Burning man

Dancing in the desert: Nevada's Burning Man festival is almost impossible to describe. Photo: AP

When like-minded folk gather together to share ideas and connect through nature, music, art, business and politics, magic can definitely happen.

You don’t have to be a hippy to attend a festival any more, with South by Southwest and TED leading the way when it comes to business festivals. But you will need to bring an open mind.

South by Southwest, Texas

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This Texas music festival began in 1987 but the mainstream groundswell of the past interactive decade has seen it expand rapidly.

Choose from a music, interactive or film festival or the offshoot SXSW Edu for education, SXSW Eco for environmental issues and the SXSW V2V conference for innovative start-ups.

Put simply, anyone who is anyone (or might be) has attended, spoken or performed at a SXSW festival - from Mark Zuckerberg to Al Gore, Bob Geldof, Quincy Jones, Robert Plant and Lou Reed. 

Burning Man, Nevada

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Many have tried to explain Burning Man and many, like me, have failed. Tickets for the annual desert festival are limited and highly sought after by those wishing to lose themselves in a sea of human connection devoid of digital interference.

Described as a festival of ‘radical self expression and self-reliance in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada’, Burning Man is a temporary city built and dismantled each year, leaving no trace of having been there at all. Expect art, craziness, off-the-planet connections and a giant burning man.

TED Conference, Vancouver

Sure, you can watch TED talks on YouTube, but attending the annual TED Conference allows you to interact first-hand with fellow ‘TEDees’. TED is all about ideas that can change the world one person at a time.

Choose from the official TED Conference in Vancouver or TED Active, TED Global, TED Women and TED Youth and inhale the essence of up to 70 speakers, each presenting their story in 18 minutes.

Clinton Global Initiative, New York

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This initiative aims to turn ideas into action. You’ll have to be a member to attend the Annual Meeting in New York City but you can put your hand up for an invitation online to join the business leaders, philanthropists, NGOs, scholars and academics that make up the impressive membership base.

Expect to mingle with or listen to the likes of Warren Buffet, Eric Schmidt, Tony Blair, Christiane Amanpour, Barbara Streisand, and of course Bill and Hillary.

The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival, Taiwan

The power of tens of thousands of people declaring their hopes and dreams on paper and sending them as spiritual lanterns into the sky as they burn high in the Taiwanese sky cannot be underestimated.

The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival is held around Chinese New Year each year, when revellers ‘mass release’ their own handwritten Chinese lanterns with thoughts for the future.

Sundance Film Festival, Utah

Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival is more than just a cinema festival: the annual event held in January in the ski town of Park City, Utah is an exploration of the human story through film, panel discussions, dinners and pop-up parties.

Ticket holders have the chance to mingle with the movers and shakers of the movie, social media and interactive world.

Kumbh Mela, India

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Who needs personal space? You won’t have any at Kumbh Mela, the mass Hindu pilgrimage that attracts over 100 million people to the shores of religious rivers in Haridwar, Allahabad, Nashik and Ujjain.

You will have access to one of the most peaceful religious congregations or festivals in the world filled with colour, light and bathing bodies cleansed in the river. Expect candles, chanting and a new-found respect for human life.

Woodford Folk Festival, Queensland

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Malcolm Turnbull, Bob Hawke, Julia Gillard and friends mix it up with John Butler, Gotye, Xavier Rudd, Archie Roach and a host of local and international artists over six days of public debate, intimate acoustic performances, big stage settings, yoga and meet-ups in a temporary village built each year. This is the Woodford Folk Festival.

More than 120,000 attend Woodford and camp on-site to be part of a festival that began as a humble get-together in Maleny in 1987 and is now an annual New Year event from December 27 to January 1.

Wanderlust, California

The Lake Tahoe town of Squaw Valley in California turns into a yogic Mecca come July, when Wanderlust comes to town.

The four-day festival focuses on yoga, rock ’n’ roll, movement, soulful cinema and mindfulness with a series of mass yoga happenings, concerts, hikes and speakeasy lectures.

Festival au Desert, Mali

The Festival au Desert in Mali is hard to find. The festival started in 2001 in the desert lands of Mali, a three-day camel ride (half a day by car) from the nearest town. Inspired by the nomads of the South Sahara who met to exchange information, music, poetry and games, the Festival au Desert promotes peace through music in Africa and the world.

Due to political unrest the festival is now constantly changing location.

Musician Robert Plant described it as “one of the few honest things I have been part of in a long, long time’’.