Burning Man can seem as elusive as it is exciting for first-timers and this was definitely the case before our very first burn. This is exactly why I wanted to share our guide to Burning Man and all the essentials you need to know before you attend.
From the event itself, managing expectations, sorting out logistics and planning, there are lots you need to consider!
We’re gonna tell you the lowdown of all the things you need to expect, things we hadn’t considered and tips for your very first Burning Man. After all, it can be a pretty overwhelming planning task to visit.
Take a look, below, at our first-timers guide to Burning Man. Oh, and ask us any questions if you’re stuck on anything. We’re always happy to help.
What is Burning Man?
Okay, so, likely you’ve heard about Burning Man (or know some people that have been).
The thing is, before we went on our first time, it almost felt like a totally unknown event, with little information on what to plan for online. We saw loads of epic photos on Instagram etc, but very little easy-to-find information on what to expect (well, except on the Burning Man website).
So, we were pretty much in the dark on our first trip and spent hours trawling forums for any guide to Burning Man that we could find.
From our experience, this is probably the easiest way we’ve found to describe Burning Man. It’s not a festival but a temporary city (Black Rock City) that’s created every year by the Burners that attend.
It’s a collective effort and you’re expected to create this incredible community (and structures if you volunteer or in camps) that comes to be known as Black Rock City.
Here, you’ll find camps, workshops, performances, art, spiritual sites and yes, there are orgy sites, too! There is a place for everyone and a respectful city that welcomes the world. I know that sounds totally cheesy but that’s the vibe and principles that make this place so special.
Burning Man is for everyone with no judgement.
So, what is Black Rock City?
Black Rock City is the metropolis created by everyone that attends Burning Man.
The city is planned around a clock-style ring, with different times being makers for streets. If you’re travelling in a camp, you’ll get notified at what position to park your RV or tent.
Alternatively, if you’re not travelling in a camp (we didn’t), there are free zones throughout Black Rock that aren’t assigned to any camp. As you enter the gate, ask one of the team to point you to these.
Just note, the more music-led theme camps are on the edges (near the Playa) and the quieter ones at the back of the ‘ring’. If you fancy a good night sleep, park away from the edges and stick to the back rings of Black Rock City.
Plus, throughout Black Rock City, you’ll find loads of theme camps and individuals hosting every kind of event you can imagine. From gifted food and drinks to incredible workshops and get-togethers.
Just make sure to check out your guidebook (given to you when you arrive at the gate) with details of different camp events. It’s a great way to navigate what to do if it’s your first time.
Though, being honest, you get distracted at every corner and we missed so many places we’d planned to see. You see, you’ll meet incredible people who you’ll tag along with or recommend things to you and your plans will just change – it’s amazing.
After all, Burning Man is all about “radical inclusion” and it’s something that makes it so special. Everyone is welcome and everyone becomes your friend; it’s a totally inclusive city which, for me, makes it one of the most special places where Burners gather.
Oh yeah, and on that point, everyone that goes to Burning Man is called a Burner. You’ll regularly get asked how many “burns” you’ve attended but always without judgement.
On our first burn, fellow Burners were always so kind in offering advice, support and tips on things you might need to consider.
That’s the beauty of Burning Man, everyone is so open and without judgement, too.
What is the Playa?
So, as I mentioned, the Playa is the vast open desert space that surrounds the streets of Black Rock City. Here, it’s filled with installations, art cars and all manner of incredible experiences.
We still have the most epic memories of dancing on the wings of a jumbo jet here! Like, an actual jumbo jet!
Each year, the art is completely different and situated all across the Playa (so make sure to take a pushbike with you).
Oh yeah, and it’s on the Playa where you’ll find the “Man” which gets burned nearer the end of Burning Man.
Plus, the Playa is home to the Temple (that gets burned the night after the man burns). It’s an incredibly moving place.
Someone told me (before we went), that you’ll cry at least once in Burning Man.
This is where I cried, it’s so moving, especially with all the tributes and remembrances for people who have been lost along the way.
It’s a very spiritual and emotional part of Burning Man that I hadn’t expected before our first visit.
We just had to include it in our first-timers guide to Burning Man.
How do I get tickets to Burning Man?
So this can be tiring, frustrating and tricky to say the least! This is mainly because the system seems to always crash, time out, etc. It feels like you want to pull your hair out as you’re left a little in the dark but do persist, it’s worth it.
There are general sales, pre-sales and subsidised tickets, too. Be sure to know the process at least 6-8 months before Burning Man. It just means you can plan in advance which ticket is right for you and apply at the correct times.
Oh yeah, and you need to make sure you get a permit for your car (or RV) that’s bought at the same time as the ticket. Don’t forget that.
If you don’t get a ticket after the sales, fellow Burners who can’t attend sometimes offer the tickets on the Burning Man website posting board. Though, no one should ever be reselling tickets for inflated amounts; this is heavily frowned upon.
Now, there’s no point in me detailing every single point on this as Burning Man do it so well. Plus, the dates and timings change slightly each year so it’s always best to follow the Burning Man website for how these change.
This was our essential reading for our first-timers guide to Burning Man and something we still reference now for future burns. Just be sure to set up a Burner profile on the website well in advance and get the timings popped in your diary.
How do you get to Burning Man?
So, this really depends on you! We were heading to Burning Man from London and we found the cheapest flights to Las Vegas. From there, we drove our rented RV around 10-hours to Burning Man (that’s around 4-hours north of Reno).
We know other people that flew into San Francisco, whilst it’s much easier to either drive or fly domestically to Reno or even the temporary airport in Black Rock City (if you fancy splashing the cash on a private jet).
There’s also a Burner Express bus that operates from Reno Airport and San Francisco, too. These need to be booked in advance.
Are there principles to follow?
Yes, everyone that attends Burning Man is expected to follow the principles of Burning Man.
There are quite a few principles that you really must adhere to. From radical inclusion, gifting, participation, radical self-reliance and leaving no trace, to name a few.
These are essential! We just had to include them in our first-timers guide to Burning Man. So, check out the detailed principles, here.
Where do you stay?
In your RV motorhome or tent.
RVs tend to be more comfortable as you’ll have a shower, air-conditioning and a fridge. Though, these can be expensive to rent as renal companies hike up the prices around Burning Man. It’s something we wished we knew before and had to mention in this first-timers guide to Burning Man. So, be aware of this.
Oh, and if you do rent an RV, clean it thoroughly before returning it. They will slap you with fines that spiral if the RV filled with dust or dirt. The person in the queue in front of us had a fee of thousands of dollars to pay. To make things easier, cover seats etc in dust protection.
Though, to be honest, the dust gets everywhere!
For a tent, it’s easier but you will have to consider the heat of the desert when camping. Between 10 am to 3 pm, expect to leave your glaringly hot tent to find some shade!
Toilets and showers at Burning Man
Oh yeah, and there are no showers in Burning Man, only communal toilets to use. If you need to shower, rent an RV but trust me, you’ll be covered in dust again in minutes.
Don’t fight the dust, just embrace it.
What do you eat and drink?
So, part of the principles of Burning Man is radical self-reliance. This means you should take enough water, food and anything else you need for your full time whilst at Black Rock City.
We did a big supermarket shop before arriving at Burning Man. It took hours and kinda wished we did a ‘click and collect’ style service where you shop online and just pick up your bagged items. We’d definitely recommend doing this so you’re not stressed when you arrive in Nevada.
Of course, you’ll get gifted (or gift) food and drink whilst you’re here but you must always have enough water and food to sustain you.
Do you need money? Gifting?
Money is no good in Burning Man! Well, actually, it’s possible to use but only for a few things. Ice and coffee! You can pick these up at Center Camp.
For everything else, fellow burners will gift you items, food, classes etc. Nothing is traded, only gifted. So, give generously and take graciously and respectfully. After all, Burning Man operates on the principle of gifting. So, have a little think (before you attend) how you can contribute to this amazing community.
Classes? gifts? Food? Drink? You decide! It’s totally your call. Just be sure to gift something as it’s probably one of the more essential points to raise in our first-timers guide to Burning Man.
What do you do whilst you’re there?
Enjoy yourself, explore all the camps, meet amazing people and ride through the playa (to explore all the art and events).
There’s no wrong or right way to truly experience Burning Man. Enjoy yourself whilst also sticking to the principles of Burning Man. Everything falls into place once you arrive, trust me.
What to wear at Burning Man?
Anything or nothing! You’ll find every kind of outfit (or lack of) all across Burning Man. If you want to be naked, be naked!
If you want to wear the most outlandish outfit that expresses you, do it!
What is MOOP?
MOOP stands for “Matter out of Place”.
This can be anything from trash, clothes, bikes, literally anything you bring to Burning Man that wouldn’t have been there without you being present.
Each burner has a responsibility to leave no trace when attending Burning Man and you must take all your items and trash away with you.
No ifs or buts, always make sure to take it with you.
Depending on where you’re heading, you can stop off at recycling banks for trash and donation centres for bikes etc, too.
Though, locals have also set up trash collection points on the drive from Burning Man, too. This is a chargeable service that some Burners use.
Costs to attend Burning Man?
Mainly, the biggest cost for Burning Man itself will be the ticket (around $400) and the permit for your viechle (around $100). Therefore, depending on where you’re coming from, your trip needn’t cost you much more than that.
Though, the reality of planning does mean that costs can spiral (or at least they did for us). For instance, the planning, logistics, rentals and food can all mount up, especially if you’re travelling internationally.
This is why we wanted to detail this cost in our first-timers guide to Burning Man.
Now, each Burner’s spend is totally individual, but just for clarity we’re sharing our approximate expenses below:
Ticket costs x 2: $900
RV rental: $3,000
Flights x 2: $3,000
Food, drinks and alcohol: $800
Outfit/desert gearcosts: $500
Bike costs x2 (donated after): $250.
By no means is this the average costs! Some people spend so much more, whilst others pay only a few extra hundred dollars over the ticket price. It just depends on individual circumstances really.
What made it more expensive for us was arriving internationally and having to rent an RV and the flights. We just wanted to be transparent on how much it cost us as we struggled to find the information before going to our very first Burning Man.
To make your flights cheaper, be sure to book way in advance and shop around as soon as you can for an RV. This way, you won’t be paying through the nose for your rental and tickets.
But most importantly, have fun!