What to expect, what to do and how to get around town.
SXSW 2016 kicks off in Austin this Friday. Please drop me a line if you’ll be in Austin.
Here are some tips for your visit:
1. Be patient, especially on Friday.
Friday, March 11 is going to be mess for road and air travel due to a confluence of events: people are flying in for the first day of SXSW Interactive, Austinites and University of Texas students are flying out for Spring Break, and Barack Obama is coming to town.
This means airspace will shut down for a while on one of the busiest travel days of the year. And roadways will be shut down for Obama’s motorcade.
The upside is you can see Obama speak in an official SXSW session on Friday.
2. Visit the Sedo Domain Village.
Sedo has rented an awesome space just across from the convention center in Austin. Free music, free beer, free froyo and even free tattoos.
3. Know if you need a badge, and pick up a “cheap” one.
Almost all official SXSW events require some sort of paid badge to get in. In rare cases, official event sponsors can put VIPs on a list that can get in without a badge.
This only applies to official events. Unofficial events are not affiliated with SXSW and don’t require a badge.
Passes to the Interactive portion of the festival are still available for $1,295. Gold badges that add Film to Interactive are $1,495, and Platinum badges that also include Music are $1,745.
You can sometimes buy passes on Craiglist sold by people that can no longer come to the conference. Keep in mind there’s a $175 transfer fee for badges you buy from someone else.
Also, be careful of scammers. Personally, I wouldn’t buy on Craiglist unless you can save a couple hundred bucks after the transfer fee, and consider using an Escrow service.
4. Find a place to stay.
If you have to figure out accommodations at this point, you probably shouldn’t bother coming. Austin’s hotel building boom of the past 5 years has alleviated price pressure quite a bit, but basically everything downtown is sold out.
An exception is the Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt. It has availability because it just opened. It’s in a great downtown location but will set you back $899 a night. The Westin at the Domain (a fitting place for a domain person to stay) is about 9 miles from downtown and has rooms for $522 a night. The La Quinta on Mopac in southwest Austin is just 6 miles to downtown and has rooms for $282. It’s in a good part of town.
A better bet at this point is to check out HomeAway or AirBNB. Do not do a short-term rental on Craigslist unless you want to get scammed.
If you’re a risk taker, hotels usually have a few extra rooms available at the last minute due to cancellations.
5. Skip the rental car.
Austin is not known for good public transportation. Still, I wouldn’t bother with a rental car. Parking downtown on weekdays will be very scarce.
Consider taking the shuttle if you’re staying at an official SXSW hotel. Otherwise, a cab, Lyft or Uber will do. Mazda also offers free rides.