Top tips to do SXSW properly
Everything really is bigger in Texas.
I’m not just talking about the sky, the open spaces and the hair.
I am - of course - talking about the ideas at the immense and awe-inspiring event that is SXSW.
I’ll be going again in March and our newest Huddler Sophie will be there too.
After sharing my pointers for getting the best out of the experience with her, I thought I’d share them with you too.
Not going? Share this article with someone who is, or read on to get practical tips for grabbing everything the convention has to offer (and hopefully avoiding getting arrested or missing your flight home).
Dress for the occasion
Texas weather in spring can be a wild ride, with the possibility of torrential rain, sky-high temperatures and even higher pollen count all in the same day.
The rucksack that was fine at the beginning of the day will be really annoying by the end.
You’re going to be walking around a lot more than you think, and the last thing you want is to arrive at the event you’re most excited about and feel your concentration slipping because you’ve been carrying a ton of unnecessary crap.
And don’t forget sun lotion!
Feed your head
Chances are you’ve spent a lot of money on registration and flights before you’ve even arrived in the US, and you might be having a few budget worries. It’s perfectly possible to eat for free everyday (and, like, decent food you’ll actually enjoy) if you keep your ear to the ground. And you won’t be considered a cheapskate for it.
Check out the hashtag #SXnoms and twitter user @thefreenoms, who’s been scoffing for nothing since 2009.
Beware of getting carried away with any complimentary booze you may be fortunate enough to come across though. Open carry laws are pretty strict in Austin and police are at liberty to fine you if you’re caught with a bev in hand in certain outdoor areas.
However, you can wander around with a handgun on full display if you feel the need. Make of that what you will…
Don’t even think about driving
Even if you’re confident on the wrong side of the road, downtown Austin is a bit of a nightmare to navigate, and the traffic can be horrendous.
So whatever option you choose, be sure to leave an extra half an hour when it comes to getting back to the airport once the fun is over.
After high profile quitting of the city in 2016 when residents of the Texas capital voted for strict regulations which both companies refused to adhere to, both Uber and Lyft have now returned.
Basically, ordering a ride on your usual app is a pretty safe bet.
However, Austin has its own nonprofit ride-sharing scheme too, and although it may sound like a raunchy swingers bar, RideAustin, which uses local engineers, gives back to local charities and is focused on developing a community asset.
Well worth giving your custom to.
Step out of the bubble
Allow yourself a bit of time off to attend ‘unofficial’ events and to take in some music (check out Showlist Austin for a quick ‘whats on’ and RSVPster for ‘just announced’ happenings) - after all, that’s the whole reason the event was born in the first place.
Don’t miss out on pop-ups too - there’s always a ton of street art downtown, and the more random happenings are always pretty joyful.
If it gets too hectic and you feel the urge for some serene nature, the ladybird lake near 6th Street is accessible without a car, or there is the Barton Creek (it has an admission fee) Greenbelt slightly south of the city centre.
Get in line
Queues (or ‘lines’) are a thing you’ll find yourself giving more consideration to than at probably any other point of your life.
The hashtag #SXlines is a pretty good place to find out the latest on where’s looking longest and shortest, but if you’re prepared to go outside your comfort zone and take a chance on a smaller event, you may be pleasantly surprised.
Conversely, an hour or two’s wait just to be disappointed isn’t the best use of anyone’s time.
On the topic of using your time wisely, my best advice on scheduling would be to focus on quality not quantity.
If you’re not careful, you can find yourself failing to absorb a word that’s being said because you’re panicking about getting to the next item on your agenda, and whether the queue will be hopelessly massive.
It’s easy, as Tyler Spahr of Mindstream Interactive puts it, to turn SXSW into “The Hunger Games of interactive learning”, trying to rack up attendance at as many high-profile sessions as possible but taking in little and having to leave to dash to the next as soon as your behind hits the seat.
Chill out. If you don’t take things too seriously, you’ll learn more, and make better connections and come away feeling inspired.
You don’t just have to take my advice - I reached out to some seasoned SXSW-ers on Twitter and Linkedin, and here’s what they had to say.
I’m particularly considering having Matthew’s response made into a t-shirt or poster, it’s so poetic!