Burning Man has a mystique about it. It’s perceived as some sort of extreme venture into the unknown madness of dust and imaginations gone wild. And that’s spot-on. It’s unlike anywhere else in the world and it will light your imagination on fire like nothing else.
When I tell people that we go to Burning Man, it’s a guaranteed conversation. Anyone who has never been is full of curiosity and those those who are on the brink of going for the first time have a lot of Burning Questions about what to expect, what to bring, what to wear, how to get there…. and on and on. So here we go….
The way to think of Burning Man is as a city. Just like Paris or New York. Except this city exists for one week only and is built from the ground up entirely by it’s inhabitants. It exists in extremely harsh conditions and by completely radical social rules that are the main attraction for those who flock from around the globe to participate in this particular type of experiential utopia.
This isn’t a carnival or an amusement park; it’s a place to explore, soak in, and let yourself be swept away. There is nothing “unacceptable” – except commercialism, littering, unkindness, exclusion, monetary exchange, consumerism, lack of imagination and relying on others for survival. In short, it’s the exact opposite of everything that “normal” society promotes.
And that’s why the most creative people in the world brave the dust and descend upon Black Rock City every August.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Some long time Burners relish the “experience” of the drive and say it’s half the fun of going there. But 15 hours of driving and traffic sound like pure hell to me. So we opt to fly from LA. You can take a private charter direct through BJETS or fly to Reno on Southwest and then take a group charter into Black Rock City through Black Rock Air, Burner Air, or any of the other specialty charter companies that run flights in and out of Burning Man.
When you fly, you land right onto the Playa and walk straight to the gates, onto an Art Car and into the madness. It really doesn’t get better….
WHAT TO EXPECT:
- Dust in EVERY crevice of your body – there’s no getting around it. Embrace the dust and learn to love it.
- Harsh weather – hot hot daytime, cold cold nights. Do not go out at night without layers, lights, and a coat…. you may not be back until 10am!
- Freedom of expression – people will be wearing nothing and doing everything… and they will be doing it in ways you never imagined. Seeing a gigantic Discofish vehicle cruising around with blasting music and ecstatic dancers against the barren desert backdrop at 6am will become commonplace by Day Two.
- Getting your mind blown by the level of creativity and ingenuity – (see “freedom of expression” above)
- Depression upon returning home (or as Burners call it, “decompression”) – this is something you may roll your eyes at before going, but when you return home you will catch yourself feeling like “regular life” is dull. Then you will realize you have been living as a slave to the mass consumerist rat race, and you WILL feel depressed. It is not just a come-down from all the drugs you took while you were there..
WHAT TO SEE & DO
You can have any experience you want at Burning Man. Crazy sex-filled voyerism? Check. Sunrise kundalini yoga? Check. All night roller disco? Yes……
I suggest checking out the Burning Man website thoroughly before going. Familiarize yourself with the art installations, events, and important Burns. Then make a plan to see the things you are interested in, just like any other city you might go to. One caveat: Burning Man has no sense of time. So flexibility is key and don’t expect to see anyone you’ve made plans with. Often, the city has other plans for you……
WHAT TO EAT: In such a hot/harsh environment, you probably won’t be that hungry. I mostly existed on a liquid diet of frozen green juice, water, and some trail mix. Which is nice because you stay flat-stomached while frolicking in next-to-nothing fashions! However, it’s very important to keep yourself well nourished and, above all… WELL HYDRATED!
- Fresh food / juice – if you are lucky to be part of a camp with a well organized, funded, and sophisticated food program, you are all set and mostly just need to bring your own snacks and things to keep yourself going in between meals or in case you get lost or stay out all night in the Deep Playa. We trucked up some large, heavy-duty coolers full of green juices frozen on dry ice blocks and those lasted us all week. If you are a glamping professional and like to make salads and other gourmet items, then go for it…. just remember that it will be HOT and you have to protect your food from spoiling.
- Nuts, berries, protein bars – I brought bags of nutritious trail mix, nuts, dried berries, and protein bars by Epic, which are basically grass fed gourmet beef jerky bars. I always need protein and these kept me happy.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate – alcohol, sunshine and dust = dehydration, so drink TONS of water. On our truck we loaded large 5 gallon bottles of alkaline water (I know, very Venice of us!). Add some himalayan salt and lemon for electrolytes. Think of this as an art-filled extreme marathon. You don’t want to sputter out because you aren’t well fueled up!
- Dust protection / goggles, scarf, sunscreen, and a hat or parasol
- Shoes / combat boots, high top sneakers, tall moccasin boots… these could all be good. I don’t understand these girls walking around in wedge/platform shoes…. comfort is more important than “fashion”… there’s nothing cute about blisters or being hindered because of bad footwear. And break those new shoes in BEFORE hitting the dust… you’ll be glad you did!
- Fashions / don’t bring too much — none of it really matters once you get there; i like a basic color palette of black, red and nude so everything mixes well and I can dress in a system. Start out the hot day in minimal clothes (a unique one piece bathing suit) and some interesting jewelry/face makeup and build up from there into the evening. Add leggings, jacket and a cool hat/headdress later and then much later add your big fur coat and switch the leggings for leather pants. You get the point.
- Hair/makeup / you’re caked in dust 5 minutes after arriving so think about hats, wigs, turbans, corn rows, whatever can disguise your matted hair…. or just embrace it and tie it up! For makeup, I like crystal appliqué face jewels, a creme blush and a lipstick that is a stain. Keep your lip balm nearby!
- Jewelry / nothing precious — you will probably lose it. But cheapie body chains, ankles, earrings from places like Nasty Gal or TopShop are a good idea.
- Carry-all / a backpack and a waist pack are a must. Look for some unique and utilitarian ones on Etsy.
- Coat / warm gear – leggings and a mid-length thick coat will be your best friends. A vintage fur chubby I scored on Ebay for $30 was the best. Make sure it has pockets and a hood if you get cold easily….
- Dress in layers at night!
- Style vs. costumes – this isn’t halloween, people. Don’t be that rookie person who shows up in something that looks like a costume out of a bag! Think STYLE. Unique pieces you find at a thrift store; a big lace ball gown with combat boots. Things you feel like you have no occasion to wear in “real life.” For example, last year my stand-out piece was a gold sequin 1920’s bolero jacket that I wore day and night (pictured above) thrown over a slashed black one-piece bathing suit and my studded Reebok high top boots. I love that little jacket and never had occasion to wear it before, but it was so beautiful and sexy and added a feminine touch to anything I wore. It was a perfect contrast against the dusty landscape of Black Rock City. I’ll be bringing it again this year.
- An open mind – listen to the voices in your head that will resist what you are experiencing… then push them aside and dive into the experience head on.
- A strong constitution – dust, constant noise, sleep deprivation, getting lost and scared, being hot, getting cold, having to pee in stinky port-a-potties…. you will deal with all of it. Remember: it’s a small price to pay for the experience of a lifetime.
- Your talents – what are you great at? How can you contribute with your ideas, talents, or manual labor? Participating and contributing on some level to the Burning Man Community will greatly enhance your experience. Plus, it’s one of the Burning Man Principles (read those, please!).
Gifting items – bring something USEFUL to share with others. You cannot buy anything on the playa and the idea is NOT TO TRADE things. Instead, you GIFT things with no expectation of anything in return. Gift because of your desire to share and make others happy. What would make them happy? Use your imagination and let it reflect what is unique about you. Here are some ideas:– Rose water for misting – little spray bottles filled with water and essential oils are super refreshing out there and can be refilled!– Lighter – Have some custom made with the Burning Man theme and year stamped on them?– Light up gear for night frolicking that does NOT require batteries
– Refreshing food/drinks – You can bring these up in coolers, set up a stand at your camp for a specific time each day and interact with the community.
– Spiked sweets (old school pot brownies, anyone?)
- Survival gear
– Clear goggles (so you can see in case of a dust storm)
– A scarf for covering your mouth & nose when the dust kicks up (a basic bandana will do, you don’t need an apocalyptic Mad Max mask)
– Sun protection
– A good headlamp
– Extra batteries
– Reusable water bottle
– Heavy duty lip balm
– Body oil (you will be DRY DRY DRY)
– First aid kit for blisters
– Anti-chafing balm
– Disposable wipes (for porta-potty use)
– Black out sleep mask
– Good ear plugs
– Kiddie training potty with the disposable bags (never know when you will need this and be FAR from a bathroom! — this was the best thing i brought last year!)
– Always keep a few large sized ziploc bags in your backpack for collecting your own trash. THERE ARE NO TRASH CANS OUT THERE; everyone takes “Leave No Trace” very seriously. So be prepared to keep all your own trash and take it back out with you when you leave. That includes any “bathroom” bags…
- Drugs (someone had to say it…….) – Please don’t be a stumbling rookie or that person who gets paranoid / lost / hurt / or ends up in the Mental Health ward. Be responsible and have the intention of expanding your mind, not losing it completely.
WHAT NOT TO DO:
- Don’t litter!
- Don’t exclude others
- Don’t be an “observer”
- Don’t get lost!
- Don’t go dark at night!!!
You will never be the same after experiencing the freedom of Black Rock City. What are you waiting for?
ALL PHOTOS BY AMIR MAGAL