I've seen numerous people twitter wondering what to pack for SXSW today. Per my communication protocols, I'm blogging my answer. Note: I'm basing this purely on my personal packing list, so if you're a girl, or wear something other than black, you may want to check other suggested packing lists as well
First, you must unpack what you have packed.
If you are one of those urban superheroes that walk around with useful gadgets like swiss army knives (or any kind of knives), and allen wrenches (or anything that looks like it could be used to take apart an airplane), 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 etc.).
Wear the essentials
The key to being prepared is wearing the essentials. This seems obvious but perhaps that's why it comes next.
- plain black socks, underwear, and t-shirt (American Apparel works well).
- plain black pants. either simple work pants, like Dickies, or black jeans, but flexible enough for any number of emergency activities, like running and climbing obstacles to ditch crazy stalkers or emo drama queens. Volcom slacks and jeans have a good fit.
- plain black belt (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.
- plain black shoes (must be very walkable, I'm very happy with my Keens, and apropos for SXSW, they even have a new "Austin" model which I may just have to pick up).
- plain black hoodie (again, American Apparel comes thru, though some OBEY hoodies are also sufficiently dark).
- plain black coat, preferably something waterproof or water resistant. it rained today in Austin and last year it rained several days. Spiewak has some good options.
Fill your pockets with:
- sunglasses (prescription or clipons if necessary)
- some sort of smartphone, one you can easily and rapidly text message. phone calls just don't work at SXSW because it is nearly always too noisy, and too rude (you're nearly always around other people) to talk on the phone. texting is where it is at. and your old dumbphone won't cut it. T9 = FAIL. Get something with a full QWERTY keyboard and an unlimited (or at least 1000) texting plan. BlackBerry is the best option here IMHO. We'll see how well those with iPhone touch keyboards do under the pressure of SXSW.
- small digital camera, including spare battery and SD card. My trusty Canon SD400 is still rocking out. If I were to buy a new one, I would get the SD1000.
- lip balm. yes it can get dry in Austin. no one even likes looking at cracked lips much less anything else. Burt's Bees lip balm is a good one.
- small pen and paper pad. sometimes low tech works really well. redundancy is a good thing.
- small iPod (or other music player) with earphones - fully charged. helps discourage the crazies/beggars from hassling you when you're darting between venues.
Over the shoulder equipment
With the above outfit, you're fairly 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 / messenger bag like thing (I prefer Boblbee backpacks) that will fit them, and will of course fit fully underneath the seat in front you.
- small flashlight - like a mini maglite - test before leaving
- ocular backup device. in other words, if you wear glasses, pack contacts and sunglasses too, if you wear contacts, pack glasses.
- simple hat/cap - for use in the cold, extreme sun, 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).
- laptop, with power supply, and recovery/boot CDs/DVDs.
- small DVD case of videos (e.g. exercise like yoga or pilates - Kristin McGee's MTV Yoga series is excellent, and maybe a movie or two).
- USB cable to charge your phone and download photos from camera to laptop
- noise cancelling earphones/headphones - these really help on the flight.
- secondary communication device. a 2-way, or a spare cell phone with EVDO.
- a book to read on the plane. I recoomend either "Getting Things Done" (even if you've read it, reviewing it helps), or "Snow Crash".
- minimal bath kit: toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, contact lens fluids/case, shaver
- a minimum of two (preferably four, one for each day) changes of socks, underwear, tshirt. tightly rolled to take as little space as possible. buy a SXSW interactive tshirt at the show and wear it home on the Wednesday flight. get free tshirts at parties etc.
- a couple of energy bars, e.g. Clif bars.
Rollaway the remainder
The above is pretty minimal for a four day conference. If you want a bit more flexbility in outfits, or are staying through SXSW Music, you're going to need to pack another bag, and might as well make it a rollaway. In addition to shifting the clothing, bath kit, and perhaps some of the powersupplies from the above to the rollaway, you'll want to include:
- expanded bath kit. fingernail clippers, perhaps some hair product (essential for music) and whatever else you would include in a larger bath kit. maybe some extra vitamin C and Advil.
- extension cord and powerplug splitter (so you can turn one outlet into four or more for all your power supplies / devices).
- Airport Express - so you can create your very own wifi-cloud from the Ethernet provided by the hotel, since many hotels have very spotty wifi in the rooms.
- power adapters/rechargers for your phone, camera battery, secondary communication device.
- 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.
- half a dozen energy bars, like Clif bars (I recommend the apricot Clif bars, or chocolate Clif builder bars) to hold you over when you inevitably forget or skip meals.
- more clothing: a plain longsleeve black t-shirt (again, American Apparel helps here) for another layering option (over or under t-shirts), a second pair of pants, a second black hoodie, a second (perhaps lighter) black jacket, and maybe a few stylistic t-shirts that express thin-slices of your personality.
- swim suit. most hotels have pools, even hot tubs. put them to good use.
- thin black sweatpants (American Apparel) - for sleeping in if it gets cold, doing yoga or pilates and just lounging around your hotel room.
- climbing shoes. see GeeksLoveClimbing.com. Enough said.
- business (e.g. Moo) cards, stickers to promote your product, your company, your personal brand, or all of the above.
Start with that and iterate. See what you missed having with you this year, make a note of it, and bring it next year. Finally, 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.com and have it shipped overnight or second day air directly to you at your hotel.