Somehow the flight back to Singapore felt less gruelling than my flight to the US. Maybe it was because I felt the worst was over and I had already gone through the two transits, so I knew what to expect. I also stopped counting down the hours, because a lot of hours are involved and you get depressed just thinking about it.
However there are some things I learnt from my trip:
Be friendly, not shy. My first few days at SXSW I was just too plain timid, not knowing what to say and not knowing anyone. Finally on my last day I started shouting from the audience like some others (cos we were really fed up one with of the panels) and actually met more like-minded people after the discussion ended.
Bring the darn laptop bag the next time. I thought I was being clever by putting it into a hand-carry trolley with a laptop compartment. I thought I needed to do work on the laptop, only in the hotel. Then I heard that people can actually bring laptops to SXSW because there’s free wireless and power points. I ended up using a free SXSW cloth bag and padding the laptop with a sweater. Not very neat, but better than nothing.
Get a laptop with a longer-lasting battery. My borrowed laptop was pretty good but for the fact that it could only last for the morning panels. Then I’d have to look for a power source and it would take ages to recharge. Of course, when I do get my own laptop, it’ll be a MacBook Pro. If I make SXSW a regular thing, I’d feel pretty out of place on a PC laptop anyway. Not that it’s the raison d’etre – the best reason for getting a Mac is simply because it rocks. And it rocks because it’s simple.
Ask our own hotel for a map. We didn’t think of that, probably because we assumed we’d have to pay for one. Another hotel gave us a map but it only covered the downtown area. On my last day, I asked for directions to a shopping centre near the hotel, and then asked for a map. Got a pretty good map that covered a wider part of Austin, and it was free too.
Explore your neighbourhood more. On my last day in Austin, I found a shopping centre near the hotel that was pretty decent – much, much better than the shops we had, downtown. It had a Christian bookshop, a passable food court, and upmarket department stores like JC Penny, Foley’s and Dillard’s. [Update: It didn’t have a Starbucks, though. This would have been just perfect. ]
Of course, despite better shopping options, nothing beats living downtown, right next to the conference itself. We would have saved a bundle on transport and tips and another 20 minutes travelling time per trip, if we had booked our accommodation earlier. Of course, we had our restrictions and didn’t want to proceed until we had the go-ahead. In future, I’m wondering if we could just shoot first and ask for permission later.
When transiting from LAX (which has different buildings for domestic and international flights) at night, it can get pretty chilly. I had to walk out of one building and into the other, so for a couple of minutes I was underdressed. Nothing major, but good to keep in mind if you’re transiting during winter!
Make friends with your neighbours on the plane. I had a terrible flight from Singapore to Japan because all the overhead space was taken up, and my neighbour didn’t seem the least bit interested to re-arrange his baggage so I could fit mine in. I asked him if all the baggage above was his, and he told me, matter-of-factly, yes. I couldn’t believe it. After the stopover in Japan, we returned to our seats and I made sure I got my hand luggage in this time.
On the contrary, my neighbour from LA to Singapore was a burly American who had trouble fitting into the narrow SIA economy seats. He realised he was in trouble. I thought I was, too. I had the window seat, and this guy’s tummy was touching our common arm rest! When he stood up, I’d see his bum (not that I wanted to). Fortunately, it was his first time flying SIA, so I taught him how to use the in-flight entertainment module and he was very happy with it. After that, we got along fine. If I fell asleep he’d wake me so I wouldn’t miss my food or anything else the hostesses were handing out. During transits, if he saw me struggle the slightest with my bag, he’d lift it up or carry it down for me. On one transit, I came in later than my neighbours and again, the overhead space was taken up. This guy re-arranged his bags and managed to squeeze my bag in as well. What a difference!
Tip for everything. I thought I was pretty generous already. Then Lucian told me I had to tip the lady who makes my bed, too. For restaurant service, how much do we need to give? Mark G taught me that the rough guide is to double the tax rate. So the tip was 18% in Austin.
I was blessed while waiting for my taxi to take me to the airport. An American businessman was also going to the airport – but he was waiting for a shuttle he had booked, which was cheaper than taking a taxi (US$15). He overheard me talking to the valets and told me about this better deal. Then one valet pointed out that if we both shared a cab, the cost would be the same (about US$30) and the cab would take us straight to the airport, unlike the shuttle which would stop at different hotels. So we decided to split the fare, and had a great conversation about our two conferences, along the way. The bill turned out to be slightly more than US$30 but the man told me to just pay US$15 and his company would cover the rest.
Oh, and one last thing: If you see your web hero at SXSW and really want to go up and talk to him, just do it. I did that with Zeldman and Inman and am all the happier because of it. Wished I had booked my tickets to see Erykah Badu earlier, though. Ah well. Another time.