Ah, SXSW. It’s officially that time of year when Austin floods with techies, musicians, film fanatics, and people looking to eat a ton of barbecue. Between the legendary parties, networking events, live music, and the sessions, panels, and keynotes, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
SXSW Interactive 2015 is on the horizon, and as a veteran of this playground of merriment, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve for all of the newbies. Here are some insider SXSW tips to help you thrive:
Get to sessions early & have a backup
This goes without saying for keynotes, but give yourself at least an hour to an hour and half to arrive at your session, depending on where it’s located and how popular you anticipate the session to be. Last year, I was shocked to arrive 45 minutes early sessions that I thought would never fill up, only to be turned away because they were at capacity. I also recommend finding a backup session that’s nearby your first choice just in case.
Don’t underestimate the time it takes to get somewhere
Every year, SXSW gets more popular and even more people attend, which means the transportation situation can be tricky. I’ve waited in cabs lines for more than an hour, taken $100 pedicab rides back to my hotel at 1 am, and have been confronted with $96 dollar minimum Uber fares. Depending on where you’re going, sometimes a 45-minute walk to your next location isn’t such a bad deal. Bonus: you’ll burn off all of those tasty breakfast tacos.
Lend a helping hand
The savvy SXSW attendee always finds unexpected ways to network, and from experience, I can say helping others is a great way to accomplish this. A few years ago, after waiting for more than an hour, I was finally able to get a cab, and my driver noticed a group of people on the sidewalk desperately trying to wave down a ride. He asked if I wanted to pick them up, and I thought, “why not ,” because everyone can benefit from a little SXSW karma. They were so thankful, they offered to pay for the entire cab ride, and they even got me into some exclusive SXSW parties. The moral of the story? SXSW can be a little chaotic at times, so let’s do our best to help each other out and make it an enjoyable experience for all. Plus, you never know whom you might meet.
* Do use your best judgment when lending a hand. Don’t pick up strangers in sketchy areas or late at night, and never do something you’re uncomfortable with just for the sake of networking.
Pack a go bag
You might think you have your SXSW schedule planned out perfectly, but once you’re sucked into the whirlwind, you never know where you might end up. My advice to you: pack a go bag that can get you through any type of event, as well as last you from the moment you leave your room until you’re ready to call it a night. I start my morning off by planning my outfit strategically to transition from sessions and meetings, to happy hours and parties, and then I pack my go bag. A few essentials I pack include:
- A change of socks
- A water bottle
- Ibuprofen and Tums
- A Mophie
- Wet wipes
- Breath mints
- Travel-sized deodorant
- Hand sanitizer
- A brush
- An umbrella
- Plenty of business cards
- A pen and notebook
- Your SXSW badge to get into all of the best events
Bring gel inserts for your shoes
Don’t let your feet fail you at SXSW. Even your most comfortable shoes can become your worst enemy after 15 hours on your feet. You might not think you’ll be on your feet that long, but boy does it sneak up on you. I was out of my hotel every day at 8 am and lucky if I was able to make it home by 1 am. There’s an infinite amount of activities to partake in, and you don’t want your tootsies being the reason you didn’t make the most of it. Pack a pair of comfortable gel inserts. I promise, you’ll thank me later.
Use Instagram and Twitter to find the hot spots
The SXSW official agenda and Eventbrite are the two best ways to get clued into the must-see events at SXSW; especially, when you’re in planning mode. However, once you’re on the ground in Austin, you’ll definitely want to keep your finger on the pulse of SXSW by checking out the SXSW hashtags on Instagram and Twitter. This way you’ll be able to find out about events that might not have been on your radar, and even see what looks interesting to you.
Be sure to check out the TripIt Travel Lounge on Eventbrite to refuel on Austin-inspired bites and spirits, and talk all things travel.
Keep all your SXSW plans organized in TripIt
Flights, hotel reservations, rental cars, dinner reservations, Eventbrite invitations, your SXSW confirmation … phew, just thinking about organizing all of that information has me exhausted and I’m not even in Austin yet. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be stressful. TripIt is a free mobile app for organizing your travel plans. All you need to do is forward your conformation emails to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll create you an account and a master itinerary for all your SXSW travel details.
So here’s to having a productive and fun SXSW, everyone! Hope to see you at the TripIt Travel Lounge.