As Mrs. PoP and I get closer to FIRE, we’re slightly more inclined to loosen the purse strings when it comes to awesome travel destinations and interesting experiences. Going to Burning Man this year checked both of those boxes for me, and it’s been something that I’ve had on my bucket list for at least a decade now. True to the purpose of this blog, here is a complete run down of how much it was for a first timer like myself to get to Burning Man and back.
So What Is Burning Man Anyhow?
There are as many answers to that question as there are people at the event, but here goes. Burning Man is a temporary camp/art installation/party of 70,000 people erected every year in the middle of the Nevada Desert. It lasts for 7 days, relies on a “gift economy” to exchange goods and services, and involves more fire, art, drugs, music and just plain weirdness than anything else that I know of.* You are completely responsible for your own safety and are expected to leave no trace when you leave the desert-this means bringing your own food, water, shelter, transportation and packing it all back out when you go.
Temperatures range from 100F during the day to 40F at night; sandstorms cause white-out conditions most afternoons and the EDM music shakes the whole playa from sunset to sunrise, making the whole event look like a cross between Mad Max and a rave. If this sounds like your thing, congratulations, you’re probably as sick of your office job as I am of mine.
Everybody’s trip to BM is different; mine involved flying across the country to San Francisco and prepping for 3 days with a good friend before renting a U-haul van and being at the event for 4 days/3 nights. Included are all expenses, including those incurred in San Francisco while getting our proverbial shit together.
Travel and Event Tickets-$1,124.19
After glancing at Mrs. PoP’s lovingly crafted spreadsheet, I’m not surprised that this is one of the largest expenses. Even thought we bought the flights using points (Way to go Mrs. PoP!), the event tickets were still $390, my share of gas and the van rental was $111.99 and $243.53 (respectively) and I had $50 in checked baggage fees as well. There are also some expenses for using the BART around SF and renting a bicycle to get around the playa itself was $145.42.
The vast majority of this number occurred (unsurprisingly) in San Francisco, with almost everything else occurring during travel to SF or travely to the playa. I brought $59.25 worth of food and $23.63 of alcohol to the playa and probably brought too much food. Your appetite really does drop in the desert, and as it turns out Lagunitas Maximus has plenty of calories! Having said that, I did have a 6-pack (not the kind the Lagunitas comes in) when I got off the playa, so I was definitely running at a caloric deficit.
Housing-$563.36 for my portion
Since renting an RV for the event would have meant looking like complete sellouts AND spending about $3.5k, we went with a Hexayurt. The yurt was constructed from commercially available materials that we picked up from Lowes/Homedepot and did a great job for us. We actually hooked up a swamp cooler as well as a solar panel with battery back up. In retrospect, we should have gone with a window AC unit; the solar panel had enough juice and we (I) goofed when setting up the swamp cooler. It looks like the Yurt came in at around $400; don’t forget the rebar and ratchet straps to make sure the thing doesn’t blow away in the 50mph winds.
Clothes & Misc-$150.39
If you’re not prepared for the elements at Burning Man, you’re gonna have a bad time. Hell, you may have a bad time anyhow, but being caught on the playa without protection when a haboob blows up pretty much guarantees it. I ended up getting an Arabic scarf called a Kafiyfa ($26.99), some mil-surplus desert goggles called “Revision Locust”($26.90), a kilt ($75.50) from UTKilt.com and a mil-surplus sleeping bag ($21). The Kafiya and goggle combination was just fantastic even in the worst sand storm, and the kilt kept me ventilated the entire time-highly endorse this setup to anybody who is considering it!
One final note-I’m not including the Pentax k70 camera I purchased for $930. It’s likely I would have gone for this by the end of the year anyhow, but because it was dust/water resistant I got it for this trip instead. It worked great and I’ll treasure the pictures forever; no regrets here.
Grand Total: $2,232.5
Seems pretty expensive for a frugality blog!
Hey man, get off my cloud.
Could You Do This For Less Money?
Definitely. As with many things in life, if you get a bigger group of people the expense per individual goes down. The Yurt could have fit 3 people, easily, and this would have dropped the shared expenses by a certain amount. My friend in San Francisco loves to eat well, and eat out; we could have simply cooked at his place and cut that expense by hundreds of dollars. Some of the cost was geography and fate; my friend in San Francisco is an amazing person, but isn’t nearly as Frugal. If I had been the one with the home base I would have slowly acquired lots of the supplies for the Yurt via dumpster diving and craigslist. Additionally, some of the expenses would drop after the first year-we could use the Yurt, clothes, etc again next year.
Interestingly, if Mrs. PoP and I were FIRE I could volunteer with a crew to set up/tear down the event over the course of about 2 weeks. These volunteers get free tickets and share expenses in camp; since you can’t actually spend money on the Playa this seems like a way to enjoy the event even more for way less money on a per-day basis. If I skip the 3 days in San Francisco ahead of time it would get the costs even lower-there is a real possibility that I’ll give this shot after we FIRE in the next couple of years.
*If you know of anything weirder than Burning Man, post it in the comments and maybe I’ll go next year!
So dear reader, how much did your bucket list items cost over the last few years?