My Experience of Burning Man Festival

A Snapshot of... North America

I love a good festival, especially when I was younger. Live music, fresh air, and endless instant noodles are all things I secretly love. When I was in my early twenties, I would go to festivals all summer long. Scrimping and saving to afford it with part-time jobs and student loans.

In 2010, I planned to find myself in Nevada at the same time as the legendary Burning Man Festival. This was before the rise of Instagram and blogging, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I heard ‘desert’ and ‘festival’, and I was sold!

? I went very ill-prepared. It came at the end of a long, multi-continental trip, so I was tired and short on funds. I hadn’t met anyone who had ever been, so I had no idea what to pack or take. This was my biggest mistake.

We rocked up to the designated carpool area (a supermarket carpark) with 2 litres of water, a bottle of tequila, a tent, and a box of pop tarts. I essentially packed for a weekend at Bestival, not Burning Man. Needless to say, this was woefully inadequate. Burning Man is a festival based on the principal of gifting. This means you can’t buy ANYTHING. If you need something (including water), you must trade something you already have for it.

I’ve heard a lot of positives about Burning Man, but I feel anybody considering going needs to be away of the reality. These aren’t necessarily negatives, but I do believe the festival is often misrepresented in social media.

These are things I think you should know:

Burning Man Nevada

  1. IT’S EXPENSIVE

All festivals are pricey. I often find myself paying £10 for a take away burger. And alcohol can cost twice the usual price. I assumed that as Burning Man was a gifting festival, it would be cheap. How wrong I was.

The people who go spend thousands on this festival. We assumed most people would take tents, but we were in the minority. It gets HOT (I know, I don’t know why we didn’t think of this!) by abut 6am, so you must get up and out. Most people we came across were there in caravans or SUVs. Without £2000+ to splash out on a vehicle, you are going to struggle.

The basic premise of the festival is each group hosts something, then invites people to attend. They then visit other groups activities. This includes drinking, regional food, skills and parties. If you are hosting something, chances are you’ll end up spending a lot. Yes, you get a lot back, but It’s hard to do on a budget. Luckily people loved our traveller story and let us join in for free.

Burning Man Festival

  1. THERE ISN’T MUCH TO DO

I was expecting a crazy good headline, but there wasn’t really anything. I think some years do have good headliners, but we mostly saw DJs I’d never heard of. There are parties like I mention, but it can be a little boring. It’s is uncomfortably hot during the day, so we spent a lot of time seeking out shade.

One of the biggest draws of the festival is the art. There are some amazing things to see dotted around the arena. Due to the weather, it is difficult to really explore these except at dawn or dusk.

If you like sitting around and chilling in the sun, this is the festival for you!

  1. IT’S HARD TO NAVIGATE

Apparently, it is like a clock. I was shown a map, and it did make sense. The main arena is in the centre, then the camp sites are arranged like the hands. This sounds logical. It probably is if you see the site from above. I found it all very confusing!

Lots of people take bikes with them, so it’s easier to get around. I only had my trusty feet and the site is BIG. It was hard to fully explore on foot with the addition of extraordinary heat. If you go, take a bike and don’t fear getting lost.

Burning Man Festival desert

  1. IT’S FOR THE RICH

Burning Man Festival touts itself as a hippy, socially-progressive community. And in many ways, it is. However, with the astronomical cost of the festival, it attracts a certain type of persons. I’m treading carefully as I don’t want to insult anyone, but from my experience it is an almost exclusively middle-class festival.

This isn’t too say there are ONLY middle-class white people here, but that was who I mostly came across. There were people who lived well, organic food, vegan lifestyles, and very liberal politically. This was a great place to be, but it is shame it seems so out of reach for so many other people. I would love to go again, but it’s just out of my price change.

Burning Man Festival Dancers

  1. PLAN PLAN PLAN

I wouldn’t recommend turning up with a backpack and a tent. I felt limited the whole time, and there were a lot of things I couldn’t participate in. The people I met had been planning for months, and it was evident.

It isn’t a festival that invites spontaneity. If I went again, I would make a good and strong plan. I would pack meals, ingredients, water, costumes, showering equipment and the like. If you are set on going, I would begin planning 6 months in advance.

SHOULD YOU GO?

Yes! I really enjoyed my time at Burning Man Festival. It was unlike anything else I have ever experienced. The people I met were infinitely kind, the art was out of this world, and the whole atmosphere was beautifully unique. Just be prepared before you go!

Burning Man Dust Storm