Tips on surviving SXSW

This is one of those posts on tips on how to survive SXSW.

SXSW is something I try to attend every year. It’s one of my favorite tech conferences, but also the *most tiring*. There’s practically no time or energy to go anywhere else.

  • Book early. That is, if you want to stay near the Downtown area. Twice, I booked in January, and twice, I had to rent a car because I couldn’t find a nearby hotel.
  • Prepare for the heat, the cold, and the rain. The temperature will be 10 degrees one day, and 27 degrees the next. And I’m not even kidding.
  • And yes, it rains.
  • Claim your badges a day before the conference starts. It is *really* crowded on the first day.
  • Traffic’s bad. Parking’s bad. It usually takes us 15 to 30 minutes just to find a parking spot. And they’re not cheap: around $15 to $40 for the entire day.
  • Bring a backpack to the conference. I initially had a messenger bag to carry all my gear (laptop, power bank, etc.) and had to switch to a backpack. Just remember that you will be carrying your bag the *entire day*. Please be kind to your back & shoulders.
  • Only bring the necessities. Even the smallest gadget/accessory can put a toll on the weight of your bag. For example, I learned there’s no need to bring a water bottle, since the place is equipped with a lot of water stations. Also, there was no need to bring my high capacity power bank, since there are a lot of power outlets available.
  • You will walk. Really walk. Keep in mind that the sessions are spread out between 7 to 14 venues. And even if you manage to only attend sessions within the Austin Convention Center, that building is still *huge*. Think twice before wearing those high heeled boots or stilettos.
  • Brown bag your lunch if you can. Or eat during off-peak hours. It’s almost impossible to find an empty table in restaurants from 12pm to 2pm. There are food trucks everywhere, but the lines are terrible. Once, I was in line for almost 45 minutes just to get a puny breakfast burrito.
  • Arrive at the talks at least 30 mins early. The sad fact is SXSW books people more than it could accomodate. If you arrive 10 minutes before the session starts, most often than not, you will not be able to get in.
  • Download Google Maps, or your favorite map application. The last SXSW app was a total fail with regards to venue directions.
  • Bring a paper map too, if possible. Because sometimes, traditional maps are a lot easier to use.
  • Download the SXSW app. It has some use. At least when it comes to shortlisting the sessions you want to attend.
  • When choosing sessions, don’t get brainwashed with “Must attend talks in SXSW.” I made this mistake on my first SXSW and I hated all the talks that was recommended in social media. Only you will know what talks you would be interested in.
  • Don’t be fooled by cool titles. SXSW speakers tend to play with titles in order to get more attendees. Not good.
  • This is a matter of personal preference, but avoid panel sessions if possible. Panel sessions are too freeform. The panelists are only as good as the moderator’s questions. And I noticed a lot of the panelists do not even prepare for their session, and even if they do, they don’t prepare *with* the other panelists. There’s usually no cohesion. And to tell you honestly, I don’t learn a lot on panel sessions. So, if you’re a lot like me who attend SXSW to learn new things, stick with solo sessions. Or at the most, dual sessions.
  • There are workshops too which sometimes last 4 to 6 hours. But I haven’t gotten the chance to attend any of them, because they require online reservation and are usually booked months before SXSW.
  • Don’t judge a speaker by the company they worked with. I learned a lot from speakers who were from companies which were totally unknown to me.
  • Priority seating is bullshit. Just line up early.
  • Not sure which sessions to attend? Go to the web or the app, and star all the sessions that you find interesting. Then filter the list to show only your starred items. Then read the details: description, who the speakers are, and requirements for attendees.
  • Have a backup session. Preferably in the same or next building. Because of the next item below.
  • If you don’t like the session for the first 10 minutes, don’t be afraid to leave the session and hop on to any of your backup sessions.
  • You will not be able to attend all the sessions you like. And that’s okay. I know a bunch of attendees who weren’t able to attend almost 70% of the sessions they signed up for.
  • You would feel as if your first SXSW could’ve gone better. And that’s okay. Everyone gets lost, everyone gets locked out of sessions, and misses out at least on something. Smile and make the most out of it. It will still be a fantastic experience.

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