It’s hard to believe it was just two years ago that I was nervously arriving in Vancouver for my first Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) conference. I had launched this blog (then known as Katie Going Global) just months earlier in anticipation of quitting my job to travel around the former Soviet Union – not as a way to make money along the way, but simply as a way to share my stories and hopefully inspire others to travel as well.
I spent much of TBEX Vancouver a bit star struck, meeting bloggers like Ayngelina Brogan, Jodi Ettenberg and Michael Hodson, whose blogs I had been devouring in preparation for my trip. I was an unknown at the time, with hastily made business cards and no knowledge of things like search engine optimization, sponsored posts or affiliate sales. While I found some of the sessions helpful or even inspiring, some were way over my head. And while I met dozens of fellow bloggers, I remember feeling like I was on the outside looking in – it all felt a little cliquey to me and I definitely was not one of the cool kids.
But looking back now, many of the bloggers I met in Vancouver are some of the friends I have kept in touch with the most over the last two years. They are also the ones who supported me the most throughout my trip and several have opened other doors for me within the travel blogging industry. If it wasn’t for TBEX Vancouver, I likely never would have worked for Meet, Plan, Go for a year or written several posts for BootsnAll. And I certainly wouldn’t be writing regularly for Viator, covering Chicago and Russia.
I was no longer star struck when I arrived in Toronto late Friday evening. This time, I was anxious to catch up with old friends and eager to finally meet other bloggers in person after chatting with them online for months. I was also looking forward to some solid sessions to help me learn how to improve my blog and my writing. With sessions divided into content, community and business themes, I was focusing almost exclusively on the content track.
I arrived at the convention center early Saturday morning, hoping to run into some of the people I was anticipating seeing the most. Much to my disappointment, dozens of unfamiliar faces passed me by. With more than 1,200 bloggers and public relations professionals attending TBEX (compared to a few hundred in Vancouver), I guess it shouldn’t have been surprising that I wouldn’t recognize anyone. I immediately longed for the more intimate feeling of Vancouver and TBU Umbria (which I attended last April), and that longing lasted throughout the weekend. I felt like there were so many people trying to meet so many people that few had the time or desire to focus on making real connections.
By Sunday night, I was exhausted and, frankly, tired of talking to bloggers. As someone who is not trying to monetize my blog and who didn’t start blogging as a means to make money or travel for free, I felt like the oddball out – especially now that I am back working full-time with a measly 3 weeks of vacation time. I just didn’t click with anyone the way I did in Vancouver or Umbria or Girona. It seemed like too many of the newer bloggers were there not because they loved to travel or loved to write or wanted to inspire people, but because they saw blogging as a way to fund their travels. People seemed more interested in talking about how to get press trips than about their actual travel experiences.
There’s nothing wrong with that, it just isn’t me.
At the same time, I had to admit to myself how torn I am – because there’s a part of me that wishes that was me. There’s a part of me that wishes I had been able to partner with tourism boards throughout my trip. A part of me that wishes I got invited on cool press trips. A part of me that wishes I had the guts to really ditch everything and try to make it on my own, to start my own business, to freelance, to struggle through paycheck to paycheck while having the freedom to travel whenever I want. A part of me that wishes I wasn’t back working 9-to-5 when there’s a whole world out there that I still want to see.
I had to admit that I am a bit jealous of bloggers like Michael, Sherry, Ayngelina and the Hecks, who have been innovative and entrepreneurial in making a living not just from blogging, but from leveraging their blogs into other opportunities. They are doing things I wish I could do, but I feel like I have missed the boat. Dave and Deb may have said in their keynote that there’s plenty of room for everyone, but I already feel like I’m too far behind. I am afraid the ideas floating around in my head have already been acted upon by others and I’m too late.
So whereas I left Vancouver and Umbria inspired and excited, I left Toronto feeling a bit deflated, although it had little to do with the conference itself. I had a great time catching up with Amanda, Adam, Sherry, Katie and Larissa and I was thrilled to finally meet Sally, Jaime, Spencer and Craig in person. I enjoyed staffing the Passports with Purpose table – a cause I am thrilled to be helping out with because it perfectly pulls together my fundraising background with my travel blogging. And I did make some solid contacts with a few domestic tourism boards, which should lead to a few more fun weekend trips later this summer.
But as I headed to the airport before the crack of dawn Monday morning, I just wondered where I really fit in this travel blogging world. And I’m not sure I’ll go to another travel blogging conference until I figure that out.