We know there are many folks preparing to hit the playa – and we’re often asked advice on taking a RV to Burning Man. With a harsh environment, lots of alkaline dust, extreme temperature ranges, high gusty winds – it’s a good question to ask!
So, here are some quick tips we offer up after many years of taking our home on wheels to the playa:
1. Embrace the dust! No matter how many preps you make, plan to do some extensive cleaning afterwards. And then do it again, and again.. and again. I typically find that it takes a good three solid cleaning rounds before our RV home starts to feel back to clean. The playa dust just leaves a film behind that is difficult to break – a vinegar solution definitely helps! Hiring a full on detailing may be a worthwhile investment to get your RV back to a somewhat pre-playa condition. But do be prepared that you will always find traces of your playa experience on your RV for years to come. Plastic and rubber in particular tend to be reluctant to let go of a playa colored haze. There’s a reason that rental RV companies tend to take a huge upfront deposit (and often don’t return it) on RVs they suspect are going to Burning Man. We’ve learned to embrace it and the fond memories it brings back.
2. Cover all vent openings. Get some cheap cut-up AC filters and tape (a sticky kind – the low adhesive painter style tape just falls off) and place them over all external vents. Pay particular attention to behind your fridge and any openings to circuitry. You will need a solution to get the sticky tape off later, but this is far easier than a lot of fine detailed cleaning and perhaps even electronic failures. Caution: If you put a covering over your hot water heater – make sure it is turned off, or stuff will melt!! Take the vent covering off BEFORE turning on your hot water heater.
3. Tape over switches & seams! Put some tape over any external switches and seams with potential openings (windows, poor sealings, etc). This will help electronics from filing with dust and locking up (it would be awful to not be able to retract your awning or leveling jacks!), and reduce one more entry point of dust during storms. We even tape over any switches we won’t regularly be needing near doors and windows.
4. Pay Attention to Prevailing Winds! When you’re picking your spot to park, pay attention to the prevailing winds and park so that your door isn’t opening directly into it. We like to park so that we’re in the shadow of the wind, if it at all possible. We also like parking so our bedroom and front windows aren’t facing the rising sun.
5. Wax On, Dust Off! A good waxing before heading to the playa may help in allowing the dust to just blow over. Consider this for any waxable surfaces on your RV, inside and out.
6. Protect the Soft Bits. We always cover all our upholstery with sheets or spare fabric, so that the our coverings stay as dust free as possible. This also allows us to have something to shake out (when the dust is still) to quickly give us a fresher feeling inside.
7. Fresh Sheets. Pack a second set of sheets for your bed, and keep them someplace safe from the dust. There is nothing so luxurious as changing out your sheets later in the week. To minimize dust getting into your bed in the first place, of course clean as much of it off your body as possible. We typically have a routine before bed of a quick rinse and/or baby wipe bath then lotioning up our feet.
8. Minimizing Openings. Minimize the amount of time your door is open, and number of entry and exits. Some folks construct a sort of ‘dust room’ at their entrance for taking off dusty clothing and shoes, and keeping baby wipes near the door. This can help minimize tracking dust further inside.
9. Close it up! If you’re leaving your camp, close up all windows and vent fans, and RETRACT YOUR AWNING. Wind and dust storms can kick up unexpectedly, and getting back to camp in a hurry is not usually possible. Most awning can not withstand the gusty winds that can kick up.. and will rip right off!
10. Air Flow. When there’s no dust blowing, keeping the interior of your rig ventilated is no more difficult than in any other boondocking situation (crack a window and turn on your vent fan to ‘out’ to create a flow where you want it). You will get a bit of dust into your rig, but it should be manageable. However, this is bad bad BAD during dust storms. If you plan to ride out a dust storm inside – come prepared with a small fan or even the ability to run your A/C. (Our best advice however – instead of riding out dust storms in your rig, grab some goggles and a mask, and get out in it! Amazing things happen in the city during dust storms, and it’s really not as bad as you imagine it to be.)
11. Poor Man’s Evaporative Cooling. Evaporative cooling works wonderful in the dry environment of the playa. We found a way to attach a small wet towel over our ceiling vent fan and then turn the fan to ‘In’ mode. This makes for a great makeshift cooling system, and has gotten us through many a hot afternoon without resorting to firing up the generator for air conditioning. We also use a Misty Mate handheld water mister that does wonders, and provides immediate relief from the heat.
12. Minimize Electrical Usage. Use your best boondocking practices to minimize needing to run your generator as much. LED lights are great, reduce reliance on other types of lights. Turn off any parasitic loads (a friend reported that he gained an extra hour PER DAY of battery capacity by simply unplugging his microwave when not in use). Anything with status lights that isn’t being actively used is drawing a load on your batteries. Obviously, solar power is an awesome route to go!
13. Pee in a Bottle. To maximize your black water tanks (if yours aren’t large enough to get your crew through the entire burn), handle those night time (and dust storm) nature call moments by peeing into a bottle. (Boondocker’s hint for women: one of those empty plastic Folger’s coffee cans works great for us!). You can dump the bottles out later in the porta potties. And remember – you should be pissing clear, a sign that you’re staying well hydrated!
14. Minimize Water Usage & Evaporate. Obviously, water is a limited resource on the playa – you have only what you can bring out. Use our steps for minimizing water usage. Also, collecting dish washing water into a pan allows you to set it out in the sun to evaporate instead of filling your gray tank (never ever dump grey water on the playa!!). And we use a spray bottle with a little dish soap diluted with water to pre-rinse our dishes. This saves so much water and is so effective, that we use this method full time now!
15. Save your engine maintenance for after the playa! Every filter in your engine is going to get clogged with dust, especially because prime entry and exit days tend to kick up extra dust that you’ll be driving through. If you’re due for maintenance, but it can safely wait a few weeks – save it for after the playa! You’re just going to have to change out filters anyway.
16. Frozen treats! Most RVs come with freezers. We always make room in ours to carry some ice cream and frozen fruit. It’s such a treat later in the week to have frozen stuff on hand, and it’s a great way to make new friends when you share.
If you find yourself playa bound this year, have a fabulous time! And if someone could please write ‘Serendipity’ on the Temple for us, that would be awesome.
2014 Update: For a third year in a row, our path is just is not destined to return to the playa. We’re heading out to Cape Blanco Lighthouse to start 2 months of volunteering as interpretive hosts.
Any other tips for taking an RV to Burning Man? Post them in the comments – we’d love to hear more!