South by Southwest (SXSW) is now underway for the 29th year in Austin, TX. The festival has drawn over 80K official badge holders and 400K people to the Austin area in the past few years, but the city is welcoming and well-equipped to handle all the travelers over the 9 day span which includes Film, Interactive, and Music conferences. Going into it as a SXSW virgin this year, here are my tips for making the most of your experience.
Buy the correct badge (or just go for the parties)
There are individual badges for Film ($695) , Interactive ($1295), and Music ($895) events or you can get an upgraded badge like the Platinum badge ($1745) which allows you access to all Film, Interactive, and Music events. My friend had the Interactive Badge and I had Film, but we went to virtually the same events. If you are looking to save money, only buy the pass you need. I saw President Obama speak, and all I needed was to be a “badge holder”. Also, everything is first come first serve so spending the extra money for a Platinum Badge doesn’t even get you out of the lines.
Be EARLY if you want to see a particular panel
There are large ballrooms which hold thousands of people at SXSW, but you need to be
in line almost an hour ahead for popular events. I waited in line for close to an hour to see both JJ Abrams and Anthony Bourdain speak, but I didn’t even have seats once I got in and had to sit on the floor. People get denied due to space, so plan accordingly.
Learn Downtown Austin Geography, watch out for roadblocks
Many roads are blocked off, so your best bet is walking to events in downtown area once you arrive for the day. Uber/Lyft are great, but you may have to walk a few blocks outside of the gridlock in order to hop in one. Also, there are tons of pedicabs driven by friendly Austonites, but secure a rate beforehand. I spent $30 on a ride home late one night, but all the Ubers the rest of the weekend were never over $10.
Dress comfortably! Everyone looked professional, but casual. During the day, it’s warm outside, but air conditioned in the convention hall. Any nighttime parties don’t require dressing up, you could tell who was just there for the parties and who was actually working the festival.
Bring a portable phone charger
With all the live tweeting and picture taking, you will quickly drain your phone battery. Be sure to have a fully charged mobile charger ready to go! The SXSW app on your phone is super helpful for scheduling, but it drains the battery as well since it has GPS location for where you are.
Choose one event per night
Lines are long since venues are small, so even if you are on the list for a party it might be a struggle at the door. I suggest going early and committing to one party for the evening to minimize stress.
Come with a networking plan
Email people beforehand to try to set up drinks and opportunities to meet up. Once you get to the festival, everyone will be on different schedules so it helps to have things pre-planned. You will meet tons of interesting people in passing, but if you have people you are specifically looking to meet set it up ahead of time.
Visit Rainey Street Bars
Just a short walk from the Austin Convention Center, Rainey Street is filled with cute houses that have been turned into bars. It’s pet friendly and has lots of outdoor space, definitely a must see for day or nighttime. Much more of a relaxed vibe than the craziness of Sixth Street.