Each spring, SXSW overtakes Austin’s downtown with the best and brightest in the interactive, film, and music worlds. Here’s our guide to thriving at SXSW.

South by Southwest, known by the now-iconic acronym SXSW, is arguably the event that brought Austin’s forward-thinking, hipster-propelled evolution to the attention of the rest of the country and then the world.

The city known for the slogan “Keep Austin Weird” began to attract international attention as SXSW grew from a grassroots arts festival established in 1987 to a massive 10-day, citywide event that brings together the most diverse, inventive, and collaborative film, interactive, and music talents from around the globe.

But with 10 packed days of concerts, displays, and events and hundreds of thousands of attendees, it can be tough to feel like you’ve truly “done” SXSW or even successfully navigated Austin. To help, we spoke with local insider Nicole Raney, associate editor for CultureMap Austin, who gave us a few of the tips and tricks she has picked up from attending and covering the festival.

What’s the secret or trick to getting the most out of SXSW?

Raney: The trick to getting the most out of your SXSW experience is planning. This is important whether you have a SXSW badge or not. Think about what you want to do for the day, map it out, then write it down on a piece of paper, just in case. There’s always a chance your phone will die.

The Takeaway: Draft a flexible game plan to map out the highlights you want to see. An official badge isn’t required – in fact, some of the most talked about events at SXSW end up being the unofficial ones. Play it safe by RSVP-ing for all the unofficial events you want to attend for the best chance at getting in. Bring a charger – or even better, a battery-powered phone charger.

How can attendees fit it all in and see all the best shows?

Raney: The grass is not always greener on the other side. You will have tons of friends, acquaintances, and strangers telling you about this rad concert/panel/party/whatever. It doesn’t always pay off to leave what you’re doing — especially if it means leaving a group of people you’re having fun with — to try to find something better.

The Takeaway: Stay put if you’re having a good time – you’ll never make it to everything anyway, so relax and have fun.

Any key philosophies to keep in mind while attending SXSW in Austin?

Raney: Not everyone will get into the big blockbuster show, the most buzzed-about panel, or the big-name concert. Sounds obvious, but it’s important to consider when you’re making your plan for the day. Part of the foundation of SXSW is discovery, so don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper into the lineup and find a gem.

The Takeaway: Ignore the hype, and focus on discovering the up-and-coming acts over the headliners.

What advice would you give those visiting Austin during SXSW?

Raney: Think about transportation. Austin doesn’t have the typical lineup of ride-sharing services, so do your research before you get here. Downtown is pretty walkable, and we also have a bus system that is relatively affordable.

The Takeaway: If you’re coming in from outside of the downtown area, like in the trendy Domain (home of Valencia Group’s Lone Star Court), plan to take the bus to get to downtown and then walk from event to event. Staying downtown? Rent a bike, or use Austin’s bike-sharing service.

As a local, how do you kick back and enjoy life while SXSW is taking over Austin?

Raney: Avoid downtown. Life goes as usual outside of the hurricane of SXSW. March is typically a gorgeous time of year in Austin, so I usually spend at least one day outside. If you have the time, explore outside of the SXSW bubble for a little bit for a meal or a quick adventure. The festival is great, but we all need a little breather.

The Takeaway: If you’re feeling the sensory overload inherent in SXSW, plan for a day away from downtown, taking advantage of the warm weather to get outside. Looking to get outside or grab a bite? Check out our insider’s guide to Austin.

Any other key things SXSW attendees should keep in mind while they’re in town?

Raney: If there’s a bathroom, use it. It’s better to use a nice indoor bathroom than to have to use an emergency port-a-potty out in the wilds of downtown Austin.

The Takeaway: Use facilities when you see them, not when you need them. There’s even a bathroom finder app to help you out in a bind.

*Some responses were lightly edited for clarity.

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