Camping in the Nevada desert in the heat of the summer with no hotels or a proper shower for eight days sounds like torture. But somehow, for the past 20+ years, over 50,000+ people have converged upon Black Rock City of their own free will. That’s when you know, it’s time for Burning Man. There are few places where people from all walks of life gather for a legal, psychedelic bender of a week. Seriously, everyone from the guy who does van life to Sergey Brin and Elon Musk partake in the meritocracy that is Burning Man. Throw in a couple of Super Models, Diplo as your DJ, and you have a pop culture zeitgeist in the making.
The Luxury Burning Man Experience
Psychedelics in the Desert
If you’ve never been to the Burning Man festival, then you probably have some preconceived notions that it’s a dusty, hippie, music festival with crazy people in costumes on psychedelics in the desert. The answer is yes, you’re right, but it’s also a whole lot more. Burning Man is like riding the New York subway system. On the subway, you have everyone from the person who has no home, to the billionaire (here’s looking at you Jay-Z), all on the ride of life together. That’s essentially Burning Man. And there’s a reason why Burning Man probably has a higher repeat guest rate too than the famed Hotel du Cap.
A Little History
The original Burning Man started in 1986 with Larry Harvey and Jerry James, two members of the San Francisco arts community. In celebration of the summer solstice, they burned an eight-foot-tall wooden effigy of a man on San Francisco’s Baker Beach. Their annual camp-out quickly outgrew Baker Beach, so in the 1990’s they moved the party to Black Rock Desert. There they had the space to morph the festival into what it is today: a highly curated, logistically complex city of 75,000 people that is completely self-built in two weeks. What’s extraordinary is that after the two weeks, Burning Man disappears off the face of the Earth without a trace until the next year.
Most people get confused by the word “festival” and try to compare Burning Man to Coachella, or Lightning in a Bottle. As a “Burner” myself, I describe Burning Man to any virgins out there as the most organized and impressive event I have ever been to. It has its own police and fire department, DMV to register mutant art cars, and even a post office. Burning Man City is an intricately laid out community with streets and a power grid. The level of volunteers and production value is staggering, and it runs literally like clockwork.
Burning Man City
Speaking of clockwork, every year the city is built in the shape of a clock starting at 2 o’clock and going all the way around to 10 o’clock. The area from 10-2 is just open desert or “open playa” where you can ride bikes and explore huge art structures that have been built specifically for the festival. This includes the “Man” that will be burned at the end of the week and is considered the most sacred space of all. In the ritual, the temple around the man then burns the next day.
The city-clock map design also has streets built starting with concentric circles from “A” in the center camp and spreading out to “L” on the outer rim of the city. This grid is important because you can forget about cell phones, service, and technology when you are in Black Rock City. Your self-imposed digital detox will make you revert back to the analog days. You know, when you used a map to find your own way to your friend’s camp at 9:30 and K.
Choose Your Adventure
Burning Man is whatever experience you want to make of it. You can run a marathon, listen to a TED talk, take ballroom dancing classes, or go roller-skating. That’s just to start. You can dance all night to top DJs like Diplo who come in for the festival, as it’s a celebrity magnet. You can hitch a ride on a mutant art car, take a trapeze class, or just take a nap. Of course, many people chose to do all of the above on a cocktail of psychedelics. After all, it’s chose-your-own-adventure at Burning Man.
In the “default world”, what people call the “real world” outside of Burning Man, our idea of luxury is often tied to the level of accommodation and creature comforts. If you’re going to experience an authentic Burning Man, you’ll need to check those expectations at the door. Your idea of what “luxury” is changes the second you choose to stay in one of the most inhospitable environments in the world. Black Rock City can have temperatures that swell into the 100s during the day and plunge down so cold at night that you will need a fur coat to stay warm. There is no shade or water unless you bring it. The ground is so cracked and dusty that your boots and bikes years later will still be caked in playa dust, no matter how many times you try to clean them. But despite these harsh conditions, Burning Man is a testament to the human imagination. People have created the most luxurious camps and amenities out in the middle of nowhere in the desert.
Also checked at the door when you go to Burning Man is your access to technology and “connectivity” that you have to the internet and social media. When you are at Burning Man, the whole point is to be off the grid. It’s amazing how humans quickly retreat back into “survival mode” where food, water, shelter, and bathrooms become luxuries as well as necessities.
A Unique Society for Two Weeks
One of the things that makes Burning Man so unique is that everyone is on the same level here. No one talks about work or their life at home or even uses their real name. You’ll have no idea if celebrities or tech mogul billionaires are also riding around on dusty bikes in costumes next to you. Many of them have joined the elite group of people that choose to fly their private jets into the pop-up Black Rock City airport and then have a private car come pick them up to take them to their camp which has already been set up for them. In fact, guys like Elon, and Sergei Brin (who has had a special Google camp) have at one point or another come to Burning Man. They’ve also returned year after year.
There are luxurious camps like the Google camp, that have popped up across the playa, creating some controversy amongst veteran Burners. For example, there are other camps like Playa Alchemist that have a ballroom with chef-prepared dinners and set tables with tablecloths. RIP Cirque Gitane who had doormen and black-tie lobster dinners that were a celeb magnet, or Maxa that went for a village feel and had exclusive caviar parties.
I personally don’t think it should matter how you get there and how well you choose to sleep there. The ethos of Burning Man is that you create and build your own environment. Generally, each person has work shifts to do in their own camp to contribute, and everyone has to do their part to leave no trace and be respectful to the land. To me, Burning Man is a “choose your own adventure” and you can make your experience into whatever you want it to be, so why not make it a luxurious one?
Not all camps are there every year and new ones pop up all the time, but here are some of my favorite camps that have figured out ways to truly bring a luxury experience to the Playa.
This camp has a gorgeous tented dance club that when you walk in looks like a pristine, clean white air-conditioned club like one at St Tropez. There are white mattresses and furniture to lounge on with a champagne bar. Burning Man is centered around art and music, so there’s a DJ spinning and you feel like you have been transported to another dimension from the dusty heat outside. Their camp has perfect white shift pods set up with carpets, beds, and air conditioning all ready to go when you arrive. They even have a commissary for snacks and drinks as if you were in a fancy hotel in Italy. For those guests that fly in private, they will be picked up by one of Galactic Jungle’s 10 animal art cars that are all connected by Bluetooth for guests to communicate with.
The Lost Hotel
The Lost Hotel- this camp built a beautiful white dome that has hot girls passing around trays of fresh fruit and has a bar and meal service. They also created real luxurious bathrooms for their air-conditioned tents with hooked-up plumbing to grey water for their guests to enjoy.
Literally everything you could possibly need is there including a spa with showers, a steam sauna, and plenty of “sacred spaces” for guests to enjoy. Someone drives your RV and sets up your yurt for you so all you have to do is show up. Although it is not a completely plug-and-play camp because you still have 2 shifts of work to contribute during the week.
My favorite camp is Ashram Galactica. Their Thursday night party is legendary and all of the famous art cars come and surround the camp during their party. What I love about Ashram is that they are not a luxury plug-and-play camp. Instead, their gift to the playa is to create a luxury experience for anyone who shows up to their Champagne Bar, The Gilded Lily. Every night, Ashram hosts a Moulin Rouge-themed champagne bar inside a gorgeous Victorian-decorated circus tent. There are cabaret dancers, an absinthe fairy, bartenders, bike valet, and a concierge. They create 4 luxury yurts all themed differently, like Asian, French, and Safari that are raffled off each night for 4 lucky guests to stay in one of these tents. Each tent comes with a butler for the night and free-flowing champagne. The butler’s sole job is to grant the guests whatever wish they ask for during their stay. So if they want a cellist to serenade them while someone serves them steak and wine, the butler has to use their resources to make it happen.
Essentials for a Luxury Burning Man Experience
Experienced Burners have figured out ways to create their own “self-luxury experience”. Since everyone needs to have radical self-reliance and be able to take care of themselves on the playa, here is my “Must bring to Burning Man List”. These essentials will transform your experience from camping to glamping:
1. Bring an RV. It is imperative to have air conditioning and a quiet safe space to nap and escape the chaos when you want to chill out during those dust storms. Having your own bathroom, shower, refrigerator, and water is a game changer.
2. E-bikes are transformative. Now you can explore the far reaches of Black Rock City and see all of the art, with half of the exertion and effort of riding across bumpy roads for miles in the heat.
3. Bring a wardrobe tent with clothing racks and a mirror. Let’s face it headpieces and costumes take up a LOT of space. Transferring your closet out of your sleeping space will let your RV be a clean, chill environment. Getting dressed is a more fun experience in a dedicated space with friends.
4. Bring a foot massager machine, ice packs, and facial masks to put in the freezer. Self-care is a must when you are out in the extreme desert. Make sure you take time to pamper yourself, drink a lot of water, and rest every day.
5. Bring a Nutribullet, frozen fruit, and coconut water to make smoothies. Frozen grapes are the most delicious luxurious snack to have with you.
6. Bring misters or a spray water fan. Not only will this really help to cool you down when you are out riding around looking at art, but you will make a lot of friends having one of these too.
Laura’s Top 10 tips to have the best Burn:
Other than flying in on a private jet or having someone else drive your pre-packed RV up for you and setting it up at your camp, my best advice for you to have the best burn possible is to set your expectations accordingly. They say that you may not always get the burn you want, but rather the burn you need. So go into the festival with an open schedule and open mind, but for sure take these tips into consideration before you go:
1. Be overprepared for everything. Channel your inner MacGyver, because sometimes you have to fix and build things, so always have a utility knife and zip ties on you.
2. Make sure to ALWAYS have a ton of water and wear a camelback full of water. Clip a carabiner with a cup and utensils on you so you always have a way to eat and drink.
3. Choose your camp wisely. Make sure that your living space has people that are the same vibe as you and that you get along with and travel well together.
4. Have a no-shoes policy in the RV and keep your living space clean. Bring cleaning supplies.
5. Brace for harsh conditions. Be prepared for whiteout dust storms and have duct tape to tape up your windows and doors
6. Allow some “me time”. Experience at least one sunrise set while you are there. It is magical.
7. Bring lights to decorate your bike and your clothing at night. Add a comfortable seat and go nuts making your bike look unique so you can find it at night or in a crowd of bicycles.
8. Always having clothing adorned with Led Lights. You can buy LED wire lights for super cheap and affix them with safety pins to anything you are wearing. This is important when things are pitch-black at night, so people or art cars don’t run you over or crash into you. It also just looks amazing and adds to the Vegas feel of Black Rock City at night.
9. Protective eye gear. Bring daytime tinted goggles and nighttime clear goggles and a face mask for the dust.
10. Bring gifts to give to people you meet on the Playa. Burning Man is a gifting society, and no money is exchanged here, so be prepared to give anything from bracelets and trinkets to hugs or advice. Whatever your gift is, it will be appreciated! Trust me, you will get great joy in the act of giving or receiving a gift from a new friend that you meet.
How to Get to Burning Man this Year
At this point, if you have not secured a ticket for this year’s Burn, don’t fret, there is always a way to go. You either have to find someone that can sell you their ticket or join a camp since camps receive a certain amount of tickets each year for their members. They will never sell more than 75,000 tickets and they sell out within minutes of the lottery sale going live in April. However, the OMG sale is about to happen from July 23rd-August 3rd. You can find out more details about this sale on their website and register at https://tickets.burningman.org/. If you still don’t have a ticket come August, you can visit this link to find people safely selling their tickets https://tickets.burningman.org/2023-secure-ticket-exchange-program-step/.
So find your tribe and camp quickly and have a great Burn. Once you’ve been to Burning Man, you quickly realize that luxury is more about the experience of life. That may be the biggest gift of all to walk away with after 2 weeks in the desert.