A guide to SXSW (and other festivals) on a budget

SXSW travel festival budget cheap

If I could I'd go to every single music festival there is; I love everything about them! How realistic that is, however, I'm not sure, since festival tickets are extremely expensive these days! Bonaroo tickets start at $300 and Coachella at $375 for general admission single day passes. Add food, drinks, and accommodations, and that's easily a student loan/car/rent payment.

For music lovers like me, though, those are not-to-miss experiences. Right now SXSW is in full swing, and I'm reminiscing about the year a couple of my best friends and I attended. I had an entry-level job, one friend was working for Teach for America and the other in grad school. Needless to say, money was tight. But with some flexibility, planning ahead and resourcefulness, we managed to have an awesome time.

Here are five tips for festival-going on a budget:


The biggest chunk of my expenses by far was my flight, but I shopped around like it was my job. Here's the latest advice on the subject: according to money-saving guru Clark Howard, purchase tickets on Sundays, 57 days in advance to be exact. Or drive and split gas/tolls.


Stay with friends (or friends of friends), stay at a hostel, book a house with a group of friends through Airbnb, or use Couchsurfing, if you're the adventurous type. I lucked out, since my friends lived in Austin at the time! In the past I have Couchsurfed, stayed in cheap hostels and slept on friends of friends of friends' couches before. No luxury/minimal comfort is perfectly fine when you're broke, young, and still able to bounce back from a hangover and a night of futon-sleeping like it 'ain't no thang'.


This is where you need to get quite creative/resourceful. Since SXSW happens all over the city and not in the middle of a desolate desert like Burning Man, you can get away with not purchasing the expensive admission tickets. There are plenty of free or discounted events going on all over town, it's just a matter of being savvy enough to find them. We focused on the music events of "South by" (there are also film and interactive components) and got to see The Shins, Keane, and many other very talented folks for free. Twitter is a great tool for getting on guest lists (like this one) and finding out where the pop-up exclusive acts will be. Popular restaurants held their own stages and music for their patrons as well.

The Shins put on a free concert at Auditorium Shores stage 

Stage at Guero's Taco Bar
Warner Sound Showcase at La Zona Rosa
SXSJ Stage


If you've read my blog before, you know how important snacks are to me. We each carried PB&Js, fruit, chips, granola bars, and water at all times, but when we needed more sustenance than that, we skipped the fancy restaurants (and not-so-fancy wait times). Austin is a college town, which means plenty of cheaper and still delicious food options for young resilient stomachs. Not to mention the city is a true leader in the food truck industry.

Torchy's Tacos

South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery


Avoid driving in chaotic festival traffic, skip the parking fees, say no to drunk-driving and just take an uber/public transportation/walk. It took longer to get places but we were in no rush. Plus it gave us a chance to explore more on foot.

Maria's Taco Xpress truck stays safely parked.

Austin is an incredible town, and with some research and a light-hearted attitude, it is possible to have a grand ol' time and not spend a fortune. I can't wait to take our little one to his first festival!

What are your festival-going tips on the cheap? 

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  1. Love this! I too am a huge fan of music festivals. Though I can't usually afford the all access passes, I (as you suggest) look for free events or performances. It's a great way to sample the culture and music of the festival. My next goal is Coachella (my friends say I'm a hippie at heart). What was your fav festival or experience?
    Andrea | http://nomoneywilltravel.com

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Andrea! My next goal is Coachella too, maybe I'll see you there! :-) I haven't been to as many festivals as I would've liked, but my favorite was a Friends of Nature Festival. It was a small one, but the location was AH-MAZING - a small island off of Miami's coast, and I got to camp RIGHT.ON.THE.BEACH. Waking up to the ocean every morning was incredible. Cheers, from one hippie at heart to another!

  2. I'm jealous of your trip. I am also a huge music fan but have never take the initiative to make a trip come together. I bet it was memorable!

    1. It was a memorable one! And I hear ya, it does take a good amount of effort (especially now with our minis!) but i still maintain that it's so worth it!

  3. These are some great tips and a wonderful guide. I have always wanted to to go to SXSW so it's wonderful to hear that it can be done cheaply and there are some free shows. Hopefully...one day soon.

    1. Thanks Mary, that's very kind of you. I highly recommend SXSW and I hope you do get to go!


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About the Writer

I'm Louise, a Tampa Bay based Brazilian-American travel blogger. Join us as we learn and share the ins-and-outs of traveling with a toddler and our sweet rescue pup Oreo, while promoting local nonprofits and wellness along the way.