“The stars turned into a kaleidoscope of lights”  

“Everybody I met that day was radiating love”  

“When I looked in the mirror, I saw my father”

Even though psychedelic trips mostly happen in our own mind, the setting of the trip matters. Together with your mindset it has great influence on your trip experience.

In professional ceremonies, the organizers will take care of the biggest part of the setting, but if you’re tripping on your own you have to do it yourself. A little preparation goes a long way and helps you make the most of your psychedelic experience.

Safety first

Psychedelics are as amazing as they are unpredictable. As your mind is roaming in different realms, your body might become completely unequipped to cope with its surroundings. That’s why the first and most important rule in creating the right setting is “Make sure you’re safe”.

You can easily lower the risk of accidents by simply considering your safety, especially when you’re experimenting with new substances or high dosages. A good rule of thumb is this: if you wouldn’t let a child of 7-8 years be in this setting by themselves, it’s probably not the best place for you to trip.

That includes avoiding:

  • High buildings (especially with open balcony doors or open windows)
  • Cliffs, deep water and other dangerous nature surroundings
  • Sharp objects, open fire and chemical substances within reach
  • Roads or railroads
  • Dangerous neighbourhoods

Inside or outside

The first and most obvious choice is whether you’re tripping inside or outside. As with your other setting decisions, this one too comes down to one simple question: “What do you want your trip to be like?” Some psychonauts prefer being outside and connecting to nature, while others prefer lounging on the couch and browsing YouTube. There is no right or wrong here. Overall, staying inside will give you more control over your setting.

If you decide to spend your trip outdoors, make sure you consider:

  • The nature and dosage of the psychedelic. Will you still be able to move around freely or is there any chance you won’t be in control of your body?
  • Your surroundings. Forests and cities both have different charms, different vibes and different dangers.
  • The weather. What’s the temperature like? Will it be raining? Make sure you’re well prepared and don’t forget to take care of yourself. For instance, a known danger of MDMA is people drinking too much, but doing psychedelics on a summer festival also carries risks of dehydration. And even if you don’t pay attention to the cold while you’re tripping, it doesn’t mean your body isn’t affected.

Make yourself comfortable

Whether you’re staying inside or going out, your psychedelic trip will probably offer you enough new experiences. With that in mind, it’s wise to make yourself as comfortable as possible so you don’t get distracted. Here’s a couple of things to think of:

  • Your clothing: wear comfortable clothing (and if you go outside, think of the weather). Layers are great to easily adjust if you feel colder or warmer in the course of the trip. If you’re staying inside: blankets are great, too!
  • Keep a big bottle of water (or two!) at arms length so you can drink when you feel like it.
  • Do you have a sensitive stomach? Eating a cracker might help against nausea, so have some ready.
  • Speaking of nausea… a bucket and a box of tissues can also come in handy. Tissues are also great for those emotional moments that leave you covered in tears and snot.
  • Ideally, a bathroom is close by (and doesn’t require you climbing stairs or jumping through hoops).
  • Pillows and blankets are soft and comfy and can help turn your couch or even floor into your personal trip heaven.
  • Psychedelics tend to strengthen your perception, so watch out for bright lights, loud noise and strong smells – try to keep the space as neutral as possible. If you can’t control the lights and sound, consider getting yourself a sleep mask and ear plugs.

Objects matter

Psychedelic experiences are all about meaning. If you want to steer your trip in a certain direction you can use objects as your personal compass. Whatever objects you choose, remember to keep them ready so you can access them whenever you want to.

  • Do you have any objects that carry a particular meaning? That stuffed animal that reminds you of your parents or photograph of the one time you traveled solo? Just looking at such an object might spark a whole series of memories, ideas and thoughts.
  • Objects with fine details, like fabric and rough surfaces, can have some stunning visual effects, especially if you’re doing magic mushrooms or LSD.
  • Looking into a mirror, you may find you see a reflection of what’s inside your mind, rather than your normal self. Some find this experience frightening and especially if you’re just starting out you might want to cover any reflecting surfaces.
  • A trip is great for generating new ideas and insights. The challenge is to actually remember them afterwards. If you think you’ll be able to write things down, keep a pad and pens ready. If not, consider recording your trip on your mobile phone so you can voice your ideas and return to them after your trip is done.
  • Do you work with oracle cards or other divination tools, such as Tarot or runes? Draw a card and see what hidden meaning your will see on your trip.
  • As anyone who’s ever had a psychedelic experience will tell you: not all experiences are easily expressed with words. Don’t limit yourself: paint, music or origami might be just what you need. At the same time, you may want to refrain from wood working, knitting and other creative means that involve sharp or dangerous objects.

Let music guide you

Music is a great way to access your subconscious and choosing the right music can have a huge impact on your trip. Just keep in mind the length of your trip and your intention as you compile your own playlist.

Nature sounds and ambient music are perfect for inner explorations where all you need is some background structure. You can also choose music that means something to you, like your favorite artist, the song played at your friend’s wedding or the song you’ve been listening to during your last heartbreak. And while some prefer instrumental music, others find themselves mesmerized by lyrics.

Do you enjoy electronic music, such as (psy)trance? A word of warning: while repetitive music might help you access a trancelike state, there is also the risk of triggering a ‘loop’: a continuous feeling of inescapable deja vu (often leading to anxiety).

Finally, for those of us who don’t rely on our own musical taste, scientist Bill Richards has compiled a playlist with the perfect music for a psychedelic experience. The playlist lasts around 6 hours, making it the perfect length for the average magic mushroom trip.

Surround yourself with those you trust

When we’re talking about setting, we often think of things, but people are very much part of the setting as well. We can distinguish three types of (non-imaginary) people who are part of our trip: fellow trippers, tripsitters and passersby.

Fellow trippers are others joining you on the trip (or rather, taking their own trip at the same time and in the same space). Make sure you surround yourself with people you trust. During the trip, your emotions can be magnified, which goes for positive and negative emotions alike. That’s why unless the purpose of your trip is resolving a conflict, you may want to avoid tripping with people with whom you have any unresolved issues.

At the same time, while you’re tripping you don’t want to have to worry about others. Avoid tripping with others if you don’t trust their judgement, sense of responsibility or ability to handle their own psychedelic experience.

A tripsitter is a person keeping an eye out on you as you experience your trip. Usually, tripsitters are sober (though some micro dose). If you have a tripsitter, whether it’s a friend you ask to keep you safe or a seasoned professional who helps you with therapy, make sure you discuss your needs and boundaries upfront. Are you comfortable with talking? What about touch? Do you want your tripsitter to actively contribute to the trip or merely keep you safe?

Needless to say, even more so than with fellow trippers, a tripsitter should be someone you trust, ideally someone who makes you feel safe.

If you’re tripping outside, especially in an urban area or at a festival, you will likely meet other (sober) people. Prepare yourself accordingly and don’t forget that they’re not able to see and experience all that you do. Whether you’re scared of a vision or want to cuddle everyone you meet – your behavior may appear odd and potentially cause trouble. Though chance encounters can be pure magic, err on the safe side.

Above all: go with the flow

Sometimes things don’t go as planned. You think you have the entire setting figured out, but something comes up. The roof is leaking. You get an emergency call. Or you end up with a power outage. All your careful preparation goes down the drain and your setting is very different from what you envisioned. If that happens, don’t panic. Go with the flow and trust that changes in plans will show you what you need, even if it’s not exactly what you expected. After all, first and foremost psychedelics are not about control, they are about surrendering.