Tips and Hacks for Having the Best SXSW Ever!
by Traci Mondragon
One of the greatest things about living in Austin is SXSW: that magical week in March when technology, film, and music combine to create a tangible energy in our beloved city. If you’re reading this post, then you definitely know what SXSW is, and you’ve probably experienced it. So welcome, settle in for a long, but informative, read.
First things first… remember that SXSW is a marathon, not a sprint. Your body, your friends, and your spirit will thank you if you live by that motto all week. If you take nothing else away from this post, let it be that. Slow your roll. Stop and enjoy the week. Pace yourself!
SXSurvival Hacks for ALL!
Tricks for just getting through the week unscathed… or relatively alive anyway.
- Load up on Emergen-C and/or Pedialyte (these powder packs are easy to take with you!)
- Wear sunscreen
- Dress in layers. Texas weather is unpredictable, and you’ll likely be moving in and out of venues with varying temps.
- DRINK WATER (one after every 1-2 boozey beverages)
- If a party has fruits/veggies available as part of their free snacks, eat them!
- Take sit-down breaks when seats are available
- A break could be as simple as sitting under a tree at one of those free parties, or going inside the convention center to cool off in the A/C (if it’s hot).
Speaking of the Convention Center… there are a TON of free, clean bathrooms inside! Most hotel lobbies also have lovely bathrooms, and because so many people are going in and out of all these downtown hotels, no one will stop you from using their facilities if you’re not staying there.
Pack the essentials.
- Photo ID (everyone ID’s during SX)
- Cell phone
- Phone charger, extra battery, and/or wireless/battery-powered charger
- Cash (preferably $1’s for tipping, and some food trucks are cash-only)
- Credit/Debit card
- Refillable water bottle (there are water coolers all throughout the convention center)
- Maps, schedules
- Light snacks
- Emergen-C/Pedialyte powder packs
A cross-body bag or backpack can store all these items, as well as any swag you might collect throughout the day.
Getting downtown, parking, getting home safe
If you’re driving yourself…
- Give yourself about 2 hours to drive downtown, find parking, and get to where you’re going on time. No, this isn’t an exaggeration. Parking will be a nightmare, as will traffic in and around downtown.
- A good tip for where to park, in regards to your plans for the day… park near where you plan to end your night. You’ll be so incredibly tired by 2am, especially if you’ve been out since before noon. It’s better to have a long trek at the start of your day, than at the end.
- Many of the street meters will be wrapped up and only allow special permits to park by them, so don’t rely on where you “know” there is street parking. Garages may cost up to 5x as much as usual. So budget for parking, or be prepared to park much farther from downtown than expected.
Take Public Transpo or Use Ride Sharing Apps
- Capital Metro runs later than usual during SXSW, and this site will help guide you to your destination with ease! Key tip if you live central/west: Highland Mall is pretty much shut down, and has a huge parking lot right across the street from a Metro Rail stop! The Metro Rail that also stops RIGHT in front of the Convention Center!
- Austin has Uber and Lyft back (they were gone last year) so your options are plentiful.
I Have a Badge… So Now What?!
First off, DON’T be an idiot and keep your credit cards/photo ID inside the plastic badge sleeve. Taking that thing in and out of that is a great way to lose your badge, lose your ID/cards, or make it more difficult to scan your badge at official venues.
Your admittance priority into events is dependent on what type of badge you will have. Most venues will have two lines: one for Priority Access and one for Secondary Access.
- Interactive = Priority admittance to Interactive panels/sessions/workshops and events (Secondary access to Film and Music events)
- Film = Priority admittance to Film screenings, panels/sessions/workshops, and events (Secondary access to Interactive and Music events)
- Music = Priority admittance to Music showcases, panels/sessions/workshops, and events (Secondary access to Interactive and Film events)
- Platinum = Priority admittance into Interactive, Film, AND Music events!
All official events will have capacity limits of course, so your badge will not get you into events that are at capacity, and there are a few, rare private or ticketed events that even your badge alone is not enough to get you into.
Create a Schedule with a Plan A, B, C, and D.
- SXSW has SO much to offer, and it can definitely be overwhelming. There are several different types of events, from morning till the wee hours of the night! But planning is key. And backup planning is crucial.
- If you haven’t already, create an account at schedule.sxsw.com. There, you can search events you’re interested in, and add events to your custom schedule. There’s also an app!
Best Kept Secrets for Badgeholders
There are a few insider tricks I’ve learned over many years of SXSW’ing, through trial and error, and some by pure happy accident!
- Some day parties and events offer priority entrance to badgeholders, over non-badgeholders who have just RSVP’d, so always go up and ask at the door if you see a HUGE line. It might be worth asking! The worst they can do is send you to the back of the line.
- The Registrant’s Lounge is open all week, and is a chill place to get a free drink, mingle, and get ready for all those evening parties, films, and showcases! Note: Volunteers are NOT allowed into the Registrant’s Lounge. Sorry, guys. We can’t get ALL the perks. The Registrant’s Lounge is located in Brush Square Park, just across 4th street from the Convention Center.
- In the past few years, SXSW has introduced new concepts to compliment the big three conference areas. These include Gaming, Sports, Style, and Comedy. Many of these “Convergence” events are open to all Registrants, no matter your type of badge.
- Take the Festival Shuttle! It runs between most film venues, and there’s also a loop from Palmer Events Center to the Convention Center.
Interactive parties tend to be overlooked by those who still think SXSW is just all about music. Often, these are great networking events with loads of free booze and food. Some of the best parties I’ve been to are Interactive parties. Those tech people know how to go hard! The Interactive closing party is at Stubb’s, and has always featured some HUGE acts (Ludacris, Deadmau5, Jimmy Eat World), not to mention an open bar. At Stubb’s! Those drinks are usually like $7 or more a pop! There are SO many day and night parties during Interactive. So take advantage of this!
Film panels often highlight specific films, and will feature the filmmakers and entire casts. These are often intimate settings with Q&A portions, so you can get up close to pick the brains of your favorite filmmakers or TV stars.
Inside the Austin Convention Center, in the 4th Floor ballrooms, are the music day stages. Super intimate settings feature artists both well-known and up-and-coming. These shows are a great way to see that band you love, but maybe conflicts with another band you love later in the week! The shows are never full, and you can always get a great spot up front, out of the elements, and the sound is always fantastic.
What if I Just Want to do All the FREE Stuff?!
If you’re a Baller ATX friend and follower… you probably can’t afford a badge (although you should have taken our advice back in January when we posted about volunteering!) But don’t fret… there are ways to do SXSW right…even if you’re broke!
RSVP till your fingers hurt.
There are so many sites, Facebook groups, etc. that list free parties if you DON’T have a badge. So if you don’t take my first piece of advice, then do this. In fact, Baller ATX has a handy list to aid in your RSVPing.
Register for a SXSW Guestpass.
This free wristband will allow you to experience a lot of SXSW, and the free “official” events have expanded over the years! New this year, the Guestpass allows you entry into the 2-day Wellness Expo at the Palmer Events Center. The most popular event you can attend with the Guestpass are the free outdoor shows at Lady Bird Lake. SXSW brings amazing bands to this stage each year.
Pace yourself, be SAFE, and have FUN. If you’re anything like me, SXSW is your Christmas, birthday, and Mardi Gras all rolled into one amazing week. Make it count, make it last, and make it memorable. But most importantly make it safe so you can make it out again next year! And the year after that and the year after that…