10 Things to Know About Taking Your Kids to Burning Man

Article by: Mia Quagliarello|@miaq

Tue August 15, 2017 | 16:05 PM

Got some little ones at home and always dreamed of bringing them to the Burn? We recruited mother and Burning Man veteran Mia Quagliarello, who's taken her two young children to the Playa for the past couple of years and learned a ton of ins and outs in the process. She's been generous enough to share her tried and true tips with the rest of us, below.

1. Bring a Parasol

Burning Man Mia Quagliarello Kids 6

Photo by: Sloane Gershov

This was the first thing my eight-year-old said to me when I asked him for what advice we should share with others about taking kids to Burning Man. (He and his sister, six, have been for the last two years.) The point is, make shade (and hydration) fun, because these are going to be two of your top priorities all day, every day. A good shade structure is key for hanging out, playing games, reading and eating together. When you’re ready to venture out, arm yourself with hats, goggles, a parasol, a mister, a hand fan, a CamelBak—anything to help your brood stay cool.

2. An RV is Highly Recommended

Purists may balk, and it’s definitely a luxury, but RVs make life so much easier when taking kids to the Playa. I just can’t imagine tenting it with kids: the dust, the noise and the heat add elements of discomfort that can be mitigated with the hard shell of an RV around you—not to mention they provide beds, a kitchen, a shower and a toilet. When things get maximum grouchy (‘cause they will), turn on your generator for a quick blast of AC! Close the door to create a quiet space for nap time or alone time, or, conversely, let the kids invite their friends in for a sense of their own fun.

3. Stay in Kidsville

Burning Man Mia Quagliarello Kids 2

Photo by: Sloane Gershov

Kidsville is one of the largest theme camps at Burning Man, and it’s a great place to stay with little ones. Why? For one, you get to meet other parents who are crazy/cool enough to fancy a harsh white desert party as the ideal family vacation. Two, there are community-organized activities such as the Black Rock Scouts, a PB&J cart, Icee happy hours and trampolines that never stop bouncing. Three, it's relatively quiet at night, save for the art cars driving by. Four, thanks to volunteers inside the camp, you can sign up ahead of time to get your RV serviced—which is a huge relief when your black water’s red light is staring you down like the Eye of Sauron. 

4. Don’t Look Down!

Even if you stay in an RV, there will be times when you have to brave the (dun-dun-dun…) port-a-potties at Burning Man. Good news is, they’re actually not that bad. The dry heat keeps smells under control, and they get serviced on a regular basis. Still, it will be a true test of your parenting skills to take your kids to the potty without giving them a complex — at least it was for me. I’d go on a recon mission into each stall until I found one suitable for my child’s sweet bottom. A wipe down, a command not to look down or touch anything but the toilet paper (!!!), and we (I) can just about escape unscathed.

5. Set Up a Costume Tent

Burning Man Mia Quagliarello Kids 3

Photo by: Mia Quagliarello

If you have room, devote an area in your camp for costumes, makeup and accessories. (Hopefully you’ve spent some of your prep weeks visiting tag sales and Goodwill stores or scouring the family closet.) Let your kids run free here, then see how they emerge. When/where else can they put on mom’s makeup with such verve and express themselves with carefree abandon? It’s awesome.

6. Where Possible, Do the Transporting

Burning Man 2016 Galen Oakes People Of   01

Photo by: Galen Oakes

It’s not easy covering an area as big as Burning Man by bike or cycling through thick tire-stopping dust, so wherever possible alleviate your kid from all that pedaling, especially during the heat of the day. You can hitch a trailer to your bike and/or get friendly with passing art cars—ask first, but many do love to have kids on board.

7. Practice the Family Giving Muscle

Burning Man Mia Quagliarello Kids 8

Photo by: Mia Quagliarello

Before you go, think about what your family’s contribution will be to the people you encounter on the Playa. Your gift can be store-bought, handmade or even intangible, like a funny saying or joke—it doesn’t really matter. Your kids will experience what it’s like to give something away without expecting anything in return.

8. Revel in the Glow

Burning Man Mia Quagliarello Kids 4

Photo by: Mia Quagliarello

In my experience, there is so much positive energy directed to kids on the Playa (and only the rare tsk-tsk). When spotted, the kids usually garner smiles, high-fives, trinkets and even some big emotions. When one mother (whose own kids were back at home) spotted my tutu-wearing son hooping at a day party at Distrikt, she came up to me and hugged me, with tears in her eyes. “Thank you, thank you, thank you” is all she could muster.

9. Dawn and Dusk are the Magic Hours

Burning Man Mia Quagliarello Kids 5

Photo by: Sloane Gershov

With little ones up at sunrise, you can make the most out of Black Rock City’s beautiful early morning scene. While some folks may be just heading to bed, you’ll feel refreshed and alive. Enjoy a bike ride with your wee pal before it gets too hot and explore some of the largest art installations you’ll ever see in your life. The evening, when it first starts to get cool, is another perfect time to explore as a family, right down to the pink sunsets and through to the otherworldly atmosphere that is the Playa at night. As the energy shifts to more grown-up activities, it’s time for bed.

10. There Will Be Highs and Lows—Just Like Going without Kids

Burning Man Mia Quagliarello Kids 7

Photo by: Mia Quagliarello

There will be whining, crying and over-the-top tired moments when you'll think, “Oh, maybe this wasn’t the best idea. What have I done???” But stick with it: Those moments should pass and when they do you’ll pat yourself on the back for doing it and giving your kids an out-of-this-world summer vacation to share back at school.