How To Prepare For Your First Burn

20 December 2016

What felt like a lifetime of baited breath, came abruptly to an end when I was graced with an email that read...

There are four ways to get a ticket for Burning Man; Low Income, Main Sale, STEP Program and OMG Sale. Each opportunity occurs intermittently throughout the course of the year until the event takes place and will often overlap. This means you could find yourself applying for one ticket while waiting to hear about whether you have been successful with another. 

Ticket Opportunities 

Low Income - These are awarded to those with a lower income who would otherwise struggle to find the funds for a full price ticket. Coming overseas can also help argue the case of having a lower income.

Main Sale - This is the best way to gain a ticket for Burning Man that might actually give you a fighting chance. You also have the opportunity to buy a Vehicle Pass for those bringing a form of transport onto the Playa.

STEP Program - This is the Secure Ticket Exchange Program which is a platform for those who have purchased a ticket who which to sell it on. 

OMG Sale - This is the last opportunity to gain a ticket for Burning Man and it usually happens in the same month of the event. This is probably better for those in the States or those who are willing to prepare for Burning Man knowing that they may not actually be able to attend if they do not find a ticket in time.

My Experience

I applied for a Low Income ticket when they were released. You had to provide a detailed breakdown of your monthly outgoings; this is to prove that you are on a low salary. You have to also give a brief explanation about what Burning Man means to you. While I was waiting to hear about whether I had been successful in my application, the Main Sale tickets were released. I was not successful in getting a ticket for the Main Sale due to the queue scandal*. I then attempted to get a ticket through the STEP Program and was registered in a queue to receive a ticket when one became available. I was then award a Low Income ticket AND also a STEP ticket. I turned down the STEP ticket as it was unlikely I could afford it anyway without selling a lot of my belongings.

*Those who were advised to queue 15 minutes before tickets were released, did not get a ticket. Those who logged on at the time of the sale, got tickets.


Preparation is vital if you want to keep costs down and it's also necessary for those who will be travelling from abroad, as you need to factor into account flight costs and car hire/rideshare costs. It will help you budget and ultimately keep the level of stress involved manageable, thus increasing the enjoyment of the event. 

Spreadsheets are your friend!

A very simple spreadsheet will help you allocate costs and also help you to see the bigger picture. This is also handy if there is more than one person in the party. Myself and my friend were attending Burning Man together, so I allocated costs per person on my spreadsheet. We also arranged for weekly and/or fortnightly meetings to book things together and make it more of a team effort. We split our meetings into the following discussions; flight booking, costumes, car hire and rideshare, excursions/additional, accommodation, food/purchase list and logistics.

Flights and Dates

We didn't actually book our flights to San Francisco until a couple weeks before we left. We had been keeping a close eye on flights, and watched them drop in price after Brexit. We managed to get our flight for £462.52 return which is pretty good for a flight to the States. We booked this through KLM which we were to later discover was a mistake, as 3 out of the 4 planes broke (one broke in the air). 

It's worth it to view flight options on Sky Scanner first but note that often their 'from' prices are literally the base price and usually these are for flights that take an obscene amount of time and have numerous stop-overs or long lay-overs. It is also important to remember that Sky Scanner use websites that are untrustworthy whom people have reported to either have poor customer service, be deceptive or possibly be scam websites.

I would recommend that you allocate time before and after the Burning Man dates, just to prepare/sightsee and decompress afterwards. We had a few events planned beforehand, plus some purchasing/prep to do. Then planned nothing for the days after Burning Man to "come down" from the experience and we were so grateful for this down-time.


This year, the theme was Da Vincic's Workshop. I interpreted this to be in the style of 'steampunk' due to the nature of his inventions. However, as I wanted to keep the costs of my first burn to a minimal, this really restricted how much I invested into the theme. My costumes for my 2016 burn were mainly made of things I already had at home. However, as part of my gifting contribution - I made small red vitruvian man bracelets to hand out. Also, because I was flying in from abroad - this too limited how much I brought with me. 

Car Hire/Rideshare

To get from San Francisco to Black Rock City, you need to find transport. There is a Burning Man bus that you can take, you can hitch a ride or you can hire a vehicle. We opted to hire a car as we worked out it would be similar in cost for just the two of us and even cheaper if we found extra people to share the car with.

We hired a GMC Terrain from Alamo (now my dream car) and found two extra people who were looking for a ride who also happened to be from the UK. Be sure to keep tabs on costs like car hire, fuel, sat nav, etc... 

To look for a rideshare, you can visit the Burning Man rideshare forum.


Book accommodation based on how you want to plan your trip logistically. As we had factored in some costume shopping, a football game, food shopping and a visit to Lake Tahoe; we booked a total of 3 hotels prior and 2 hotels after. We booked the initial 3 prior to our trip and the remaining 2 were booked either the evening before or on the day. It's helpful to leave the remaining hotels unbooked as it leaves the days following Burning Man quite flexible.

1) San Francisco - Initial stop
2) San Jose - Football game
3) Lake Tahoe - Pre Burning Man stop
4) Reno - Post Burning Man stop
5) San Francisco - Pre flight stop


We didn't plan many additional events around Burning Man as we'd both been to San Francisco before and done all the sightseeing. So we opted for more obscure activities like watching a football game (San Francisco 49ers vs Green Bay Packers), visiting Lake Tahoe and trying a gun range for the first time. Maybe try attending a gig, or look out for any free events happening in the city. The last time I came to San Francisco, we found a free music festival called Hardly Strictly Bluegrass which had an incredible atmosphere, lovely friendly locals and it was completely free of charge. Look out for pre-season sports games as these tend to be cheaper but with just as much ambiance.

I would advise not to plan too many activities before Burning Man as you may feel exhausted by the time you reach the Playa.

It's helpful to jot down any additional activities and excursions you want to include on your trip but keep in mind these may not be plausible after the man burns due to exhaustion or decompression. We only opted to visit the gun range after Burning Man and ended our visit to the States with a meal together the evening before our flight.


This year, Burning Man was 28th August - 5th September. We allocated 3 days prior and 3 days after. This was how we planned our time:-

25/8 - Fly, land and explore San Francisco (hotel in San Francisco)
26/8 - Explore San Francisco and football game in San Jose (hotel in San Jose)
27/8 - Costume shop in San Francisco, pick up rideshare partners in San Francisco, food shop in Oakland, drive to Lake Tahoe (hotel in Lake Tahoe)
28/8 - Explore Lake Tahoe, drive to Burning Man
29/8 - Burning Man
30/8 - Burning Man
31/8 - Burning Man
1/9 - Burning Man 
1/9 - Burning Man
2/9 - Burning Man
3/9 - Burning Man
4/9 - Burning Man
5/9 - Burning Man
6/9 - Leave Burning Man, clean the shit out of yourselves, explore Reno (hotel in Reno)
7/9 - Gun range, leave Reno, drive to San Francisco, clean the shit out of your car, final meal (hotel in San Francisco)
8/9 - Flight home

Purchase List

There are some essentials that you will need for your trip to Burning Man, food being one of them. But note that if you join a big camp, you may end up with more food than necessary and may not need some things on these lists. Contact your camp to find out what they already have.

Food to consider:-

Tinned food

Things you need:-

Sleeping bag/mat
Airbed (if not already provided by camp)
Cheap suitcase (for trashing)
Lip balm
Cleansing wipes
Pots, pans and utensils
Cooler and ice (ice is available to purchase on the Playa)
Clip/camping water bottle
Clip/camping mug
Warm coat
A bike (unless your camp provides one)

The 10 Principles

The 10 Principles are the basic foundations of Burning Man and express the values of the Burning Man community. 

1) Radical Inclusion - The idea that anyone and everyone is welcome and included.

2) Gifting - Gifting with no expectation of an exchange or return.

3) Decommodification - The non-existance of monetary value or commercial advertising.

4) Radical Self-Reliance - Encouragement of independence and creative ability.

5) Radical Self-Expression - Encouragement of self expression and respect.

6) Communal Effort - Creative cooperation to achieve the same goals.

7) Civic Responsibility - Responsibility for events and activities coordinated.

8) Leaving No Trace -  Nothing at all must be left on Black Rock Desert, all MOOP is collected by ourselves whether they are our MOOP or somebody else's.

9) Participation - Stepping outside your comfort zone and trying to participate in more.

10) Immediacy - Living in the now.


Art Car/Mutant Vehicle - Moving forms of art
Playa - The plane of desert Burning Man is based on
Deep Playa - The middle bit
Playa Name - A fake name you use for Burning Man
Black Rock City - The name of the temporary city Burning Man is based in
Black Rock Ranger - The rangers that look after your wellbeing in case of emergency
The Man - The iconic Burning Man structure that is burnt
Burner - Those who attend Burning Man
Centre Camp - The camp situated in the centre
Dark wad - A burner who hasn't lit up themselves or their bikes, this causes danger for others
Decompression - Coming down from the Burning Man experience (yes it's a real thing)
The Default World - The real world
DMV - The Department of Mutant Vehicles
Dust Devils - The little dust tornados
Fire Devils - When these ignite beside one of the many burns, they turn into fire
Exodus - The day everyone leaves
Grey water - Dirty water with deposits that cannot be evaporated, this needs to be transported out
MOOP - Matter Out Of Place is rubbish, nothing is to be left on the playa, everything must be collected
The Temple - The sacred structure

Friendships and Lessons

I think the most fulfilling thing about the whole experience is the lessons and friendships you make on the Playa. While it's completely normal to gain knowledge and insight from everyday life, sometimes it takes something completely radical to teach us a true lesson.

Things I learnt about me:-

I need to be more open about my feelings, I come across as despondent at times
I make friends relatively easily
I am confident exploring alone
I can make pancakes non-stop for hours
I produce a lot of trash (which I discovered when I started minimalism and zero waste)
I need to be more body-confident

Things I learnt about the world:-

Our planet is magic and we're killing it
We take food, water, warmth, safety and electricity for granted
The desert gets freakin' cold (colder than the UK)
Not everyone is going to judge you and who cares anyway?!
There is a lot of food in Black Rock City
Indian tacos...say no more
Positive and negative energy exists
The default world is sad but it could be great

I have made countless friends at my first burn, and still keep in touch with them now. In fact, this weekend just gone - we visited our rideshare partners down in London. I attended Burning Man with a friend from home, but we had literally only met a couple months prior. When we both discovered we were attending Burning Man, it was a no-brainer that we joined forces and we have been friends ever since. I am so grateful for meeting such a variety of people from all walks of life and to see them grow as people is just one of the gifts that they gave me when we met on the Playa.

Worst Coachella ever!

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