17 September, 2008

Adding Up The Cost Of Burning Man

The long-awaited analysis. I think I can safely say that the Burning Man trip I recently returned from cost me in the vicinity of five grand. That's not to say that a trip to Burning Man actually costs five grand, but that's how much I spent. That's also considering that it was a two-man adventure. The fact that the festival takes place on the other side of the country contributes to a large portion of the grand sum, though also there's the fact that we were definitely over-prepared (damn Boy Scouts drilled their "Be Prepared" philosophy into my subconscious, and I'll be paying for it the rest of my life...). Anywho, I'll separate costs into "road trip" and "Burning Man", so you can get an idea of who cost what.

For the road trip, the major costs are (a) rental car, (b) gas funds, and (c) lodging. Food contributes also, but I'm certain we spent less on that than the above-mentioned three factors, and plus, food costs are harder to track because I had more of a tendency to pay for them in cash.

(a) Rental car total comes in at $1,200 base, plus the $500 insurance charge for the little dent I picked up in Fernley.

(b) Gas fees for a total of 9+ days of heavy driving comes to just under $1,000. That's about a hundred dollars a driving day, which is about right, since gas costs were in the neighborhood of $4.00 a gallon, and with a 20 gallon tank minivan, it cost about $80.00 to get her filled, and we averaged a little over a tank a day. Total miles driven from the time we picked up the car to the time we dropped it off comes to 5,526, with about half of that being the one-way distance between here and Nevada.

(c) Lodging for eight nights (all other nights were spent for free either at Burning Man, or, on the very last night, at home) comes to a little over $500. Cheapest accomodation was the Motel 6 in Reno, slightly under $50, followed closely by the Little A'Le'Inn. I'm wondering if there was a hidden Burner discount, because the Motel 6 we stayed at in Rock Springs on the way back cost twice as much. Most expensive accomodation was the Best Western in Lincoln, reaching a little past $100, which makes sense since it's the only *hotel* we stayed at, in contrast with all these other *motels*. That having been said, we stayed at that very same Best Western on the way back, and it cost significantly less. I'm wondering if the AAA discount we got that time (okay, we weren't really vigilant about the whole AAA thing) could account for that. Or perhaps there was some kind of "checking in after midnight" discount or something. I don't really know.

"Road trip" total then comes to something like $2,700 base, $3,200 factoring in the dent-in-the-car fee. And that doesn't include food, tolls, cash purchases and the like.

As for the actual Burning Man part of the trip, the best I can do is add up as much of the money spent on supplies, food, water, camping gear, etc. that I managed to keep track of (since very little money was spent at the festival itself). And to that end, I have at least $1,300 worth of crap inventoried ($450 of that belonging to the two tickets). I came back with no cash left at all, and I know I left with at least a couple hundred, I think. So the grand grand total for the whole trip definitely tops four grand.

As you can see, the road trip part easily doubles the festival part, in terms of money spent *and* length of overall trip. If I lived in California or thereabouts, and had the experience I have now, I could probably go back to Burning Man and spend less than half what I spent this year. That having been said, I still live on the other side of the country, and my savings account probably won't even have /that/ much money left in it after I pay off the Burning Man bill (oh, if I could just burn it instead...).

Burning Man was an amazing experience, and I would love to be able to experience it again. Though I don't feel necessarily compelled to return. However, I feel much more prepared to enjoy the festival now that I know what it's like, and I think I /could/ greatly improve my enjoyment of the festival by making certain changes in my routine.

For one thing, I think I'd spend less time nude, unfortunately. Instead of making myself a target and separating myself from the rest of the group, I think I'd have a better time /pretending/ to be a textile, but participating in more naked-friendly activities, like nude yoga, or strip Jeopardy, or naked watergun fight, etc. On the other hand, I think that if I used my nudity as a focus for connecting with people, I might get a lot more out of it. For example, walking around naked and then randomly asking strangers, particularly ones who express a curiosity in my (lack of) attire, to strip down and join me for a friendly walk around the block. It would be exciting to be the potential catalyst for getting people to realize firsthand what being naked is all about (forcing them out of their "spectator's" seat, and teaching them how to "participate"), and also, it would give me an opportunity to prove my point that I am a person, with hopes and fears and interests and desires, and not just a naked guy to be shocked by and pointed at as I walk by.

But then again, these are probably flights of fancy that I could never pull off, considering the difficulty I have communicating/connecting with people. I do like them as ideas, though.

Bottom line: Burning Man was worth seeing, but there are other places I belong at more. Places where I can get more bang for my buck (with the emphasis on less buck rather than more bang). Being a part of the social experiment that is Burning Man is something I can be proud of, but it's far from the utopia I had hoped. For one thing, it's too damn big. Population-wise. I do like the idea of the gift economy, though, but I can't help feeling that it's in some way ruined by the idea that people spend a lot of money on supplies outside of the week of the festival, and then survive on those during the festival. I mean, the gift economy is fantastic on its own, but it's just not sustainable in this way. And that kind of bugs me. I'm an idealist. I'm not content with one week of gifting, even though it's an amazing lifetime experience. I want a model for a gift economy that can work year-round. I want a utopia that I can spend the rest of my days in, not one that only exists 1 in 52 parts of the year.

So Burning Man is not perfect. But it's still probably better than most other places, at least in this country, if not the world. And I'm glad I was there, even if just once.

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