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August 14, 2014

So You Think You Want To Come To Burning Man

First I'll say that if you think you might not like it, then don't come. It's selling out 68,000 tickets when the standard ticket price is $380. Using my fine surveying skills on the playa, I can safely say that of that 68,000 in Black Rock City, 67,0000 love love love it and are driven to get there. The other 1,000 weren't sure if they were going to like, and didn't.

But if Burning Man is calling to you, then go. You must go. And you should do it sooner rather than putting it on your bucket list. There is no guarantee that Burning Man will go on forever.

As a Birgin the first place you are going to go is to the Burning Man website and there you will go to First Timer's Guide which is really just an index of other pages on the site that you must read.

The single most important document to read is the Survival Guide. This is so important you will actually get a printed (on paper!) copy with your ticket. If you do not read it and you go to an online Burning Man forum or even a face-to-face meeting of Burners and wanna-be Burners and start asking questions that reveal you have not read the Survival Guide, you'll be told to go read it and come back with some serious questions.

Beyond the Survival Guide here are other online resources that you will find informative:

  • Jackrabbit Speaks is the official Burning Man mailing list. Official word on ticket availability and every other little detail will come to you via Jackrabbit Speaks.
  • The Burning Blog, the official blog of Burning Man, is more casual and entertaining. For me the best thing about The Burning Blog is that beginning with the arrival of crews on the Black Rock Desert around the first of August, photos of the progress of the construction of the city will be shared there.
  • Burners.me is an independent blog that sometimes brings you behind the scenes information that maybe the official blog would not share. Sometimes Burners.me goes down the mildly paranoid "those people are evil" road, but I have learned to skip over that. It's a skill acquired in Desert Hot Springs.
  • eplaya is a forum hosted by Burning Man.
  • I only discovered the Burning Man subreddit (which is on Reddit naturally) this year. The attitudes there are far more pleasant than on other parts of Reddit. It seems to be a good place for Birgins to get questions answered.

A good way to meet some real Burners in the flesh (yeah, baby!) and to get a slight taste of what the experience might be like (sorta) is to attend a regional burn. These take place all over the world, organized locally. It's hard for me to conceive of a Burning Man event that isn't hot, dusty and on dead level lifeless ground, but apparently the regional burns work anyway. In southern California there's Bequinox organized by Los Angeles Burners. It takes place on private property near Twentynine Palms in March. L.A. Burners have a mailing list and Facebook page. The Los Angeles group organizes a few informational meetings each year for new Burners.

San Diego Burners organize Youtopia in October in the campground of the La Jolla Indian reservation south of Palomar. San Diego offers its own mailing list and Facebook page.

If you can get involved in any way with Burners in your local area, they will be the best source of info for you, after you've read the Survival Guide. They may also let you camp with them, or help you find a camp. In the San Francisco Bay Area, all you need to do is ask one of your neighbors, because everyone there has at least one Burner neighbor.


The ticket process varies a little (or a lot) every year. This year they added vehicle passes to the complexity. If you are bringing a vehicle into Burning Man (motorcycles are exempt), you will need a $40 (this year) vehicle pass for it. You get that in the ticket process. They've been reducing the options in how to buy tickets over the last few years. Now you can only buy online and only with a Visa or MasterCard (there may be other choices if you are outside the U.S.).

You must create an online profile on the Burning Man website in order to buy a ticket. This is not a public profile. Officially Burning Man says they are doing this only to screen out known scalpers. This doesn't seem to me to be a very effective way of doing it - certainly not sufficiently effective to justify all the work all the non-scalpers are put through. The window for creating a profile opens a couple of weeks or so before each phase of ticket selling.

Here is how the ticket sale phases went this year: well before the standard tickets went on sale, there was a pre-sale where you could buy an official, legal ticket from Burning Man at a terribly elevated price - $650 this year. There's a limit on how many they sell that way (3,000). Then in February or March tickets went on sale (15,000 tickets at $380 each) to theme camps. I'm not part of a theme camp so I don't know all the details of this. Then a couple of weeks after that sale, the general sale happens. that's 38,000 tickets at $380 each. It will sell out in less than 20 minutes. Limit of two tickets per person.

After that, the STEP program opens. Those people who successfully bought a ticket, but decided they don't need it, can inform Burning Man of this via the STEP program. Burning Man then sells it (still at $380) to someone who has created a profile and registered for the STEP program. When the ticket sells, the original purchaser gets his money back. Finally, around the end of July comes the OMG sale. You still have to create a profile and the price is still $380, but there were only 3,000 tickets left to sell at this point this year.

But while all that's going on, there is the low-income ticket program. You can fill out a form online and if you were poor enough last year and answer all the questions in such a way as to show you would be a good citizen of Black Rock City, then you can buy a ticket for $190 this year. You would still need a $40 vehicle pass if you are bringing a vehicle. I have not done the low income thing, so I'm short on details. But I do know people who have successfully obtained tickets this way, so I know it's not an insurmountable challenge.

Of course, tickets become available on Craigslist, eBay and the online ticket reselling sites. That can be exciting, expensive and disastrous. If the Burning Man organization happens to see tickets for resale at a price far higher than was paid, and if they can positively identify the seller, they will invalidate those tickets and list the numbers here. When a vehicle arrives at the gate and there is an invalid ticket offered by even just one of the passengers, the vehicle and everybody in it is turned around. The driver is supposed to deliver the one with a bad ticket back to civilization, but if one of my passengers did this to me, I'm pretty sure I'd find a way to dump him in Gerlach and tell him to exercise his thumb while I go back to wait another 4, 5 or 6 hours in the entry line.

For most Burners it ends up being months of challenges: getting a ticket, getting time off from work, getting all your stuff together, driving all that way, sitting on the entrance road for hours. But then you get to attend Burning Man! Those who can't make it through these comparatively easy challenges while in the comfort of their familiar environment will probably not survive well on the Black Rock Desert.

Filed under Burning Man | permalink | August 14, 2014 at 10:22 PM


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