South By SouthWest (or SXSW) is known as the largest music festival of its kind. It first happened in 1987, and has continued to grow every year. This year I has the pleasure of attending SXSW Interactive as Press. Interactive is the technical part. I asked quite a few people I know about SXSW, and the majority only know about the musical experience. Interactive has been around since 1995. It was originally called Multimedia. There a tons of brands and companies who launch their products at SXSW and every year a product or two trends because of all the social media influencer that are in attendance.
Lets get on to the experience.
What To Expect The First Time At SXSW
1. You will Stuff Yourself.
As a benefit( or disadvantage) the majority of the events you will attend will have an open bar and free food. You will eat tacos. Many, many Tacos. Pace yourself. Remember you are likely here for work in some way and maintaining a clear head and getting the occasional vegetable salad will go a long way during your week of boozey tacos.
2. Go with a Plan, but don’t expect to Follow it.
There will be just too much. Way too much for you to do and see. You will attempt to plan. You will RSVP to countless parties and you will do your very best to go through the SXSW schedule. Unfortunately you will miss most of them. You need to pick your absolute MUST SEE, for every day and do what you can to make the rest of it work. Part of the reason for this is that Austin is quite spaced out. Events are rarely located all together. One event will be at the convention center and then the next will be the opposite end of 6th street. Transportation options can be spotty and sometimes can take longer than just walking. Plan way more time than you think you will need.
3.There will be an Insane amount of People
SXSW is full of a crazy amount of people. People come from all over the world to listen to the great minds speak, sing and share advice. The streets will be packed. You can’t get into any venues without lines and cabs don’t exist at 2am. I find part of the magic of SXSW is the networking. The people you will meet at these events could change the entire outcome of your well planned and thought out day.
4. Wear your Walking Shoes
Depending on the time of day, you can walk, take a cab or hope for the best with peddi cabs(rikshaws). There are pedicabs everywhere and making a deal with the driver in advance about how much it will cost is your best bet for getting from point a to b. I generally walk a fair amount each year because I like seeing the city of Austin. The city is unique and there are tons of people, events, and buildings to look at and enjoy as you stroll from taco stand to lecture. Just remember to wear some comfortable walking shoes. Don’t be that lady or gent limping along because of too high heels or too new of shoes.
5. Tickets are Easy. Hotels are Brutal.
Tickets for SXSW are expensive if you don’t buy early, but there are lots available. That price jumps up quickly so don’t wait, you will regret it if you wait. Hotels are a different story. If you wanted to attend SXSW without a badge it is possible, but many events and official events will not let you in without a badge. You also wont get a hotel anywhere near the downtown core without one. You are required to have a badge to get a hotel room, and you need to get on that list early because those rooms will go fast. Many people stay with local friends or family, rent a car and get a hotel outside the core or go with an Airbnb option. You will be walking all day as mentioned in 4, so don’t expect to want to walk an extra hour at the end of the night back to your room. Get a location as close as possible and use it.
6. Pack Light.
A general travel tip is to pack what you think you need for the trip and then take away a 1/3 of the items. You won’t need them and that extra suitcase room can be used for the mountain of swag you are sure to get. T-shirts, beer coozie, squish stress balls, but also many companys do launches and promotions. I’ve recieved tablets, misfit fitness bands, carbon monoxide monitors and pocket drones and some seriously awesome swag.
7. Speakers fill up fast
The lecture rooms can really fill up and they really wont let you in. If you want to see a speaker, make sure you arrive well before the scheduled start time. Some of the more popular ones are in the larger ballrooms and they are much more flexible with that option.
8. Parties Usually Require RSVP
Before you head off to sunny Austin, make sure you take a moment to check out event brite or the various free sources for parties and events that will be happening. Pretty much all of them will be free or included in your SXSW badge experience, but many will require that you RSVP first and are on the right list. To be on that right list only requires that you have done some searching in advance and RSVPed online in most cases. Don’t be waiting in pointless long lines to find out you are not getting in somewhere.
I hope this guide helps you prepare for the awesome expereince that is SXSW and What To Expect The First TIme you are there. Please feel free to leave comments and tips below.