Beginning in 1987, South by Southwest, or more commonly SXSW, takes place mid-March in Austin, TX, and is one of the premier events for the film, music, and tech industries. For newcomers and even SXSW veterans, it can be a stimulating and, in some ways, stressful week of presentations, performances, networking events, and one-on-one business meetings. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your trip.

South by Southwest

When: March 9-18, 2018
Where: Austin, TX
Official Site:

If reaching Austin by plane, fly in to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA), just six miles from the city center and reachable by taxi, shuttle, or car rental. Most major airlines fly in and out of ABIA, and depending on where you’re coming from, you might be able to snatch up one of the direct flights. Austin is also accessible by train.

Unlike vacations, SXSW is primarily a work event, so it’s important to pack for both business and pleasure. Weather in Austin can be unpredictable, so be sure to check the forecast. That said, pack comfortable walking shoes and an umbrella in case it rains, and download a city map on your smartphone. There’s also an SXSW GO app where attendees can view their individual schedule, connect with friends, post and engage on social media, and navigate the city and trade show.

SXSW is just as much of a concert as it is a conference, so pack accordingly. Plan for all types of situations: meeting potential clients attending networking events, concerts, and films. Comfort is key, but so are first impressions. It’s not uncommon for attendees to pack a change of shoes so they can walk quickly from event to event and then switch into a dressier pair.

The SXSW Music Conference & Festival kicks off this year on March 13 and runs through March 19. As the world’s top music industry event, there’s certainly a lot happening within a short time span. The Convention Center will host the Music Gear Expo March 12–15, but the real fun happens at night. The best way to choose which sessions to attend is by choosing a theme like A&R, Convergence, Data/Technology, or Digital Music/Streaming.

More than 2,200 acts from near and far will perform on over 100 stages throughout the city as part of the SXSW Music Festival. Try to attend a few networking events, because this is often where the magic happens. This year will provide even more opportunities to meet with professionals in similar industries; agents can meet with buyers, and artists can chat with publicists.

The Film Conference Festival runs March 10–14, while the Film Festival runs March 10–18, celebrating both the creative process of making films and the business savvy required to effectively market them. 

There’s a definite focus on innovation and how the industry will change and adapt to new technologies as they emerge. In addition to film screenings, there will be mentor sessions, interviews with film insiders, interactive workshops on cinematography and social media, panels, and discussions.

During the five-day Interactive Festival, March 10–14, there will be presentations and panels from some of the most renowned entrepreneurs responsible for driving new technologies. The Interactive portion of the conference focuses on the future of technology, with the core values of innovation, inspiration, and creativity at the heart of many conversations. It’s also a chance for start-ups to gain insight, vision, and guidance. Many of the panels were actually user-generated via the SXSW PanelPicker.

While many events take place within the Austin Convention Center, there are just as many networking opportunities at local bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. For those on a budget, public transportation is the most budget-friendly option. Capital Metro provides bus and rail tickets, and there are also SXSW Festival Shuttles. Additionally,  a hotel shuttle that stops by most hotels in the downtown area. Bikers can take advantage of the pay-as-you-go Austin B-Cycle system. If all else fails, there are always pedicabs and taxis in the downtown area.

Remember that many flights are heading to Austin from all over the world, especially during SXSW, so double-check your flight status before heading to the airport. The same is true of your accommodation. Another thing many attendees do before landing in Austin is use SXsocial to find friends and business connections also attending the event. If this isn’t their first time at SXSW, their advice can be invaluable.

It’s smart to be realistic about your time and create your schedule accordingly. With so many events taking place simultaneously, it can feel overwhelming choosing which ones to see and which to skip. Those who try to do it all often wind up exhausted before the week is over. Think of SXSW as a marathon rather than a sprint and choose quality over quantity. Another helpful tip for organizing your schedule is to take a good hard look at the printed materials presented at registration. The Austin Convention Center might be easy to navigate on a normal day, but not during SXSW, and the detailed maps save time when going from one panel to another.

Last-minute flights to Austin for SXSW are likely to be sold out or overpriced, and the same is true of hotels. Once you have a ticket to the festival, start making arrangements as soon as possible. Many attendees opt to share home rentals, hotel rooms, and even hostel dorms with other friends and coworkers to help cut costs. Home rentals generally offer the most space and variety, not to mention a retreat from all the action. Whether staying in an apartment in downtown or East Austin, or looking for something more luxurious with a view, booking early yields the best deals.

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