7 SXSW Pro Tips for Newbies

Article by: Lynne Margolis|@popscribe

Tue March 06, 2018 | 10:00 AM

Despite countless guides, tipsheets, party RSVP engines and other tools meant to aid those attending SXSW, the 10-day bacchanalia taking place March 9-18, 2018, in Austin, Texas, one still encounters the occasional first-timer wearing a look of wide-eyed confusion. Heck, the vagaries of Texas weather alone (prepare for temps from 30s to 80s) — not to mention the sensory overload this multi-tentacled interactive, film and music conference and festival induces — sometimes leaves even veterans wondering how to cope with Austin’s very own form of March madness. To help you handle it, we’ve assembled a few pro tips. 

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Photo by Art Gimbel

Pick Up Your Festival Badge or Wristband ASAP

You can upload a photo in advance to make it even faster. Do not forget your photo ID. And do not lose either while you’re here. Attach a container of earplugs — including spares — to your lammie holder or wallet to keep them with you at all times. You’ll need them. 

If You Must Drive...

...Park once in a long-term spot. Prices escalate like crazy during SXSW and spaces become hard to find anyway because almost every parking lot gets turned into a performance or party venue. You’re better off bicycling (try Spinlister) or using public transport. Don’t even think of going rogue for parking; SXSW is like Christmas for tow-truck operators.

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Photo by Art Gimbel

Travel Light

But dress in layers you can add or subtract as needed. Carry a messenger bag or other over-the-shoulder device to hold the cast-offs (along with any swag you acquire); a stuffed backpack is not only a drag for you, but for all those you’ll bump into with it (or be battered by as they trip into you).

Stay Open-Minded

Don’t waste too much time standing in line for anything. If it looks like you might not access the film or band or panel you want to catch, head somewhere else. Random discoveries are usually the best part of SXSW, and that’s how they happen. SXSW General Manager James Minor says, “I’ve had some of my best SXSW experiences breaking away from my original plan and seeing where the night takes me.”

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Photo by Art Gimbel

Bring Cash

Especially $1 bills. Even if you don’t pay for a drink all week, tipping is not only appropriate, it’ll win you huge points — and maybe faster service on your refill. Especially if you do it with a smile. And remember, Texans are friendly, talkative types. It’s more fun to participate than turn away — and you might make a new BFF.

Use the App

Minor says, “There’s no reason for you to be walking around Austin with a folded up schedule in your pocket anymore. The SXSW Go app is imperative to keeping your schedule straight, and even sends you reminders.” Download the free app from iTunes or Google Play. And don’t forget your charger.

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Photo by Art Gimbel

Wear Comfortable Shoes

Not new shoes. Not spike heels. Not flimsy flip-flops. (Just think how badly a sprained ankle or broken toe would bum you out.) You can look cool at home. You wanna be comfortable here, because you WILL do A LOT of walking. Texans wear boots because they’re cool-looking and comfortable. Publicist JoRae DiMenno, who ferried Johnny Cash around during his SXSW visit, also recommends carrying Band-Aids for blisters, along with sunscreen, a portable umbrella, a travel toothbrush and toothpaste. And a good attitude.