After sixteen years of attending the Burning Man festival, a temporary community of 70,000 people and thousands of rental Recreational Vehicles, we've discovered a few ways to turn your rented motel room into a space for personal expression. Without damaging your rental! Nothing spells "Sad" like a standard issue RV home when settling in for the night, or day. It doesn't take long to create, and your plentiful guests will greatly appreciate a comfortable, colorful oasis in the desert.
Ok, I lied... "s a d" spells "Sad". So don't be sad: take a few easy hours to make your home a home!
Step 1: Starting From Scratch
Front and Back views inside a typical rental RV.
Note how clean they start out (like a sterile motel room).
Rolls of old carpets, padding, and bathroom rugs
Various fabrics (both strong and delicate for placing in different locations)
Safety pins (best to have 100's of pins in various sizes)
Extendable shower rods
Metallic bubble plastic wrap (aka Reflectix)
Lighting toys (LED strings are better and safer than incandescent christmas lights)
Step 2: Cover Your Floor
Start by covering the floor. Use several layers of flooring - padded on bottom, fluffy on top. Use several layers so that if accidents occur, just remove a layer rather than further covering up the mess. Use duct tape on your fabrics, but only use minimal painter's tape to the RV walls or floors - the fake wood paneling can easily tear off even if careful. If you have pull-outs, leave those sections' floors untaped and available to be rolled up or pushed back until arriving in your permanent location in Black Rock City, or wherever your final destination may be.
Step 3: Floor Details
Make sure to leave openings where needed. Scraps can be reused. Safer (and comfy) to have more carpeting than less. You'll find a comfortable floor leads to more people being able to hang out in your RV. After several years, you'll amass plenty of used pieces for your rental RV (make sure to wash all your carpet pieces after each burn).
Step 4: "No Shoes" and Other Easy Rules
Signage at the front door helps remind new visitors to a super-simple basic rule on keeping the floors clean - keep all shoes outside. Place a sealable plastic bin outside under your entry steps to contain the dusty footcoverings. Covering the seats and couches first in plastic wrap then in fabrics can protect from accidental spillage and guest destruction. Make sure to bring posters, paintings, or other interesting artwork for covering the walls, cabinets, and windows.
It's your RV for the week - make your rules as you see fit.
(Oh, yes, it's most annoying to have just spent 15 minutes outside lacing up your 24inch boots when you realize you forgot your camelback inside - many a time we've crawled in on our knees with shoes desperately dangling in the air as we stretch to reach for that one forgotten item - but we try to not be hypocrites to the sign.)
One controversial RV rule to think about - restricting the use of the toilet from both guests and rentees. Yeah, that's a big reason many people rent an RV, but unless you are getting them pumped on a regular basis... ...after a hot week on the playa, there is nothing in the world to prevent it from smelling bad. Real bad. Scary scary bad. For guests, perhaps provide a map to the nearest bank of johns. The bright side - retaining humility of the quintessential playa experience: the 6am port-a-potty run.
This goes for showers too, we've discovered. The bacteria growth can be quite aromatic. Our camp usually has a sun shower, or a sprayer, or some other shower built for camp use, and we've used that instead. The benefit is... more closet space! Clear bins with lids (from Target or such mega-store) make excellent clothes organizing units, and if stacked up high in the shower and on the toilet, less possibilities of drunken visitors not understanding the RV rules when your back is turned.
Also, perhaps making a sign warning off potential users, as we've always thought about needing one right after one would have been useful. Drunk people claim they can't help it, but desert survival means knowing where are the closest public potties. "If You Did Not Pay For The RV, You May Not Use The Facilities" or such. But then it rule also should apply to the rentees as well, at least up to about 24 hours before you leave (if you hoped to use them), otherwise you are sorta fouling the nest. The science behind this is that the chemicals you dump in the toilets to neutralize everything require the movement of driving every day to mix properly, without it, they do nothing. So if you like a week of living with, well... just please take my advice on this one thing, please? :-) Rental RVs are not designed to just sit like we do.
If you have guests over to borrow your kitchen, make sure to stress the scarcity of RV materials. (One person didn't realize how little tank water there is, and after a marathon pot-and-pan-scrubbing while left alone in the RV, used up all the potable tank.) Be warned, you'll probably be pressed to take some friend's trash upon exodus, and it's your decision, but here's to hoping you don't need to stress 'pack it in, pack it out' to any proper playa dwellers.
Step 5: Cover Your Windows
The sun will start to melt you by about 10am. Metallicized bubble wrap can be fitted into the RV windows to block the sunlight and its horrible horrible warmth. Make sure to leave no gaps between the glass and the material. Use tape if needed, but usually the wrap can be cut with a few extra inches and be pushed to fit into the window frame.
Most of the RV windows do not need to be used during the week, so make sure to cover the cab area completely (this driving area can be best used for keeping bins of materials out of the bunk area). The skylight over the shower usually could use sunlight protection as well.
If you want some sunlight, use half-silked fabrics to allow partial light through some windows.
Step 6: Safety Pin Your Ceiling*
Most rental RVs have indoor-outdoor carpeting on the ceiling. Use safety pins carefully to cantilever heavier objects. By using large pins as anchors, looping through the swirls of the carpet, and then using smaller pins that link any fabrics or lighting to the larger anchors, you can hang relatively heavy objects throughout the RV.
Make sure to pin around any air-circulating systems in the ceiling. Ceiling carpet only can hold so much weight, so gauge carefully. LED net-lights provide a lovely animated light through layers of light-weight fabrics.
*Note, in 2010, the carpeted ceiling was gone, replaced by a flat vinyl smooth surface. Not wishing to puncture such material required new techniques with more shower curtain rods. In some cases (such as in the upper bunk above the cab), the rods are not long enough, so the solution is in using shorter, cross-braced rods pushing slightly into each corner of the bunk.
Step 7: Bridge Your RV
Extendable shower curtain rods can bridge across the RV for easier ceiling fabric hangings too. Make sure to get the longest available to stretch across wide RVs with the slide-outs, while back bedrooms might need much smaller sizes. (We've even added Pringles Cans for extending the length further, in a pinch.)
Secret bonus tip for cleaning up after-playa: Club Soda cuts through playa dust. Spray club soda and wipe up to easily remove the alkaline dust from the interior and exterior of your rented RV. This took ten years to discover (many things take that long to discover).
Secret fire prevention tip: Don't allow open flames in your RV near your hanging fabrics. This shouldn't be a very 'secret tip' at something called 'Burning Man'.
Step 8: Completed Art!
Your rental RV could be a super showcase for your personal playa art, plus it keeps most of the interior clean for when you have to return your vehicle. There are friends that claim making your home "too nice" means one never leaves, and that's understandable as it takes overcoming much inertia to get out of the house into the dusty world, but nothing is more wonderful than having a beautiful home in which to return. We encourage all burners, and other freeway travelers, to try to decorate your insides - why have a fantastic outside-playa time, but feel like you are living in a generic motel room at the end of the day?
Plus, if you don't do "something", it's really pretty incredibly sad and boring to visit you.
P.S. one final tip: Use plastic bins to place all your RV fabrics after cleaning each year, that way when the next burn (or trip) rolls around, just grab the few bins and be packed to go.