How to get stuff from Montréal to Burning Man (and back!)
A few people have asked me about this recently, so I’m going to summarize the options I know about. Please share your experiences in the comments, especially if you’ve tried one of the options I haven’t or if you have more up to date costs than I do.
Advice on flying:
- You might be able to take more than you think. Consider the costs of baggage when you book your ticket. Most airlines let you take 2 pieces up to 50 pounds for not much extra. If you’re flying business class (even on points) your allowance is probably a lot more, and also if you have status (obtained by flying large numbers of miles in one year) with the airline.
- What pieces should you take? A large cooler if you need one – a 66 litre cooler is within standard baggage dimensions and you can fill it with stuff. For your second piece, a well made duffle like the extra large MEC duffle bag is usually within standard dimensions or close enough to fool a checkin agent.
- Bring extra bags (stuffed into one of your bags) so you can reorganize after landing… especially important if you bring a cooler :)
- Don’t forget carryon. A standard sized rollaboard is actually pretty big and you can get away with a small backpack as well. Theoretically there’s a weight limit but they never check – as long as you can comfortably lift the rollaboard over your head to put it in the bin, bring it.
- Be aware of the TSA’s Prohibited Items List. (TSA, not CATSA rules apply if you’re flying from YUL to a US destination.)
OK, enough of that. What if you’re running a theme camp or bringing medium/large art?
These options are all expensive but the idea is you share the costs among theme camp participants. For example, Midnight Poutine had around 20 members in both 2009 and 2010, so we all paid about $100 each for shipping (and about $100 each to cover poutine itself). I strongly suggest collecting money up front and then refunding people if there’s a surplus rather than trying to chase down people after the burn.
- Boston container. You pay for “shares” of the container, which are 100 cubic feet. In practice you can get away with 150 cubic feet or so per share, unless people start checking closely which is unlikely because Burners. It’s a community effort run out of Boston. The container loads on a Saturday 3 weeks before burn night, and unloads 2 weeks after. You need to drive your stuff down to Boston and help load in, then drive it back after unload.Costs: in 2009: $2000 total for 200 cubic feet. We paid $1000 for 2 shares and $1000 in van rental + gas for 2 round trips to Boston. If you can borrow a van or trailer, the van + gas cost will be around $500, so $1500 total.
Want to do this? Shares go on sale very soon after the end of Firefly and are usually announced on the Boston Burners list. Someone needs to monitor this list several times a day and be ready with money to PayPal to the appropriate place to secure some shares because they usually sell out within hours. There is also a Boston Container mailing list but share sales are not always announced there. Here’s the 2011 information page.
There is also a New York container. I don’t know anything about it other than it’s further to get stuff to NYC and their share cost is higher.
- Van. In 2010 I bought a van and drove it down. It cost about $1500 in gas (which is about 10% more expensive now, so figure $1650) which was covered by my theme camp and $1100 in vehicle wear and repairs, which was not. Still, if you pack it right, this option may be cheaper than the Boston container because you can carry 2 people and save them from buying plane tickets.An extended (allongée) GMC Savana or Ford Econoline holds about 280 cubic feet. It’s 48 hours of driving.. I did it in 4 days alone, but I’ve heard of teams of 2 doing it in 48 hours straight.
- Truck. In 2011 a camp called Nit Whips rented a 16′ box truck. Total budget for the truck, insurance, and fuel was $5000. I don’t know what their final costs were. A truck of that size holds about 800 cubic feet, so this is cheaper per cubic foot than a Savana if you can pack it efficiently enough.If you’re renting a vehicle, make sure you tell them it’s going to the US because some agencies won’t allow this and the ones that do usually charge a lot more for insurance.
- Trailer. I haven’t done this myself but Ocean provided this information via email: “I tow my 13 foot Aliner every year driving my 2005 Nissan X-trail. It is light and did not increase my fuel consumption by much, however I’m sure I still spent between $1800-$2200 in fuel and travel there and back. Another friend tows a 13 foot airstream with an X-terra and had slightly higher cost, $2400.
In 2008, that budget was nearly half due to better fuel rates.”
Options I’ve thought about
but never done:
- Sharing space with Toronto – This is on your way to the playa by the most direct route. In 2015 Fire Tetris shared space with a Toronto-based fire arts crew. We rented a 16′ truck for two weekends (in August and September) for the Montréal to Toronto legs, and then paid a size-based share of the Toronto crew’s truck costs. Costs were $1222.17 for the Montréal <--> Toronto transport, and $1893.26 for our share of the Toronto <--> BRC segment. We also paid for professional customs brokerage, again shared with the Toronto crew – our share was $463.08. The Toronto crew dealt with a couple of unexpected issues that you should be aware of. First of all their original truck company canceled their reservation at the last minute after realizing that they were not insured to go to the US (despite the Toronto crew originally confirming this with the truck company), forcing them to rent from someone else at a higher cost. Also their truck was overweight, forcing them to use back roads (and a scout vehicle) to dodge open highway weigh stations.
I hope this information is useful to you. Please let me know your experiences in the comments or by private email (firstname.lastname@example.org) This page was last updated in August 2016 – I do update it regularly so keep those emails coming!