Are you spending your winter in the warmth of the US Southwest? Are you looking for community? Do you love free event? If that’s you, then look no further than Skooliepalooza!
Skooliepalooza is a FREE event that pops up in the desert every year. Imagine over 800 buses, vans, trailers, and rigs all gathered together to build community! It boosts a sound circus, arts and crafts section, silent camp, and family camp areas.
My partner and I went to Skooliepalooza in 2023 and had no idea what to expect. We ended up having a blast and coming away with new friends. But here is what we wished we knew before we went.
Skooliepalooza 2024: The “Un-Gathering” Event
Skooliepalooza is a non-event event. Essentially that means that no permits exist for the event, so it’s not an event. Confused? Don’t worry.
🗺️ Basically, hundreds of people drive to a set of GPS coordinates provided about a week before the event. Then, those hundreds of people create a pop-up small city of nomads. After about a week, everyone cleans up and drives their separate directions, often in caravans.
If you have a hard time believing this…keep reading. It’s a very peculiar “un-gathering” event.
These are the things I wish we had known before we traveled to Skooliepalooza. So, read on and be prepared!
1. The Exact Location Won’t Be Announced Until January
Unlike other van events, the exact location for Skooliepalooza 2024 won’t be given until sometime in January.
This is so people cannot start the ungathering too early. If the informal city in the desert pops up too soon, the Bureau of Land Management might have a problem like they did in 2022.
Don’t fret about this. It’s part of the adventure!
📍 Just position your early January literally anywhere in Arizona or Southern California. Then, you’ll be less than a day’s drive away. Most of my favorite 6 winter van life locations set you up well for Skooliepalooza.
2. It Will Be on Public Land in Arizona
Skooliepalooza 2024 will pop up somewhere on public land in Arizona. That’s how they keep the non-event completely free!
🌵 Arizona has 3 main types of free public land: Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Arizona State Trust Land, and Forest Service land (FS). Since the event needs to have relatively warm weather, it will occur on either BLM or State Trust land.
This is important because you do need your own permit for state trust land.
Sometimes the event is aimed at BLM land, but sometimes there is a nearby checkerboard of BLM/State Trust Land. Thus, if you’re way out in silent camp, you may have crossed onto State Trust Land.
3. It is FREE
The best part about Skooliepalooza…it’s free! There is NO entrance fee.
However, while you are there, you can pay for things.
First, you might head down the arts and crafts zone. 🧶 Here, you can often find delicious baked goods, cookbooks, or other venders. It’s nice to have a little cash or Paypal/Venmo setup to support other nomads.
Second, someone might put up some money for a few porta johns after a few days. If you don’t have a toilet in your rig, it’s nice to chip in a donation here. 🧻
Third, sound circus sets up a large musical experience often at their own expense. If you enjoy the shows they create, donations are greatly appreciated. 🎶
4. Camp According to Your Noise Tolerance
When GPS coordinates are released, look for a basic map of camp to appear.
It will have a crude designation of 4 zones: sound camp, arts & crafts camp, family camp, and quiet camp.
Sound Camp 🎶
Obviously, sound camp is the loudest. It’s where you can make noise and music can blast. Music will play just about every night from 8pm ish until often at least 1am. If you want to camp in the heart of the party, this is your spot.
Arts & Crafts 🧶
Next, arts and crafts camp is for venders and artists. If you make money on the road by selling anything from baked goods to jewelry, this is your spot.
Family Camp 🧸
Third, family camp is a great spot for all the feral nomad children to form packs. They may run you over if you cut through family camp without paying attention. If you have kids on the road that you need to socialize, this is where you camp.
Quiet Camp 🤫
Lastly, quiet camp exists on the fringe. While its name suggests silence, it doesn’t mean it will be fully silent. You will still be able to hear sound camp from quiet camp. It’s quiet camp because the music does not originate there.
If you aim for quiet camp, it’s helpful to have a few people to park with already. Being quiet, it tends to attract more introverts. So, if you’re looking to meet people here, it’s helpful to know someone first.
Importantly, you can walk between all these camps seamlessly. So, you can participate in all the activities of sound camp and then sleep in quiet camp with a short walk. Totally doable.
BEST ADVICE: Wherever you choose to park, set a pin on google maps. Finding your way back to camp during the day is easy, but much harder at night. 📍
5. Bring Plenty of Food, Water, & Propane
Once you find your spot at Skooliepalooza, it’s best to stay put. Sometimes, to move you’ll have to coordinate several rigs shifting.
Make everyone’s life easier by bringing all your food, water, and propane for the whole week.
🛒 Also, Skooliepalooza only occurs in super rural, open desert. Therefore, any grocery store will be a minimum of 30 minutes away. Save yourself the time and gas money by picking everything up on the way into Skoolie.
I’d also recommend bring extra food to share. You might find yourself piecing together a group meal for your circle. Or, if you really want to meet people, put out a sign that says, “free food” and people will come.
6. Buy that Extra Bundle of Firewood
If you’re debating how much firewood to bring, grab the extra bundle.
Skooliepalooza exists in an area where there literally is NO firewood that can be gathered. If you do see some small pieces of deadwood around, it’s actually important to the fragile desert ecosystem.
🔥 The un-gathering has lots of campfires. There are big bonfires over by sound camp. And, smaller campfires start up by other circles of rigs.
🪵 If you’re looking for an in to meet new people, having an extra bundle of firewood is it.
Or, your smaller circle will use it and you’ll have a great time that way.
7. Pack a Onesie!
What’s a van life un-gathering without a onesie? Usually, there is an entire evening dedicated to onesies at Skooliepalooza!
Yes, they take up a lot of space. However, they also bring joy and more importantly, warmth.
Desert nights get surprisingly cold. 🥶 Having a onesie to walk around with can help you stay warm and have fun!
You can find them online and at larger box stores like Target and Walmart beforehand.
Trust me, you’ll have serious fomo without one. And, you can use it at just about any other van event in the future.
8. Have Earplugs or a Sound Machine
No matter where you are at Skooliepalooza, if you want to sleep before 1am, you’ll want earplugs. It might even go later than that some nights.
🔊The big speakers come out. The bass gets cranked up. It’s loud. It reverberates across the open desert landscape.
Just bring some earplugs. Even if you don’t end up needing them, someone in your circle might.
🐾 Also keep in mind if you have a dog, sometimes the sound can be a lot for them. A sound machine that plays soothing rain or something, might help the dog calm down at night.
Personally, we have earplugs for the loudest nights and Calm sleep stories for nights of moderate noise. The Calm sleep stories help me focus on something peaceful before drifting off to sleep.
9. It’s Harder to Meet People than at Other Events
My partner and I made an effort to go to several van life events in 2023. And, they’re all a little different.
During Skooliepalooza, we made several fantastic new friends. However, we personally found that Skooliepalooza was harder to meet new people at than other van life events like Holy Toledo or Tiny Fest.
I’d like to say that we’re extroverted introverts. We like to go join the party, but we want our space at the end of the night. Each evening, we walked over to sound camp and hung out. Then, we walked back to quiet camp to sleep. 💤
During the day, we wandered around and through arts and crafts camp to stretch our legs.
We also got to know our smaller circle of friends in quiet camp. We knew 3 other rigs in our circle coming to Skooliepalooza. One person knew 2 more rigs, and someone else knew 2 more rigs. Our circle became really great friends.
🔊 I did notice, it was harder to join other campfire circles though. If you’re willing to give up sleep and camp in sound camp, you’d likely meet more people.
10. Pack Out Your Trash!
The Arizona desert is a fragile environment. We are guests visiting it in the winter looking for warmth and community.
🏜️ If you include the desert landscape in your community, you’ll keep it clean and trash free.
You can do a few easy things to keep trash under control at Skooliepalooza.
🗑️ First, make sure you get rid of all the trash in your rig before you get there. Get rid of all the extra food packaging boxes at the grocery store where you bought them.
Second, bring extra trash bags to keep your own trash contained and to help clean up after others.
Third, make space inside your rig for trash if you can. Open deserts have a lot of wind. Wind topples your careful trash piles outside and spreads it across the desert floor.
Fourth, clean up after others when necessary and do a group clean up before leaving!
➡️ Always remember to leave no trace.
Final Thoughts on Preparing for Skooliepalooza
Lastly, with these 10 tips, you’ll have a blast at the Skooliepalooza un-gathering. It’s a wild ride and crazy to see a mini city pop up in the middle of the desert.
As well all travel, think safety first! Set a GPS pin for your camp and stay aware of your surroundings.
Make friends, get a flash tattoo, support a crafty nomad, and dance into the night in a onesie around a blazing bonfire.