Burning Man has always been one of those “someday” experiences for me.
It has always seemed so mystical; this bizarre concept of gathering with 80,000 other self-reliant people in a temporary metropolis in the middle of the desert.
I had never pictured myself actually going, so in my head it’s been this ‘far away’ idea…
In three weeks from now, we (being myself, my partner Aaron, and friends Frankie and Chris), will pick up a giant 35 foot long motorhome in LA and drive 10 hours up to Black Rock City, a temporary city erected just for the event, deep in the Nevada desert.
We’ll be there for 8 days to experience one of the most awe-inspiring, expressive, magical and eye-opening events in the world.
What is Burning Man?
It’s an annual event described as “an experiment in community and art”. The event is influenced by 10 main principles: radical inclusion, self-reliance and self-expression, as well as community cooperation, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy and leaving no trace.
You have to be 100% self reliant, which means taking all your food, water and supplies with you. And you’re not allowed to buy or sell anything there — instead, you trade, barter or simply give.
It’s expected you bring ‘gifts’ to share with the community, and they don’t have to be physical gifts. You can be creative and give intangibles like a joke, a hug, a compliment, or whatever else you can think of.
Google ‘Burning Man’ images to get a taste of the weird and wonderful things you’ll find there.
What happens there?
From what I’ve heard, whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find.
Want to do a bunch of yoga and meditation? You can do that. Want to party like an animal for a week straight? You can do that. Want to learn how to paint your own nipples? You can do that. Want to ride your bike around and gawk at all the amazing art and sculptures? You can absolutely do that.
Why are we going?
We hadn’t planned on going to Burning Man originally. I had already booked to go to Podcast Movement, my favourite business conference, which is happening in LA in late August.
It just so happened that Burning Man fell during the week after the conference, and it was on the same side of the country. We started to think to ourselves: ‘Hang on, maybe this someday thing could actually happen!’
The amount of organisation required for such a trip did overwhelm me somewhat, but we decided that if we planned early enough in advance, we would definitely make it happen. So we got planning, and now, with 3 weeks to go, it’s actually happening! Here’s a rundown of what we did.
Stuff we needed for Burning Man:
1. A ticket
Obvious, but not so easy to obtain. It’s quite a process to register for the ticket sale, and if you miss out in the main sale, you have to buy them at scarily inflated prices. On the day of the sale, Aaron, Frankie and I got up at 5.00am, logged in and waited anxiously for the ‘progress bar’ to creep closer and closer towards the sales page.
By some miracle, I managed to buy two, and Frankie got one. We couldn’t believe it. (We attribute our luck to The Universe, which we believe will make things happen if you want it bad enough.)
2. Transport and Accommodation
Many people take tents, but we weren’t keen on the idea of buying a truckload of camping gear that we would use for a week and then dump. For internationals like us, a motorhome was definitely going to be the most sustainable option.
We contacted a few commercial camper van companies, and each quoted us around USD$6000 to USD$7000 for a week’s rental. Ouch. We eventually stumbled on RVshare.com, where private owners of RVs rent out their vehicles to holidaymakers like us — awesome! It’s like ‘Air B’nB for motorhomes’.
We emailed about a dozen owners, and had a few positive responses. We ended up renting from a lovely couple in Anaheim, who charged us USD$1700 for the entire trip. Boom.
3. A US driver’s license
Here’s where it got tricky. Because we rented the RV from private owners, we needed US vehicle insurance to cover it (they don’t have commercial insurance like the rental companies). As Aussies, there was no way we could obtain insurance without a US driver’s license.
We needed an American.
The first instinct was to post a simple “Hey guys we need an American…” on Facebook and let the internet do its thing. But this wasn’t just some “Hey I’m selling a bike!” kinda classified. This was a serious “Hey-we’ll be-spending-a-week-in-tiny-confines-with-you-in-the-scorching-hot-desert-where-you’ll-be-pushed-to-your-physical-and-emotional-limits” kinda classified.
We had to make sure this person wasn’t a psycho. And, we had to convince them that we weren’t psychos.
We could only think of one solution:
We figured that if we showed our personalities through a fun video, people who connected with it would reach out. And if they thought we were weirdos, they wouldn’t.
We put it on Facebook and it received over 2,000 views in the first day.
Did it work?
We did get a few leads, but what happened in the end was truly ironic.
While I was editing the video at our co-work space, we were all having a giggle at how gorgeous Frankie looked in his magenta wig. A co-worker asked what we were doing, and we said “We’re making this video for Burning Man!”
Then someone further down the desk said: “Oh Burning Man, that’s awesome! When do you head off?”
Then someone across the other side of the room overhears and yells out: “Wait? Are you going to Burning Man? We’re going too!”
And you wouldn’t believe it, she had an American accent.
I know what you’re thinking: NO WAY!!!
Yes way. We rushed over and met Devon, who not only was American, but needed a lift from LA to the event, AND could help us out with insurance (See? The Universe provides. Again.)
Our next steps:
So we’ve got the most important aspects covered. Once we pick up the RV, we need to load it up with our supplies, including enough food and water to last the four of us for a week.
It will definitely be a new experience in being mindful of our food consumption. I mean, if you eat all the chocolate on Day 1, you’re screwed for the rest of the week. You can’t just run down to the store to pick up some more!
But that is just one of many new experiences we’ll have at Burning Man. I’ve heard it can be very tough physically, mentally and emotionally, and that it’s not something you can really prepare yourself for. You simply need to arrive with an open mind, embrace the 10 principles, surround yourself with supportive, people, and just…trust in The Universe :)
I’ll be sure to keep you updated with our experience. Watch this space!