A Virgin’s Guide to Burning Man

I believe everybody deserves the opportunity to go to Burning Man. Whether or not you decide to take that opportunity is a decision only you can make. Never let someone else tell you whether you should or shouldn’t go. Only you can determine just how willing you are to deal with adverse climates and how open you are to letting go of all societal inhibitions. But there’s nothing worse than being left behind because you’re told you probably can’t deal with it (especially if, in your heart, you disagree). I have a pretty rigid layer of societal inhibition, but it is also pretty thin. When I made the decision to go to Burning Man for the first time, I also made a decision to let that layer go. Turns out, when I opened my eyes on the playa that first morning, I took to that dry lake bed like a duck to water.

That said, Burning Man is not something to take lightly. It’s not camping in Yosemite with the grandparents and it’s not a spectator sport. It’s a mindf*ck, and it’s everything and more you could ever want it to be. But it helps to be prepared. And not just with your camping gear, but with your entire being, mind, heart and soul. To really go to Burning Man, you really have to BE there. To do that, you have to come mentally prepared.

So here is a list of suggestions to help you prepare for your virgin trip to Black Rock City:

1. Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely, you MUST read the Event Survival Guide. In order to be mentally prepared for Burning Man, you must first be physically prepared for it. Make sure you have good shelter, proper equipment to protect yourself and your camp, enough food and water, and other creature comforts to ensure your basic survival. People think Burning Man is all about dropping acid and having sex in the desert, and while for some people that is true, you can’t do either of those things if you’re suffering from dehydration or you’ve effed yourself on some wayward rebar in a duststorm. While people are more than willing to help, there is no guarantee they can and it’s not fair to assume you can leech off the good will of others. It IS radical self-reliance.

2. Bring the craziest, awesomest costumes you can think of. Nobody expects you to act or dress in any particular way – and that is the beauty of Burning Man: you can be WHOEVER the f*ck you want to be. You can go as Superman; you can go in your prom dress, you can go as your total free self; you can even go completely naked the entire seven days you’re there. If you could step into an alternate universe and your outfit could really reflect your inner mushu dingbat fliftybuck, what would it look like? Whatever that is, wear that. You can look however you want to, but do think about it and prepare for it, because otherwise when you get out there and see everyone else floating around with their mojo shining, you’re gonna wish you did that too. My absolute favorite outfit from my first time was a bright hot pink miniskirt with matching cowboy hat and Hello Kitty pasties. And I was hot. Not because I was topless save for two little stickers, but because when I wore that outfit I just exuded confidence and my own little spirit and other people responded to it. It’s not uncommon to walk around the playa and have random strangers tell you how beautiful you are. Because not only are you less inhibited to be yourself, you’re also less inhibited to recognize the beauty of others and tell them you appreciate their existence.

By far, the biggest concern I hear most often from Burning Man virgins is that they fear they don’t have the self-confidence to put themselves out there like other burners. My first response is: Don’t worry about it. Absolutely nobody cares what you wear or don’t wear. So if you don’t feel comfortable dressing up, just go in your comfy camping/vacation clothes. Wear whatever you feel comfortable in. There are absolutely NO expectations regarding dress codes. My second response is to remind you that you have an entire week to get acclimated. So bring what you would wear if you had the cajones, and decide once you’re there whether you want to wear it or not. Most likely, once you see all the cool stuff people are wearing, you’re gonna want to do it too, and you’ll have started to get used to the whole no-judgment atmosphere. The only thing that would suck is to wish you had an outfit to wear, but to be stuck having brought nothing. It’s better to at least have the option.

If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, take a gander at Patrick Roddie and Scott London’s photos of what people have worn in past years.

3. Set your intentions and release your expectations. It helps to go to Burning Man with a goal in mind, but you cannot have any expectations for what will happen, how people (including yourself) will be, or what it will be like. Burning Man will screw with you if you expect something out of it. But if you have a little wish, it’ll deal it back to you in ways you could never dream. My first time, I wanted to recover from a very difficult and traumatic experience. My only aim was to go write something on the Temple and hope that it helped. When I arrived, when I discovered the Temple that year was the Temple of Forgiveness, I cried. It was exactly what I needed to hear; it was exactly what I had come for. I made my gift for the Temple and when I sat in the silence with tens of thousands of others watching it burn, I felt the most incredible cleansing and release. I found forgiveness, and I found it in abundance. So come with a wish. It can be as little as to just have a good time, or as big as a soul-changing experience. Just don’t have any preconceptions for how it’ll play out.

4. Bring a gift. You’ll hear this a thousand times: Burning Man is not a spectator sport. It is full participation. One of the best ways to participate is to bring something you can offer the community. This year, my camp is bringing a full bar stocked with $1,500 worth of good booze. We will unload ALL of it by the end of the week. And remember, it’s a GIFT economy; you give, you don’t barter, and you sure as heck don’t sell. In fact, it’s very odd and disconcerting to make your first cash transaction after leaving the playa and re-entering the default world; it seems a gift economy is the way things should be. But the number one reason why giving is great participation is because you put yourself out there and meet so many wonderful people. My first time, I baked 200 cookies and walked around with a little spray bottle filled with water and lavender essential oils, asking everybody I saw whether they wanted a cookie or a misting. I met so many wonderful people and got to see so much cool stuff, it was pure joy to do it – it just feels good to give. And within two days, people would recognize me and call out, “Hey it’s the Cookie & Mister girl!” (Don’t be surprised if you develop a playa name.)

5. Lastly, I would recommend bringing one or two items that would just make your trip the tits. The one or two creature comforts that transport you from doing just okay, to saying, “Life is aaaalll rriiiiight…” For me, that is baby wipes and the lavender water. I take little “baths” with the baby wipes every morning to freshen up, and the spray bottle helps cool me down in the heat and the lavender oil is relaxing and refreshing. Perfect for my soul. But find your thing, whether it’s your kick-ass homemade bloody mary mix, your favorite tunes, or your must-have comfort food (dry ice does wonders for keeping things cold), and be sure to bring that along.

Burning Man is a million things indescribable, but the first words you’ll hear when you step foot on the playa are “Welcome Home.”

Come find our bar at Spearmint Dino (Adapt & 7:30) and we’ll pour you a drink!

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10 thoughts on “A Virgin’s Guide to Burning Man

  1. I'm from New England!! Do you have any idea how uptight we are!??? jk. My boyfriend would be so at home there. He was born to get his freak on. Me too!sounds like a great time. If I go I think I'll be the mister girl. I love essential oils so much. I could talk about them all day.

  2. Wuthering, the best thing about Burning Man is people from {literally} all over the world come – a lot of New Englanders included. Everyone fits right in. :) DaBomb, thanks! We're trying to register as an official theme camp and are just waiting to hear back if we can get an official location. If we do get it, I'll come back and post our address so ya'll can find us!

  3. Wow, sounds like quite the event. Maybe next year when Pascual is a little older…

  4. You guys should definitely make your way out there! And there are Kids Camps and other family-friendly things going on too, as lots of people bring their kids. The frat-boy raver crowd is very much a tiny minority there, despite appearances to the contrary.

  5. Do you have to bring your own food? Are there free food booths? Vegetarian? Hare Krishnas?

    • Burning Man is about self-reliance, so definitely you need to bring your own food and water (plenty of water!) to last you the entire time you are there. There are camps that give some food communally (like waffles in the morning) and it is all free. There is no commerce and no bartering. But you don't want to be a freeloader either. It's about sharing and giving.

      A lot of people who go to Burning Man are vegetarian or vegan, but if you do accept food from anyone, if you're not sure it's better to ask because it's not necessarily vegetarian.

      Check out the HeeBeeGeeBee camp (among others) for your spirituality!


  6. What happens to all the art that's created at Burning Man? Where does it, and HOW does it go, afterwards?

  7. Whatever you bring in, you must also bring out. Burning Man is seriously "no trace left behind". This means everything, trash and art alike, is a serious consideration because you are also responsible for dealing with it after the event. The best thing to do, if you are not keeping the art afterwards, is to take it home with you in whatever you brought it in and dispose of it in the proper and legal receptacles apropos to what it is. This applies to everything from stickers to large metal structures.