An installation at Burning Man 2013 (Photo: Bexx Brown-Spinelli/Flickr)
Despite a 24-hour delay due to rain, thousands headed out into the middle of the desert in Nevada this week to experience an annual weeklong festival involving art, experimentation, and self-reliance known as Burning Man. Founded in 1986 as an experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance, Burning Man’s numbers have ballooned from just 20 attendees almost 30 years ago to close to 70,000 people participating this year.
With no monetary exchanges allowed, festival goers must prepare in advance to survive the often-harsh conditions and lack of access to modern conveniences. This preparation has taken on many forms over the years — from those who choose to stick to its origin by surviving on very little, to millionaire moguls creating luxury communities, complete with personal sherpas.
Though everyone would agree Burning Man isn’t about the money, we’ve got three ways to do the festival on three very different budgets — from $100 to $100,000 — plus tips from experts, aka “Burners.”
Pulling up to Burning Man (Photo: Raquel Dennett/Flickr)
There are a handful of ways to have the full Burning Man experience without emptying your pocket book. There are low-income tickets available starting in March for 50 percent off the regular $392 ticket that you can apply for — but these tickets are few and far between. All information about ticket pricing and application dates can be found on the official Burning Man website.
Another way to attend on a shoestring is to browse the local Burning Man events that happen year-round, for Burning Man camps that need help. “Volunteer time can be bartered and exchanged for discounted tickets, food/water supplies, and transportation to the desert,” says Phillip Angert, a five-time attendee of the festival. “It’s that kind of mutual helpfulness, which grows Black Rock City from the ground up.”
Burning Man 2013 (Photo: Julia Wolf/Flickr)
You can find camps and events on places like Kickstarter where if you type in “Burning Man Projects” a list of art installations and groups will pop up with ways to participate and join. One project, Cathedral of Celestial MathGic, applied for a grant and was awarded $10,000. That, combined with Kickstarter and fundraiser party, allowed all of those involved to get free tickets, transportation, food, and camping supplies. Camps similar to this often have perks like showers, communal meals, and camp mixers. So, even if the project isn’t fully funded it could leave you paying for the bare essentials like camping gear, gas for cooking, costumes, and a bicycle, all of which you can borrow from family and friends.
Food and other goods are scarce at Burning Man, so make sure you stock up on supplies (Photo: Neil Girling/Flickr)
If you do find yourself needing to provide food for yourself in the desert, head to a bulk discount store. There is a Sam’s Club and Costco just outside of Reno, Nevada about 120 miles away from the main event. Or if you’re coming from the east, there’s a Walmart Supercenter about 110 miles away. But, if you really want to try and tough it out in the desert, there are a few free food options at Burning Man, serving pancakes and grilled cheese stands. As long as you prep for the essentials, you can have a similar experience to those spending thousands to have the time of their lives.
Sunset over the desert (Photo: Josh Schwartzman/Flickr)
For a few thousand dollars you and a few friends can go from staying in a rustic tent to an RV with a useable shower. “There’s a sweet spot for having an authentic experience and maintaining some basic comforts,” says Laura Lane, who attended in 2013. “We got a regular ticket, bike, and a mid-range RV for four people that had beds to sleep in and a shower to rinse off in.”
There are a number of RV rental companies with rentals typically starting at around $2,000. El Monte/Budget RV and Truck Rentals is one of the very few places in the region to rent an RV or truck for the Playa — as the main festival area is called — and you must contact the owner directly to make arrangements.
Burner Rentals, located in Reno, was created by Burners who deal exclusively with those attending the festival by renting out RV’s, trailers, generators, and Segways. They’re also located next to a supermarket to stock up on any last minute supplies. Remember, other than ice and coffee sales, there’s no vending of merchandise, so food is up to you and it can be difficult to keep it fresh in the desert for a week. “The biggest luxury was having a refrigerator,” adds Laura. “The lines for ice were so long, so it was nice to have a fresh variety of food and cold water.”
On a bike — a popular way to get around Burning Man (Photo: Jonan Design/Flickr)
Aside from your main mode of transportation and shelter, the best way to get around Burning Man is on a bike or an art car. While art cars can cost up to $50,000 depending on the level of artistic detail, a number of bike places offer safe and inexpensive bike rentals. “I spent about $20 on my bike,” adds Laura. “There were a few places where people dropped of their used bikes from last year and you can buy them and deck them out.”
Reno Bike Projects has a lot of cheap options and will take back bikes post-Burning Man. And each year Kiwanis Bike Program picks up a large number of bikes left on the Playa and sets some aside for the following year at very reasonable prices.
The sunrise balloon people (Photo: Michael Holden/Flickr)
Want to create your group experience? For several thousand dollars you can start your own theme camp, but you will most likely have to pay for supplies and permitting, unless you are lucky enough to get a grant or raise enough funding to cover your costs. But, the one-of-a-kind experience can be worth it.
$100,000 and Up: the Sky’s the Limit!
Now that there are so many wealthy celebrities and Silicon Valley types going to Burning Man, money is being thrown around everywhere. There are now camps popping up where the entry fee is $25,000.
These expensive camps can be difficult to find, given their often high-profile creators and desire to stay ultra exclusive. “Your best bet to find the handful of these camps is to search for some type of high-tech party camp,” says Chad Rittenberry, a seven-year Burning Man attendee. “Now, the problem finding these camps is that many camps come and go, while also changing their name from year to year. But, you can look at a list of theme camps on the main Burning Man website and read the descriptions and contact the coordinators about including yourself and finding out info on camp dues.” Dues are required for a lot of theme camps — but obviously, the more you pay, the more luxurious your experience could be.
The massive festival from above (Photo: Sterling Fly/Flickr)
To get accepted into a camp, the coordinators will want to know who you are and what you can contribute to the camp and the experience. “I’m sure these camps will do some kind of background check and ask for references,” adds Chad. ”More than likely once the initial meet and great/background check is done you’re put on a list and once you arrive, they’ll have your spot or RV marked out for you.”
Though the festival is not about spending money once on site, there’s plenty of room to spend upwards of $100,000 prepping, if you are accepted to one of these turnkey theme camps. So, what does that college-tuition-worthy amount get you, exactly? You can have everything like paid staff, personal chefs cooking up gourmet meals, fully air conditioned yurts, and a controversial concept: “sherpas.”
A Burning Man installation (Photo: Michael Holden/Flickr)
“I have a few friends that are sherpas,” says Chad. “They supply the ultra wealthy with art cars and take them on safaris to all of the art and popular theme camps, where they can sample everything from the tastiest foods and open bars and dance for days on end. They basically try to show the best of the best and give the greatest experience possible.”
These uber-exclusive camps tend to be for the technology elite like Mark Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin, but if you can afford it, a free-flowing environment with all the luxuries and privacy of home awaits.
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