I just got back from Austin last night, and my voice is doing this Lindsay Lohan/Harvey Feirstein thing that is simply not the business. I’m still basking in the afterglow of my first ever SXSW. I got to Austin on March 9, and stayed till yesterday – and I’m sad I am not there for the musical portion of the conference, because there were SO MANY events this week that I wanted to go to! Alas. I’ll do better in 2014.
What was my first SXSW like? In one word, awesome.
The experience was hectic and crazy and super fun and mindblowing all at the same time. There were several moments where I had to just look around and soak up the people in my presence and be thankful for the opportunities that have led me to know them. I know some amazing people! I went to fabulous events, including Target’s Fast Company lounge (where they announced their new partnership), Luvvie’s awesome party for the Red Pump Project, Chescaleigh’s Naturally Curly meetup, and Kathryn Finney’s gorgeous event for Digital Undivided, amongst others. I found myself hanging out with some truly impressive and inspiring folks, and I feel enriched by the experiences I had. Let me tell you the things I learned at my first SXSW.
— It can be surprisingly cold in Texas. Be prepared.
When I was frantically packing the night before, everyone I talked to about what to bring told me that I should look forward to sunshine and 80 degree days. I packed accordingly, but also brought key layering pieces just in case. Well just in case turned out to be the case – Austin was SO COLD! I needed my coat AND my gloves on one night. Luckily the sunshine came out on my last day, and I got the chance to soak it up before heading home to chilly Chicago.
— Just say HI, because the people you look up to can be shy too. And more approachable than you might expect.
There are social media and online superstars everywhere at SXSW. You might find yourself waiting in line for tacos alongside the likes of Pete Cashmore or Guy Kawasaki or Scott Hanselman or Baratunde Thurston or Anil Dash. If you recognize them, don’t be afraid to say hello and let them know you’re a fan of their work. I spent time around some people who have created truly inspiring content and who enjoy incredible careers, including Scott, Baratunde, Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal above), Nicholas White of The Daily Dot, Constance White, Kendra Bracken Ferguson, Dustee Jenkins, and Jane Pratt (more on that amazing encounter later). And everyone I encountered at SXSW was astonishingly approachable and friendly and cool. Which brings me to another thing I learned.
— SXSW is not NYFW.
I went into SXSW expecting it to be similar to other events I’ve been to, like Fashion Week meets Blogworld’s New Media Expo, or something. And it’s totally not like that. SXSW has its own flavor, its own fashion sensibilities. Techies and geeks don’t dress up fancy. Nobody’s wearing heels or tight dresses or trying hard to look cool. It’s all very laid back – think cute teeshirts, blazers, jeans and comfortable shoes because you’ll be doing lots of walking. You can see a real visual difference in the style as SXSW interactive moves into SXSW music – that’s when you start seeing rockstar fashion emerge at the exhibit hall.
–– Online friendships are real. And they are awesome
I’m so blessed. I’ve made such an incredible group of friends throughout this blogging career. Events like SXSW truly underscore the awesome power of online friendship to me. Every night I came together with guys and girls who I knew only from their Twitter avatars or Facebook pages, and found myself pleasantly surprised by how awesome it is to get to know each other beyond the screen. I roomed with @Luvvie, @Chescaleigh and @SHanselman and every night we laughed ourselves silly. Staying with my homies made this experience EXTRA awesome.
I got to meet friends I only knew as avatars, and people who have been online associates and friends who have supported my blog for years – people like Craig Brimm, Lynne D. Johnson, and SO MANY MORE. I found myself repeatedly surrounded by awesome people who inspired me to be greater.
— I have so much to learn. So much to execute.
I went to SXSW already bursting with ideas and plans of projects I need to work on. Next for me, I need to focus on writing my book and balancing my life better. Then I came to SXSW and found myself SO inspired. Now I have many more ideas of projects I can execute. I see that the possibilities are limitless. I’m SO excited to move forward on some of the ideas I came up with! Shoutout to @SianMorson and @LisaNicoleBell and Mary Pryor for inspiring me to think bigger and work harder.
— Austin is SUCH a cool city
I’d heard this for a long time – Austin isn’t like the rest of Texas. It sure isn’t. Austin is proud to be weird and proud to be progressive. The Whole Foods HQ is a sight to see. There are amazing restaurants around downtown – on this visit I had incredible culinary experiences at La Condesa, the Cedar Door Grill, and Japanese restaurant Uchi (which earned me a Bon Appetit badge on Foursquare. The reputation is legendary). From the fabulous food to the fun times, including outdoor parties at the Upper Decks, and all the adventures to be had in downtown Austin – I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Next visit I plan to visit Wahoo Tacos on the recommendation of my friend Johnica Reed, and go thrifting where my friend Jamala Johns of Le Coil went shopping.
I also got to see outside of downtown, when I drove outside of the city with my dear friend and wayback college homie DJ Busca. He took me out to residential neighborhoods (Austin’s houses are cute, cute, CUTE), and we had an incredible, authentic Mexican lunch at Taco More. And then we discovered some amazing graffiti across the train tracks (there is dope graffiti in unexpected places all over Austin) and had drinks at the Yellow Jacket Social Club, which is a cool restaurant/bar with outdoor seating and a punk rock kind of clientele. I loved it. All of it. I can’t wait to go back to Austin!
— Men are just as proud of their beards as women are of our natural hair.
Austin in general and SXSW in particular, is a MECCA for men with beards and remarkable facial hair choices. Some beards are big and bushy. Some are full and fabulous looking. Others could use a little assistance. A fellow blogger clued us into the fact that he used ORS Olive Oil hair moisturizer to keep his beard looking right. Beards with a little touch of product to keep them from looking dry and dusty FTW.
I already can’t wait to go back for 2014!
BONUS! 5 Tips For Surviving SXSW
— Bring comfortable shoes, you’ll be walking more than you expect. And no, I don’t mean the cute flats. Comfortable shoes for walking. Sneakers. Boots. Socks with padding.
— Expect any kind of weather. For this SXSW we encountered rain, surprisingly cold temperatures, and then bright, hot sunshine. So consider bringing cute and comfortable rain flats instead of suede shoes, packing a mini foldable umbrella in your messenger bag, and bringing a few warm sweaters or cardigans for layering.
— Make sure you have cash on you. You never know when you’ll need a pedicab or want to buy a random food truck taco.
— Be smart. Get at least one good night’s sleep. People go CRAZY during SXSW, acting like it’s Carnival and Spring Break rolled into one. And then you can’t wake up for your panels the next day. Do yourself a favor and get a good night of sleep so you’re ready for whatever you need to go to the next morning.
— ALWAYS have business cards. And talk to everyone. You have no idea who you’re standing next to.
For more, check out Luvvie’s recap!