art installations, LED lights everywhere, and an earth-friendly vibe where everyone cleans up and brings gifts for each other. Oh — water, food, and shelter are all your responsibility to provide for yourself. You could definitely use a few pointers for your first time at Burning Man. Luckily, our friend Narin “Jimmy” Apichairuk is a resident Burner with enough tips for a complete guide:
Prep Yourself for Desert Life
Don’t forget your goggles! A pair of cool goggles will come in handy when the common dust storms a.k.a White Outs happen, which could be any time, day or night.
You may think you’ve got a leg up on the weather coming from Asia, but you’re only half right. The weather here is hot by day and can reach 40°C. Unlike Asia, the desert is quite dry with little to no humidity so, in that sense, it’s actually more forgiving than a tropical Asian summer!
Staying hydrated and wearing extra sunscreen is a must, especially with all the dancing, bicycling and exploring that goes on at the Playa. Find shade at one of the many camps around, which is also a great way to meet other Burners.
One thing you need to be prepared for is the weather at night that can drop down to 5°C. Wear your skin-baring costume by the day but at night, you’ll want to have those extra layers of warm clothing with you. Surprisingly, you’ll still see a lot of people dancing the night away to keep warm!
“Radical Self-Reliance” = Bring Everything
I never knew how handy and multi-purpose duct tape could be until I went to Burning Man. Chapstick will be your best friend as your lips get very dry in the desert.
Anything you may find yourself needing at Burning Man, you’ll have to bring yourself — that’s the concept of their “Radical Self-Reliance”. Imagine living on an island (or a desert) for a week. It’s the little things people tend to overlook. That being said, the Burners are looking out for each other and will gladly lend a helping hand whenever, or even just giving you something you need.
For those who like to be really prepared, there are many sites that have detailed list made from previous Burners of items to bring. The lists are comprehensive and usually broken down into three categories Must, Highly Recommended and Optional. Don’t be shocked as the list is long. The official Burning Man website is a good place to start and a little web-surfing goes a long way in preparation of what to bring.
Lastly, LIGHTS! Lots of lights! If you want to survive your first night in Black Rock City you must have lights to be seen. Lights on your bike, on your costumes, head lights, extra lights in your backpack. Lights everywhere. It truly is a very dangerous hazard to ride around in the desert without any lights.
Gifting: The Spirit of Generosity
One year, I brought 1,000 Tiger Balms to hand out to people!
The point of Gifting is to manifest an economy built on the flow of goodwill where kindness flourishes and generosity is widespread. It is not a barter system as some may believe; gifts are neither transactions nor obligations. The principle of Gifting is about giving freely when you choose to give. It’s as simple as that.
Being from Thailand, I like to bring little Thai trinkets usually of elephants or tuk-tuk’s to give to Burners I just met. I also make it a habit to gift any Virgin Burner I met on the playa. Gifting just feels right, it feels good.
You Are Walking Art
The Playa is the epicentre of self-expression and creativity through people, performances, mutant vehicles (art cars) and art installations.
The art installations are remarkable. Some are even planned years in advance, with some having their own fundraising page. But, not everyone present needs to contribute an art installation. You can, but most people are their own art through their costumes.
People dress all sorts of ways that it’s quite impressive to see if you’re interested in fashion. Bohemian gypsy, Mad Max, rock star desert chic, post-apocalyptic warrior, flower child, rave queen, galactic goth are just some of the styles….at least the ones that involve wearing clothes!
Nowadays, when ever I see something that I think would look good on the Playa I buy it and keep it for my next journey to Black Rock City. It can be anything that I connect with and can imagine myself wearing at Burning Man. Be it at thrift shops, markets, street vendors, shopping malls, or online, I’m always looking.
Leaving No Trace/Matter out of Place (MOOP)
70,000 people in the desert and you’ll never find a ciggarette butt or trash.
This is one of Burning Man’s cardinal principles and people take it seriously. If you see a MOOP then you stop to pick it up. Burners pride themselves on Leaving No Trace and it is a big deal.
Anything you bring to the desert you have to bring back with you when you leave, so planning ahead helps. Remove all packaging and boxes of things you’re packing, don’t bring plastic bottles, and carry your own ashtray if you smoke. My favourite is ‘don’t let it hit the dust’, which means nothing should touch the ground and therefore it can’t be left there as MOOP.
Making Comfortable Sleeping Arrangements
Who really needs sleep when you’re at Burning Man, right?
Depending on your budget, accommodation ranges from a simple tent with community bathrooms, to camping in an RV, or living it up in a luxury camp. Those with a tight budget might park their cars and pitch a tent next to it. These Burners usually take a “burners bath” which is essentially, taking moist towelettes to wipe down.
On the more luxurious end, there are themed camps with RVs for groups as small as 10 people or as large as 200. The most luxurious of all camps have private chefs, open bars. lounge areas to mingle and their own DJ — that’s what a budget of USD 10,000 to USD 15,000 will get you!