Every year as the last days of August trickled in, I would watch my more adventurous friends travel to Black Rock City desert for Burning Man. And every year in September, they would come back seemingly more enlightened than before. While I heard tons of stories and saw tons of photos online, I could never quite grasp what the experience was through conversation or social media.
From the outside world it still just looked like a carnival meets Mad Max with cool art, great music and let’s face it, tons of opportunity to take Instagram-worthy photos. To me, it also always appeared like the ultimate marathon of partying. And while I wasn’t wrong, after experiencing it first hand, I quickly realized it was so much more than that. (I used to roll my eyes at these sentiments too but seriously, you have to be there). The truth is that Burning Man is whatever you make of it. There is something for everyone and you decide what kind of experience you want out of it. It’s like a choose your own adventure book, which can end in everything from a sunrise party in front of a robot with some Victoria’s Secret Angels, an Orchestra playing underneath a giant orb to a dark meditation dome surrounded by stars and with eucalyptus mist filling the room to an orgy tent or a techno party underneath a ceiling that’s on fire. It’s a world full of possibilities and all sorts of adventures. But more on that later.
After years of thinking about going, curiosity finally got the best of us, so my boyfriend and I pulled the trigger and got our tickets. We were fortunate to get our tickets in the first round of sales for $425 after logging onto the purchasing platform the second they were released. We were also fortunate that my boyfriend’s sister had been attending for a few years and was able to get us into the camp she was staying at. I’ll be completely honest about this part- if we didn’t have a camp with basic amenities available to us at all times like food, water, a shower and toilets that weren’t porta-potties, I’d likely be writing a different narrative right now. Our camp was pretty amazing and our Yurt even had AC, which made sleeping through the mornings a whole lot easier. Despite the awesome camp we were staying in, at the end of the day it’s still camping so if you’re planning on going be aware that even the supermodels (Alessandra Ambrosio, Karlie Kloss, Lais Ribeiro who were all there this year) are getting down and dirty while there.
There’s just no such thing as being clean or keeping your things clean. The place is so dusty that the minute you step outside you’re covered. And when a dust storm hits everything from your hair, eyelashes, ears, mouth and entire body are covered in a fine dust. And while sure we had showers available to us that we could take for 3 minutes while holding down a chord to release the water, it doesn’t really do much. The minute you step out of the shower you’re basically covered again. Once you embrace that part though, you’ll have the best time. And besides you’re all in it together- whether you are Diddy, Elon Musk or Paris Hilton you’re all equally as dirty while out on the playa so just enjoy it and oh, bring a dust mask because that will definitely come in handy. I ordered mine off Amazon so that it wasn’t just a plain white one but rather one with stars on it. You can also get sequinned ones online and ones with all sorts of prints to change it up a bit.
Now for the fun part. As mentioned above burning man becomes an experience that is completely tailored to your needs. If you want to have an entirely healthy, self-healing trip you can. There are all sorts of yoga and meditation classes available at different camps week round, and you can go to sleep at regular hours and just take things in that way. Then on the flip side, you can party the whole time and ride around from camp to camp drinking, smoking, dancing, having sex and basically fulfilling whatever vices you may have. Your experience could also just be about meeting new people, checking out art and doing random activities like going roller skating, playing bowling or dodgeball, riding a fake mechanical bull or playing blackjack in a pawn shop- it’s a completely wonderfully whacky world that feels like it belongs inside Tim Burton’s mind.
Or your experience could be about being alone and spending time in the beautiful temple mourning a lost loved one with other grieving hearts. The temple is designed differently every year and is one of the most chilling and tear-inducing places I’ve been in. There are hundreds of photos of lost loved ones on the walls with notes sprawled next to them about what they meant to someone when they were still alive. You can walk inside and read these deeply touching words, write your own or simply sit with others and cry on each other’s shoulders. Then at the end of the week on Sunday the temple gets burnt down as a way to release the grief and let go of attachments. The idea is to promote spirituality and to help people to honour their loved ones and let go of the pain at the same time. That’s the thing about burning man, you never know what you’re going to stumble upon but whatever it is, you can guarantee that the place will be filled with love and openness. With so much available to you, only you are in control of what you’ll see, do and experience while there.
As you drive around the burning man grounds at night, lights and movement stretch as far as the eye can see. Every camp has an art car – which can range from little golf carts to something awe-inspiring like a massive cathedral on wheels that took years to build – which are constantly moving and overstimulating the environment with music and lights. If there’s one thing you can say about burning man, it’s that everyone there is equally invested in the experience and it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of. While there you can’t help but think of what society could be. The place encourages self-love, radical inclusivity of others no matter their race, gender, age, or status quo. Money doesn’t play a factor in what you can get while you’re there because nothing is for sale (except ice and coffee) so you can either barter or go to any camp and you’re welcome to hang out there, drink there and even sleep there if you can find a space comfy enough. The societal constraints that were used to don’t really come into effect at BM.
For one whole week, everyone just embraces their true sense of self and does whatever they feel like without the judgment of others. The place encourages respect of self and of others and the environment. In fact, the whole time I was there I didn’t see one piece of garbage on the floor. Seemingly everything there stems from a place of love.
I could keep going on and on but the truth is, even as I’m trying to recall everything there’s just too much to be able to capture in words. There is so much sensory overload there that you really do need to experience it first hand. Describing it in words I can see how people may think of it as a hippie commune and maybe part of it is that, but I think the world needs a little bit more of that right now. At the end of the day, burning man was a special experience because there truly is nowhere else like it on such a large scale. Around 80,000 like-minded people flock there every year now and because of social media, I think it will continue to get bigger and bigger. Whether people are only going because they’re searching for escapism (with what’s going on in the world who can blame them) or they’re going because they want to have a good time, I think everyone needs to experience a place like that at least once in their life. Burning man really left a positive mark on me and I can’t wait to go again next year.
Some of my takeaway tips for anyone who’s considering going:
Outfits: It can be a bit stressful figuring this out the first time but I did a lot of thrifting and just bought pieces on www.dollskill.com which is what a lot of the girls I noticed did too. Just mix and match thrift pieces with Dolls Kill pieces for a more original look.
Hair: I wore hats, wigs and braided mine because the dust makes it impossible to keep your hair manageable.
Keeping clean: Just bring wet wipes with you and wipe yourself down before bed if you can’t shower or don’t feel like showering.
Staying hydrated: Bring packets of electrolytes with you and try to carry a water in a thermal bottle with you at all times. It can get very hot during the day.
Night time: Bring warm clothes and jackets for the night time because the temperatures were dropping to 5 degrees Celsius some nights.
Getting around: rent or buy a bike. Some people also have electric boards and Segways. We bought an electric bike in LA and had a friend bring it for us. It was really helpful in getting around the sprawling grounds without having to pedal everywhere.
If you have any questions about burning man just ask us in the comments!