Are you excited about the upcoming South By Southwest (SXSW) 2024 but concerned about the expense? Don’t worry! Here, you’ll find tips and tricks on how to enjoy SXSW 2024 on a budget. We’ve got you covered, from finding affordable accommodations to attending free events. So, let’s dive in!
Check out our firsthand experience during SXSW 2023 below. We think you’ll agree that free food (and donuts) just taste better.
Note: LawnStarter is based in Austin, TX, so we have a vested interest in events like SXSW that help “Keep Austin Weird.” Sit back, relax, and let writer and SXSW attendee Raven Wisdom be your guide on how to enjoy South By on a budget.
What is SWSX?
SXSW is an annual March event in Austin, TX that is a must for professionals and enthusiasts interested in entertainment, world issues, and the latest technology. SXSW 2024 offers a variety of activities, including comedy and music showcases, film and television screenings, exhibitions, panels, culture, tech demonstrations, and more. The event caters to a variety of interests.
While SXSW is essential for many professionals, it can get very expensive if your company is not sponsoring you. Here’s how to have a blast without blowing your life savings.
Know Before You Go
Before you book your reservations and buy your badges, there are a few things to know before you go.
When is SXSW 2024?
The entire event runs from Friday, March 8th, 2024, to Saturday, March 16th, 2024, and every day is packed with events, so knowing what you want to see will help you plan better. Keep in mind that certain activities are only scheduled for part of the week.
For example, the Film and Television Festival runs all nine days and includes screenings of different films and TV shows. However, if you want to catch a glimpse of stars like Emily Blunt and Ryan Gosling on the red carpet, specifically at the World Premiere of “The Fall Guy,” you’ll want to be there on day one!
If you’re more interested in catching the live music showcases, the Music Festival is scheduled from March 11th, 2024, to March 16th, 2024. During this time, they will showcase 240 artists from around the world, representing a wide range of music genres. SXSW offers a schedule of events to keep up with it all
Where is SXSW 2024?
The short answer is downtown Austin, Texas. However, the events, both free and part of the festivals, are spread out across numerous venues, including the Austin Convention Center and the Alamo Drafthouse. Knowing where you want to go and estimating the travel time can greatly impact your schedule, especially considering the closed-off streets and heavy traffic.
How Much Do SXSW 2024 Badges Cost?
South By has four main badge types that give different levels of access to the festival: Music, Film and TV, Interactive, and Platinum. There are discounts available for students (both high school and college) and for local Austinites. They do not offer day passes, and rates increase the closer you get to the event.
Note: Badges, for many people, are expensive; however, there are plenty of free events and attractions that can be accessed without a badge. I’ve attended SXSW without a badge, and was busy everyday with all they had to offer outside of the main venues. So, if all access isn’t in your budget, don’t let that stop you from enjoying the festival.
* Badge prices current at time of publication. Rates increase until opening day, with walk-up prices being the highest price.
** Early bird specials are the lowest price and start within a week after the event closes for the next year and last until the first week of September each year.
|Primary access to conference keynotes, music sessions, comedy festival, and secondary access to interactive and film & tv programming
Film and TV badge
|Primary access to screenings, including World and U.S. premieres for film, TV, and XR, Film & TV sessions, mentors, and workshops. Secondary access to a majority of Interactive and Music programming.
|Newly added for 2024: primary access to all conference events, including sessions, mentors, workshops, and more, as well as secondary access to a majority of Film & TV and Music programming.
|Primary access to all events and programming during the festival.
How to Save on Badges
- Student discounts: High school and college students plus recent graduates can receive student discounts at SXSW on badges ranging from 20% to 50% off.
- Group rates: If you have nine friends or your company wants to connect your team with the latest professional development tools and networking opportunities at SXSW 2024, they offer group rates for 10 or more attendees.
- For locals: If you’re an Austinite living in the area, good news! You can get a significant discount on wristbands to get you into most events.
- Volunteer: To enjoy SXSW 2024 on a budget, consider volunteering to get a free badge. By volunteering, you can access events and activities in exchange for your time and meet new people while keeping expenses low.
How to Find Affordable Accommodations
Finding a place to stay if you’re coming from out of town can be one of the most significant expenses during SXSW 2024. However, there are several ways you can save money on lodging:
- Make reservations early: Booking your accommodations well in advance will help to secure the best deals. Additionally, hotels outside of the downtown area will usually offer lower rates.
- Bring a friend: Splitting the cost of a room will not only save you money but can also make your trip memorable.
- Purchase a package deal: SXSW 2024 has partnered with many local hotels to book rooms at a lower rate when you purchase your badges. After registering, a booking link will be included in your confirmation email.
Many travel sites will also offer lower rates when you bundle room and travel accommodations together.
- Rent a Room: There are numerous Airbnb’s in the Austin area, or consider using sites like Hipcamp for fun glamping options.
Ways to Get Around Town
The SXSW 2024 festivals take up a tremendous amount of space, and walking to each event can be exhausting and take a lot of time. Here are a few ways to get around downtown.
- SXSW shuttles: Official registrants can take advantage of a free shuttle service that runs between the Austin Convention Center and most SXSW venues.
- Public transportation: CapMetro is the name of Austin’s local public transit system. Use the CapMetro App for schedules, maps, and the most recent arrival information. Additionally, tickets can be bought and activated directly from the app.
- Bike or scooter: Renting a bike or scooter is a convenient and affordable way to get around during SXSW. There are rental companies in the city with hourly or daily rates. You can find kiosks throughout the city. You can rent bikes through the CapMetro app, as well. Remember to follow traffic rules while riding.
- Pedicabs: Grab a pedicab if you want to feel the wind in your hair without keeping an eye on the road. These are available day and night downtown and are regulated by the City of Austin. Pedicab drivers rely on tips or charge fares per block. You can find them at staging locations or flag one down.
- Carpool or rideshare: If you’re attending SXSW with friends or colleagues, consider carpooling or using rideshare services like Uber or Lyft to split the cost of transportation. Sharing can help save money on parking fees and reduce the stress of finding parking in the crowded downtown area.
- Use a parking app: If you have to drive downtown to reach the events, you can save yourself a lot of stress and money by using apps like SpotHero.
You can reserve and prepay for your spot in advance, so you get the best price and a saved space. You do have to schedule when you’ll arrive and leave, so keep an eye on your watch, or you may be charged for extra time.
Free Events and Activities to Explore
Attending SXSW doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune on badges for the main event. The festival offers numerous free events and activities you can enjoy without spending a dime.
- Austin Industry Day: A one-day-only event on March 13th, 2024 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Get into the Austin Convention Center for free to check out the Creative Industries Expo. Austin Industry Day offers special interest workshops and expos in robotics, health information, entertainment, world and social issues, and even holograms.
- SXSW social media: SXSW 2024 has numerous social media channels, including SXSW Social, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, and more, to keep up with all the goings on. Also, check out their Lounges & Special Events on the schedule page for more options.
- RSVP when available: Many free events have limited space available, so if you can RSVP to save your spot, you’ll avoid the frustration of missing out because you couldn’t get in. Depending on the event, you can sign up through the SXSW GO app or through Eventbrite.
- Hop in line: If you can’t RSVP, be prepared to stand in line, but if you can hang out for a bit, you’ll spot people bailing on the line, and you’ll move faster than you think.
- Hang around downtown: Many bars and restaurants around East 6th Street and Rainey Street offer shows, parties, and events. Wandering around, you can easily find live music, demonstrations, samples, or giveaways to keep you busy.
Maximize Your Food Budget
Food costs can quickly add up during any festival. To save money, consider packing some snacks or a lunch, and remember that water bottle. You’ll need it.
- Look for samples: Many brands at SXSW are eager to get publicity and give away their products, including food and drinks, for free. Many free events are hosted by venues offering discounted specials or a freebie while you mingle and enjoy the shows.
- Find a food truck: Austin has been named the Best Texas City for Food Truck Lovers, offering a wide variety of cuisines and convenient options for grab-and-go meals. Prices can vary, so be sure to check the price tag before choosing a snack.
- Take the flyer: Some groups walk around handing out flyers of shows or events and may offer a coupon.
Firsthand Experience: Free Donuts Taste Better
At SXSW 2023, while promoting the premier of the show Mrs. Davis, you would see people dressed as nuns. Not far behind would be someone with a t-shirt asking if you’d seen a nun. If you told them yes, they would give you a coupon for a free donut from Voodoo Donuts. Sure, I ratted out a nun, but I got a really good jelly donut.
Plan Your Day
When I say there’s a lot going on, I mean that every minute of every day of the festival is packed with events happening at every venue. Planning your schedule in advance can help you maximize your time and budget, but don’t underestimate what you can find by simply wandering around.
- SXSW 2024 schedule: The official SXSW 2024 schedule has categories for music shows, film and TV premiers, comedy showcases, speakers, panels, exhibits, lounges, and special events all in one place.
- Social media: Before and during the festival, follow the hashtag #SXSW or #SXSW2024. You’ll find plenty of local hot spots announcing free events or specials. Discover your favorites, search for your interests, and follow for updates.
- Eventbrite: Many of the free events are listed on Eventbrite. They list location, interest, times, and you can often reserve a spot for the ones you’re most interested in so you don’t miss out.
FAQ: SXSW 2024
Do I Have to Buy a Badge to Attend SXSW 2024?
No. If you only want to enjoy the festival, music, and performers, there are plenty of free ways to explore SXSW without a wristband or badge. However, a badge is recommended if you’re interested in networking and guaranteed admission to main events.
What Should I Wear to SXSW 2024?
The city’s motto is “Keep Austin Weird,” which means anything goes as long as it’s within the limits of the law, but you will be spending most of your time walking or standing, so comfort is vital to enjoying the festivities.
- Wear comfortable shoes. This is a must. Adding insoles isn’t a bad idea to keep those dogs from barking at the end of the day.
- Bring a backpack to carry a light jacket for the evening, snacks, water, a charger, and a battery pack for your phone, plus it’ll haul all the swag you pick up along the way.
- Pack essentials like sunglasses, sunscreen, and bug spray, as March brings out the mosquitoes in Austin.
- Bring noise-canceling headphones if you get overwhelmed by crowds and noise. You’ll thank me later.
Does SXSW 2024 Offer Accessibility Options?
Yes. If you’re a registered attendee, you can request an accessibility badge. However, all venues are wheelchair accessible, and South By provides other options.
- SXSW provides closed captioning for all screenings.
- Select screenings offer film audio description.
- ASL Interpreters are at all keynote seasons, but you can get a companion wristband to bring your own interpreter.
- ADA-recognized service animals are welcome.
- Sensory rooms are available if you’re sensitive to overstimulation or noise.
- Schedules mark screenings that have strobe effects.
Enjoy the Experience
Attending SXSW 2024 on a budget is possible with planning. Find affordable accommodations, explore free events, save on food and transportation, and plan your schedule to make the most of this incredible festival without breaking the bank.
Need someone to take care of the lawn while you’re away? Hire a local LawnStarter pro to take care of the lawn. With a little bit of care you can prepare early, look for deals, and enjoy SXSW without financial (or lawn care) stress!