SXSW for newbies: 10 great tips and lessons on how to rock the mega-festival like a pro

Santigold sang in a packed room at the SXSW Warner Sound showcase.

It is not mere exaggeration when you hear people say that South by Southwest (SXSW) is one crazy festival. Last year was our first time attending so we felt the need to read as many articles on how to do this festival right. Trust us when we say that researching this information was probably the best thing we did before flying out to the weird city of Austin, Texas. Yes, weird. And they like to keep it that way.

Photo courtesy of louellacourt.typepad.com

However, as with everything else, experience is the best teacher. Here are some great money-saving tips and life-saving lessons we picked up while rocking the Interactive, Film, and Music festival for 10 days.

1. Book your accommodations as early as possible.

We were extremely fortunate to have our dear friend’s relatives host us in Austin last year. But before we found out that we could stay with them, we scoured the interweb for amazing accommodation deals, and found very few places that were reasonably priced.

SXSW to Austin is how the Olympics was to Vancouver. Everyone’s rental rates go up 5 to 10 times, ad absurdum. SXSW typically have deals with local hotels for badge holder attendees. However, all these hotel rooms get snapped up by the end of November.

It's also a good idea to find colleagues and friends who are willing to split the cost of a short-term stay apartment with you. We recommend Airbnb.

So if you know that you will be attending SXSW for sure, reserve or book your accommodations as early as possible. 

2. Get a personal Wi-Fi device.

When we Canadians are traveling to the US, our cellphone service oligarchs gouge us with awful exorbitant rates for data roaming, as well as calling and texting.

So what do you do if you’re a social media junkie, and you want to have the freedom to share cool photos or update your status in real time? You get help from Roam Mobility.

Roam Mobility keeps Canadians connected while travelling in the US. We used their Liberty Mobile Hotspot ($129.95 for the unit), which allowed us to have up to 5 devices connected online anywhere we went. It was fantastic, and definitely the best thing we got before leaving Vancouver. We managed to upload our photos, look at maps, and post our articles without a hitch.

This year, Roam Mobility is offering 25% discount on their plans for SXSW-goers. Just use the promo code SXSW2013 in their webstore before checking out.

3. Health is wealth: first aid kit, travel insurance, and allergy shots

Austin is really bad for people with allergies. Really bad… but we didn’t know how bad until the music portion of the festival hit, and the pollen count was reaching record highs. 2011’s unusually mild winter caused large amounts of pollen to wreak havoc earlier in 2012.

We are experienced travelers who like to be prepared for whatever comes our way. Last year, we packed a little first aid kit with key items such as band aids, polysporin, extra strength ibuprofen, antihistamines, antacids, and more. We also got travel insurance. Are we ever glad that we did.

Yours truly, Kei Baritugo, was struck with a full blown, severe allergic reaction to pollen. Luckily we had antihistamines on hand to manage the initial reaction. Eventually, we had to seek medical attention and as a result, missed out on 2 of the best days for music. Not fun.

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