Top 10 things I learned at Burning Man (with 2 Dope Videos)
One piece of advice I got before I left for Burning Man was: “You can get what you want out of it, so decide what you want before you go.” But I didn’t really know what I could get out of it until I actually showed up. After a week at Black Rock City, I came away with a much better understanding of what the “playa provides” really means.
10. Hard work or NO work
Burning man is either hard work or no work. I chose the all-in plan by helping to build and strike our camp. While it wasn’t the most extravagant camp (just three large tents and a few yurts), putting people together under stressful circumstances can create a lot of tension and reveals much about people’s character. I’ve heard scientists say that memories are stronger when you overcome obstacles, so we developed some lasting bonds along the way.
The other way to approach Burning Man is along the NO work route. Just show up a few days after your camp is built, then leave the morning after the burn. Many people drove RVs or just threw tents in the moving truck, which I think is perfectly acceptable if you compensate the builders/strikers in some way. That didn’t happen at our camp.
9. Burning Man can be expensive (but it can also be done cheaply)
To be honest, my trip to Burning Man was pretty expensive. I rented a pick-up truck so as not to dirty my new Crosstrek, which alone set me back $1k (plus gas). I also bought a Shiftpod for additional insulation, as well as a camping cooker, clothing, a meal plan and kerosene, not to mention the tickets themselves. Including the water for the camp (which I never got reimbursed for), I probably spent $4k in total.
But it can be done on a MUCH cheaper budget. I met lots of people who just bought tickets, took the Burning Express and brought a tent, sleeping bag and some bottles of water. They were JUST fine. So go the cheap route.
8. Leave No Trace
The Leave No Trace philosophy was something I really liked about Burning Man, ensuring there’s absolutely no trash left in the desert. Twenty people from the DPW (Department of Public Works) walk 9.2 miles to comb the desert picking up trash. Then the government picks 12 separate one-acre blocks and not a single one can have enough trash to fill a small ziplock bag or the entire event will be canceled the following year.
After I heard this story, I definitely made an effort to be cleaner and more organized than I have ever been before (I was previously a pretty messy person). The philosophy has stuck with me and made me wonder if we can actually create a trash-less society. One in which we don’t CREATE trash in the first place. I think it’s definitely possible.
7. It’s a lot of work to build that city
During Burning Man, I attended a presentation by the leader of the DPW and it was really entertaining. Forty different crews of volunteers work for seven weeks from the set-up to bump out, covering everything from water to logistics and support. They store everything at Black Rock Station, which is 15 miles away, and 12 people work throughout the winter on metalworking Burning Man’s creations. Most of the artwork is set up in 3-7 days before the event, with just two weeks to clean it all up at the end.
6. Pickles are amazing snacks
I ordered a meal plan for my time at Burning Man, which meant that I had breakfast and dinner delivered to me every day, except during the build and strike. It was nice to have scrambled eggs in the morning and a hot meal at night. But honestly, I would have done just fine with the camping stove and bags of food I bought at REI in advance.
In addition to salty potato chips and energy bars (which my stomach hates), our snacks included pickles, which were the best! I couldn’t believe how pickles are not only refreshing but also hydrating in the desert…and mixing pickle juice with some whiskey makes a great drink.
5. The night time spectacles are amazing
The night spectacle at Burning Man was quite incredible. At first, I couldn’t really believe what I was seeing. People had built such amazing artworks in the middle of the desert, with floating insects swarming all around. Dragon boats bolted through the desert alongside Pacman cars and so much more. Just watch the video here to get a feel for it. The peak of the night action begins on Wednesday and ends on the Saturday of the burn.
4. Everyone must consent
This was a very powerful principle at Burning Man. If you wanted to flirt or touch someone, you had to ask for their permission. There were no exceptions and anyone from the opposite sex had to adhere.
I saw this rule broken (with repercussions) but I also saw it used gracefully, both of which had a major impact on me. Learning to be around scantily dressed people and controlling your instincts was one that I grew to appreciate. Just because someone is running around nude, it doesn’t mean they’re interested in you or want your attention. This is something I’ll carry with me wherever I go.
3. BM promotes a healthy and active lifestyle
Burning man offers a place to participate in a healthier lifestyle. On Tuesday, they have an ultra-marathon in which several hundred participants enter, including me. One camp hosted a basketball court and another a gym, with a few of us lifting three times that week.
Some camps offered dancing workshops or martial arts and if you wanted a slower pace, there’s was always some form of yoga happening somewhere. In order to see the playa, I rode my bike non-stop and must have clocked up around 10 miles per day. Do all of that in the extreme heat and you’ll surely slim the belly!
2. The giving economy is transcendent
The giving economy of Burning Man really struck me as an amazing thing. Once people are taken out of our highly competitive and capitalistic world, they start to see each other for who they really are. People want to get to know you and where you come from, rather than what you do. They’re more interested in what you’ve been doing around camp or to help others enjoy their time in the desert. The giving economy knows no color, race or prejudice and opens us up to others we might not otherwise make friends with.
1. Establish your own schedule: I lived by day
Something I didn’t know going in was how productive and interesting Burning Man is. If I had known this, I probably would have gone a decade ago! It was like a massive conference of wellbeing, spirituality and adventure. I went to yoga classes, tai chi and dancing workshops, as well as non-profit sessions and cocoa drinking ceremonies.
While some people slept during the heat of the day, I couldn’t. Instead, I would fall asleep around 7 pm, then wake at 3 or 4 am and head out. For me this was perfect – I saw some of the best DJs as the sun rose over the desert. Watching the sunrise over the desert every day was the best part of my experience and every time it was breathtaking. See video here.
My last piece of Burning Man advice is to not be afraid to just wander. One of my favorite days was spent wandering back to my camp across the Playa after the ultra-marathon. I stopped at a few camps, tried their treats, had a few drinks and chatted with random people. It was definitely my most enjoyable day on the playa.