From March 11 to 20, about 85,000 of the world’s most creative and curious minds will touch down in Austin, Texas to celebrate the 30th edition of South by Southwest (SXSW). With President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama announced as keynote speakers, it’s certainly safe to say that this year is one you won’t want to miss.
If you’re one of the lucky ones, you’re probably at the point in your SXSW journey where you’re frantically trying to pack, figure out your schedule, and plan for the best experience possible. To help you get the most out of your time at SXSW, we’ve put together the following guide to preparing for the most compelling nine days of your year.
What to pack
While this list could be endless, chances are you’re only allowed a suitcase or two—and will want to leave some room for all that swag you’ll be bringing back! You’re not exactly trekking through unbearable wintry conditions (shout-out to a certain Oscar winner, but bigger shout-out to the people who actually have done this), but if you’re an adult who has been outside in the last two weeks, you’re aware that the weather can change in an instant. With the conditions in Austin especially touch-and-go at this time of year, it’s a good idea to pack for a variety of weather.
Besides bringing an arsenal of adaptable outfits, there are a few things you should include in your bags to make sure your SXSW experience is the best it can be.
Unless otherwise stated, you’re permitted to take photographs of events and attractions. If you don’t have room for a full-sized camera, ensure that there is space on your smartphone for photos and video, so that you don’t miss out on moments you’d like to remember because “storage space is full.” Take some great shots for your social media accounts and post them while you’re still at SXSW as a means of connecting with other festival goers, but save some others for solid #tbt content.
Nothing will hurt your flow of creativity and professional growth more than having your phone run out of batteries mid-day. Imagine being in the midst of a conversation during a networking opportunity and on the brink of exchanging contact information, only to have your phone die. Bring a backup battery pack or two (so that you’re not that person standing in the bathroom waiting for your phone to charge), and then a wall charger as a Plan B. You won’t regret it.
While it’s a major habit in 2016 to take notes on our mobile devices, if you want to preserve your phone’s battery life for as long as possible it’s a good idea to bring an actual paper notebook to take down key learnings and inspiration during your time at SXSW.
Another way of saving that all-important phone battery, packing some business cards is probably a good idea. Have these ready to swap with other interesting people and forgo the awkward email, phone number, LinkedIn, Instagram account (and beyond) swap. With so many social networks, it’s quicker and easier to swap business cards with all of your social media handles listed, than try and find each other on each site.
Or your best walking shoes. With all of the musical acts, interactive speaker series’, and films to catch, you’re undoubtedly going to be running from one spot to the next. If you can bring a pair of worn in shoes (now is not the time to break in those new Yeezys) that transition from an interactive speaker set to the dance floor. Blisters are probably the last things you want to worry about while you’re jamming to Crystal Castles.
This one might seem like a random addition, but with all of the films you’ll be seeing, and all of the popcorn you’ll be consuming, it’s a good idea to keep some dental floss handy at all times. Nothing can ruin a good time like a lodged popcorn kernel, especially if you’re running from a film to a networking or interactive event where you’ll be in close contact with others.
Now that you’re all packed, there are a few more things you’re going to want to do to prepare before landing in Austin.
In 2016, the truth of the matter is that you’re going to be using your phone a lot over the course of SXSW. Whether using it to book transportation, find the best taco place nearby, or decide on what speaker to see next, your smartphone will be one of your most valuable tools during the festival. While, of course, it’s possible to equip your phone and online presence while at SXSW, do yourself a favor, save yourself a headache, and take care of this before you touch down in Austin.
Apps to download
While there are countless apps that could help you make the most of your SXSW experience, the following are essentials:
As the official mobile app for SXSW, this app is a must-download prior to your attendance if you want your time to be as enjoyable as possible. As it’s highly recommended to build a general schedule (including room left for impromptu events), you can create this schedule through the app or online, and sync this schedule both ways. With meeting people a high priority at SXSW, SXSW GO also allows you to connect your social networks and with other attendees through this feature.
As the official ride-sharing partner of SXSW 2016, the Lyft app is one you’re going to want to have on your phone, especially if you didn’t pack your most comfortable shoes. If you’re a first time user, use the code SXSW2016 before April 30, 2016 and get a $20 coupon towards your first ride.
Update your social media accounts
After you’ve downloaded the above apps, it’s highly recommended that you update and optimize your social media accounts and profiles prior to your first day at SXSW. You’ll be meeting tons of interesting people, and chances are the first thing you’ll be checking out after meeting an especially fascinating person is their social media presence. Spoiler alert—they’re doing the same for you. You can make the best social media impression possible by doing the following before your trip:
Update your profile photos
Make sure you have a recent and appropriate photograph across your different social media accounts. If you’re one of 10 John Smiths on LinkedIn and your picture doesn’t look like you, the chances of making a valuable connection are immediately diminished. It’s also important to make sure your photo is the same across each network so that it is immediately recognizable as you.
Link your social media handles
If you’re known on Facebook by your real name but on Twitter or Instagram under a different handle, it’s more difficult for people find you. In the scramble of the countless people you and everyone else attending SXSW will be meeting, it’s best to make it as easy as possible for others to find you.
Update your career information
If the last time you updated your Twitter bio was two jobs ago, it’s probably time to bring that up to date. If the job you introduced yourself as having isn’t what your new connections are seeing on your social media profiles, they will either (best case scenario) think it’s not you, or (not as great) think that you lied about your job.
Make a clean sweep
While we’re definitely not suggesting you scrub your accounts clean of your personality, if your estranged uncle posted a politically charged link on your Facebook wall, it might be a good idea to erase this kind of thing if it doesn’t reflect who you are.
Get ready for Austin
Now that you’re prepared from a social media and digital perspective, you might still be looking for some Austin, Texas-style trip inspiration. We’ve rounded up some of the best travel guides to the area available on the web, listed below for your convenience:
- Airbnb’s Austin Guide
- Buzzfeed’s “35 things everyone should do in Austin, Texas, before they die”
- The Huffington Post’s “How to hang like an Austin local outside of SXSW
- Umbel’s “Locals’ guide to the best of Austin”
- The Everygirls weekend city guide to Austin, Texas
- Design Sponge’s “Austin design guide”
- Complex’s “Hidden Austin: How to visit like a local”
- My Domaine’s “The locals-only guide to Austin”