If you are going to South By Southwest you should take some time to properly plan what you are going to bring with you. Knowing a few small, key items to bring can make a huge difference in your SXSW trip. This is our definitive guide on everything you need to bring with you to Austin for SXSW to have a blast.
Note: SXSW does offer lockers if you do want to bring a lot of stuff with you and your hotel is far away – it’s a nice option if you want to bring rain gear or other necessities just in case.
Free swag / stuff is synonymous with South by Southwest. Perhaps more than any other event SXSW is known for giving away oodles and oodles of stuff. All this stuff needs to go somewhere, so we strongly recommend you bring a good backpack with you to carry around all your new swag. Yes, you could bring an adorable tote bag, but go with the backpack.
This really cannot be emphasized enough. Whether you are going to the actual convention, or just roaming around Austin for South by Southwest, comfortable shoes are an absolute must. You will be on your feet and walking around a lot – between conventions, from party to party, racing across town to catch that super sweet band that you think only you know about but really 3,000 people are already in line, etc. The point is SXSW is a walkfest so comfort should be your priority over being fashionable. Also keep in mind this is a city invaded by techies and engineers, not fashionable people from Milan, Italy. Everyone else will be dressed for comfort and South by Southwest, and you should be too.
Anytime there are thousands of people congregated in one area you are going to have poor phone service and a quickly dying phone as it struggles for that one precious bar. Make sure you phone makes it the whole night by bringing either a portable charger or a battery case. At the end of the night whether it’s for an Uber or to call your group to meet back up you will be very happy you brought one of these with you to SXSW. I personally go with the battery case as it’s nice to just have it already on your phone and not need a charging cable, but either will get the job done. You will use these all the time, not just at SXSW, so it easily is worth it.
Texas weather is unpredictable to say the least. March certainly isn’t the rainiest month of the year in Austin, but rain is definitely a strong possibility at SXSW. We highly recommend you bring at least some form of rain gear for South by Southwest. There is a lot of waiting in lines, often outside, and your experience will be much better if you have some stuff to keep you dry while you wait. I personally like to bring a poncho as it’s easier to pack than an umbrella or other rain gear. The ones above are fairly cheap, lightweight, you get a bunch of them in case one rips, and they get the job done. I have used these for many events and have always been happy I had it with me. I also recommend extra socks as you could get yours soaked and it’s nice to have backup pairs to swap in and carry with you.
Just like how Texas can be unpredictable and rain, it can also be really sunny and hot. Even in March it’s not uncommon for Austin to get up into the 80s and be quite warm. If you are going to be roasting outside in line you may as well have sunscreen and sunglasses. You will be crunched for time at SXSW so better to bring these things with you than to buy them onsite.
Most places will take card, but it’s always good to have cash with you. Don’t forget to bring some with you, there are local cash only places worth trying or you never know when a vendor will not accept cards. Not a huge issue as there are obviously ATMs on site at SXSW, but avoid the ATM fees by having it with you.
One of the most common tips for South by Southwest is to remain hydrate. It really comes down to the combination of always being on the go, it being hot out, and the robust amount of alcohol available at SXSW. It’s really easy to forget to hydrate while you are in the middle of the action. I really recommend bringing a portable water with you that can be easily refilled. There are often places to refill on your SXSW journeys, but a trip to the store to purchase one could be fairly inconvenient. You won’t have a problem getting a beer at SXSW, but water can be hard to find – bring a water bottle with you and stay hydrated.
You likely won’t want it during the day, but the Austin nights can be surprisingly chilly given how warm it can get when the suns out. During SXSW the sun is still setting fairly early (6ish) so you will be out a long time during the dark when it is cool. You will spend a lot of time outside at SXSW, whether it’s at parties or at outdoor concerts so be sure to have a jacket or some way to stay warm at night.
Yes, I am suggesting you bring a notebook to a convention highly focused on technology and the future. This all revolves around my point early about your phone dying really easily at SXSW. I know everyone likes to take notes on their mobile devices these days, but I really prefer to use a notebook to preserve battery life. Trust me, your phone is your bloodline at SXSW; make sure it’s alive the whole day by bringing a notebook to jot down all those thought provoking points during the day.
SXSW is a great opportunity to network and meet people. Yes, people will obviously swap LinkedIn information, but tons of people still bring business cards. Don’t be the guy who feels awkward when other people are handing out business cards and you don’t have one to exchange.
SXSW is a lot of drinking – there is beer everywhere and many events are open bar. Hello Hangover, my old friend! I am fairly convinced that Pedialyte was brought to us by the Gods above, this stuff is a miracle worker and making sure you feel great when you wake up the next day. I started using this stuff at Coachella and now I bring it with me anytime I am going to be a glutton with alcohol. Many people also claim Emergen-C does similar wizardry for them, so I really suggest stocking up before you go to SXSW.
You don’t need any of these items for South By Southwest, but they will sure as hell make you a happier camper while you are there. You’re already spending a lot of money to go to SXSW, spend just a little more to make sure you are fully prepared to have as good of a time as you can. Have fun at SXSW!