SXSW Tips for Non-Badge Holders


Currently, the lovely city of Austin, Texas has been overtaken by the annual SXSW Festival. This nearly week and a half long festival encompasses a large portion of the downtown metropolitan area, and covers everything from music, tech gadgets and software, movies, video games and all types of business. I’ve refrained from covering SXSW (save for the gaming expo) in the past as the majority of the festival doesn’t fall into my illustrious NerdLife umbrella.

However, as I spent the better part of this past weekend downing free drinks and eats, lugging around swag and taking pictures with felines more famous than most celebrities, something dawned on me: the similarities between my typical SXSW agenda and my time spent attending off-site events at San Diego Comic-Con are numerous. When I’m attending off-site events at SDCC I’m all about grabbing all the free eats, drinks and swag I can as well as experiencing everything available. While the audience for SXSW isn’t specifically targeted to those with NerdLife interests, there is astronomically more variety to the events and lounges (of which there are a seemingly infinite number of) one can attend.

I’ve been attending SXSW for the past few years, although I’ve never taken the dive and sprung for a badge. This is due partly to my desire to save money and mostly attributable to the fact I don’t want to take all that time off from work. Nevertheless, events run from sunrise until way past sunset and as long as you’re willing to take the time to do a bit of digging on Twitter (and don’t mind a healthy amount of walking) you’re bound to find something you dig in the massive extravaganza that is SXSW. If you’ve never been and are looking for a jumping off point, your Bro has you covered!

  • RSVP for everything
The set ups grow more impressive each year

About six weeks prior to the start of SXSW, RSVPs begin opening up for everything. Concerts, Lounges, Parties, Events-pretty much anything you can think of, there’s an RSVP for. Nine times out of ten these RSVPs are free and take mere seconds to do, and while they don’t guarantee you’ll be able to get in to a particular shindig due to badge restrictions or capacity, if you ain’t on the list you aren’t getting in. Typically these close days before the actual event, although sometimes places allow you to RSVP on site. If you’re dead-serious about doing SXSW right and have the week off I’d recommend signing up for a service such as RSVPster which automatically RSVPs you for every event which opens up registration prior to the start of SXSW. As I only devote a small amount of time to my SXSW excursions, I typically only RSVP for events I plan to attend.

  • Use Social Media (especially Twitter)
Because of Twitter I scored me some sweet Cotton Candy
Because of Twitter I scored me some sweet Cotton Candy

Much in the way last minute news tends to break out on Twitter during SDCC, the same occurs during SXSW-however these updates are much more frequent. There are legions of Twitter accounts focused on each aspect of SXSW, whether it be free food, free drinks, lines or swag-and if you want to know a particular situation it pays to ask about it on Twitter before walking over to the venue in question. When walking around the streets of downtown Austin, more often than not my next destination is determined by what goods Twitter says are currently being served-so be sure to keep your Twitter game strong, exhibitors.  While it’s important to assist your fellow SXSW Bros, it’s also important to give shout-outs (or chastise, if necessary) to the brands and companies who are opening up their pocketbooks to allow you to enjoy SXSW. If you’re hooking a Bro up with free eats and swag, at the very least you deserve a virtual fist-bump in the form of a Twitter shout out.

  • Pack Smart
Keeping it minimal for SXSW

As you can tell from the photo, I pack pretty light when it comes to SXSW. Although I expect to pick up tons of swag, more often than not these are provided in their own bags. Considering I’m going to cover at least a few miles strolling in the hot Texas sun, it’s important to keep the weight on your back to a minimum. I always carry at least one bottle of water (since you’ll be able to secure more during your adventures),  sunglasses, a huge power bank and oil absorbing wipes, as you never know who you’re going to run into for a photo. Unlike SDCC, the amount of free eats you’re going to come across is insane, so unless you’re watching the waistline (brospect if you are, but if something’s free I ain’t about to turn it down) there’s really no need to pack any snacks.

  • Dress for Success
I was dressed like an idiot when I met this dreamy lady-LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES
I was dressed like an idiot when I met this dreamy lady-LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES

First and foremost, SXSW provides a litany of networking opportunities-it is an event catered to industry and media professionals, after all. If you’re looking to mingle with those attending on business, be sure to dress the part. Bear in mind your time is going to be (potentially) split between relaxing in lounges in sophisticated hotels and restaurants, getting your drink on in famous kitschy Austin bars, jamming to local music and DJs in dive joints, partying the night away at some of the hottest nightlife spots and walking. You’re going to be walking a ton. Dress how you want, but be sure to apply copious amount of sunscreen.

  • Don’t pay for eats (or drinks!)


During SXSW Interactive (the first weekend of the festival) the free drinks and eats are liberally flowing. While securing these freebies grows more difficult as the festival transitions into the music portion, they can be located if you’re willing to do a bit of legwork: see number two on this list. This past weekend the only meals I paid for were when I indulged in local treasures I had a hankering for. In year’s prior I got my hands on my first taste of Shake Shack (before any had opened in the city) and some fancy Nespresso drinks-and you can always grab tacos and cocktails for free if you do some Twitter hunting.

  • Prioritize


This is perhaps where the greatest similarity between SDCC off-sites and SXSW occurs. The best offsite events at both SDCC and SXSW are the always the most crowded. Unlike at SDCC, very rarely do I wait in lines for anything at SXSW. That being said, if there’s something you really want to do, if you’re willing to do just a tad of waiting (an hour or two at the absolute most-three for the biggest events) at SXSW odds are you’ll be able to experience it. Considering the crew and I wait nearly twelve hours each night of SDCC for a 50/50 chance of buying Legos at SDCC, waiting an hour for something at SXSW is nothing. I’m partial to the events Mashable throws, whether they be at SDCC or SXSW so I typically spend thirty min to an hour waiting to ensure I attend. Additionally, sometimes you’ve just got to spend an hour waiting when you know It’ll be worth it:

Worth the wait
Worth the wait

SXSW is just getting started here in lovely Austin, and truth be told I should’ve hit you Bros with these tips prior to the festival getting started. What can I say? You live and you learn. Later this week I plan to attend some fancy music shindigs and the event I’m most looking forward to, a Lucha Underground live special. Needless to say, I’ll be hitting you Bros up with way more news later this week. Until next time, Bros!


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