The week before Labor Day is always a ghost town in San Francisco.
If you live there, then you know why—it’s the annual pilgrimage to Burning Man!
Even if you’ve never been to Burning Man, you probably have strong feelings about it one way or the other. Perhaps you think it’s a Garden of Eden where intellectuals, adventurers, and pioneers go to have fun, transform themselves, and embrace utopian possibilities.
Or maybe you feel it’s just a bunch of ego-driven techies and dirty Bohemians rolling around aimlessly in the desert for a week.
I personally have not yet been to Burning Man, but I’ve been wanting to go for many years. I love having unique experiences, and I used to be a Deadhead, so I’m accustomed to exotic trippy people.
What’s been holding me back? Mainly that my wife, Allison, has a very strong urge not to go to Burning Man.
She’s generally an adventurous person when it comes to travel, food, and even enjoying a clothing-optional beach. However, she wears contacts, so the idea of dust storms is a nightmare, and she’s just not fond of hot arid desert climates.
While I could go without her, that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun!
I decided to come up with a way to scientifically assess whether to go to Burning Man. And of course I asked Allison to take the assessment (just to be sure).
Whatever your perception might be, set that aside for a moment and take this assessment to see if you should spend your time and money on the epic journey to the playa.
Monetary & Opportunity Costs:
The first thing you should realize (if you don’t already) is that tickets for Burning Man aren’t cheap. You’re looking at about $400 just for the ticket, plus transportation, supplies, food, costumes, accommodations, etc. All in all, you’re probably in for close to $1000.
Would you rather spend a week on a beach or tripping around Europe? Since you probably only have so much vacation time, you need to think wisely about how to spend it.
The Burning Man Scorecard:
OK, now that you understand the cost, let’s take a closer look at what you’ll actually experience.
Below are ten criteria to consider if attending Burning Man is right for you. For each item, score it on a 5-Point Scale with the following scoring methodology:
1 = I would absolutely hate it
2 = I wouldn’t like it but I suppose I could deal with it
3 = I’m pretty neutral about it
4 = I think it would be cool & I would enjoy it
5 = No problem at all – I would absolutely love it
1. Desert: Do you embrace the beauty of the desert landscape with its amazing sunrises and sunsets? Do you envision starry skies at night and beautiful Georgia O’Keefe paintings?
Or will the heat and dry arid climate turn you off? It’s going to be pretty hot during the day and then cool way down at night. Global warming isn’t your friend in the desert in late summer.
Black Rock City also isn’t exactly the easiest place to get to. It’s over 100 miles from the closest city, Reno. With over 60,000 participants driving on a two-lane rural highway, it’s gonna be hot and crowded trek.
For some, this is part of the appeal—it’s an adventure and a journey. For others, driving for hours in the desert is just not their idea of a good time.
2. Dust, Dirt & Grime: Since you’re in the desert, you have to be prepared for lots of dust, dirt, and sand. The dust storms can be pretty intense, so you’re advised to bring goggles and two extra sets of contacts.
You’ll probably also be in a perpetual state of dirtiness for the whole week since running water and showers will be scarce. Are you ok with being caked in dust for a week? And of course, the only facilities are porta-potties.
For some folks, like myself, it’s fun to get a little dirty and dusty once in awhile. Wearing goggle in the desert is just like being in Mad Max, right?
3. Costumes: Are you a costume person? Is your favorite time of year Halloween when you get to dress up in something crazy, sexy, or off-the-wall?
Or do you think costumes are silly and a waste of time?
If you’re a costume person, then you’re going to love that aspect of Burning Man. You can dress up in feathers, glitter, tin-foil, spandex, body paint, or even nothing at all, which leads me to…
4. Nudity: How are you with public nudity? Are you a “naked person,” feeling comfortable both being naked in front of others and seeing others naked? Personally, I have no problem with nudity as long as you’re someplace where everyone is on board and are accepting of it (so not at church or in the workplace).
That said, I know a lot of people who just would prefer not to see other people naked and have no desire to be naked in front of strangers. Burning Man is probably not high on their list of places to go.
There are also some sexual aspects to the festival. For example, there’s an “Orgy Dome,” where people can go inside (with a partner only) and have sex with and around other people. While this is obviously an optional activity, you have to be okay with being around some different highly charged sexual activities.
5. Self-Discovery / Self-Exploration: Are you interested in self-discovery and self-exploration? For some, this is one of the most intriguing aspects of Burning Man—a chance to delve into one’s own psyche, emotions, thoughts, fears, and desires outside of the “Default World.” People get so busy in their daily lives that they never take the time to focus on their inner world.
For others, they did their self-exploration in college and don’t have a deep need to work on it anymore.
6. Partying & Drugs: Some Burners may get their self-exploration chemically rather than naturally.
There is the opportunity to listen to music all night and partake in drugs like Ecstasy. Does this appeal to you? Maybe it’s an opportunity to do things you would never do in normal life.
Of course not everyone is at Burning Man for the party scene, and this aspect could be a real turnoff.
7. The People: Just like the art, costumes, and events at Burning Man, there are a wide range of different types of people. You’ll find hipsters, techies, yogis, yuppies, hippies, and nerds.
The question is do you find these kinds of people interesting and exotic or smug and annoying? Some look at them as visionaries, creatives, and explorers, while others see self-indulgence and hypocrisy.
For many people who live in San Francisco, the week of Burning Man is like a holiday where they get the city to themselves for a week.
8. The Sharing Economy: One of the main tenets of Burning Man is to share what you have with everyone. This harkens back to the hippie era of communal living and is the opposite of what we normally experience in our capitalistic society.
Are you cool with sharing everything with total strangers for a week, or would you prefer that everyone have and keep their own stuff?
9. Mind & Body Workshops: Are you into yoga, meditation, breath work, and other similar mind / body pursuits? If so, then you’ll find plenty of workshops, demos, and events to enjoy. There are workshops on knife throwing, improv, polyamory, spirit animal readings, body painting, you name it!
Do you look at these as opportunities to have fun, learn, and explore your boundaries? Or do you find these activities silly and too New-Agey for your liking?
10. Wild & Crazy Art: Burning Man is known for amazing massive artistic structures. You’ll see giant statues, domes, temples, cars, and vehicles all decked out in neon lights, fire throwing cannons, medieval sculptures, and any other material you can think of. And it all culminates with the actual burning man statue.
For many, this is the greatest appeal of Burning Man. However, you may prefer to see your art on a canvas in a museum rather than in the middle of the desert.
How to Assess:
Add up your scores for all 10 criteria, so your total should be somewhere between 10 – 50.
Here’s how to assess the score:
10 – 20: I don’t understand the appeal and have no idea why anyone would ever want to go to BM!
21 – 30: I understand why some people might be into BM, but it’s just not for me
31 – 40: I’m totally down for trying it and going to BM at least once in my life
41 – 50: I pretty much love everything about BM!
How did you do? Were you surprised with your score?
After Allison and I took the assessment, we found some slightly surprising results. My score was a 43, which wasn’t too shocking. I scored a 4 or 5 on everything except question #2 (Dirt / Dust) and question #6 (Partying).
Allison’s score was the surpriser. She came in at a 31, just barely in the “I’m down for trying it once in my life.” As expected, she scored low on #1 (Desert) and #2 (Dust), but she made up for it by scoring 4 points on #4 (Nudity), #6 (Partying), #8 (Sharing economy), and #10 (Art). More adventurous than I expected!
I’m hoping this may convince her that we’re going to Burning Man together next year. We’ll just invest in a great pair of goggles and big bottle of hand sanitizer.
There are are two camps of people—those who have gone (or will go) to Burning Man and those that have not (and never will) go to Burning Man.
You’re either like me and love the idea of getting dirty with thousands of costumed creative people in the desert for the sake of art and humanity. Or you’re like Allison and you say no thank you to being dirty 24/7 and hanging out with weird people who are way too into themselves.
Who knows, going to Burning Man may lead to more self-discovery, connections with new and interesting people, and a more exciting life.
Or maybe you’d just rather spend your vacation days in Europe or in the Caribbean!
Author: Dylin Redling
Editor: Renee Jahnke