Going to SXSW is as exciting as it is nerve-wracking. There is so much to do there from networking, film premieres, exclusive experiences, and of course the after-party. So here is a quick list of what to do to take advantage of your time at SXSW.
- Make a List, Check it Twice
Seriously, I cannot stress this enough. Everyone begins with good intentions when it comes to preparing for a trip, but life happens. Three months turns into one day and if you don’t have a list, you WILL forget something. I’m going to be very meta for a moment and create a packing list within this listicle. Here are the most important items to bring for a successful SXSW festival experience:
- Allergy Meds – And make sure they’re “non-drowsy.” According to locals and festival goers alike, allergies can flare up big time during this season.
- Portable Charger – This saved me so many times. At SXSW it’s go, go, go and finding a power outlet isn’t easy. I purchased one on Amazon with built in cables for compatibility with different types of devices. This also doubles as an easy way to make friends when you have a charger for iPhone or Android. If you’d like to know the exact one I purchased, ask me in the forums and I’ll send you the link.
- Clear Backpack – There are security checkpoints in nearly every line, so having this item makes the process smoother and faster for you and for the volunteers. I found a mini one with built in led lights so I wouldn’t lose my group in the crowd at night. It held everything I needed and was lightweight enough to carry all day.
- Collapsable Water Bottle – This seems like a gimmicky thing, until you actually need it. There were times when I was jumping from seminar to seminar and didn’t have time to find and purchase a water, but water fountains are plentiful in the Austin Convention Center.
- Business Cards – You never know who you’re going to run into and where. Have them on you at all times. I know people might argue that everything is digital now, but I saw firsthand how QR codes wouldn’t scan and devices malfunctioned, wasting time and killing good vibes. Business cards are quick and easy to hand off.
- Layers – Temperatures ranged from high 80’s to low 60’s, so pack layers. I kept a paper-thin rain jacket in my bag for unpredictable weather.
- Arrive a Day Early
Flight and room rates are less expensive the day before the festival begins and it actually cost me less to tack on this extra day. As an added bonus, I got to explore Austin before the craziness began and was able to familiarize myself with the locations of the theaters and other events.
- RSVP ASAP
Some events, such as Mentor Sessions, have limited spots and require that you RSVP ahead of time. Don’t sleep on this! You can begin to RSVP starting late February. Spots fill up fast.
- Download the SXSW GO App
The SXSW GO App has everything you need to plan out your time at SXSW. You can create your schedule, message other SXSW attendees through SXSW Social, use the interactive map, and access many more features.
- Visit The Registrant Lounge
Be sure to visit the registrant lounge as soon as your schedule allows. You’ll receive a drink ticket with your badge to use here, free food samples, meet new friends, and learn about exciting and innovative products.
- Request an SXXpress Pass For Must-See Events
This was something I had to learn the hard way. Don’t be like me. I mistakenly believed this was an add-on cost, reminiscent of theme park fast passes. An SXXpress pass essentially allows you to cut the line and it’s free! If you have one of these passes, you will be escorted into a special line that goes into the event before everyone else. Lines can be 2 hours long or more otherwise.
Depending on your badge level, you’ll receive a limited number of passes per day. At 9:00 a.m. every morning fast passes will be available for most major events for the next day via the SXSW GO App. Big name premieres will go in seconds, so you have to be on it. Choose wisely.
- Wake Up Early
Waking up early is underrated and probably one of the best things I could have done. I stayed at the Fairmont Austin, which is a stone’s throw away from the Austin Convention Center. There’s even a covered walkway on the second floor that connects directly to the convention center.
The crowd is pretty sparse between 10 and 11 a.m., so I was able to walk right into a panel that I was really excited about with a well-known actor. In fact, I would say there were no more than 15 attendees at that panel. By getting up early I got to have a unique and intimate experience that not a lot of SXSW goers get to have.
- Party Hardy
Take one day, I would recommend opening night, and party it out. Stay up late, network, and have a great time. Doing this on your first night will allow you to meet new people straight out the gate and learn about events at the festival you may have missed on your schedule.
- Plan to Uber/Lift
Specifically for the film portion of the festival, there was one theatre that hosted a lot of premieres located just under 2 miles outside of downtown Austin. Do your best to plan several films out that way so you’re not Ubering back and forth.
- Take Advantage of Immersive Experiences
Steaming services like Paramount and Amazon host immersive experiences to showcase their new, upcoming shows on streaming. It’s like visiting a mini town. There are fun photo ops, free drinks, games, and opportunities to make collectable souvenirs. It’s also a great place to hang if you’re going with someone who doesn’t have a badge; they’ll just need to wait in line a little longer.
SXSW can feel overwhelming at first but once you get settled in you will love it!