SXSW is hardly a festival. It is a free for all. SXSW is the complete opposite of a relaxing Spring Break. By the end of it, you will feel run down, wrung out, and ready to sleep for 24 straight hours. You have to make the after hours show, cause they're the best ones. You have to stay sharp and figure out creative ways to sneak and scam your way into the shows you know you're not cool enough to get into. You've got to survive on Death Metal Pizza and Best Wurst alone. You've got to survive the hunger games of the Lady Gaga Doritos® #BoldStageBloodBath. You've got to do it all on your feet, all day and night, with no sleep- then you have to be at work Monday morning.
But the upside is that you're going to have a blast, you're going to see amazing music, and with these ten handy pro-tips- you too can escape the Cool Ranch® terror dome relatively unscathed and with minimal headache.
Pace yourself with all of that free booze. The booze situation at SXSW is like a week long open bar. It is free, and it is flowing. The streets are closed off and everything is pretty much concentrated to a very walkable and pedi-cab friendly area, so unless you're staying far from where the action is, you don't really need to drive. Even still, that's no reason to drink like an asshole. The cops are still out and supervising the festivities, and if you catch yourself trying to crawl back to your hotel around the witching hour (around 9-11pm, when all the daytime parties end and the streets are flooded), you still run the risk of catching a public intoxication charge. Plus, you don't want to be the dork who gets so drunk at the corporate day party that you miss the really cool stuff at night.
Be ready to roll with the punches. If you want to make god laugh, make a plan. If you want to make him roll his eyes, make a plan at SXSW. This thing is really about being in the right place at the right time, so if an window of opportunity pops up, you might not have time to consult the five friends you're rolling with before it closes. Taking too long to get ready and out of the hotel after you get up, trying to round people up for a location change, or waiting for someone could be the difference in you getting into the show that would make your festival season, or ending up stuck somewhere you don't want to be. Make decisions quickly.
Pack a bag with the essentials. Backpacks are really the most practical choice her. SXSW is about comfort. If you keep a few crucial items with you at all times, you shouldn't run into too much trouble. Electronics are important. Phone chargers, spare phone batteries, a power strip (you never know how accessible an outlet will be) will all keep you going. Hygiene is also important to most people, hopefully. Baby wipes and deodorant will keep you from being the smelly one in the crowd. If you're not used to the streets of Austin, a good old fashioned paper map will prove useful when the cell phone towers get overloaded and everyone loses their data signal during peak hours. Some light reading will get you through any long line situations.
Prepare for way-home traffic. SXSW rookies love to say "I'm going to leave so early on Sunday morning! I'm going to totally beat the traffic back to Dallas!". No you're not. Everybody has that bright idea, brainiac. You'll probably still be drunk at 4am, and with any luck will make it onto an already gridlocked 35 North by 8am at the earliest. If you have to work on Monday, are willing to spend an extra two hours on the road: do yourself a favor and make absolutely sure you're not going to run out of weed on that drive home. I promise you that's when you will need it most, through your whole SXSW experience.
RSVP to everything you can. This goes back to the point of rolling with the punches. You never really know where you're going to end up, so your best bet is just to make sure you're on as many possible guest lists as you can be. Organizing these things can be tough, and not every party is going to be locked down like Fort Knox, but things will run a lot smoother if you don't have to worry about getting in.
Eat when you can, if you're drinking-- eat carefully. There's plenty of free food at SXSW to be taken advantage as well. So, take advantage of it. You never know when your stomach's going to start growling at a show with no food and no re-entry, that you're not ready to leave yet. Plus, being on your feet all day long in the temperamental Texas weather will wear on your nerves as it is, add hunger to that equation, and you're just going to get grouchy. If you're drinking, proceed with caution. Yeah, Best Wurst is delicious and hard to pass up when you're in Austin. But is a six inch brat with spicy mustard going to sit well with the 4 vodka and Red Bulls in your tummy? Nobody wants to puke in a port-a-potty.
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Prepare for the nightly cell reception blackout. The witching hour is very real. Around 8-10pm, all the daytime parties end, and there is a small window where everyone hits the streets getting back to their respective hotels and dinner plans. Towards the end of the weekend, it'll get so packed, you'll find yourself in being herded by police horses in a huge mob walking down 6th Street. Around this time, cell phone towers become so overloaded with users, that everyone's cell phone will lose signal all together. Just plan to meet your friends back at the hotel, because even if you do snag a couple of signal bars, you're not going to be able to hear a word they're saying, let alone find out where they're at.
Prepare to dress for every kind of weather. Springtime in Texas is no joke. You are likely to experience all four seasons of weather by the time that the week is over. You're going to need everything from your tiniest short jorts, to your thickest crew neck sweater at some point in the trip. Don't forget a rain slicker, either. SXSW shows rarely cancel due to inclement weather, and it's largely an outdoor festival.
Don't even bother if you're under 21. When the booze is as free flowing and the scene is as overwhelming as SXSW, party planners don't want to bother worrying about underage drinking. Everything is going to be 21 and up. Fret not, collegiate music fan and/or party animal, your day will come. You too will puke up Best Wurst in a port-a-potty one day, only to immediately jump back into the drink line. There are plenty of bad decisions to be made when you're fully legal. Wait for your time to come, unless you want to spend all week watching HBO in the hotel room. It's a lot cheaper to just binge watch True Detective in the comfort of your own home.
Stay hydrated. When it's not freezing or raining, it will be hot outside. Oh, will it be hot outside. You will get sweaty and gross. Your energy level, already depleted by constantly being on your feet, will drain even further if you're not hydrating. The booze isn't going anywhere, so know when you just need to get a water and sit down for a minute. That handy dandy backpack of essentials we told you to pack? Strategically cut a hole in the lining to hide a bottle of water. Bag checking bouncers won't find it and make you throw it out before you walk into a show, and you probably won't get heat stroke.