As some of you may have noticed from my social media updates, I spent the last few weeks traveling around Spain’s Costa Brava or the wild (and unbelievably gorgeous!) coast and exploring Barcelona. I was there attending my first ever big travel conference- the 2015 Europe edition of TBEX in a town called Lloret De Mar. I’d known about TBEX ever since I first started blogging over four years ago but had been waiting to attend when I felt confident about the direction of my blog and had enough knowledge and experience to make sense of all the new information.
I’m back in Dubai now and wanted to share my experience at TBEX after having had plenty of time to reflect on what I learnt there. If you’re a blogger who’s curious about TBEX and if and how much value it can add to your travel blogging career, I hope this post is useful and helps you decide if you’d like to attend the next one in 2015 or maybe in 2016.
So what’s TBEX about?
TBEX (or Travel Bloggers Exchange) is a conference attended by travel bloggers, writers, photographers and all kinds of travel professionals including hotels, brands, companies and the much coveted tourism boards. There are sessions held by veteran industry professionals that really help you learn the ins and outs of professional blogging, professional networking opportunities and a whole lot of parties (travel bloggers and travelers in general are a merry fun-loving bunch!)
To summarize these were the various events during the conference:
- Pre-TBEX trips and excursions
- Intensive multi-day workshops to improve your skills
- Speaker and Keynote sessions
- Speed networking sessions
- Breakout sessions
- Sponsor hosted parties
- Opening & Closing parties
- Post-TBEX FAM Trips
I had been following some speakers at TBEX Costa Brava since a time when I hadn’t even started blogging. It was by reading some of their blogs that I was inspired to travel and eventually make a career out of it. Some speakers whose sessions I found to be very useful were Bret & Mary of Green Global Travel, acclaimed travel writer David Farley, Katie Hammel- Senior Travel Editor at Viator, Michael Collins of Travel Media, Derek Baron of Wandering Earl and Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads.
One of the highlights of the conference for me was to get to meet the incredibly encouraging and down-to-earth Derek of Wandering Earl, a blogger (and writer) whose voice and personality I really admire.
The All-Important Lessons
Here’s a quick overview of my main lessons from the speaker sessions- a lot of this wasn’t new information but the way it was put across (with case studies and personal examples) was interesting to listen to.
- Blogging isn’t the right profession for you if money is your main motivator. It’s a terrible profession for those who want to make money. I have known this for quite some time from experience (not complaining- I really do love my job for reasons independent of remuneration).
- Be Yourself. Whether you’re goofy, clumsy, quirky, bohemian, frugal or just really really weird, embrace it and let your blog be authentic. Don’t try to be like someone else in the hopes of emulating their success.
- It’s all about building community and adding value to your readers- inspiring and encouraging them and solving their travel related problems.
- It’s easy to lose sight of the long-term goals and get caught up in quick short-term gains. So don’t lose focus of why you do what you do and revisit your goals often.
- Find what’s unique about you, your voice, your blog and your product and play up these strengths while aligning them with the needs of your audience.
- Keep learning and improving your skill set because the industry is very very dynamic.
- Approach companies that share the same values as you and your blog and you’ll have higher success at being given the chance to work with them.
- Know how you can add value to the company’s goals, define deliverables and learn how to evaluate your value addition.
- Be creative and take risks because very few people get phenomenal success out of following the herd.
- Evaluate your goals, and accordingly arrive at what statistics are most relevant to your work.
- Be pro-active and solutions oriented.
- Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.
- Network, network & network!
How to Prepare?
To be honest, I wasn’t sure about preparation myself and read many articles that had some great tips for first timers at TBEX. One article I found really useful was ‘Prepare for TBEX the Do’s, Don’ts and the T-Shirt on Standing Out’ by Christa at The Fairytale Traveler, so I’m not going to go into more detail.
I will, however, add that your preparation highly depends on what you want to get out of the conference. I did meet a couple of people who weren’t travel bloggers or even bloggers, but were considering if that is a road they would like to go down.
The speaker sessions are an excellent way to learn about how to take your blog to the next level, so know who the speakers are and decide which sessions you want to attend. It’s easy to get caught up in live-tweeting or blogging the sessions, but don’t forget to take notes so you can actually apply what you’re learning.
You should have business cards because you’re going to find that these are exchanged all the time, during the pre-conference events, excursions, photo-walks as well as the conference itself. I know some bloggers recommend carrying as many as 500 but I gave out only about 150. But maybe that’s because I wasn’t too aggressive about giving these out to just about everyone, out of personal choice.
The other thing you need to have ready is a Media Kit, because that is how you’ll introduce your brand to the companies and brands that you want to work with. I did realize though that while some of them were happy to take printed copies of my Media Kit, the others just wanted me to email it to them.
If you do plan to talk to companies and brands, then it’s a good idea to do your research and know how you want to work with them. A lot of people don’t want to talk to brands and that’s okay if it doesn’t align with what you’re looking for.
My Favorite Part
Networking is one of the biggest benefits of a conference like TBEX. It’s an excellent opportunity to meet not only companies but also industry peers and fellow bloggers you may have had virtual friendships with. It can seem intimidating at first, and I wasn’t sure how I’d do, considering that I’m really an introvert. Then I had a reassuring conversation with Alison of Green with Renvy about how I wouldn’t be the only introvert around and that put me at ease. Eventually, I did find that it was easy to initiate conversations because travel bloggers really are friendly, interesting and easy to talk to because of an important passion they have in common.
I had a great time meeting some really cool people, some of whom I had known for a long time, being connected to them via their blogs, social media, Facebook groups and other networks. Getting to meet them in person was an invaluable experience and now I can’t wait for the next one hoping I can see them again. There’s just something incredible about meeting people who share the same passion for travel and what is usually considered an unconventional career path. We’re all dreamers, believers and do-ers and all the positive energy that comes out of a gathering of around 800 people who believe in the craziness of their goals is fantastic.
Some of the amazing fellow bloggers and writers I was happy to have met were Dale and Franca of Angloitalian, Adrian of Adrian’s Travel Tales, Maria & Krasimir of Travelling Buzz, Emily of Emily Luxton Travels, Alison of Green with Renvy, Jane of Scarlet Jones Travels, Margherita and Nick of The Crowded Planet, Laurence of Partis Pour, Paige of All Over The Map, Denise of Follow My Footprints, Brian of The Wandering Gourmand, Manouk of Bunch of Backpackers, Marissa of MAD Travel Diaries, and Gianni and Ivana of Nomad is Beautiful. I know I’ve missed out on many names because there were just so many awesome people at TBEX. Thank you for all the positivity and encouragement!
Networking also means attending a lot of parties and events, i.e., the pre-opening party, opening party, closing party and other events hosted by sponsors or other attendees. Add to this the trips, excursions, photo walks, workshops, two days of running between sessions and you have a very exhausting week or ten days. So, it’s important to prioritize how much you’d like to party/work/network.
My first time at TBEX was a hugely positive experience. Will I attend again? Hell YES! I came back from the conference feeling inspired, confident and motivated. During and after the conference, I felt like little light bulbs going on in my head, with creative ideas and plans for how to take things to the next level. I met some wonderful people and I’m looking forward to following their adventures, working with them someday and hopefully running into them again, as you do.
A HUGE shout-out goes to Jaume Marin and Costa Brava Tourism, Mary Jo Manzanares, TBEX Conference Director and the various teams that put together the conference, excursions, pre and post trips and made all the arrangements. The hospitality that we experienced at the hands of Costa Brava Tourism was unbelievable and deserves to be applauded.
My first time at TBEX really helped me to focus on why I chose this career path and what I love about it. I’m already looking forward to the next one!
Here are some photos from the amazing opening party and a cool video of Castellers or the tradition of ‘human towers’ from the event.[youtube]https://youtu.be/QDBixDkZRWU[/youtube]
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Have you been to TBEX or are you planning to go to one for the first time? Please feel free to ask me any questions about attending the conference.
If you’re traveling to Spain and looking for general information to help you plan your travels and suggested itineraries (including off-the-beaten-path places like Palafrugell, Girona and Cap De Creus), check out my Spain Travel Blog. Alternatively, just get straight to the point and find out where to go for the best chocolate in Barcelona 😉