Heading to South by Southwest for the first time? First, I suggest you read our South by Southwest 101 page, which goes over all the basic information you need to know about South by Southwest. You can find that article here. This article isn’t going to go over the same, generic information about South by Southwest. This is our insider tips page, things I wish I had known before going to South by Southwest for the first time. Think of this as passing information/pro tips to the next generation of South by Southwest first timers. I hope after reading this and our South by Southwest 101 article you are absolutely, positively 100% ready to head off to South by Southwest and have a blast.
There’s almost an overwhelming amount of things to do at South by Southwest. There are obviously lectures, musical artists, movies, and more. There are over 4,000 things to go see at SXSW! You don’t want to get to South by Southwest and have no idea what you want to go see. Do your research and figure out what is important for you to see. At the same time, don’t schedule too much to do. You aren’t going to end up doing everything you plan, but that’s ok. Part of the fun of SXSW is getting to wander and see something you didn’t really plan on seeing.
SXSW hands out a lot of swag over the course of the events. Make sure you leave some room in your suitcase for all the SXSW goodies you are going to get to bring home with you from Austin.
SXSW has an app that you can download for free to your smartphone and it’s pretty outstanding. It let’s you schedule what you want to see, view maps of the area, see who is attending your event, and a lot more. It is definitely worth a download.
SXSW has a huge variety of events – everything from networking opportunities to some great concerts. This means you need to pack a suit so you look like a real adult, and some comfortable sneakers for the times you are going to be on your feet a lot. Be sure to pack everything you will need for the events you are planning to attend.
SXSW in held in Austin, which is great for a lot of things but transportation isn’t one of them. If you are staying in downtown Austin you should be able to walk everywhere, but still have a plan for how you are going to get around, especially if you aren’t in downtown Austin. Most of the big hotels in Austin will be within walking distance of SXSW so you should have no problems.
Texas in March can be hot and humid or cold and rainy. Make sure you check the weather before heading off to Austin for SXSW.
You will be on your phone a lot at SXSW – texting your group for meetups, looking up parties/bars to go to after SXSW, checking the SXSW schedule, etc. A portable phone charger or a battery case can be a life saver at SXSW. I highly recommend snagging one before you head off to SXSW. Here is what I have used in the past, which I highly recommend:
Again, there are over 4,000 events going on at SXSW each year, which is really overwhelming for first timer SXSWers. One way to simplify things a bit is to only look at things going on at the Austin Convention Center. Yes, this limits what you will see at SXSW, but often the festival reserves the main convention center for the top things going on at SXSW.
A lot of really bright and influential people attend SXSW every year, especially if you are in the tech field. Be sure to save some time on the schedule to network, you never know who you may run into at SXSW.
The open bars have claimed many a SXSWer in the past. The entire SXSW is basically an open bar, so be prepared to have lots of free alcohol slung your way. Another nice thing is everything is walkable and you really don’t need to drive at all, so in theory you can drink as much as you want. Yes, this is pretty cool, but also be careful. You don’t want to be the one who gets too drunk and looks like a fool in a networking opportunity or just be really hungover the next day and miss out on some awesome events at SXSW.
Don’t go too ham on the first day – South by Southwest is a marathon, not a sprint. Be sure to pace yourself properly.
You should plan to walk around with a backpack at SXSW. All of the events let you bring it in with you, so that shouldn’t be a concern at all. You can use your backpack to carry around a lot of essentials as you are going to be gone from your hotel room literally all day. Pack your extra charger, deodorant, map, etc – anything you can think you may need during the day.
There is no telling where the day is going to take you at SXSW. I highly suggest just RSVPing to anything you think you even have a chance of attending. It’s really not a huge deal if you RSVP and can’t make it, but if you want to go and aren’t on the list it makes it pretty difficult to get in. Be very liberal with what you RSVP for at SXSW.
Got tips that I haven’t included here? I’d love for you to let me know and I will add them here. I want this list to be all-inclusive to give South by Southwest rookies the best possible list of survival tips. If you have stuff to add let me know at Shawn@EventTrk.com.