A Radical Approach To SXSW: No Booze

As a health reporter, it’s about time I practiced what I preach.

A Radical Approach To SXSW: No Booze
[Photo: Flickr user Ted Bigham]

For most attendees, SXSW involves a heady mix of networking, BBQ, and back-to-back parties. Hangovers are a given, sleep is optional, and recovery can take up to a week.


At last year’s SXSW, I discovered the deadly but delicious “French 75” (if you’re not familiar, it’s a cocktail that combines sugar, gin, and champagne). It tastes like a juice box in a fancy cocktail glass, which made it a challenge to turn down a refill. Needless to say, I woke up with a pounding headache the following morning that made it a challenge to function throughout the day.

This year, I decided to try a radical experiment: No booze.

It wasn’t easy. Alcohol is a social lubricant for introverts like myself. After a glass of wine, it’s far easier to interact with a roomful of strangers. I’ll admit that in my sober state, I had to push myself to attend party after party. Tired of networking, I typically returned to my hotel room shortly after midnight.

But I had deeper and more memorable conversations with those I met. Rather than arranging drinks, I set up a flurry of walking meetings, coffees, or meals. And my brain wasn’t quite so fuzzy, so I was able to attend more daytime panels than usual (this one was a highlight).

Surprisingly, I felt very little social pressure to drink. Most of us have experienced that feeling of pressure from acquaintances and colleagues to join in the fun (A popular Reddit thread is dedicated to the most successful “lies” that can get you out of drinking). But at SXSW, people I met didn’t really care that I wasn’t drinking. They barely even noticed. My go-to beverage for the long weekend was a cranberry spritzer, which resembles a vodka cranberry.

Just one day after returning home from the conference and I’m feeling fine. After catching up on some much-needed sleep, I’m back at work and full of energy. I might not take such a stringent approach to booze during my next conference, but I’ll definitely steer clear of French 75s.


What are your SXSW survival tips? Tweet me @chrissyfarr or use the hashtag #SXSWsurvival.

About the author

Christina Farr is a San Francisco-based journalist specializing in health and technology. Before joining Fast Company, Christina worked as a reporter for VentureBeat, Reuters and KQED.