Since 2009, each year I’ve done one of three things:
- Gone on a cruise
- Gone to Edinburgh for the Fringe
- Gone to Burning Man
Let me begin with cruising because that’s what most people think they understand the best.
Decide for yourself if you want to go on a cruise
Going on a cruise is living like a sea turtle. First you check into a room that is only slightly bigger than you are. Then your new home and you lumber around the ocean looking for something to do as you forage for food.
Finally, by some mysterious mechanism, you manage to find your way back to exactly where you started so you can feel like your life is going nowhere.
In short, a cruise is a vacation from ambition and responsibility.
If you’ve seen an ad for a cruise and then go on one, I can guarantee nothing will surprise you (except the fact that only the cabin attendants and stage performers are as fit as the cruisers in the ads). Cruising can be very affordable if you can avoid the casino, the art auctions, the bars and all the other contrivances they have for separating you from your money.
As you can see, I can disparage cruises with as much gusto as any comedian who refers to them as “floating petri dishes.”
My only credibility problem is that I’ve been on 24 cruises over the decades so clearly I think they have something going for them.
Definitely go to the Edinburgh Fringe
Unlike cruising, you might not have heard of the Edinburgh Fringe unless you live in Great Britain. The Fringe promotes itself as “the world’s largest open access arts festival.”
“World’s largest” means that this year (2022) 49,827 artists from 58 nations will be performing in 3,478 shows across more than 300 venues citywide between the 5th and the 29th of August. If you click on this link while the Fringe is on, you can see a list of this year’s shows.
“Open access” means that if you want to perform in Edinburgh at the Fringe then nobody will stop you. If it’s legal you’re welcome to strut your stuff all month and if it’s not you’ll still probably get away with it a least once.
I stumbled on the Fringe by accident in 2012 when my wife and I were passing through Edinburgh. We saw 21 shows in 4 days. In 2014 we went back for the entire month. (You can read about that experience in this article of mine in Boots’n All.) In 2016 we returned and I performed a one man show called Cut the Bullshit and conducted a walking tour called The Secrets of the Fringe. We returned again in 2018. Last year (2021) a friend and I created a recorded show for the on-line Fringe. It was called My Zoom Call with Andre; click on the link to see it.
I won’t recommend my shows because they might not be your ‘cup of tea,’ but I can recommend that if you like performance art in general, then you should put the Fringe on your bucket list.
That brings us to…
Definitely DON’T go to Burning Man
I’m going to assume you’ve heard of Burning Man because the media loves to talk about it every year during August leading up to the Burn. I call this “Burning Man Silly Season” because the people who write about the topic seem to feel no need to know what they are talking about.
To avoid arguments, whatever you believe let’s just assume you’re right.
You’ve heard it is a temporary refugee camp the size of Manhattan below 14th Street? Check. It’s hippies on acid in the desert having sex? Sure. It’s so big it has its own Zip code? True enough. Burners build an airport just for the week? Uh huh. It’s 88NV on the FAA maps.
You probably even heard you can die at Burning Man? Absolutely. I’m pretty sure on the back of the ticket it says something like “Plan on dying. If you do it’s not our fault and if you live then it’s a miracle.” Although cremation is a possibility, you’re not allowed to be buried there because it violates a “leave no trace” policy.
Anyway, my advice is: DON’T GO. And if you do go, remember to tell your next of kin that I told you not to.
The first time I went was in 2009. It was kind of by accident. Without knowing what we were getting into, my wife and I accompanied a neuroeconomist friend who was studying gift economies.
I was blown away. Saying it was awesome is like saying the Grand Canyon is a ditch (which, BTW, kills even more people than Burning Man every year).
I went back in 2010 with my son, my college roommate and his daughter. When we arrived, my son asked me why I hadn’t explained to him how awesome it was. That’s strange because the awesomeness of the Burn was pretty much the only thing I’d been talking about the prior 11 months.
(Note: If you have a dictionary phobia, you probably don’t know “awesome” means “inspiring of great apprehension or fear” as in “shock and awe.”)
I went to Burning Man again in 2011 with a friend and his 13-year-old daughter. That year the event sold out a few weeks before it started, but there was plenty of warning so getting tickets wasn’t a problem.
It has sold out quickly each year since. In 2015 the tickets went in a single second. That year my wife, a girlfriend of hers and I barely managed to scarf some tickets. We had a good time. But when I went again in 2017 with a childhood friend, his girlfriend (who is a nurse) got dehydrated. After a stint in the clinic with an IV in her arm, she managed to live. They left early mumbling something about ‘one and done.’
I repeat: DON’T GO; not now and not ever. 80,000 people can be wrong, and you don’t want your friends to make fun of you.
Your ticket, if you get one, will be coveted by a friend even crazier than you so gift it to them. If you don’t have friends crazier than you, gift it to me.
Instead, I suggest you get it out of your system by doing a DIY Burning Man Staycation.
Never try to live by the 10 Principles of Burning Man in your everyday life
Burners talk about living by The 10 Principles while at the week-long event.
- Radical Inclusion, which Burners say means “welcoming the stranger,” i.e. be indiscriminate in who you associate with. This is fundamental because there are no stranger people on this planet (or off ) than the ones who go to Burning Man.
- Gifting, which doesn’t mean everything (or even anything) should be free to you, but rather that if you have more than you need you can afford to give some of it away without expectation of return. Burners are superb at creating gifts others would call trash, so they invented the word moop to make it less obvious. Every year hundreds of volunteers create a very detailed map of all the gifts Burners leave behind.
- Decommodification, which means that not everything needs to be branded, have a commercial sponsor or be done with a profit motive. That’s why the stuff people give you at Burning Man is of such low quality.
- Radical Self-Reliance. This means acting like the person your parents wanted you to be when you turned 18 instead of who you actually are.
- Radical self-expression. This means you should feel free to express yourself any way you want. That’s fine. The problem comes when everyone else radically expresses themselves in your line of sight.
- Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility and Leaving No Trace mean pretty much what you can guess they mean. You only have to do this for a week so you can manage.
- Participation means that you weren’t born to just be a consumer; you can be a producer as well. Treat the world like a pot-luck party where you bring something too. Make something; do something; be somebody and share who you are with others. This alone is a good enough reason not to go to Burning Man.
- Finally, Immediacy means being present for the people and the world around you. Your phone doesn’t work at the Burn, so it’s a perfect opportunity to practice looking strangers in the eyes and – if you can muster the courage – saying something.
You can learn more by watching this video by a weirdo with pink hair or you can go to https://topia.io/burn and figure out how to go on the Sparkle Pony Express. That second thing is a whimsical virtual reality world built by Burners where you can go on adventures, learn things and perhaps even meet other people and interact with them. It’s free, so beware; it’s kind of like a Burning Man gateway drug.
No matter how you come to your understanding of the 10 Principles, it should be clear to you that you can’t live by them in your everyday life because:
- How can you claim to have discriminating tastes if you don’t discriminate?
- How will you know what to buy if it isn’t branded?
- How can you avoid going broke if you give anything away?
And, most importantly:
- How will you explain to your friends what’s gotten into you?
I’d rather you…
Vacation like a Burner instead
Although recommending you go to Burning Man involves more responsibility than I’m willing to bear, I can suggest that when you’re on vacation somewhere else you pretend you’re at Burning Man.
You do this by practicing The 10 Principles even in places where you don’t have to. Just make sure its a place where nobody will recognize you so they can imagine it’s just how you are normally. It will be only a week or two so you’ll live.
- Radical Inclusion: When you are on vacation, you’re the stranger in someone else’s home. Accept them and hope they accept you.
- Gifting: On vacation, don’t pay more for anything than you think it is worth. This is what classical economists say a rational person should do anyway. If a hamburger is worth $15 to you and the price is only $9, that $6 difference is what economists call a “consumer surplus.” You can think of that $6 as a gift. Choose to feel grateful rather than grumpy. You might re-gift all this surplus. Buy a homeless person a restaurant meal, for example. They won’t look or smell worse than the average Burner after 6 days on the Playa.
- Decommodification: Leave all your branded clothes at home. Eat at restaurants owned by real people, not corporations. Buy from craftsmen, not at chain stores.
- Radical Self-Reliance: Bring a credit card. If you want to be really radical, when you get home pay off your credit cards in full.
- Radical Self-Expression: On the off-chance you have something you want to express, ask for permission first.
- Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility and Leaving No Trace: You probably aren’t allowed to vote, serve jury duty or join the Army in other countries, but you can act like a good citizen nonetheless. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, clean up a park or, visit a local school and ask if you’re enough of an oddity to be put in front of students. Poop and pee only where you are supposed to, and recycle.
- Participation: Join the conga line. You’ll look like a fool and your friends will find the picture on social media, but who cares? Create some art and bring it with you to show strangers. It won’t be very good but they will be polite and say it is. When visiting locals in their homes, offer to cook, unless you can’t cook, in which case offer to sing for your supper. When they tell you to shut up, take them out and pick up the tab.
- Immediacy: Turn off your f#@king phone. Ask strangers for help finding your way around. Ask people to tell you a joke and laugh when they do even if you don’t get it. Talk to the people next to you on the bus and ask them to tell you a story from their life, or perhaps their whole life’s story. Even in England they’ll forgive you as long as you aren’t British.
I’ve found that doing this while traveling has so improved my experience that some of these practices have started to seep into my home life. That’s the only downside I’ve found.
For the most painless way of traveling like a Burner, I suggest you…
Cruise like a Burner
My favorite place to vacation like a Burner is on cruise ships. Here’s why:
- Cruises are cheaper than Burning Man. Perhaps you can’t buy anything at Burning Man, but you’ll spend tons on provisions before going and run up a big psychiatric bill afterwards. Cruise ships are much cheaper. Shop around and you can find a cruise that costs less than the admission ticket for Burning Man.
- It’s easy to imagine you’re being gifted tons of stuff. Your Burning Man ticket doesn’t pay for transportation, food, or entertainment. All that’s included is: dust, some bonfires and unlimited use of the porta-potties. On a cruise, it’s easy to imagine everything you get without paying extra is a gift that you get just for being smart enough not to buy a Burning Man ticket.
- People aren’t on their phones and they have stories to tell. Roaming charges on cruise ships are ridiculous. This means you can actually talk to people. Cruiser demographics skew older, meaning people have life experiences they thought they were going to share with their grandchildren someday but can’t because the kids have phones. If you’re willing to listen they’re willing to talk.
My college roommate couldn’t join me for the Burn in 2015. So, afterward he and I went on a cruise together to Bermuda.
The cruise line was running a special offering free 3rd and 4th person in the cabin. So we ran an ad in Craigslist: “Free Cruise to Starving Artists.”
From half a dozen applicants, we chose a a painter and a children’s book author. On sea days they worked on their art and in Bermuda they got to have experiences they couldn’t otherwise afford. It didn’t cost us anything extra and their company greatly improved our enjoyment of our trip.
This year (2022) Burning Man tickets were so hard to get I didn’t even bother.
Instead I booked a cruise.
Even though I was planning on going by myself, the cruise company made me pay for a cabin for two.
So I invited a friend.
Being a true gentleman, he insisted on paying for himself.
And, being a Burner, I insisted that if he continued to insist I’d retract my offer.
So, he’s agreed to cruise like a Burner with me, and I suspect he’ll use the money he would have spent on the cruise ticket to buy random strangers drinks and other gifts for no reason.
That usually freaks people out at first, but with some effort you can explain yourself. If they still don’t get it, just tell them you’re a Burner and they’ll write you off as weird and clueless but otherwise harmless.
So there you have it:
- Consider going to the Edinburgh Fringe.
- Definitely don’t go to Burning Man.
- Instead, go on a cruise and pretend you’re at the Burn.
P. S. Since publishing this, some incredulous readers have asked me about 2020 and 2021 during COVID when cruises and Burning Man was cancelled.
On March 8, 2020 I went on the Adventure of he Seas which turned out to be the last cruise before they went out of service.
Although the in-person Burn was cancelled in 2020 and 2021, half a dozen groups independently created multiple free Virtual Burns. I attended to a couple of these in 2020. In 2021, while in Edinburgh for the Fringe, I created a virtual camp in one of the Burning Man multi-verses that allowed performers at the Fringe to play in front of a global audience of Burners. I used tech from Nowhere that was gifted to me by the founders, who are Burners.
In many ways, the COVID years were best of the best because I got to do a cruise and the Fringe with the money I saved because Burning Man was free.