Burning Man as vagabonding?

My fellow contributors and I have made a few mentions of Burning Man when describing other extreme festivals such as Couchsurfing events or the Love Parade. However, those readers that have never been to “a Burn” may not realize that it’s much more than just a week-long party, and in fact shares several fundamental principles with the practice of vagabonding.

  • Creative problem solving – Whether it’s figuring out where to sleep for the night, how to secure a spot on a local ferry, or repairing the straps of your sandals, solving problems is a daily challenge when traveling. If Burning Man can be said to have a motto, it is “Radical Self Reliance“. The simplest definition is that you must take responsibility for providing yourself with enough food, water, and shelter, not unlike being on the road in foreign countries without a home. The unique physical constraints of the Black Rock Desert make for an extra challenge when you have to plan for 100 degree days and 50 degree nights, 20 mph winds blowing fine powder everywhere, and rebar being the only way you can secure structures to the ground. After 5 years in a tent that flaps in the wind and gets too hot too early, we built a hexayurt this year.
  • Community – The core of experiential travel is in connecting with other people. On and off the playa, community at Burning Man is like an onion of many layers. There is the gestalt of the entire 50,000+ people who attend, the folks you are dancing to techno or sharing solemn moments with at the temple, and the random people you meet just walking around Black Rock City, generally open to engaging in conversation. While some attend the event alone, it’s more often that friends come together in camps, with themes or otherwise, and the tightest community are those who have pooled their resources together to survive and enjoy the experience in a greater capacity.
  • Raised awareness – Extended travel requires appropriate planning, keeping your wits about you, and generally being aware of yourself and the world around you. Between the extreme environment and loosely ordered anarchy, one is forced into heightened awareness, before and during the event. For many first time “burners”, this opens their eyes to a deeper way of interacting with their world when they return home.


Simultaneously preparing for my sixth return to Burning Man and ourĀ first multi-month trip to Southeast Asia is challenging to say the least, but highlights the similarities between the two. In 2003, I was one of those first timers who didn’t quite understand when I was greeted “Welcome home!” at the gate, but it didn’t take long for my perspective to shift forever more, igniting a sense of infinite possibility. In three days, I return to one of my many cherished homes.

If you’ve been to Burning Man, how has it affected the way you experience your world?

Posted by | Comments (3)  | August 26, 2010
Category: Adventure Travel, Lifestyle Design, North America

3 Responses to “Burning Man as vagabonding?”

  1. Rebecca Says:

    Never heard of Burning of Man. It seems like something to check out.

  2. Paul Says:

    Does anybody else think that paying $360 to get drunk/high/laid and watch a huge bonfire is a “bit ” overpriced ? I guess the whole “radical self-expression/self-reliance”, doesn’t come cheap nowadays…

  3. » Camp Nomadia :: Vagablogging :: Rolf Potts Vagabonding Blog Says:

    […] after last week’s column which highlighted how Burning Man is like vagabonding, we loaded up our hatchback and drove to the event, about two hours north of Reno, Nevada, down a […]