An Introvert’s Guide to SXSW


SXSW is one of the largest tech conferences (and music festivals) in the U.S. It happens every year in Austin, Texas. There are panels, concerts, film screenings, meetups, corporate brand events, launch parties, regular parties… The very idea of SXSW can be very intimidating to introverts.

I am an introvert (or perhaps an ambivert), and I’m attending SXSW this year. I’m incredibly excited to be attending such a cool conference and speaking on a panel. I’m also very intimidated by the sheer amount of people and events that are going to be happening at the same time.

So I came up a with a guide to how I’m going to survive this wonderful opportunity. By sharing it, I hope I can help out a few fellow introverts. 

What to Pack

There are plenty of great articles on what to pack for SXSW. SXSW has a great First Timer’s Guide that is really helpful when getting started. Fuse has a great guide to getting around that includes excellent suggestions on what to pack. The Daily Texan also has an excellent list on what to bring.

What I’m going to focus on is what introverts are going to need to bring in addition to all those wonderful suggestions.

  • Earplugs and an eye mask. Maybe you need complete quiet to think or to sleep. Maybe a little sensory deprivation will help when you’re overwhelmed after the first five hours. Either way, these will be worth it.
  • Head phones. Ear buds are a great way to tune out the constant buzz at SXSW.
  • Medication. Whether it’s just ibuprofen or it’s migraine medication, you’ll want to have some around in case you go overboard and need a quick recovery.
  • Refillable water bottle. Yeah, this one is on all the lists I already linked up, and I’m going to echo it here. Staying hydrated is your first line of defense against burnout (after a full night’s sleep).

Before You Go

There’s plenty to do before you set off for SXSW. Ordering your business cards, packing, charging everything, etc. A little preparation will make sure that you don’t get overwhelmed during the conference.

  • Plan out a schedule. There are literally hundreds of things to see and do at SXSW. Plan out just a few things you definitely want to attend each day so you don’t get overwhelmed with all the possibilities of what you might attend.
  • Do as much as possible before arriving at SXSW. Planning on tweeting out your event schedule? Look up everyone’s handles and hashtags before and schedule tweets to go out automatically. This will help you to be more present at your event and will cut down on your phone usage, saving battery. Know that you want to connect with specific people? Read up on their latest exploits before arriving, so no matter how early you run into them, you’ll be prepared. Know you want to see other parts of Austin (or people in Austin) while you’re in town? Look them up and book stuff (if necessary) or get in touch before you arrive, so you’ll already know where to head when you get a spare minute.
  • Download the right apps. Here’s a list of recommended apps from last year, but I have ones specifically for introverts:
    • Lyft: For when you need to just get the hell away from all things SXSW.
    • SXSW Go: Schedule the stuff you want to do and put events on your smartphone calendar. That’ll help you figure out when the gaps in your schedule are.
    • Avoid Humans: This a webpage, but bookmark it on your smartphone’s browser. It uses Foursquare to figure out where people are checking in, which will show you where to steer clear of when you need to be around as few people as possible.
    • Something for meditation. I’ve tried Calm and Stop, Breathe & Think, both of which I like because they’re free have basic meditations that don’t require in-app purchases. A meditation app is perfect for when you can’t get away but you need to soothe frazzled nerves and relax.

When You’re There

It’s the main event! You’ve prepared, scheduled, and are ready to jump in. Keep these in mind:

  • Don’t try to do it all. It’s a huge conference that spans several city blocks. It’s already overwhelming, so soak in what you can, attend what you can, and keep in mind that JOMO is your best friend. You won’t be able to do it all, so don’t feel bad about it.
  • Avoid parties and lounges. Avoiding parties seems like a no-brainer to an introvert, doesn’t it? But the lounges may not be any more relaxing than parties: they’re put on by companies that are hoping to lure you in with free swag and food so that they can sell to you, which probably involves talking to you or having you try out new products. If you find a few lounges that are interesting or look chill, visit them. Otherwise, don’t bother.
  • Seek out and spend time with like-minded people. Friends, colleagues, people you’re hoping to meet, people from your industry that you don’t have to make small talk with… Spend what personal time that you have and would like to share in smaller venues with smaller groups of people.
  • Check out upper floors. The Austin convention center is huge. When you need some time alone, explore the entire thing from top to bottom; you’ll probably find the quietest corners on floors without huge rooms or a lot going on. Take a minute to sit down, hydrate, and zone out.
  • Get out when you need to. Yeah, SXSW is a big, exciting deal. It also happens every year, and there’s no reason to ignore necessary self-care in favor of parties or panels. Don’t forget to take care of yourself.
  • Call it a night before everyone else. SXSW’s parties are legendary, which means a lot of people are going to be heading to them. Take this opportunity to head to wherever you’re laying down your head for the night to spend a few hours alone processing, writing in a journal, or whatever. And then turn in early so you get a full night’s sleep. Remember the saying, “Nothing good happens after midnight.”
  • The Exceptional Man also has a few suggestions on what introverts should attend and avoid.

When You Get Back Home

You survived! You learned, made connections, and tried some new things (hopefully). Here’s how you can try easing yourself back into your routine:

  • Don’t go right back to work. If you can swing this, then make it happen. Take the day after you get back home off, or work from home that day, or try to work a half-day. You’re going to need plenty of rest, time to unpack, and a little time alone with your thoughts.
  • More self-care! Book a massage, spend time alone doing chores, write down all your thoughts about the experience.


I’m really looking forward to SXSW, and I hope this guide will other introverts enjoy their time there.

Have you been to SXSW before? Please share tips that helped you in the comments!

Image from John Rogers via Flickr’s Creative Commons license


  1. I know what you mean, Miriam! SXSW is a bucket list conference for me: I want to experience it and say I’ve done it, but it’s probably not going to be a yearly occurrence!

  2. This is a great, comprehensive guide for introverts to survive not just SxSW but any big conference. Really great work! I stopped going to these conventions a long time ago because I wasn’t aware of these things when I did go and got too burned out.

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