Here are the major concerns for older people about Burning Man, and what to do about them:
1. The heat. Yeah, it can be hot out on the Playa, but it is – after all – a dry heat! In fact, the extremely low humidity (usually single digits) is actually a problem in itself. We try to take care of ourselves in several ways. First, we try to go out only mornings and nights. Mid-day is rest time when we stay inside our air-conditioned RV. Also, we never go anywhere without adequate water or other thirst-quenchers (such as Gatorade).
2. The dust. Some days are worse than others, and some people are more sensitive than others. Successfully negotiating the dusty landscape requires goggles and a dust mask. These are not items to scrimp on so buy goggles and face masks that are both effective and comfortable. Getting them on and off easily is important as well. It’s fine to shop online, but be sure that returning items is easy because you need to try them out before making a final decision.
3. Transportation. The main mode of transport is biking, but you don’t want to bring your $4,000 elite mountain bike. The dust is killer on gears and other delicate bike parts. If you can afford a fat-tire bike, you’ll do better on the variable Playa surface. But stick to basic bikes, or even old bikes that you can pick up at flea markets or on Craigslist. If powering a bike manually is a problem for you, then consider a bike with a supplemental electric motor. Another option is a Segway (expensive, but you may be able to rent one). If you’re planning to bike, make sure you’re in shape to do so. Get some miles in on a bike as time for the Burn approaches.
4. Porta-potties. Yes, you’re going to have to use them here at Burning Man. And, yes, they can look and smell disgusting. But there’s this: there are thousands of these “portos”– as some people call them – placed strategically across the Playa. They are cleaned twice a day by the contractors in charge of them. Additionally, certain theme camps have “private” portos that tend to be cleaner. Check with your theme camp (if you’re staying in one, which I recommend) to find out whether they have their own portos.
5. Showers. Most of the major theme camps have rudimentary showers, but you need to supply your own water and privacy is minimal. Wet wipes are a must for between shower clean up and many other uses. Bring plenty.
The single best answer to all of these challenges for older Burners is an RV. You can have at least some air conditioning, your own bathroom and shower facilities and a place to ride out some of those legendary dust storms with their white out conditions. But you’ll need to bring a well-equipped RV with a top-notch generator that can be run for long periods of time and is well-protected from dust (which can destroy a generator in a couple of days). You can’t run the air conditioner without a generator, so it’s critically important. You’ll also need an RV with large fresh water, and black and grey water storage so you can make it through the entire Burn without the need to dump tanks or re-fill your fresh water. It’s possible to have your tanks pumped out by the suppliers who clean the potties, but there’s no way to get fresh water delivered. Also, it costs around $85 dollars to have your tanks pumped out, vs. around $10 to do it at a dump site in off-playa.
Make sure you carry enough extra fresh water to re-fill your tank, if necessary, and that you have the right kind of equipment (funnels, pumps, etc.) to do so without spilling tons of water on the Playa. Even fresh water can become a problem when so much is spilled in one place that it creates a hole in the Playa surface.
There are other comfortable ways to live at Burning Man such as Shift Pods and other innovative living units that stay cooler than a tent. Some can even be air-conditioned with the help of a generator.
If it all sounds like too much trouble, then maybe it is for you. But you have to balance your level of difficulty with the value of experiencing Burning Man. It’s well worth the trade-offs for us.