When I tell people I take my kids to Burning Man, the reactions are usually fairly extreme. “Wow! That’s so cool!” is the most common reply. “What’s that like?” And I go on to explain that it’s just like going as an adult — there are highs and lows but overall it’s so worth it.
Other times people are aghast, not understanding how this could possibly be an appropriate family vacation. The concern usually comes from people who’ve never been to Burning Man or don’t know that there’s actually a vibrant community of parents and kids on the playa, concentrated in the large camp called Kidsville.
The good people of Kidsville are pros when it comes to preparing for a family trip to Black Rock City.
So to help those of you who are bringing their kids for the first time, we polled Kidsville for advice on surviving playa life with the whole family, both physically and mentally.
Thanks so much to the following Burners: Ron Fitzherbert from Las Cruces, NM; Howard Gibbs-Hobgood from NYC; Jesper from Oakland; FunGuy, Boss Lady, Aquagirl, 5K, Fiesta River Runner from Sebastopol, CA; Marie from Reno; Mel Holmes from San Diego; Dean Velasco from San Diego; Mackenzie Rain from Caspar, CA; Maya from Glendale, NY; Day from Oakland; Ruby and Fat Chance from Groton, MA.
Here is their collective wisdom, distilled into handy lists and notes for your packing and preparation pleasure.
(Please note that this advice focuses on children, and not on teens. Taking teenagers to Burning Man naturally evokes a new range of insights, which is a great topic for another post…Anyone? :))
Why Take Kids at All
The reasons why people take their kids to Burning Man are as common as “Well, of course, I’d take my kids on vacation!” to a more intentional desire for children to see this world firsthand.
This desire includes everything from teaching survival skills and leaving the comfort zone of home to showing alternate ways of living as a community, interacting with strangers, and celebrating creativity and self-expression. “Plus, Burner kids are the coolest people we know,” observe Ruby and Fat Chance.
What to Bring
Packing is a very personal thing, and it goes without saying that kids need the same basic items you’d bring for an adult — food, water, shelter, and a few things for fun. The goal of packing for your brood is to bring “things that protect them from the elements and make them feel at home”, says Maya of Glendale.
- Make meals easy by pre-cooking food that’s frozen and placed in vacuum-sealed bags in a large cooler.
- Bring your child’s favorite foods — something that you can give them when they need a little boost.
- Don’t underestimate the power of snacks. It can be surprisingly easy to forget snack time on the playa, but kids need a lot to keep them going. Bring snacks like bars, nuts, dried fruit, etc that can be crammed into pockets.
- Pack the vitamins — your bodies will be stressed in ways they are not used to. Try Emergen-C powdered vitamin drink, which was recommended to me by an EMT. Must haves: B complex and Omegas.
- Bring a mesh bag to dry out uneaten food for taking home. Saves on stinky mess tremendously.
- Follow the general water guideline of 1.5 gallons per person per day (more on that here).
- Bring several refillable water bottles — make sure you have more bottles than people just in case you can’t find one.
- Go full-force on the “hydrating drinks with sippy style”. Water, coconut water, Vitamin C water — there are lots of options to keep kids hydrated. Bottles and CamelBaks with the sippy tops help kids drink more because they’re easy and fun.
- Make pedialyte pops! The best way we’ve found to keep our kids hydrated.
Shelter, Cooling and Protection Tips
- Build or bring a shelter that is basically dust free and cool. This is critical when they are babies. Think yurt with swamp cooler (or RV).
- Have a good sleep plan. Bring comfortable bedding, pillows and pajamas.
- Pack earplugs to help them sleep. (Test before going to the playa!)
- Bring shade structures big and small, from shades that create comfortable common areas to small umbrellas for individual travel.
- Bring hand-held fans and a mini-fan for your tent during naps.
- Keep them cool with spray bottles and misters.
- Protect your little ones from the sun with ample sunscreen, hats and sunglasses.
- Shield them from the dust by packing goggles, bandanas and dust masks.
- Pack sound-blocking earmuffs to protect against loud music.
- Prepare for warm *and* cold weather. Days are usually very hot and nights are very cold.
- Wear loose-fitting long-sleeve shirts during the day for added protection from the sun.
- Don’t skimp on clean socks and undies — they make a huge difference to feelings of wellbeing.
- Bring lots of socks — it’s super important! Feet can crack when exposed to the high alkaline playa dust, so protecting them is tantamount.
- Soak feet with water and lemon juice or vinegar and then apply lotion to avoid playa feet and hands.
- Bring multiple hats in case they get lost — and sunglasses.
- Bring good closed-toe shoes that can be worn with socks.
- Bring lots of bandanas that you can soak in water and put around their heads.
Bike & Playa Transport Tips
- Bring extra inner tubes!
- Pack lots of lights for little bikes and other things that need to be seen at night.
- Tow a wagon at night so the children can be safe in their little nest and you can explore the playa.
- Strollers aren’t great, but if it’s the only way to get your kid to sleep, then bring it.
- You WILL travel long distances or be a long time without going back to camp so take along a micro cooler with pre-frozen drinks in it.
- A reserved spot in Kidsville
- A copy of the Black Rock Scouts schedule
- Lots of books, crafts, knitting, projects
- A camera with lots of digital storage
- Friends/nannies: “We helped two virgin burners get to the Burn last year and the deal was they would be our campmates and also help us with the kids. It was an incredible experience for all of us. We became a tight family unit. They are both single adults and cannot imagine coming back without being a part of the Kidsville camp experience. Bring friends who love your kids. It’s the best thing you can do for all of you,” say Ruby and Fat Chance.
- And last but not least, Marie has the clever suggestion to pack “liquor and coffee for parental survival.” Yes!
How to talk to your kids about what they’ll see
This is another highly personal thing, but these explanations might come in handy when preparing your wee ones for playa life.
Have conversations with your kids before you go, show them pictures and videos to get excited, and invite them to share their questions and concerns before you leave so you have a good handle on what might come up when you’re there.
Maya of Glendale even took her son to a regional event before the big Burn. “That made him understand the Burning Man principles better,” she said.
Here are some of the conversations that other parents have already had:
- “I described my first experience which, even at the time, was obviously life-changing and overwhelmingly beautiful. He saw that, felt it. So years later when I invited him, I simply showed him some photos on the website and described it a bit more. I mostly told him there was no way I could prepare him for what he will experience.
- “We tell them it is a chance to see a small bit of many types of people while exploring and interacting with art.”
- “When they first went, we told them they might see naked people, but that it really wouldn’t be much different people they saw in the locker rooms in the gym.”
- “It’s a cool place with a lot to see. Some things might be new and different and we can talk them out.”
- “It’s home away from home — a place where you can learn new things about yourself and grow as a person.”
- “It’s a camping trip on a flat dry dusty ground. No forest, no trees, no animals or plants. Just people, music, lots of kids and fun things to do together. We’ll ride bicycles or take a ride on a decorated car or truck, which is like a parade float that can carry a bunch of people. We will dance together, look at weird and interesting art, which is like going to a museum. Except you’re allowed to touch stuff there!”
Things we wish someone told *us* before our first time
Hindsight is always 20/20. Parents said they wish they knew the following before their family’s Burning Man baptism:
- Kids are very adaptable, and they don’t have expectations. So, what is shocking to you or me, they just take in stride. They won’t be shocked by naked people after the first time, and they are not ruined for life by what they see. Neither do they turn into raving, druggie sex fiends.
- Kidsville is a safe haven and has full days of activities.
- With a little one, your total focus will be on them.
- The vast majority of people at Burning Man love seeing babies and children. I think I was afraid that people would judge us, but instead they were happy to see young ones.
- It’s okay if your son doesn’t take a shower/wash for a week.
- Wait until the child is out of his/her diapers! Or, make sure you have a baby-watching partner (nanny or sitter) assistant etc. You need to have a little bit of alone fun time.
- It’s a lot easier than going pregnant so don’t worry! I was glad we were told about Kidsville. It’s the bomb. I feel so lucky that we are a part of the Kidsville community and that our kids will grow up there. It’s my first, last, biggest piece of advice.
Other tips and parting advice
- Go early to the major burns to get a front row seat so that the kids can see.
- You can’t have your own agenda. It’s important to get everyone to bed more or less at a reasonable time, take a very relaxed pace, and have down time.
- Don’t expect other people to keep an eye on your kid. YOU need to keep track OFTEN of where your kids is. There are soooo many things to see. If you turn your head for one second….”where did she run off?”Train your kid to TELL you which RV or place they want to play, and go introduce yourself to the nearby camping parents and people.
Whether or not you are camping within Kidsville, or with other parent campers, you need to register your child with the Burning Man organization, and write your phone number on your kid’s arm, along with “Mom.”If your kid is young (up to five years old) then plan to be with him/her the entire time: ie, no leaving tent or RV until all stuff is packed ready to get on bike or in bike trailer. If you hang out in camp, then keep hold of a water bottle.
- Be prepared to have fun and experience different worldly things with them.
- My kids have had wonderful experiences at Burning Man. They are much more open-minded, confident, comfortable with themselves and much more creative than if they had not gone. At some point, they realize—as I think we all do—that no matter how outrageous you think you are, there is someone who will be 10 times more outrageous, so why be self-conscious about silly things?
- Your children will grow in unexpected ways. And they will surprise you. It’s worth all the work.
- DO IT!
Top photo by Zipporah Lomax