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A Burning Man experience costs about $1,500—here's what it's like to go to the 9-day event in the Nevada desert

Every August, tens of thousands of people convene in Nevada's Black Rock Desert for Burning Man, a nine-day gathering that attracts billionaires, celebs and Silicon Valley moguls like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg.

Most "burners" will tell you that you have to go to truly understand the event, which features outdoor artistic installations, music and wild costumes. But to give you a look inside Burning Man, CNBC Make It spoke to people who have experienced it, including husband and wife duo Gui Agustini, 29, and Christina Jolie Breza, 31, who attended for the first time in 2017.

Breza and Agustini attended Burning Man in 2017
Source: Christina Jolie Breza, Gui Agustini
Breza and Agustini attended Burning Man in 2017

Burning Man takes place in a temporary metropolis called Black Rock City. Like any city, it has essential infrastructure, hospitals, bars, clubs and a post office. There's even a temporary airport known as 88NV. But unlike your typical city, it's commerce-free: The only two things sold in Black Rock City are coffee and ice.

Just because you're not buying anything at Burning Man doesn't mean it's cheap: Breza and Agustini spent about $1,500 each and that's about as inexpensive as it gets. The main cost is the ticket, which ranges from $425 to more than $1,000. You can also apply for a $190 low-income tickets, which is what Breza did.

"There's a whole application process. You have to write what your job is, why you don't have any money, what you can contribute and why you want to go," she says.

Another major expense is getting to the Nevada desert, which for some means buying a cross-country plane ticket to Reno or San Francisco. Others rent RVs and hit the road; some take the Burner Express bus, which runs from San Francisco and Reno to Black Rock City; and a select few rent private planes and fly directly into 88NV.

Breza and Agustini at Burning Man 
Source: Christina Jolie Breza, Gui Agustini
Breza and Agustini at Burning Man 

Breza and Agustini decided to roadtrip in their two-person camper from Florida to Nevada. The trip took four days. It's not just a financial investment, Breza notes: "It's also a time investment."

Other expenses to budget for include costumes, food and water, a vehicle pass if you're driving to the event and camp dues if you're staying in one of the camps, which form the backbone of Burning Man. Depending on the camp, dues will cover things like family-style meals and showers.

Agustini at Burning Man
Source: Christina Jolie Breza, Gui Agustini
Agustini at Burning Man

Ultimately, the cost "depends on how epic you want to go," Breza tells CNBC Make It.

This year's festival ran from August 26 to September 3, but if you want to budget for Burning Man for next year, here's everything you need to know:

First time burners are initiated

"If you're new, you're a 'virgin burner,'" explains Breza, who was a first-timer, as was her husband. "And they make you get out of your car, ring a bell and roll around in the dust, as your initiation."

Breza and Agustini were "virgin burners" in 2017
Source: Christina Jolie Breza, Gui Agustini
Breza and Agustini were "virgin burners" in 2017

The costumes are elaborate

The wild costumes are a big part of Burning Man and they require time to find and make, adds Breza: "For two months, I had 'Burning Man shopping eyes.' I looked for ideas on Etsy, the Burner Instagram, Amazon, Forever 21."

She also spent time making costumes and accessories out of supplies she already had:

Here's one of Breza's costumes:

Source: Christina Jolie Breza, Gui Agustini

And another:

Source: Christina Jolie Breza, Gui Agustini

Everyone gets around on a bike

"The playa," the land where the event is held, is massive, and the only way to get around efficiently is on two wheels. "Everybody uses bicycles," says Breza. "And everybody decorates their bikes because you park it anywhere and you don't want people to take yours by accident."

Source: Christina Jolie Breza, Gui Agustini

Breza and Agustini decorated their bikes with noodles, flags and stuffed animals:

Source: Christina Jolie Breza, Gui Agustini

Other necessities are goggles for dust storms, sunglasses, sunscreen, flashlights, a Camelbak, battery-operated fan and "a lot of garbage bags and a lot of baby wipes," adds Breza. "Burning Man is leave-no-trace, so you also have to bring garbage bags and things to put dirty clothes and your trash in."

Also, "bring an alarm clock," she says, because you don't want to miss any sunrises. "The sunrises out there are just breathtaking. It feels like you're right on the edge of the earth and the sun is right there and it's so magical."

Source: Christina Jolie Breza, Gui Agustini

You won't run out of things to see or do

When you arrive and receive your map of all of the camps and activities, "it's almost overwhelming," says Agustini. "There's so much going on every hour of the day." There is constant music, people are dancing everywhere and camps of strangers invite you to stop by for food, drinks and to socialize.

Breza adds: "You could spend days just exploring artwork. The biggest thing was getting over the FOMO. There's stuff going on all the time and you can't be everywhere. Be happy with what's going on in the now because so many wonderful things happen while you're there."

There are art cars:

Art installations:

Source: Christina Jolie Breza, Gui Agustini

And even people getting married:

Source: Christina Jolie Breza, Gui Agustini

The event culminates in the burning of the Man

The main event happens on Saturday night, when the Burning Man statue, or simply "the Man," burns. It's been a tradition since 1986, when Burning Man founder Larry Harvey and his friend Jerry James lit up an improvised wooden figure on a San Francisco Beach and watched it burn.

The statue, which is in the center of Black Rock City, has grown over the years, from eight feet tall in 1986 to 50 feet in 1997 to 105 feet in 2017.

Here's the Man in 2017 before the burning:

Source: Christina Jolie Breza, Gui Agustini

And here's the burning of the Man:

Source: Christina Jolie Breza, Gui Agustini

The Temple burn happens on Sunday night

"A lot of people want to see the man and leave afterwards," says Agustini, but you can stay for the Temple burn on Sunday. "It's very different from the man burning. It's completely quiet. It's dead silent. There's no music, no talking. It's a place where people go to remember. And when it goes up, there's this extreme energy that releases. It's pretty heavy and deep."

Here's the Temple before the burning in 2017:

You're graded on how clean you leave the desert

Leaving no trace is one of Burning Man's most important principles and every camp gets graded on how they leave their area, says Breza: "Everybody has a campsite and they know who's where, so you get a rating on how clean you left your site. The only way camps get invited back is if they have a clean campsite."

To truly understand Burning Man, you have to go

The biggest misconception about Burning Man is that "it's a music festival, like Coachella," says Breza. "It's not that. It's hard to explain what it is. We always tell people, 'Just go. We can't explain it to you. You just have to go.'"

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