When you're traveling to Austin in March, expect large crowds walking around downtown with music blazing in the streets. The crowded vibe of the city is welcoming as many people from around the world visit Austin to experience it. You can't help but join in on the fun as pop-up events are set up in every block with people anxiously waiting to attend inside. The hustle and bustle during this time of year is the everyday routine during South by Southwest season, and it's my second year attending this conference-festival extravaganza.
When attending SXSW, I've learned so much from my previous year (check out my first SXSW post). I remembered the daunting feeling of attending the festival for the first time with my friends. When I went to SXSW early this month, I noticed people going through the same uncertainty about what to do when they attend. With the festival growing every year, I wanted to share my personal experience about what to expect. With my tips, you'll be able to rock the festival like a pro.
1. Decide on which weekend to attend.
SXSW consists of two weekends. When you're planning, you should consider which weekend is worth attending (unless you're in Austin during the entire festival). The first weekend is technology themed, which will consist of companies like Google, New York Times, Bumble, Facebook, etc. setting up booths for social media professionals to network and socialize one-on-one with their favorite brands and products. If you're a content creator, blogger, or work in the technology industry, this weekend will most likely benefit you.
The second weekend of SXSW is the music portion of the festival where an abundance of music bands, groups, and artists come together to perform around the city. So many bars, venues, and parks will be open for attendees to sit and enjoy the concerts, which makes this weekend catered to anybody. You may spot celebrities attending the festival (similar to Coachella) since it's world renowned. SXSW's music festival popularly distinguishes themselves for showcasing local, global, and mainstream artists in their main venues. You'll be able to attend your favorite musicians' concerts and also check out new music as well.
2. To Pay or Not to Pay?
Although SXSW is essentially a free public event, not everything is available for the public. When it comes to the weekend pop-up booths, many are free for the public to come inside and attend during the day. However, when it comes to the evening (after 6pm) events, many of the booths become "Badge Only." During the evening hours, many booths host special guests, bands performances, swag bags, and free food. Depending on the time you arrive would determine the amount of events you would be able to attend. If you're planning to spend the weekend and want to attend SXSW all day, I would suggest purchasing a one-day SXSW badge which can be purchased at the Austin Convention Center or site.
3. You'll make a new friend.
Although I attended SXSW with a friend during the weekend, she left early during the day and I decided to explore some events on my own. When I attended my first event solo, I immediately became friends with another girl who was also attending SXSW alone as well. Long story short, we ended up attending the rest of the events together and became good friends at the end of the day. Although our friendship was a rare occurrence, I doubt my circumstance was ordinary.
Austin is such a friendly city that I don't think you'll have a problem with meeting new people and befriending them. Always be safe and don't place yourself in a position where you'll feel uncomfortable with socializing (like any other place in the world), but I can truly say that SXSW is one of the few festivals where you can happily attend it solo because of the amount of people you'll meet.
4. Don't plan your day by the hour.
As a person who enjoys planning out everything on all my trip itineraries, I have to consciously remind myself to sit back and relax when attending SXSW. While the festival may create so much hype a month prior to the opening weekend, you'll be so surprised to see how many events you'll end up attending that you haven't known before. Many companies will create last minute events and set up booths that weren't marketed on the SXSW site schedule. So, you won't know what events are happening around the city until you literally walk by it. You'll have more fun in SXSW if you go with the flow of your day and spend more time focusing on enjoying your company.
Have any other questions about SXSW? I'm happy to continue the conversation in the comments below! You can see more of my adventures during Austin on my Instagram here. Until next time- Ressa