Burning Man Basics

- JoAnna Haugen

You may have heard that Burning Man is a huge hippie fest in the Nevada desert. Or perhaps you've heard that it's an oversized art festival with all-night parties. Some would also say it's an extended campout of dirty, dusty people while others define it as a life-changing, spiritual experience. Copia Magazine: Burning Man Basics

The truth is that it's is all of these things and none of them at all. At its very basic level, Burning Man is a weeklong event held in Black Rock City, a town constructed in the desert north of Reno, Nevada. Beyond that, though, everyone who attends Burning Man has a very different experience. Not knowing what to expect can make it particularly difficult to prepare for Burning Man, but if this is your first time on the dusty playa, here are seven things you should know:

1. Pack in, pack out. Absolutely everything you take to Burning Man must leave with you as well. This includes used water, cigarette butts, food scraps, costume pieces and garbage. As you pack for Black Rock City, make sure you have a strategy for collecting gray water, keeping track of all the glitter, feathers and sequins on your costumes and hauling your garbage out with you. If you don't know how to contain it, you probably shouldn't bring it.

Copia Magazine: Burning Man Basics 2. Earplugs, dust masks, sunscreen and goggles are essential. You will be staying right in the middle of the desert where the sun is hot and intense and dust storms are common. Stay well hydrated and always use sunscreen during the day. Keep your dust mask and goggles handy wherever you go as wind storms frequently blow up out of nowhere. It is true that people party all night at Burning Man, so if you want to sleep, pack a pair of earplugs.

3. It's different than the "outside world." You may feel out of your element when you arrive at Burning Man. The environment is harsh, people are free to wear anything (or nothing) at all and eccentricity to expected and accepted. Though you may feel disoriented, confused, scared or nervous about the environment, spend some time getting to know your neighbors and checking out Black Rock City before you pack your stuff up and write Burning Man off.

4. Light yourself up. There is no electricity in Black Rock City, so when the sun goes down, make sure you have a way to light yourself up so people can see you. Flashlights and headlamps are obvious additions to your packing list, but glow sticks, blinking costume pieces and black light items are worth bringing as well. These things also add to the fun costumes that you'll be wearing at night anyway.

Copia Magazine: Burning Man Basics 5. Expect to barter. There is no money exchange in Black Rock City except for at a small café in Center Camp and a camp that sells ice. Instead, Burning Man works on a barter system and everything you participate in-pancake breakfasts, yoga sessions, pole dancing lessons-will be free. If you need your bicycle fixed or some new clothes from the second-hand camp, you're more than welcome to them, but it's nice to give something in return. Come prepared with plenty of gifts to give out in exchange for cash. Patches and necklaces are particularly popular items.

6. Bring a bike. Black Rock City is massive, and the best way to get from point A to point B is by bike. Take one that can be ruined because the chains and gears will be caked with dust by the end of the week. Bikes may be stolen when they're unattended so also bring a bike lock. A small repair kit is also handy so you don't have to wait in line at the bike repair shops.

7. Have fun. No costume is too outlandish at Burning Man. Feel free to bring goofy hats, lacy lingerie, sparkly wings, short skirts, leisure suits and bright colors. For the most part, people at Burning Man are nonjudgmental, so feel free to dance, mingle and participate without feeling out of place. Your preconceived notions about strangers will likely be proven wrong once you let your guard down.

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