At long last, SXSW season is upon us, and with it comes the inevitable panic of what to do when you have 10,000 things to do within a few miles’ radius in Austin, Texas. We get it: it can be overwhelming. Even for the casual music fan, a trip to Austin for “South By” can be an intense experience. If you’re covering it as a media person or even working on the marketing for a brand at the event, the whole thing is still a giant battle within yourself of achieving everything you’ve ever wanted to do there with about half the time to do it.
So today (March 15th), SXSW kicks off the music portion of its festival. And this isn’t like most festivals. You’re not just there for a day or two in the middle of Mother Nature battling the elements in the name of music (read our Coachella Survival Guide for more info on that). No, this is a far more practical set up with wildly impractical means of enjoying everything about this magnificent city (from the food to the sights) and its music marathon. So instead of a “book a hotel, get a car” type of survival guide, we have mapped out the real deal necessities of navigating through SXSW. Chances are, by now you’ve found a hotel/Air BnB/Friend’s Couch to sleep on, along with necessary flights. The rest is equally important, so jot these notes down.
A SXSW Badge
Hopefully you’ve purchased this by now, because it is a pretty necessary thing to have. Some people enjoy walking around and begging at club doors for access, or demanding your journalist friend hands off her badge for certain events while you pray they don’t ask why a grown man is named “Sarah,” but don’t be that guy. It’s expensive, but necessary. Get the badge. It gives you access.
This is tricky. Your hotel could be so far away, and you may need things within reach immediately. A man-bag is very necessary. Here’s the real pro tip though: make it big enough to hold everything you need, yet small enough to not be a pain during searches at the club doors. There are some basics to carry (and we may reiterate some below), but here’s a simple guide of what to pack.
A Notebook and a Pen
The SXSW welcome booklets have room to write things down, but it’s better to have a notebook handy. You can write down all of the concerts and panels you plan to attend, the names of random food vendors you’d like to explore, your flight info, important phone numbers (like cab companies), and any other information that could easily disappear if your phone battery dies. Another pro tip: tape a map of Austin (and SXSW) into your notebook for fast referencing.
There are charging ports all over the Austin Convention Center as well as plug outlets, but so many of them are occupied all day. Bring your plug and a spare battery pack. It’ll save you the embarrassment of having a dead phone and trying to explain to all your friends what a time you had but have no Instagram photos to prove it.
When you hit the convention center, it feels like this whirlwind of technology. However, all too frequently the credit card machines aren’t working at the kiosks, the vending machines, the shirt stands. Plus, the ATM fees are astronomical, so carry some bucks, because you’ll especially need them at the food trucks.
Food Truck Wish List
You can NOT attend SXSW and not indulge on food truck food. The Southbites Trailer Park is home to the best food trucks SXSW has to offer. Here is the full list of vendors and locations. Write them down in your notebook now, because once you get there, you’ll want to eat everywhere and will end up at In-N-Out instead due to indecisiveness. That’s not the worst thing in the world though.
Throw a travel pack of Tums in your man-bag because food trucks, while delicious, can destroy a stomach easily. You don’t want to spend SXSW in the bathroom do you?
Nothing too extreme, but even if you have a slight dust allergy, it seems like EVERYTHING is magnified in Austin come SXSW. Seriously.
Saline Nasal Spray
Same reason as above. Keep your sinuses clear because if they clog up, your plane ride will be painful to the ear drums.
Intel On the “Secret Shows”
Yes, these are a thing. Ask around, find out, write them down in your notebook, and have cash for cabs to get there.
All Of the Apps
Bulk up on apps. Seriously. Get the SXSW app of course, but also download a car service app like Uber or Lyft, along with a cab locator app, a public restroom locator app (this is key when you leave the convention center), your airline’s app, and a voice recording app for any key info you might want to retain from the panels.
You might as well track your million steps while navigating through Austin along with calories burned, right? The FitBit also has a watch and vibrates when you’re receiving a phone call so you’re not constantly fumbling through your bag to check your phone for no reason. That gets to be annoying in crowds.
Two Photocopies of Your Driver’s License and/or Passport
Keep one copy in your luggage and another on you. You just never know, man.
A Hooded Sweatshirt
This is the best article of clothing to wear when it gets cold or starts to rain and the easiest to tie around your waist or to your bag when you temporarily don’t need it.
Go forth and be great! For more info, visit SXSW.com.