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It’s hard to think about spring break in Austin without thinking of SXSW® (The South by Southwest® Conference & Festivals, or just “South by” as the locals call it).

If you’re new to the area, or even if you’ve been here a while and this is your first time going, you’re probably excited but may also be a little nervous. There is so much going on, so many things to do and acts to see that it can be overwhelming. Relax. SXSW is awesome and you are sure to have a blast. To help, we’ve created a list of helpful info and tips for first-timers.

What is SXSW, anyway? Isn’t it a music fest?

If you’ve been wondering but were afraid to ask don’t worry, it’s a perfectly legit question. Although it began as a music festival back in 1987, today’s SXSW incorporates all different categories and industries including tech, film, music, gaming, comedy, education, food, and of course, music. It brings them together to foster creativity and inspire people from all over the world.

Many of the categories overlap and run simultaneously, so you can imagine the creative juices flowing through the city during this time! Here’s a short rundown of the different categories:

  • Interactive: This tech-focused fest kicks off with the Interactive Festival Opening Party on Friday, 3/9. Tracks include: Brands & Marketing, Design, Code & Programming, Government, Health & Wellness, Intelligent Future, Style, and Workplace.
  • Film: According to the SXSW website, the Film Festival “celebrates raw innovation and emerging talent from both behind and in front of the camera. Featuring provocative dramas, documentaries, comedies, genre standouts, and more, the festival has become known for the high caliber and diversity of films presented, and for its smart, enthusiastic audiences.”  Screenings run from 3/9 -3/17.
  • Music: SXSW started as a music festival, and today is a world-renowned festival for musicians and music-lovers of all types. Showcasing artists come from all over the world to perform at both official and non-official events during this time. You’ll hear music of all styles and genre. Runs from 3/12 – 3/18.
  • Comedy: Comedy shows feature up-and-comers as well as established comedy stars, with performances running through March 17th (all badges, film and music wristbands are able to attend SXSW Comedy events).
  • Gaming: Celebrates the gaming culture with exhibits, panels, awards and tournaments. SXSW Gaming runs March 15-17.
  • SXSW EDU: March 5-8. Part of the extended SXSW family, it brings leaders in education from all over the world together to advance teaching and learning. Southwestern University’s own President Edward Burger presented 5 Elements of Effective Thinking to a packed house of educators.

Probably not a surprise, but SXSW isn’t cheap. A platinum badge, which gives you primary access to ALL events will set you back a cool $1650.* Or you can purchase an interactive badge ($1,325), film badge ($1325), music badge ($1,325), or SXSW EDU badge ($545).

*pricing based on current rates on the SXSW website, and does not reflect early bird discounts. They also offer “buy one get one free” student discounts on badges.

You can also purchase wristbands, although they sell out quickly (2018 Film Wristbands are sold out, although Music wristbands are still available for $179). Be aware that badge holders have priority access and will be able to enter before those with a wristband. Having a badge is like having a fast pass at Disneyworld – you can still ride without it, but it’s much easier, more efficient and more fun if you have it.  

But even if you’re a poor starving colleges student (or young professional, parent, musician, artist, grandparent, etc.) you can still have plenty of fun during this week without breaking the bank. There are tons of private parties, “unofficial” music shows and free promotional events. It’s a great time for networking and taking in the sights and sounds. So keep an open mind, you never know where you’ll end up or who you’ll meet.


Traffic can be brutal, so the best tip is to avoid driving or taking your own car if at all possible. Badge holders get free rides on the SXSW Shuttle, which picks up at the Convention Center. Thankfully, we have Uber and Lyft back in Austin, so there’s always that option. Lyft is the official Rideshare partner of SXSW and offers a $5 discount on your first ride (code: SXSWRIDE18). And of course, there are bikes, pedicabs and the option of walking (if you’re tracking your steps with your Fitbit you may be pleasantly surprised at how much walking you do!).

Attendees with disabilities can request an Accessibility Designated Badge through registration.


As with many festivals, you’ll see a bit of everything (the people-watching is fabulous and half the fun!). Since the days can be long, you’ll want to keep comfort in mind (avoid heels), but it’s also the perfect opportunity to express your creativity. Since Austin weather can be unpredictable in March, consider layering or bringing a light jacket just in case.


The SouthBites Trailer Park will be open March 14-17, and offers tons of great choices. But there are plenty other tasty options nearby, too, as well as panels and SXSW events that involve food. EATER Austin provides a fabulous list that makes me hungry just reading them.

Items to take with you:
  • Sunscreen
  • Battery pack/phone charger
  • Bag or comfortable backpack
  • Refillable water bottle
  • Sunglasses
  • Earplugs
  • Umbrella or rain poncho
  • Quick snack such as protein bar or almonds
  • Badge and ID!
  • Your patience (for lines and traffic!)

SXSW is an amazing experience and is one of those events that can truly change your life. You’ll want to have a plan and scope out your own can’t-miss events, but don’t forget to leave room for spontaneous fun, too. Keep an open mind, talk to strangers, network, go see a musical act you’ve never heard of.

And finally, remember, SXSW is a marathon, not a sprint. Have fun, but pace yourself.