On a warm, sunny day last year in Keystone, Colorado, I walked into the bright, spacious conference centre at my first TBEX—the annual Travel Bloggers Exchange, which brings together travel writers, bloggers, photographers, videographers, industry reps, PR folks and anyone and everyone who works in travel and new media. The sky was blindingly blue, I had just gone for a morning run along the trails of the stunning Vail Resort, I had a full weekend of workshops and parties ahead of me… and I was absolutely terrified.
I was still relatively new to travel blogging at the time. I had been writing travel stories for various newspapers and magazines for several years and had just started as an associate editor for Travel+Escape (update: I’m now the editor of TravelandEscape.ca), but blogging was a beast that I had yet to conquer with any kind of strength or regularity. And it was an intense weekend, especially for someone new to the scene.
It’s now been another year, and another TBEX has come and gone. The conference is a big deal—this year saw more than 1,200 travel-focused people descending on Toronto for a weekend of workshops, parties and networking opportunities. For a conference that only got started a few years ago with a few hundred people, that’s some staggering growth. And if you’re one of the new people in that ever-growing group, you’re probably looking for some tips to get you in the TBEX zone. Here’s what I learned in my move from newbie to sort-of veteran.
It’s okay to feel lonely and overwhelmed
If you’re not a superstar in the blogging world, it’s very likely you’ll arrive at TBEX feeling like you don’t belong. Many of the attendees know each other from past conferences, from press trips they’ve taken together and from social media. And trust me, there will be lots of hugging and Instagramming as they all meet up again for another year. I admit that if you’re not in that circle, it can feel terribly isolating. But that’s okay. Remember, TBEX is still relatively new. It’s only been happening for a few years, and has only really grown into the size it is in the past two years, after it was bought out by BlogWorld. And travel blogging is also still relatively new—and is still growing. That means there are many others who will be at TBEX feeling just as lonely and overwhelmed. So when you think about it, you’re not as alone as you may feel.
It’s okay to eavesdrop
I mean this in the electronic sense. If you don’t have a Twitter account (and what are you doing blogging without a Twitter account?!), open one before you come to TBEX—and familiarize yourself with it. The easiest, fastest way to find out what’s happening at TBEX is to follow the #tbex Twitter feed. There will be impromptu parties and meet-ups and conversations (and even some gossip) going on, and the best way to keep on top of it all is by following along. And don’t be afraid to join the conversation, too—but I don’t just mean this on Twitter. Find yourself seated next to a blogger you read, or talking about a topic you’re interested in? It’s okay to mention that you’re a fan or interject a comment. On the whole, travel bloggers love talking to people (and who doesn’t love hearing that someone reads their work?!), so it’s very likely you’ll end up in a good conversation with a new friend.
It’s okay not to do it all
Unless you’ve discovered the secret to cloning or time travel, doing everything that’s on offer at TBEX is impossible. There are pre-parties and post-parties and pop-up parties. There are simultaneous workshops happening and you’ll likely want to sit in more than one. There are pre-conference workshops and press tours in the days before and after TBEX officially begins. There are “speed dating” sessions with PR reps and luncheons with brands. I tackled my fair share of events and averaged about four hours of sleep per night for five days straight and still only attended half of what was happening. Pick what you want to do the most (and leave some space for those impromptu parties that you’ll hear about on Twitter), and leave it at that.
It’s okay to not be a business
There was a lot of discussion at TBEX this year about the bloggers who are all about the money and free trips and who consider writing (or photography or videography) to be an afterthought. That, my dear beginner, is not what TBEX is about (despite what it may seem from the highly business-like stream of workshops). That was what worried me at my first TBEX—because I wasn’t a full-time travel blogger only making money off my blog, I worried I didn’t belong. But the truth is, there are a lot of big names there who don’t consider blogging to be their business. They have travel blogs, but they also work full-time elsewhere, or use it as a portfolio, or are still trying to decide whether to make the leap. You don’t have to be surviving solely off Google ads and sponsored posts to belong. An interest in real travel writing will give you more cred than an interest in monetization and SEO.
It’s okay to kill your diet
Healthy living is not an option at TBEX. I realized on the Saturday afternoon that for the previous three days, my liquid intake had consisted entirely of alcohol and coffee. With all the parties and free food and booze flowing, you’ll be eating and drinking non-stop. Go with it. For the past two years, the offerings at the opening parties have been delicious, and skipping out on treats like cola-infused macarons (from a pre-TBEX lunch at the Trump Toronto Hotel) or cheese served with maple syrup on snow (from the kick-off party by Tourism Toronto) is just sacrilegious, in my view.