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.Â 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!
2 thoughts on “How to get stuff from Montréal to Burning Man (and back!)”
Good rundown, Jody. I bought a van in 2008 and made the round trip to the playa and back, and I think my gas costs were more like $1800. It took me a week, including about 40 hours stuck in Kalamazoo when my van broke down. Basically, it’s a good idea to figure out your loaded vehicle’s fuel consumption and the distance foreseen, and really crunch the numbers for what the fuel will cost (and overestimate).
With shared shipping from Canada (Toronto or Montreal), and important but unfortunate factor to consider is the prospect of illegal substances… While getting a large loaded vehicle thoroughly searched at the border is unlikely, it is always a possibility. Whoever is driving the van/truck must be confident in knowing what exactly is amongst their cargo when crossing the US/Canada border each way, and be able to explain it well at immigration and customs. If you’re agreeing to carry loads for another camp, I recommend asking them to not seal any of their containers before load-in, so that you can take a look at everything and really know what you’ll be transporting.
The option of flying in with well-chosen luggage remains the most accessible (a cooler as one checked bag, with repacking capability upon arrival to liberate the cooler, is very useful). You’ll just need to make very detailed lists of what to procure on arrival, and where, because that one mad dash around Reno is all you’ll get. Alternatively, if you’ve got an extra day or two, fly in to San Francisco and collaborate with burners there for procurement and transport.
Finally, if you’re ordering supplies over the internet, you may just have them sent to someone who is driving in from the region. You’ll still have to deal with those items when leaving the playa, but at least you won’t need to fit them in your luggage when flying out. Collaborating with burners (generally campmates) who live within a day’s drive of the playa to store a few things (propane tanks, car batteries, etc) may be an option if you really won’t need those things except on the playa.
Joining a camp which already has decent infrastructure will help enormously, since you won’t need to deal with many of the basics yourself. If they already plan on providing shade, a kitchen, and an evaporation pond, for example, you can focus more on your personal shelter and costumes. Plus, if you join an active theme camp, you’ll likely take part in contributing something fun and interactive to making Black Rock City great.
Excellent write up Jody, you definitely go the bulk of it. Likewise to Ryan’s comments.
A few things I can think of;
* If you’re going by plane you really should allow extra time between landing and getting to the playa. In the unlikely event that any of your luggage is delayed I can assure you that the airline is not going to deliver your tent to 7:15 and Dreamland.
* If you’re sending gear by container or by a friend/campmate, be sure you have contact information and contingency plans to find each other on and off playa. You do not want to find yourself on the playa without your tent, food, etc. Ideally make sure that the necessities are with you at all times, you can deal with lost costumes of gifts, not food or shelter.
* Thoroughly check everything before it goes back into the container, truck, van, luggage, etc. Several years ago some people driving a communal truck back to Alberta got busted at the border for a roach stuffed between the cushions in a couch. They were lucky they only lost hours at the border and in court plus a fine. Check all your pockets, bins, etc.
* There is storage available in Gerlach, Fernley, Reno, etc. One popular option for large projects/camps is here; http://storage.burningman.com. If you plan on going back year after year and have LOTS of stuff you only use on the playa this is worth considering.
* DON’T FORGET TRASH!!! You will need to haul out any garbage you produce. There is no garbage disposal on site. Keep this in mind when creating your transportation plan. Fortunately most of your food will end up in the porta-johns, freeing up some cargo space but you really need to keep this in mind. Sending trash 4000km back to Canada is not only a waste of space and fuel but also invokes the whole border drug bust risk thing. Get it off playa, then get rid of it – http://www.burningman.com/preparation/travel_info/reno/reno_Dumps.html
Blah blah blah. At the end of the day just be sure that you carefully think through what you’re bringing and how transportation is going to work in advance.
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