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The First Timer’s Guide to SXSW
March 31, 2021

The First Timer’s Guide to SXSW 

“South By Southwest”, “South by”, “SXSW”, you’ve heard them all a thousand times, but still may not fully understand what it is. The best answer: a lot of things. South by Southwest has grown from a small, 700-person music festival into a massive, interactive film, music, tech, & arts festival that attracts millions. Attendees are from all over the U.S. and the world, but skew heavily towards influencers from film, music, technology, and business. There are also plenty of “regular” people, too. While certain passes can be hard to come by, attending the festival is still fairly easy. Here’s what you need to prioritize your first time at SXSW.

Plan, Plan, Plan

SXSW is so massive, you’ll never be able to do it all. The best thing you can do is to look at a schedule and figure out what shows, events, and conferences you want to attend. Then, make a game plan to work in as many of them as possible. Are you most interested in film, music, comedy, or technology? Are there any specific acts, speakers, or screenings that made you want to attend? Start with those and work your way out. We recommend choosing at least one even that’s on the fringe of your interests, so you’ll leave with a new experience!

Study the Streets

South By Southwest takes place all over the Austin area, so be prepared to ramble. There are hubs of activity in specific neighborhoods and places like 6th Street, but you should definitely get familiar with Austin’s layout beforehand. Use Google Maps to estimate travel time so you don’t miss your must-see events. Don’t forget to factor in traffic–the city’s population almost doubles in size during the festival, so major streets and freeways can be congested.

sxsw street sign in austin

Get Creative with Lodging

You can’t do this too far in advance. This is literally the biggest event of the year in Austin and many hotels, Airbnbs, & rentals book up to a year in advance. Start asking yourself “Who do I know in Austin” and reconnect with them ASAP. We kid, but seriously – get creative! There are plenty of non-traditional boarding options like hostels and communal housing, too.

Ride, Drive, or Bike?

Transportation can be tricky. Each option has drawbacks. Ridesharing can be more expensive than you think, as surge pricing is usually in effect for the entire festival. Biking and walking are options, but you’ll need a way to get across town if you’re trying to attend different parts of SXSW.

Secure Your Spot with a Badge

Badges are essentially the VIP addition to a SXSW pass. Though badges cost more, they give you exclusive access to tons of panels, events, and screenings that at general admission pass won’t. They can also help you avoid waiting in line to get into events. In the long-run that can save you a lot of valuable time and give you access to unique experiences.

Have Fun!

Yes, it’s a lot of pre-planning. But South By Southwest is about absorbing and experiencing as much as possible. You have the rest of the year to kick back and relax by the pool. Go to panels, meet people, learn as much as possible, and discover your new favorite band. Once you’re there, it’ll all be worth it!