Every year around early March, Austin, Texas transforms into a hub for techies, music-lovers, inspirational speakers, and everyone in between. The annual 10-day South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference and Festival connects people from across the globe with events led by keynote speakers, authors, filmmakers, innovators, and musicians, making it one of the most unique festivals to attend. Here are a few helpful things to know before you embark on your SXSW adventure.
Be Prepared For SXSW With These 10 Useful Tips
Image credit: Paul Hudson/Flickr CC-BY 2.0
1. Book A Hotel Room Early
A common mistake people make when they decide they’re going to SXSW is not booking their hotel room soon enough. The festival doesn’t take place until March, but hotels in the area usually get booked by late December. Plan ahead, and if you know for sure that you’re attending, reserve a room well in advance! Here is our list of favorite Austin neighborhoods to stay in during SXSW.
2. Don’t Call Uber or Lyft
If you’re looking to catch a ride through either of these two ride service companies, you won’t find the app working in Austin. That’s because in May of 2016, both Uber and Lyft left Austin due to a law passed that would require every ridesharing company to conduct fingerprint-based background checks, something neither company does nor wants to do in the future. Instead, try Fasten, a Boston-based company that is the official rideshare provider of SXSW. You can also try Fare, Get Me, RideAustin, or Wingz. A helpful tip: If you’re really eager for that ride, use the “boost” feature on Fasten which incentivizes drivers by letting them know you’re willing to pay more.
3. Rent a Car
If you aren’t staying in walking distance of the Convention Center or other Downtown Austin festival hot spots, you may want to consider renting a car. Enterprise is the Preferred Car Rental Company of this year’s festival, so you’ll likely get the best rates from them. Car2Go is a carsharing company that offers drivers access to cars virtually everywhere in the city. Just set up an account and you’ll be able to drive one of the company’s conveniently located cars for $0.41/minute without any fuel or parking charges.
4. Try Biking
If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of renting a car or grabbing a ride from a ride service, consider biking where you want to go. SXSW has a bike sharing program called SXcycles which is open throughout the entire festival. You can rent a bike at a rate of $12 for a full day of 1-hour long rides; just bring your credit card with you and grab one on your way into or out of the festival.
5. Download the SXSW App
If you’re trying to experience the most keynote speakers, artists, and performers as possible, you’ll want to download SXSW GO. This is the official mobile app of the festival, and it will help you organize, manage, and discover all that SXSW has to offer. You can browse the lineups, check out recommendations for new music, films, and sessions, and sync your online schedule with your mobile device. Personalize your experience by creating a schedule of the events you want to attend and never miss one with the app’s features.
6. Drink Like a Local
Bars at SXSW can really be a crapshoot. With tens of thousands of people flocking to Austin for the festival, you might encounter some seriously packed watering holes. If all you want to do is grab a cheap drink, then you’ll definitely want to head to some of the bars off the beaten path of SXSW. Try Barfly’s, a true dive bar featuring pool tables, an outdoor patio with picnic tables and board games, and some of the cheapest drinks around. If you’re a whiskey-lover, check out The Cloak Room. It’s located underground, giving it that speakeasy feel, and a offers long happy hour that’ll get you $1 off drinks. Avoid the crowds and head out of the SXSW designated area to drink like a local.
7. Arrive Early…and Have a Backup Plan
If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed at SXSW, it’s that things fill up quickly. Whether it’s a talk about the latest in technology, a keynote speaker, or a concert, space will be limited. Plan ahead and arrive at least 30 minutes before the scheduled start time to avoid being turned away. Even showing up early doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get in to the event, so come prepared with a backup plan of what you’ll do in case you don’t get your first choice.
8. Sign Up for Workshops in Advance
Instructional workshops are one unique feature of SXSW. Industry leaders and innovative professionals teach one to three hour workshops, depending on the topic, and attendees take away more than just knowledge, but application of the knowledge. This year’s conference boasts workshops on 3D printing, artificial intelligence bots, and interactive hip hop. Being so unique, these workshops fill up fast, really fast. So check out which ones you want to attend and sign up at least a few weeks before the actual conference begins.
9. Show Up Hungry
Whatever you do, don’t miss the incredible food at SXSW. Rooted in Austin’s food truck culture, the SXSW SouthBites Trailer Park brings in some of the best food from across the country. You’ll get your share of tacos, poké bowls, Korean BBQ, and much more. You’ll also have the choice of many bars and restaurants serving up even more options, including ramen burgers, barbecue, and Muffalettas. Expand your culinary taste by trying a little of everything! To help you out, here's our list of favorite barbecue places and coffee shops.
10. Get Ready to Explore
As much as SXSW is a conference, it is also a place where people from across the world come together to experience the innovation taking place in technology, movies, music, ideas, and more. Be open to going to an event that may be outside of your comfort zone, or one that may not seem like something you’d normally enjoy. Get ready to mingle with strangers, listen to an up and coming band, try a new food, or head to a dive bar you’ve never heard of before.
This article was written by Julianne Aiello.