There’s a First Time for Everything, Even a Travel Blogging Conference

A year ago at this time, I didn’t know what the Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) was.  Last June, all I had was a blog with about two posts to my name. I was still two months away from purchasing my domain name and switching to a self-hosted blog and about six months away from publishing posts on a regular (i.e. weekly) basis.  I didn’t know what SEO meant (search engine optimization) or what an Alexa rank was and hadn’t given a thought to branding, monetization or considered what my niche was. The thought of attending a conference devoted to travel blogging probably would’ve seemed a bit silly.

TBEX Vancouver

Yet there I was last Friday, arriving in Vancouver to attend TBEX Vancouver – a gathering of travel bloggers and public relations reps from the travel industry.  I admit, I was nervous and, frankly, I felt a bit insecure about the whole thing.  As a relative newbie to the travel blogging scene, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d fit in and I feared feeling like an outsider. It helped that I shared a hotel room with Amanda from A Dangerous Business and Val from Silly America, but there were definitely times throughout the weekend when I felt like more of a fan of everyone around me than a “real” travel blogger myself.

(Confession: the fact that a few people actually recognized and approached me because they read this blog made me feel pretty damn good).

Men of TBEX Party

When the conference schedule was released, I was optimistic that I would find it pretty valuable.  Sessions on narrative and non-narrative writing, SEO and branding seemed geared toward newcomers like myself – which also led me to wonder what on earth the more experienced bloggers would be getting out of it.  By Saturday evening, the answer was apparent – alcohol.

Okay, not really just alcohol, although there was certainly plenty of it flowing each night of the conference.  It was clear, though, that the weekend was much more about the personal connections than anything else, although that’s not to say I didn’t learn anything or that I didn’t get my money’s worth (disclaimer: I got my TBEX ticket from someone for free and I combined the conference with a work trip to Seattle, so all I paid for was my shared hotel room and my bus to and from Seattle).

Men of TBEX Party

So what did I learn?

Well, first of all, I didn’t learn the secret to running a super-duper successful travel blog, nor did I expect to.  Many of the sessions lacked focus or specific take-aways.  Some covered points I felt I already knew (maybe I’m not such a newbie after all?), while others were way over my head.

I did learn that I probably shouldn’t be writing this post.  I’m in the travel industry, not the blogging industry and any of you who are not bloggers yourselves have probably stopped reading by now.  After this post, no more writing about blogging.

I could tell you how quaint, rustic, charming and beautiful Vancouver is and that it is the jewel in the crown of Canada and has a lot of hidden gems to discover, but I learned that I should banish those words and phrases from my blogging vocabulary. I also didn’t see that much of Vancouver outside of the convention center and several bars, so I’m really not a fair judge of its attributes.

I learned some awesome tips on learning a foreign language from Benny Lewis of Fluent in 3 Months that I hope to use as I try to improve my Russian language skills.

I also learned that Vancouver residents are really passionate about their hockey team.  Even though it was only Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals and they hadn’t actually won the Cup yet, they were partying harder than Patrick Kane on Friday night. (of course, after I wrote this, they proceeded to riot and set cars on fire in the wake of losing Game 7, something I feared might happen after seeing the raucous celebrations after Game 5).

Vancouver After Playoffs Game 5

Finally, I learned that networking and socializing with travel bloggers is a different ballgame.  Unlike events or parties I might attend here in Chicago, at TBEX, everyone’s nametag included their Twitter name, not the company where they work.  I was already familiar with the blogs of most of the people I met or I followed them on Twitter, so the typical conversation starters of “what do you do?” and “where are you from?” didn’t seem to make much sense – I usually already knew!  This made some conversations much easier and others a tad bit awkward.

What inspired me?

More than being educational, I found a couple sessions particularly inspirational.  I found the session by Lonely Planet’s Robert Reid on research particularly interesting because I have always been a travel research junkie and he inspired me with some new ideas on how to incorporate research into what I write.  Sean Keener’s talk also motivated me to dream big, build a simple process that will make me better over time and then “go like hell” to achieve my goals, no matter how big, hairy and audacious they may be.

A few gems that really resonated with me:

“Write until it stops being interesting.”

“Good travel leads to good narrative.”

“Avoid negativity – don’t be the worst person you’ve ever traveled with.”

“Writing is writing wherever you publish it.”

“Be true to the story, write the story, and the right people will find it.”

“Focus not on providing something for everyone, but everything for someone.”

“When you want to climb the ladder, it’s not about kicking other people off it.”

“You might get rich by working your ass off.”

“Budget travel is getting the most experience out of the budget you have.”

Steamworks restaurant, Vancouver

And about those personal connections…

One of my favorite quotes is “strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet” and I think that applies so well to TBEX.  A year ago, everyone at this conference was a stranger to me – I likely wasn’t even reading any of their blogs yet.  But in the last few months I have become friends with several fellow travel bloggers through Twitter, Facebook, email and/or our blogs (and yes, I still think that sounds a little weird to say I’ve become “friends” with someone before ever meeting them in person).  It was such a great feeling to finally meet these friends “in real life,” share a big hug, and start chatting like we have known each other for years.

And it was even better to meet dozens of new “strangers” who share my love and passion for travel – I hope many will be become great, lifelong friends.

15 thoughts on “There’s a First Time for Everything, Even a Travel Blogging Conference”

  1. I was Googling for a post on a first-timer’s experience at TBEX. Thanks for sharing Katie! Really glad I came across your post. I’m considering goin to TBEX in June. It will be my first!

  2. I am curious where you got this quote from:

    “Budget travel is getting the most experience out of the budget you have.”

    That is the quote on my about page talking about what budget travel adventures is all about. I think I have used this exact statement (pretty close) in a few posts so curious where you heard this at the conference.

    Great review of all the stuff that happened there. Loved the recap.

    1. I know I told you on Twitter, but for the benefit of anyone else reading, I got that fabulous quote from you in one of the workshops! 🙂

  3. Great post on TBEX. I think for all the criticisms everyone agrees that it’s meeting other bloggers, other people that was the best part of the weekend. I’m sad I didn’t get to meet you, perhaps next year.

  4. I’m enjoying reading everyone’s takes on TBEX. I didn’t go, but maybe next year. Sounds a bit disorganized, but it’s a great opportunity to network by the sounds of it 🙂

  5. very, very fun hanging out with you and getting to know you a little bit more. Feel free to shoot me a note if there is anything I can do to help you — or if you have any questions about stuff you want to run by someone.

    1. Thanks Michael, it was great getting to know you too. And I really appreciate the offer of help – I may very well take you up on that!

  6. I think one of the most interesting things about TBEX is that it is covered so extensively by everyone before, during, and after the fact!

    To be honest, I am kind of glad you didn’t learn the secrets to creating a super-duper successful travel blog. That would kind of take the fun out of things, huh?

    But like Amanda said, cheers to another not-so-negative TBEX post!

  7. Looks like it was an awesome experience! Oh, I would love to join TBEX sometimes! And who knows if someone would recognize me? That would definitely an interesting part. 🙂

  8. Yay for another TBEX post that wasn’t completely negative! It was great hanging out with you and Val and everyone else this weekend. As far as I’m concerned, the whole experience was worth what I spent on it.

    I can’t wait to follow you on your adventures later this year. I have a feeling you’re going to be one to watch!

    1. Yeah, I figured Michael covered all the negatives just fine so thought I’d focus more on the positives. I’m definitely glad I went! 🙂

  9. I am so envious and inspired by you. I think it’s so amazing when people take something they love and enjoy and turn it into something more. How cool that you got the opportunity to go to a conference like this and meet other people like you.

    If I were more ambitious, I would love to be a real travel blogger someday. As it is, I’m a little bit lazy, and so I think I’ll leave it up to people like you to do the job. In the meantime, I’ll just live vicariously through you.

    Keep up the awesome work!

    1. Awww, thanks Cary! You’re so sweet! And p.s. I promise I will getting the Versatile Blogger post up soon – probably early next week.

  10. I’m so glad I got to meet you this weekend! Sunday night having dinner with you, Val & Andy was one of the highlights of the trip. It was great to talk to people we have so much in common with & I can’t wait to follow your future travels!

    1. It was great meeting you guys as well! And yes, dinner was wonderful – although I met a ton of people during the TBEX, there were few that I was able to really sit down with and get to know like with you and Andy.

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