First, you must unpack what you have packed
If you're an urban superhero that walks around packing useful gadgets like swiss army knives (or any kind of knives), allen wrenches (or anything capable of disassembling an airplane), soldering irons, or pocket torches, remove them from your utility belt, your jet pack, and any other part of your supercostume. Unless of course you're willing to pack a bag to check-in (which I highly recommend avoiding, due to risk of loss).
The list itself is of course based on personal preferences, so if you wear something other than black, or you're a girl , you may wish to make adjustments accordingly. I'm sharing this packing list with a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license: make and blog a solid version for yourself or urban super-heroines instead and I'll be more than happy to link to it, ladies.
Wear the essentials
The night before your flight, set out the clothes you want to wear. Be sure to check the Austin weather forecast, especially if it's expected to rain a lot (like this year).
- socks, underwear, and tshirt (plain black)
- pants (plain black). either simple work pants, like Dickies, or comfortable black jeans, but flexible enough for any number of emergency activities, like running and climbing obstacles (or buildings). H&M (or Volcom) slacks and jeans have a good fit. Get a 2-4% spandex blend for extra flexibility.
- belt (plain black). You never know when you'll need to cinch around something to hold onto, and also a useful yoga prop. Consider a solid heavy belt buckle that you can swing around on the end of your belt like a mace if need be.
- shoes (black). They must be very walkable; I prefer PUMAs for their excellent arch and heel support, e.g.: PUMAGILITY Running Shoes. EXCEPTION: if lots of rain and/or thunderstorms are expected, bring and wear tall waterproof boots, and pack the running shoes in luggage. I just picked up a pair of Hunter Original Tall Welly Boots in anticipation of the wettest SXSW in 11 years.
- long sleeve shirt (optional, plain black) - American Apparel has a good selection, but pack it instead if Austin temperatures will be above 60.
- hoodie - zip-up (plain black)
- coat/jacket (plain black), something waterproof or strongly water resistant. It often rains in Austin for a day or two during SXSW; this year it's expected to rain most days.
Fill your pockets with
- wallet, keys
- compact digital camera, e.g. Canon S95. Why: your iPhone etc. sucks at lowlight photos, and you don't want to lug a DSLR. You'll want to quickly capture many dimly lit SXSW moments.
- ear plugs - essential for loud bars, music, and shared sleeping situations.
- very small notebook, e.g.: mini black Moleskine notebook or paperblanks Micro Format notebook journal - either will fit in a back pocket
- Pilotpen mini black gel pen (2). Easily kept inside a front pocket for writing in said notebook, pack a spare to lend.
- Burts Beeswax Lip Balm
- small iPod, e.g. iPod nano (or an iPod Touch)
- smartphone, e.g. Virgin Mobile BlackBerry Curve ($35/mo flat = unlimited web/data/txt + 300 min talk - plenty)
Over the shoulder equipment
With the above, you're set to survive a variety of temperatures, climates, and social situations. However, you really need a few more things to make it through an event as geeky and lengthy as SXSW. Pick out the items (or their equivalents) from below, and then find a small (yet robust) backpack (like the Boblbee Megalopolis Executive Hardshell Backpack, see also the smaller People's Delight) or messenger bag that will fit fully underneath the airplane seat in front you.
- small flashlight (e.g. mini maglite)
- ocular backup. In other words, if you wear glasses, pack contacts and sunglasses too, if you wear contacts, pack glasses.
- book to read on the plane (e.g. Neal Stephenson's Anathem)
- plain unruled paper pad (e.g. medium size unruled Moleskine notebook) for sketching ideas
- ripped DVDs (e.g. yoga or pilates for exercise - Kristin McGee's MTV Yoga series is excellent, and maybe a movie or two) - buy and use RipIt beforehand to rip them onto a MacBook Air
- energy bars (carry at least 2 with you, e.g. Clif builder bars) because sometimes you'll be too busy to sit down or stand in line for a meal, or late at night you'll want an alternative to pizza-slice-gut-bombs on 6th street.
- peppermint gum - expect close proximity with lots of people, be considerate.
- simple hat (e.g. a black cap or black fedora if you prefer, perhaps wear it on the flight) for use in the cold, extreme sun, light rain, or if you happen to skip a shower (e.g. because the city turned off the water to your hotel, yes I've had this happen before)
- noise cancelling earbud headphones - these really help on the flight. I have and like the Sony MDR-NC11 Fontopia with In-line Volume Control, and I'm interested in what noise cancelling earbud headphones others like.
- mini-USB cable (and Micro USB To Mini USB Adapter) to charge your phone / other devices and download photos from camera to laptop.
- even smaller laptop/shoulder bag - the smallest bag that will fit your laptop with minimal pockets for cables/powersupply. You won't always have time to stop by your hotel to drop things off - pack as minimal and portable as possible for sessions, meetings, dinners, and evening events.
Gear-up a level
Have you had any of the following happen to you?
- smartphone run out of power before you do
- wanted to set-up your own visuals at a party
- let down by AT&T's network (e.g. (most) iPhone users. even with trucked in mobile cell towers in 2010, it was still so-so)
- stuck in the middle of a natural (or man-made) disaster
Here are a few respective items for the extra prepared techno-road-warrior:
- 5000mAh Rechargeable USB Battery Pack. Keep your iPhone/iPod/Droid/BlackBerry going all night long, and I can't count the number of people that needed a few minutes of recharging for their iPhones. Yes, it makes an excellent ice breaker. Avoid any device-specific extra batteries or chargers. I've been happily using the New Trent iDual-Port Pack IMP50D 5000mAh USB External Battery Pack which can charge two USB devices at once, including one iPad. When your device(s) show(s) a battery warning, recharge it. When your laptop is plugged in, recharge the battery pack over USB.
- Optoma PK320 Pico Pocket Projector. I used another model of this previously (PK201) and it was helpful and sometimes entertaining. The PK320 is can project up to 5 times brighter than the PK201. You can basically project a 120" HD display from a laptop, iPhone/iPodTouch, or a preloaded micro-SD card. Very bright and easily viewable in any dark venue. As with any "future" device, especially one that will so brightly visually affect your environment and people around you, it may take some awkward experimentation to work out the social conventions of using a personal projector in public.
- Virgin Mobile Wireless Network Router MiFi 2200. Because everyone should have their own personal wifi-cloud. I used the Virgin MiFi last year and was reasonably happy with it despite being a step down from the Sprint Overdrive 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot that I used i 2010 but subsequently returned it after 1-month trial because I didn't want to commit to a $60/month 2-year contract for no 4G in SF at the time. This year I'm reusing the Virgin Mobile Mifi for $50/month with no contract, and decided to also try the T-Mobile 4G Mobile Hotspot wi-fi/mifi for $50/month (or 3GB), also no contract. We'll see how good T-Mobile's coverage is in Austin.
- Motorola TALKABOUT T900 2-way pager. Yes, seriously, if you've ever been in an earthquake or other disaster, you know that your cell phone is useless. Emergency crews still use pagers, and there's a reason for that - they're still a lot more robust and reliable. I've had a T900 for many years now and the few occasions I've had to use it, it's been invaluable. It can receive phone # pages, voicemail, and can even do email. Oh and it lasts for days on a single AA battery. Now all we need is for services like Twitter, Foursquare etc. to support tweet/check-in by email (or perhaps just use ifttt.com) and we'll be all set. Makes for a very entertaining party conversation piece, but can arouse suspicions of being an anachronistic time-traveler.
Rollaway the remainder
In a small handbag, dufflebag, or rollaway (like the awesome ZÜCA sport rollaway with aircraft aluminum frame), pack the following:
- small empty water bottle (e.g. 16oz Nalgene and a simple carabiner keychain to hook it to your shoulder bag)
- 6 sets of underwear + tshirts + socks.
- more energy bars (like a dozen, e.g. Clif builder bars)
- Tide to Go Instant Stain Remover stick - useful for those unexpected spill/stains from coffee, wine, etc.
- small bottle of Woolite Dark liquid detergent. If you're staying for music, on Wednesday morning after showering and changing, wash your dirty laundry in your hotel laundry room (Residence Inn has coin-op laundry) or hotel room sink and hang dry on the shower curtain rod and towel rods.
- sunscreen/sunblock and a swimsuit - most hotels have pools, even hot tubs. put them to good use. The Hilton has a pool on the roof.
- umbrella - check weather, rain is expected in Austin most days. Either a compact umbrella or Blade Runner style.
- Apple Airport Express to create your own secure reliable wifi cloud from the Ethernet hardline in the hotel room
- thin black fleece sweatpants (American Apparel) - for sleeping in if it gets cold, doing yoga, pilates, or just lounging around your hotel room. Also good for a quick morning jog/run.
- bath kit: toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, contact lens fluids/case, shaver, fingernail clippers, perhaps some hair product (essential for music) and whatever else you would include in a larger bath kit. extra packets of vitamin C, Advil, and Tylenol are highly recommended. Maybe some zinc as a cold remedy; I've found Sudafed (the real stuff, not PE) and Claritin (or preferably Zyrtec) handy too.
- extension cord and powerplug splitter (so you can share an outlet with someone else).
- power adapters/rechargers for your phone and camera battery.
- laptop audio/video cables to connect your laptop to a stereo/tv/flatscreen/projector. Some hotels have the ability to connect to the in-room TV and use it as a second monitor. And if you have DVI/mini-DVI out rather than VGA (e.g. a Mac laptop), bring an adapter that will let you connect your laptop to VGA.
- thin compactable dufflebag. yes, pack a folded up bag inside your rollaway, as there's a good chance you'll acquire stuff (tshirts, guides, souvenir cowboy boots etc.) that you'll want to take home.
Print your boarding pass
24 hours before your flight, be sure to:
- Log on to your airline's website
- check-in online
- print your boarding pass
- put it in your backpack
Get plenty of sleep
The night before. I seem to have trouble with this one, perhaps from procrastination, perhaps from all the anxious excitement of seeing friends I see only once a year at SXSW. But still, try to:
- get plenty of sleep. You'll need it!
- week before extra credit: pretrain your circadian rhythms to Central Time
The morning of
- shower and put on the clothes you put out last night
- pack your laptop(s) (e.g. MacBook Air) in your backpack, including
- power cable(s) and supply(s),
- video adapter(s) connected to your external monitors
- get to the airport 90 minutes in advance
- get to your gate and look around for other folks also going to SXSW,
- your adventure has begun.
Ship directly to your hotel
If you lack any of the above, call your hotel and ask them for their "shipping address" (typically it will be "Attention: Your Name" followed by name of hotel and their normal address). Then order whatever you need from Amazon and have it shipped overnight or second day air directly to you at your hotel.
Try out Neighborgoods
If you're missing any of the above items, instead of purchasing them new, you may be able to save money (and the planet) by checking for stuff on Neighborgoods.net first.
Share and improve
If you liked this packing list, please share it with links intact. All the links to Amazon (ASIN) products use my affiliate code and thus if you click and buy something from the list, Amazon sends a tiny portion of what would otherwise be completely their profit, to me, at no cost to you. I think that's a reasonable small nod in return for a free and useful resource.
I'm publishing this packing list with a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license to explicitly encourage people to share it, improve upon it, and the only thing I ask is that you attribute "Tantek's SXSW Packing List" and link to this blog post: preferably keeping any hyperlinks intact as-is (feel free to send me reports of corrections or dead links to: aim:tantekc).
Lastly, I want to note that this is a very practical road-tested packing list. I travel frequently and I've been to SXSW ten times. I have personally purchased, used, and street/travel tested nearly all of the above products which is why they made the cut. I stand by them as solid personal recommendations.
Thanks and hope to see you fully prepared at SXSW!