Burning man

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About Burning Man

In case you've been living under a rock, Burning Man is an iconic annual week long event in the desert where a 70,000 people city gets built up out of nothing and then burnt and taken down at the end. It's really extraordinary to see. This annual gathering that takes place at Black Rock City - a temporary city erected in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. The event is described as an experiment in community and art, influenced by 10 main principles: (1) "radical" inclusion, (2) self-reliance, (3) self-expression, (4) community cooperation, (5) civic responsibility, (6) gifting, (7) decommodification, (8) participation, (9) immediacy, and (10) leaving no trace.

My Burning Man Story From 2017

I went to burning man for the first time ever in 2017 (Aug 27 – Sep 4). What an incredible experience! I will write down here about my experience, and what I might do differently for next time, so that I and others may benefit.

The Ticket (it's become harder than you think)

Getting tickets wasn't easy in 2017. At my workplace, Google, there was a huge internal waitlist of people who missed out on the lottery-like ticket sales. I almost went in 2016, I won two tickets in the lottery, but instead transferred my tickets to a friend, Vasyl, who came all the way from the Ukraine to visit burning man. Serendipitously, the same incredible man helped me get a ticket in 2017.

In honesty though, I should have really been more proactive in getting a ticket in 2017, it was largely luck that got me a ticket! If you have the intention to go, commit to it, buy all the stuff, and put our your intention to all your friends so they can help you land one of the tickets people sell last minute if they can't make it. Be suspicious of any expensive tickets... to buy and sell for a profit goes very much against the principles of burning man and such people should be very ashamed of themselves.

There is a will call option, but having the physical ticket is easier and more reassuring. If even one person in your vehicle has will call you go into a separate vehicle line to get in to burning man, and depending on what row you into you could wait and extra hour to five hours at peak entry. Ouch!

Costs (not terrible, but not cheap)

The ticket itself was my biggest cost (~$500) of burning man, but I also probably spent a couple of hundred on costumes and clothes from Amazon and Ross respectively (more clothes than I needed actually). What I did wear mostly got destroyed by the desert! I definietly had too many clothes, I panicked last minute and threw in ski jackets etc - when in fact you start to admire there the people who just wear nothing or a bathing suit their whole trip... less to clean up. Apparently the average person spends ~$2000 when they visit burning man.

Preparation Time (too little)

I got the ticket so late I really had only a week to rush to prepare. Ideally I should have had time to read more advice, and spent a month gathering what I needed.

My Ride (Jeff)

Fortunately my incredible friend Jeff Carloni, was driving his van to burning man and fit an extra person in the front! What a wonderful score. Jeff is amazing company and his van had so much room I was able to go crazy and bring way more than I needed. Turns out this is actually a disadvantage though... more stuff meant more dust.

My Camp (WrongTown)

Jeff hooked me up with his great camp WrongTown, which was only ~$100 to register + $80 meal plan + $50 to use one of their bikes. Sounds like our camp was cheaper than most, as it's pretty bare bones, using old equipment which has seen over a dozen burns, and not buying copious alcohol to maintain a bar for strangers. Personally I thought that's what gave our camp character - it isn't all new fancy equipment, and people need to pitch in to help setup! Jeff slept in his van and leant me a 8 person tent with was really comfortable.

I really loved being in a camp! Fun people too.... about 100 people, a mix of ~1/3 Japanese (some with poor english) ~1/3 Australians (where I'm from originally!) and a mix of others.

Contributing to your Camp

I didn't realize it, but the "real burners" have a tiny animosity towards the people who show up just for the weekend to party and then leave. Why? Well it takes the full week to actually contribute in a meaningful way... to be part of building a camp, or a project. For me, that was wonderful... to be able to help build a dangerous looking structure from metal. Oh yes, and building it was dangerous - as was taking it down... but that was part of the experience. My camp also requested that people cook a meal, so I opted to cook for 80 people on the first morning. Fortunately it was less than that on the first day, because when I woke up at 8am nothing was set up... I couldn't find the gas cylinder, or the food I'd ordered for the big "WrongTown truck" to drive in... nothing was labelled, and my helper chef couldn't be found. So it was a beautiful disaster, but I asked enough wonderful people for help that the cooking on the old dodgy looking elements started to get done. Bacon and scrambled eggs. Only last minute did a guy show up that knew where the bread was hiding, and explain that the salsa fresca I ordered (to try making breakfast fancy) didn't survive the trip. It was actually liberating to be thrown into the deep end.

Contributing to Burning Man (massage and gifts)

In our camps meeting I announced that I had brought my massage table as something I could gift to people. It was a blessing and curse. Lots of people wanted massages, and I had trouble saying no! I give pretty long massages, and although I'm not professionally trained, I felt I was getting better, and enjoyed massaging to the amazing music coming from our DJs... our camp has a big speaker system.

I printed a few "massage coupons" to give to strangers, but in reality it's hard for people to coordinate meeting at a different camp, and I had too few coupons to give away. I think I gave about 20 massages over the week - almost all to members of my camp - some with sore necks etc.

Gift giving

If you haven't read the principles already, there is no money at burning man. Okay, well only for ice and coffee near center camp, but aside from that, people offer stuff for free, not wanting anything in return. Camps that have bars setup to give you drinks with crude names are amazing! During the heat of the day, some of the more refreshing drinks taste like heaven. It's okay that you give these people nothing, but it's nice to know that there are other people you will give sweet gifts to.... either physical or in some cases emotional. I brought with me a bunch of those little koalas that people could strap to their costumes. Jeff had some great scarf things that served as dust-masks... which proved a great gift. It's nice when gifts are not too expensive, but still wonderful.

Managing Energy

Your first night at burning man is an incredible experience. I was lead onto the playa and overwhelmed by the number of glowing bicycles and the experience of approaching the man. He was magnificent... towering above us, his face glowing and playing music. Were I not so tired from many hours of driving it would have been a more powerful spiritual I am sure.

During the day it's hot, so people often stay within their tents or camp shade structures, because being more social is nice. My favorite day was Tuesday... we had done out building, and Jeff and I explored during the day, hitting up the many bars, and just loved chatting to people. There are beautiful girls everywhere, and with Jeff by my side, it actually wasn't hard to just chat to some of them. Wonderful connections ensued. One really gorgeous girl and I talked for about 15 minutes before we had each other in tears... it was such a wonderful thing.

With everyone finished building, Tuesday night is electric for partying. People start to unwind, and we had the most amazing night out dancing. Of course... if you stay out really late, especially till sunset, you will be sleepier the next day!

I only did one all-nighter in fact. Most nights I had an "early night" (early by Burning Man standards is still way past midnight - most likely 3am) where I was so tired I fell asleep despite our blaring speaker systems.


Oh yes, drugs are everywhere. There are police around, some undercover, and when driving in I saw a few poor souls pulled over and police plus dogs going through their whole car. People ask for IDs when you ask for (free) alcohol, but as you get friendly and chat to people it's astonishing what they offer you! Just stay smart. My only real mistake was eating a handful of "popcorn" a guy from our camp asked us to try. It was actually "potcorn", and so I spend an entire day sleepy and out of it. One of the lovely girls from our camp, Sophie, walked up to me later to say how stoned she was.... she'd had some of the popcorn too. She passed out onto the couch about 20 seconds later. It wasn't *not* fun, but it cost me some time I could have been exploring.... a handful of potcorn is too much it turns out. Of course cannabis is the low end of the spectrum at burning man.... there really is everything.

Fleeting Beautiful Moments

So I got married at burning man. That happened. Oh, and then I lost the girl two hours later.... which is probably longer than some celebrity marriages last, but bittersweet. This was a wonderful hispanic girl I met and had the most incredible dances with. I lifted her, we swayed, and she had the most magical big smile. I knelt down to pick her up for a dance move, and she said she accepted... and that nobody she danced with knew how to control her. It made me so happy I declared he my playa wife. We then climbed a big (somewhat dangerous) cargo net and an area of netting suspended above the desert nightclub. It was such a beautiful night, and her friend told me the name of her camp, but ultimately, in the confusion of language, I lost her. I waited till morning at the club, but since she just arrived, I suspect she just crashed. Unfortunately for me, she was in one of the only camps which the Information booth (also need center camp - and where they have lost items returned etc) didn't really know the address of. Burning man is in the shape of a big clock, with concentric circle streets labelled by the alphabet outwards... my camp was 2:15 and Dance. I think her camp, Frenzied Serenity was 7:15 and H, so I kept checking out that area, but ultimately I had to realize quickly that burning man is full of these fleeting moments. Even friends I knew were going to burning man, and I knew the address of their camp precisely, I couldn't meet up with. Cell phones don't really work there. I met an amazing guy, Tristan, who had the same dilemma... he met a wonderful girl and left lots of signs at her camp, but probably he missed her to.

Having no cell phones is something you embrace though. You can learn to be smart about trying to keep hold of the connections that matter - taking emails for when you return - but when you are at burning man, unless you commit to meeting at a time and place, you are just enjoying the ride of meeting wonderful people who you'll probably never see again in life. And maybe that's why it's so easy to connect deeply with them. That and the atmosphere.


Nighttime is when black rock city really comes alive. Everyone is out, dancing, partying, hitting each other in a huge thunder-dome structure and just exploring the wonders of this man made city. Considering my no prep time I was lucky to get a half decent bike, and I bought a little cubby for it at the front which I attached with cable ties. You need to bring water with you, plus dust mask and goggles. Fortunately there weren't any big dust storms at night when I was there, but wow, I wish I had more lights. Bikes travel pretty fast, and people who are not illuminated, can easily get into accidents... you just don't see them.

The art cars and incredible! Some people chose to walk and just jump on the cars, but you don't really know where they are going to, and you are not supposed to dismount while driving, so it's a true adventure in trust. Sooo much walking!

My favorite dance moments were the art cars, like the animal cars that met in the middle of the desert. I really love dancing, so this was a treat. Some music was too dark for me, but this was perfect. Actually my perfect moment was "disco fish" car. It's one of the cars I'm sure cost into the millions, with incredible lights and speakers.... it was fun to find it, and walk/dance alongside it while it travelled at a steady 5 miles per hour (the speed limit for cars in Black Rock City) and then stop and have this beautiful little girl call Fay stop to talk. I asked her to dance, and she was incredible! I think my friend took a video of us. If she ever reads this I hope we get to meet in real life so I can learn more about her - she seemed like an amazing girl, and I hope she managed to escape the fish (she contributed so much to the fish I'm not sure she had a chance to leave and just enjoy the desert).

Safety (lights and a bike lock)

Being aware of drugs, and wearing lots of lights at night is the biggest part of safety. I wish I had more bike lights and lights on my person. All that light-wear that may seem tacky inside a nightclub comes in very handy at burning man. People enjoy decorating their bike, and the really smart people put glowing LED poles at the top, because when you arrive at a structure where 1000s of people park their bikes, it's very easy to lose your bike. Jeff and I wasted a hour looking for our bike at one point I remember. Unfortunately lots of bikes are stolen. I imagine not "stolen stolen", but stoned/tired/inconsiderate people might accidentally grab the wrong bike or just decide they don't want to walk. Two people in my camp lost bikes, that's when I realized I should start using my combo lock each time I parked! To be without a bike for even a day would suck. It was awkward enough when my bike broke for half a day, but incredible to learn they have several places who will fix your bike for free!

Also, if you're a girl at burning man, remember that although most people are awesome, this event could easy attract the worst people from society, so having a buddy system can add peace of mind. As they said at our camp: take care of each other.

Hygiene (baby wipes and rare showers)

Hand sanitizes are a must. There are toilet structures all over, which a pretty clean and usually have toilet paper, but in the middle of the night you won't want to walk 10 minutes to a toilet... so have a pee bottle. Everyone does it! Girls often bring a funnel or P Ez to help.

Yes you get dirty. I was lucky we had a shower system. Most days I was too exhausted to use it even, but it felt good when I did. Many people won't have a shower system, but instead use baby-wipes before sleep.

Embracing new people and experiences

One of my most magical moments, started when I travelled with two lovely girl from our camp to the other side of the playa for a big day time dance party. When I left I found a lovely girl looking at strange mirrors. She was on a mission to find a hat her boyfriend had given her and she accidentally left at a camp. Her mission became my mission. On the way, there was a group of amazing people dancing in the street. I didn't realize it, but we were in the "gayberhod" - an area of gay themed camps - so of course the music was great, and before I knew it I was dancing, and making new friends. A lovely girl there told me the story of losing her leg and I cried within minutes. I connected with Laurel very, very quickly. Possibly something only possible in the context of burning man. Wow, what an incredible, generous and beautiful human being. :)

Burning man is a place where you can be very proud to cry - especially when you realize it's tears for another human, and tears of admiration. This particular camp "Dusty Lusty" was so incredibly friendly I crashed there overnight. I guess they briefly adopted me. I loved that their camp all ate together (ours was a little too chaotic for that!) and we all got up to belt out bohemian rhapsody and dance like crazy wild people. Those moments made burning man for me. :)

Fear of Missing Out (FEMO) is futile to worry about

You can't see everything at burning man. Some people take the iBurn app or physical guide (given to you at the gate with your ticket) and read it and circle events / workshops they want to go to. I only went to one workshop and one event I wanted to go to (RhythmWave dance camp), and I was perfectly happy! The adventure is the unexpected stuff you find along the way... and if you don't make it to your original intended destination... isn't that more magical? It really is all about the journey. Having said that... next year I want to see Thunder dome - I somehow missed it this year!

From the Man to the Temple

When I walked around, chatting to incredible and diverse, and open minded people, I would often ask about the temple. On the Saturday, the man burns, and everyone celebrates wildly. On the Sunday, they burn "the temple", and everyone watches in silence. Except for a few drunk idiots of course, but aside from that, the burning of the temple is regarded as beautiful. Why?

Leading up to Sunday, everyone should walk from the man to the temple. Carry with you paper and a pen... or maybe something you've printed in advance. Inside the temple, people write down anything they want to let go of in life. What people have written is so beautiful, it is likely to make you cry. Embrace that.

For me, I kept telling people I wasn't ready for the temple yet... but on Friday morning I realized I couldn't really wait another day. My bike broke, but I took it early to a repair place where they repaired it for free. I rode immediately to the man, in the exact center of the city, and about the middle of the day. Some people had written some lovely messages on the structure surrounding the man, and so for me, that's where my crying started. Such lovely words. Then I decided to walk to the temple at the 12 O clock position. It was wonderfully emotional just approaching, but reading the messages was wonderful. I wrote down my own message with pen and paper. I pinned it near the inside of the temple, high up, and then left. Wow.

Most people will have read in the new that a man jumped into the flames as the man burned in 2017, and died later in hospital (read article). For some that witnessed that event it was traumatic. I guess I was luckily to be on the other side of the burning man at the time that I didn't see anything - I just heard about it later. Seeing the man burn is a very profound experience for some, so it's hard to say if the people who run towards the flames at the end are just excited, or drugged out, or in this man's case, maybe it was premeditated. I guess it doesn't matter. Let's ignore this one man running into the flame.

The fire itself spirals many stories into the sky, and even at the perimeter, a hundred meters from the flame, you can feel the intense heat. The temple is similar when it burns, but the mood of the people is different. Everyone realizes that it is time to let go. For some people, they've written beautiful eulogies for lost loves ones. For other's it's just the realization that it's time to go home... to "default world". Some people exit straight after the temple burn... which means a big wait in traffic, but at least it's in the cool of night.

I like that Jeff and I stayed Monday, to help clean up a little bit, and we were very, very lucky to have almost no traffic on the way out. Cleaning up my own stuff was the hard part really... it took me days. You have to rinse everything in water and vinegar before it's ready for a washing machine. I took way too many bags of stuff.

Even now, a week later, I'm writing this, and it feels like a magical dream. I met amazing people, who restore my faith in possibility for radical self expression and love. I want to build amazing things, and I believe I might find love out here somewhere.... ideally it would have been at burning man, but since those moments are hard to carry across to default world, I can hope to find it here.

Packing List

So enough of my story, here's what I would bring next time. I've broken this down into each main "piece".

  • IMPORTANT: On each piece write your name and camp address in case you lose it. A business card can help too. I met a guy who lost his whole backpack... and with 70,000 people, there's a huge chance he never found it again. That said, there is a huge lost and found in center city where they take photos of everything and you can search on a laptop for a missing item.

Drinking Mug

Every good burner has a mug. I was gifted a titaniam camping mug, which clipped nicely to my backpack... but smarter people had a lidded mug so they could take drinks to go. Smarter still, get a big mug (they'll give you more alcohol) and stick to the front a photocopy of your drivers license. Many place will accept a photocopy!

For me, I put my real drivers license inside a transparent case on my phone, because I know I don't lose my phone.


If you are lucky a friend will have solar or some way to charge your phone... else bring a big charge pack. Don't waste time waiting for spotty cell connection to contact people, just put your phone onto airport AND battery saver mode immediately to extend the battery. Use your phone for photos only and collect the emails of people you want to Facebook / share photos with when you return.

Useful Phone Apps

Before you leave, you will want to install the "iBurn 201X" app on your phone! This is an offline map with all camp addresses and events etc. You should update just before you leave, because some camp addresses are added only just before it starts.

Also sign up to Facebook's Burner Map early on and you might be surprised which of your friends are going. You might like to print this out, but don't be surprised or disappointed that you don't have time to visit any of your friends in neighboring camps... it's just too hard to coordinate without cell phones! Hopefully you'll have to much fun to care.

You might also find an unofficial map, like this Unofficial Map for 2018.


I love wearing costumes, but I found it really handy to wear those mesh running pants underneath so I could have good pockets. Pockets for:

  • phone .................... (photos)
  • drivers license .................... (for free drinks)

For girls, you might think about some arm strap etc. It would be horrible to leave your phone on your bike and lose it forever.

Medium Backpack

I started with a camel-pack, but it wasn't big enough so I finally shifted to my large backpack. Get one with comfortable straps, sometimes you might just leave it with your bike.

  • drinking mug .................... (for free drinks, don't forget photocopy of license)
  • big (2 liter) water bottle
  • another small water bottle
  • 2 x chapstick
  • sunscreen
  • hand sanitizer
  • clear googles ............................ (for dust storms)
  • light dusk mask .................... (for dust storms)
  • 5 granola bars
  • gifts ......................................... (at least 5 per day)
  • headlamp .................... (for when day becomes night - your minimum safety)


Get a burner bike with the fat tires and no gears. Bikes with gears break more easy in the desert - happened to me. People who decorate their bike with LEDs, stuffed animals, inflatable things, or giant poles are smart - they find their bikes more easily. Always try to remember where you parked it too of course, but if your bike looks like all other bikes, you are screwed. The more lights on your person the better - if you walk or ride your bike in playa at night without lights are likely to get hit by someone on a bike - they just won't see you! Here's the minimum you should get for your bike:

  • lights .................................... (at an absolute minimum front and read lights)
  • bike lock ........................... (use it every time)
  • bike basket .................... (tie on with cable ties, store extra stuff)
  • unique decoration .................... (leds for night and streamers etc can also help identify)

Bike Basket

If your backpack is heavy, you might transfer some of it to your bike basket!

  • extra 2 liter water
  • shaded goggles
  • jacket .................... (when it gets cold)
  • more snacks


I was lucky to have a big tent and my camp had a shade above all the tents to keep it cooler. People without that luxury might consider something with reflexive properties. Check your tent doesn't have mesh holes like mine did.

  • rebar stakes ................................. (small tent pegs won't cut it)
  • warm sleeping bag
  • sleeping pads .................................. (lots of them, or just a full on inflatable bed if there is room)
  • pillows
  • folding camping chairs .................... (often only $10 from target if you don't have any)
  • tent light ............................................... (like this solar inflatable one)
  • tarp
  • collapsible trash basket


This assumes the full 7 days. The best advice I got was to ziplock everything!

  • 8 x underpants
  • 6 x hankies
  • 7 x socks
  • 1 x $10 comfortable shoes from discount store .................... (they will get destroyed, I went to Ross)
  • 1 x $10 flip-flops
  • 3 x costume outfits
  • hat
  • bandanna
  • e-wire
  • small sewing kit .................... (safety pins are your friend)
  • gloves
  • jacket


I had fun with a cape, but ultimately I really wore my barbanrian outfit most days. For some reason the dust didn't stick to the material. I wore white pants for hippy dancing one day, but the dust destroyed them. They say "White Wednesday", but if you're doing burning man the fun way, you'll get white destroyed.


  • 20 gallons of water
  • baby wipes tub .................... (you'll want a few per day)
  • hand sanitizer bottle
  • white vinegar
  • spray bottle
  • first aid kit
  • toiletry bags
    • earplugs
    • more lip balm
    • body lotion ............................ (post-sun burn stuff)
  • shower system .................... (you can actually shower with a single 1 liter bottle with practice)
  • pee container .......................... (use something opaque like a bleach bottle)
  • 1 x roll of single ply toilet paper (must be 1 ply) ...... probably you'll always find toilet paper in the toilet structures, but just in case)
  • ziplocks
  • garbage bag ......................... (for used clothes)
  • zip ties
  • bungee cords
  • more duct tape
  • fire extinguisher .................... (actually overkill I think)
  • little rake .................... (probably you can borrow one though)

Cooking equipment / food

You won't need cooking equipment if your camp has a meal plan... but you should always have emergency snacks:

  • lots of trail mix
  • energy bars


  • spare keys ................................... (essential - don't be the guy that loses them! hide them or give one to each of your peoples)
  • duct tape ..................................... (to cover all the cracks)
  • reflective insulation ........................ (for windows)
  • car cover
  • 55 gallon water drum .................... (more than enough for 2 people... fill it up at reno)
  • hand pump


  • generator and fuel
  • solar charging option


  • massage table .................... (was a big asset for me, although got ruined)

Staying Grounded

Staying grounded might mean different things to different people. Remember to breathe and relax when at burning man... but also remember to be humble about the whole thing. There's a class of people who call themselves true burners and actually believe that just attending burning man makes you a better person. They say it broadens your perspective of what's possible in the world - and say "if only all the world was like this". I believe world travel can legitimately broaden your mind, and Burning Man can too to some extend, but in reality you're talking about a bunch of predominately white people, blowing a tonne of money in a desert in white American Nevada on drugs and dressing up in elaborate "look at me" costumes. Where is that fine line between ego and self expression? They say the average person spends ~3 thousand dollars on burning man (multiply that by 100,000 now)... plus many millions more for some of the structures, so this one week even easily sees half a billion dollars - the type of money which actually could help make huge changes to some third world cities.... go up in smoke. Getting high and talking about changing the world through love isn't as good as actually changing the world through love. So don't get too high and mighty about burning man. It's a wonderful freeing experience, but it comes at a price tag that the lucky few can afford, so that's something you have to appreciate in itself. :)

The same money that people blow on burning man (travelling, supplies, costume, tickets etc) - people have done round the world trips, with multiple countries, for less. So think on that, and consider that burning man doesn't make you a better person. Being a better person makes you a better person. :)

A wise woman told me that America is, sadly, one of the few places in the world which is just as it appears in TV shows. A country full of stereotypes. So don't fall into the pretentious burner stereotype and assume burning man is something everyone should expereince! :)

What I Would Do Differently

I'm embarrassed to admit how much stuff I took. Most newbies do that apparently, and although being over-prepared seems like a good idea, it meant extra time packing, cleaning and unpacking. Some people say all you need is goggles and a dusk mask. Not even underpants are required. Maybe you can just crash at a different camp each night.

Part of me likes the idea of trying an RV for my second time, but I also love the idea of a camp.... it's comfort versus being part of an actual community I think. I think what I want to contribute to whatever camp I join next year is a wall where people can take their polaroid photo, then add their name and if they are single! It would be nice to know everyone's names and also have tiny mail pocket to write messages. This ideas is inspired by a wall I saw at one of the gay camps where people put strings joining who they were attracted to. Actually it was Laurel's idea - I knew she was awesome! Each day people came past to check the board! My friend Jeff and I talked about all other manner of fun elaborate ideas, including art cars, but ultimately I don't want to spend a fortune. I also might try my Idea: Happiness Timeline as a display again, but make it easier in some way... a more prominent display.

For me, I want to mass produce a nice gift which has my camp address and details for connecting with people either in person or Facebook after. Maybe my massage table again, but really, it does such a little to have a great connection and never see that person again. Be bold and daring. Some people meet the love of their life at burning man and it doesn't pay to be shy. :)

Hope to see you on the playa!

See Also