How to Survive SXSW: Before You Go

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Attending the South By Southwest (SXSW) Festival teaches you a thing or two about how to survive in the downtown Austin wilderness. For some, it can be a daunting event to navigate—especially if new to the SXSW shuffle. But it’s actually one of those experiences that require a full jump into the deep end. Just go for it.

Before making the Austin leap, keep a few provisions on-hand and your collective wits about you. Nothing is more defeating to your SXSW encounter than a “whoops” or “I should have remembered….”

Nonetheless, it’s time to prepare for SXSW 2014. Here are a few points on how to plan and what to pack:

Before you go:

–Try  to reserve a hotel in the downtown Austin area. Get as close to ground zero as possible! Everything is pretty much within walking distance.

–If you can’t book a room in the downtown area and instead find one in the outskirts, keep the following points in mind:

      • Don’t rent a car, unless you have a large carpool and/or you are transporting gear, baggage, and such. Traffic and lack of parking will slow you down and increase your blood pressure. It’s better to concentrate your brainpower on SXSW, not Austin driving logistics.
      • Austin’s public transportation system, Capital Metro, is certainly top-notch, but it can be overwhelmed during SXSW festivities. If using the rail and/or bus systems, plan your trip and leave plenty of time for traffic and crowds. Go to www.capmetro.org for more information.
      • SXSW has its own shuttle service that hits several of the outskirt hotels and runs steadily throughout each day. As SXSW draws near, visit www.sxsw.com for more information on shuttle routes and times. And keep in mind that you can purchase a shuttle pass in advance.
      • If you’re forced to hire cabs to get to and from downtown, it would be wise to bring enough cash to pay (and tip!) your friendly driver. However, don’t just dial 333-3333 and hope it all works out on its own; use independent taxi drivers for scheduled commutes. I worked with Beardo’s Taxi in Austin: 512-964-9114. Beardo can provide you with transportation services or he can recommend several independent cab drivers that are just as reputable and reliable.
      • Rent a bike (and a lock). Get some exercise. Austin is very bike-friendly, so you’ll have several areas to park and lock up your rental. Here’s everything you’ll need to know about biking in Austin: http://www.downtownaustin.com/experience/bike-downtown.
      • When downtown and you need to get around quickly, hire a friendly pedicab. You can’t miss them!

–If all else fails for your housing plans, go to VRBO.com or Craigslist.org and rent something spectacular. SXSW house party!

–Got an old friend or family member you want to visit? SXSW is always a great time to reserve their guest bedroom or living room sofa. Nothing says “I care!” more than a desperate call for a place to stay.

–Arrive a day early. When you arrive, it’s imperative that you first get your name badge. And then go get a beer.

Ryan Alford sitting on the "Throne of Swords" at the 2013 SXSWi.

Ryan Alford sitting on the “Throne of Swords” at the 2013 SXSWi.

–Spend your extra day strategizing and visiting important meeting places. Study your downtown Austin geography and get to know all the SXSW venues. Map it out!

–Bring some antacids. The Texas BBQ and food trucks are hard to resist!

–WiFi is sometimes challenging to find and is often overwhelmed, so be sure to have a reliable cell phone plan that includes data.

–Get out of your shell and be outgoing. Talk to people. Share. That’s what SXSW is all about. Make some new friends.

Stay tuned for part two of my “How to Survive SXSW” blog: What to bring and how to party. This is essential to your Austin plans!

Have I missed anything? If so, share your own suggestions on how to survive SXSW in our comment section. See you in Austin!