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Burning Man on a Budget

Aug 3, 2018 | By Emma Frost

Burning Man starts August 26th, and if you and your friends have planned all year for this, you’re probably counting the days before you can make it out the Playa. There’s a lot to consider between Burning Man and the real world, especially if you want to make the most of your stay. Here are some things to take into account when you’re building your Burning Man budget so you leave no trace on your financial life!

Budget for Fixed Costs

When it comes to making a budget that really works for you, the best place to start is with the bare basics. Burning Man is not the cheapest trip, so if you want to make it happen but you have a limited amount to work with, start with your fixed costs – your minimum necessary expenses – and work from there. When it comes to Burning Man, there’s two major fixed costs to consider before going any further:

  • Tickets
  • Transportation


The base ticket price is about $380, so it’s something to factor in ahead of time. It’s always a good idea to start saving in advance, especially if money’s tight. There are also Low-Income tickets for $190, but there are way more applicants than there are tickets and everyone wants to save, so they’re in very high-demand. You may also be able to check out some volunteer opportunities for setting up to really get involved in the community and give another dimension to your participation.

But whatever your plan is, do not – I repeat – DO NOT try to sneak in. Stowing away or hopping a fence might seem better than shelling out $400 bucks on tickets alone, but between vehicle searches and night-vision-goggled law enforcement, it’s just not worth it. If you’re caught aiding and abetting (yes, even if you were, “just in the car”), your tickets will be revoked and you will not get your money back. In conclusion: you do NOT want to be the jerk that ruins Burning Man for you and your friends, so embrace the principle of radical self-reliance and make sure you have enough cash to swing the ticket and other essentials.


There’s always the Burner Express or a rental if you don’t want to take your own vehicle, but carpooling is probably going to be the best way of getting there. It’s not only going to be much more fun to go with friends, but it’s a great way to save cash to split gas money and general expenses. The more the merrier, right?

Burning Man is like one long camp-out art-festival in the desert, and civic responsibility and community cooperation are important aspects of participation. An installment loan can give you the extra wiggle room you need to cover expenses that arise, but if you know which vehicle you’re taking, it’s an expense you can definitely account for.

What to Bring

If you’ve ever been camping, you know it tends to be a lot of equipment. If you’ve been camping for a week with 4+ people, you know that’s a lot to account for, so bringing more than one vehicle or a trailer may not be a bad idea. Here are some things you want to remember to bring:

For Safety

  • Dust and Sun Protection – masks, goggles, tents, and shade for basic safety
  • Lighting – bring your own lighting to remain visible for you and others
  • Food and Water – flasks and water bottles; food and things to cook it with
  • Cooler – something to put your ice in (and your food and drink, of course)

A bandana will do in a pinch, and sunglasses, and a visor and sunglasses will work for regular sun protection, but if a dust storm kicks up, you want to make sure you’re covered. Literally. Masks and goggles are a must. And that doesn’t just apply to you; you want to give your shelter some shade and cover, too. And, pro tip: use extra-long 18”+ tent stakes make sure your tent stays put.

If you’ve ever been in a campground situation, you know that lighting is as vital for you as it will be for people around you at night, especially those driving. Make sure you bring what you need to see at night – a lantern or flashlight is good to have on you for moving around at night, as well. Stay illuminated, and stay safe!

Food and water is easy enough in theory, but it’s something you want to seriously consider before setting out. You may end up eating a lot less than usual in all the hustle and bustle, but you’re going to need to drink a lot more than you would back in the real world.

It’s important to bring enough water to stay hydrated (about 1.5 gal, per person, per day to be safe) and to bring something to carry it in, especially something that can clip on or strap on. You’re probably going to want to bring more however, especially if you plan on showering at all while you’re there.

As far as what to eat, pack plenty of food that will keep at different temperatures. Protein bars and mixed nuts are great for snacking and maintaining your energy levels while you revel. There are also lots of easy-to-prepare solutions you can pack pre-cooked if you can bring a small propane stove/grill and pot that will save you a lot of time and trouble.

Unless you have the luxury of having a minifridge or you choose to go the dehydrated food route, all your pre-cooked food depends on staying cold to stay edible, and that means you need ice and something to put it in. Just remember to bring cash to hit Arctica as needed, and keep the chill factor in mind: there’s an inverse relationship between the cost of your cooler and its ability to keep things cold, so keep in mind that cheaper is not better.

For Comfort

  • Sun Protection – Because it bears repeating: hat/visor, sunglasses, sunblock
  • Warm clothes and cover – for those chilly nights desert nights
  • Booze – make sure you and your crew are good on brews
  • Costumes – or whatever you’ll be comfortable wearing

Because it bears repeating, the necessity of sun protection cannot be understated. Sunscreen, sunglasses, visors, these are all more necessities than comfort items.

The desert is made up of extremes. That means hot days and cold nights, so you want to make sure you come prepared. Bring warm clothes and covers – you’ll be glad you did!

You might not a big drinker, but a week of partying in the desert may feel incomplete without the option being available. People on the Playa may be in the spirit of gifting and radical inclusion, but it’s always best to BYOB so you can share and share alike.

Costumes are far from mandatory, but something that you are going to be comfortable wearing, especially something that really helps you tune into that most authentic you is the perfect way to get into the Burning Man frame of mind. Never underestimate the power of accessories, and never underestimate your local thrift shop for finding the perfect Burning Man gear that’s as you and it is affordable!

Things to Consider

Finally, you want to make sure you want to bring is the right mindset. Do justice to the burners that have come before you by embracing the ten tenants of Burning Man. For those of you not familiar, those are:

  • community cooperation
  • civic responsibility
  • participation
  • gifting
  • inclusion
  • decommodification
  • self-reliance
  • immediacy
  • self-expression
  • leaving no trace

That being said, here’s a brief message to Burning Man virgins: this is not a trip for glampers, and mooching is not the radical self-reliance this festival was meant to embody. If you force your community to take care of you, you will survive, but you certainly won’t be making any friends. And the people all around you in Black Rock City are here for the music, art, and to get in touch with nature – they’re not there to trip-sit you. Burners don’t want you to get hurt or have a bad time, but it’s hard to stay in the moment when you’re worried about another person. If you really can’t afford it, or if you can’t rough it with the best of ‘em, just don’t go. After all, you can take a luxury vacation for the same price tag. Burning Man is a wild ride, so come prepared for an adventure, embrace the central message, and get lit with your fellow Burners! If you go for the right reasons, you’re sure to have a good time.