10 TBEX Takeaways

The Toronto Skyline from Center Island

The Toronto Skyline from Center Island

Last weekend, I attended the TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) Conference in Toronto, Ontario. This is the conference’s 4th year, but the first one I attended. They’ve grown in size every year, and this year over 1,300 bloggers and industry reps attended. I’ll admit up front that the size of the conference left me overwhelmed, as I knew it would. My main reasons for going were different than those of most of the conference attendees I met. As I put it to friends before I left, TBEX, for me, was a combination of Fantasy Camp and Summer Camp. I was going to have fun and meet new people, but I was also going because there are so many bloggers out there who I admire and I wanted not only to meet them, but also express my appreciation for what they do. My biggest concern was coming across as a star-struck stalker to some of the bloggers I admired most. Another concern was that, having met only one other attendee in person before, there was the distinct possibility that I would spend much of the social events standing in the corner with a beer, too paralyzed by my own insecurities to introduce myself to anyone. My third fear was of being dismissed by well-read successful bloggers and newbies alike for being there despite the fact that I’ll never see my blog as anything more than a hobby. (Fear One: Guilty! Fear Two: It certainly happened, but not all the time, Fear Three: Did not happen.)

On the way home, which was spent in an infuriating amount of traffic (a 7.5 hour drive instead of 4.5 hours), I asked myself what things I took away most from the whole experience. The following are in no particular order and, sadly seem to have almost no coherency. Don’t say I didn’t warn you beforehand about the scattershot of thoughts you are about to encounter.

Me, with Kate, Rishi & Melissa

Me, with Kate, Rishi & Melissa

1- I am so lucky to have made the friends in the community I had going in, and the new friends I made in Toronto.

I’d had my ticket since November of 2012. I must have changed my mind about going 50 times. I knew it was unlikely that the conference was ever going to be as close as this to my home in Detroit, where I can safely say it will never be held, so if I was going to go, it had better be this year. I got the first encouragement to go from a giant in the business, and someone I am lucky to be able to call a friend, The Amateur Traveler’s Chris Christensen. I received even more encouragement from two wonderful bloggers and beautiful people, Melissa of The Mellyboo Project, and Kate of CanucKiwiKate. Both native of the Toronto area, we’d become friends through many long chats on Facebook and by reading and supporting each other’s blogs. My insecurity was made less because I knew they wouldn’t allow me to stand in the corner by myself, they were going to make sure I got out there and interacted, and they did. Along with a new friend, Rishi, I knew with them around I’d always have that ‘security blanket’ someone with my anxiety requires. They also did it in a way that made me sure I wasn’t just being a hanger on. I had so many genuine conversations filled with laughter and sharing, I’ll never be able to thank them enough. I was also super lucky to meet Red Hunt, a friend I’d had on the beer app ‘Untappd’ for a number of months. We bonded quickly, once again proving what I constantly tell people, a passion for good craft beer can be one of the strongest ties in starting and maintaining a friendship. I have a feeling Red & I will bend an elbow in the future.

Red & I indulging our common passion

Red & I indulging our common passion

I met lots of new people, many of which I hope to cultivate and maintain friendships with. It’s hard to develop a genuine connection with people in such a short period of time, but I know that I found many kindred spirits among the attendees. We’ll see which of those new friendships become long-term ones, and I am hoping many do.

2- It is impossible to read minds or intentions.

I told my wife going into the conference that just about the worst thing that could happen for me would be for me to have a bad or humiliating (in my mind) encounter with the first ‘big-time’ bloggers I met, as it would effect my ability to go up and talk to any of the others all weekend. That, unfortunately, is pretty much what happened, or at least that is how I took it that night. I attended the Toronto Travel Massive Party on the Thursday Night I arrived. I knew I was going to be able to meet Melissa in person for the first time, and hopefully Kate, too. I did meet Melissa early in the gathering, and talked with her and many of the people she introduced me to for a while (after standing in the corner with a beer for a while ๐Ÿ™‚ ). I lost track of her and the group after about an hour and found myself, once again standing in the corner of a room with a beer, feeling awkward. After a short while, I noticed two of the more successful bloggers, people I had interacted with on Facebook and Twitter before, and two who’s blogs I hold great admiration for. I figured I’d better stop being so intimidated and talk to some people, or I’d end up in corners all weekend.

Here’s where following my own best advice of not assuming you know what on other people’s minds would have been best. Summoning all of my courage, I went up to them and introduced myself to them. Even though we’d interacted in social media and I’d left quite a few comments on their blogs, they both seemed to have no recognition of who I was. I didn’t let that rattle me, since there, other than those small contacts, wasn’t any reason they should recognize me. I did get the impression that they were annoyed that I interrupted their conversation, which, if I did, is a good reason to be annoyed. I’d tried to be careful about not barging in, but I guess I have no real idea, since they didn’t outright say anything and as mentioned somewhere I shouldn’t be trying to read people minds. After less than a minute, I was sweaty from the anxiety and was trying to figure out why I’d done this, and how exactly I could get out of it gracefully (that is, to say, by not turning and running out of the bar). One of them pulled out their phone and scrolled ย it, the other started looking over my shoulder in what I interpreted as them looking for someone who they’d rather be talking to. I tried to maintain a conversation, but they only time they were engaged was when they started talking to each other. After less than 5 minutes, I knew I had to get out of there, so I reiterated quickly how much I enjoyed their blogs and how nice it was too meet them, then bolted away.

It, for me, was just about the worst-case scenario. It colored the whole weekend. There were so many times where I recognized a blogger whose work I appreciated, but it was an extremely rare occurrence where I actually went up and talked to them. All of this is so silly, since the only way I have to judge those first two bloggers was on that short conversation’s body language. I hardly blame them for the effect it had on the rest of my weekend, I blame myself for not just getting over it. It would be great if I could have just follow the advice I’ve been given my whole life of “Just be yourself and don’t care what people think”, but at this point, that type of change wasn’t going to happen in that split second.

(Being fair to them, and I would never call anyone out, especially since I already admitted that this could be me misinterpreting as much as it could be them being dismissive or arrogant. I did see them both again, and the one ignored me like they had by pulling out the phone as soon as I introduced myself, the other smiled and said hello each time, and even wrote on my Facebook wall that it was nice to have met me.)

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Dave & Deb from the Planet D giving their keynote address (above story in #2 is NOT about them!)

3. Giving compliments is easy, learning to take one is harder.

As mentioned, there were so many bloggers there whose content and/or writing I admired. When I did talk with them, I had no problem telling them how much I liked their work. There were a few times, however, I was shocked when someone said to me how much they liked my photography. I was even more blown away when they came up with specific photo subjects or pictures. My blog’s numbers are extremely light, and I had just assumed, outside a few close friends, that I would not meet anyone who had seen or heard of my blog, much less was a fan of a specific aspect.

I was flattered, am flattered, but I fear my acceptance of those compliments in front of the person giving them must have come across as me being a bumbling mess.

4. I missed so many of my favorite bloggers.

One of the biggest regrets I have was not writing out a list, or at least checking my Google Reader, to make sure I didn’t go the whole weekend without trying to meet most of my favorites. I probably shouldn’t be too hard on myself, since I have over 500 blogs in said reader, but with 1300 people there, I stupidly assumed I’d be able to recognize the people I wanted to meet via a small avatar photo or by some of the pictures on their blog. That turned out to be a lot harder than I though it would be.

In the end, I missed so many people, but specifically Jack & Jill Travel the World, Leigh of Hike Bike Travel, Christina of My View from the Middle Seat, and Mike of Nomadic Texan, just to name a few. I haven’t even begun to catch up on my reader to find out who else I missed…

Katie, Jaime, Matt, me and Sally

Katie, Jaime, Matt, me and Sally (see links to their sites below)

5. It was extremely cool meeting many of my ‘blogger crushes’.

With such a long list of blogs I admire, and a schedule that means I sometimes get behind on reading/retweeting/commenting on even my favorites, I still have a few I make sure I always read, even if I can’t comment as much as I would like. The ‘superfan’ side of my was almost giddy when I was able to meet some of these favorites. My first such encounter was with Dan & Audrey of Uncornered Market, who I was introduced to by my friend Chris. There are every bit as awesome and down-to-earth as you would expect after reading their blog.

At the Saturday night event, I had a chance to stand and talk with FOUR of my favorites all at once, which, after I recovered from a spinning head at first, was just about one of my favorite conversation streams of the whole night. Sally of Unbrave Girl, Matt of Landlopers, Jaime of Breakaway Backpacker, and Katie of Katie Going Global were all amazing & incredibly engaging, and they all did a nice job of not making me feel like that obsessive fan- in fact, I couldn’t even tell if I was being that was because none of them got that awkward uncomfortable body language people get when I do slip into that mode.

Me with the NVR Guys and Josh of Engineer on the Road

Me with the No Vacation Required Guys (Caanan & Kent) and Josh of Engineer on the Road

As the conference wound to a close, I posted on twitter that I was most disappointed not to have a chance to meetย Kent and Caanan of No Vacation Required. Obviously I was ecstatic when they flagged me down shortly there after. This was another instance where people turned out to be just what you would expect from their blog, charming and gracious.

6. I need to work on becoming a better writer, even if I never intend my blog to be a career.ย 

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Chris Christensen, Pam Mandel and Leif Pettersen during the informative (and funny) “Before You Hit Publish” breakaway

During the closing keynote, I was able to sit next to one of my favorite writers (calling her a just a blogger misses her true gift), Pam Mandel, whose personal blog isย Nerd’s Eye View, but writes for a number of the most respected travel publications. The advice I got from her was to focus more on the craft of writing, even if I never intend to be a published writer. She gave that advice, without ever reading any of my stuff, because she could tell how much I enjoy it, and also that I really wanted to improve at the craft.

The 'This Week in Travel' crew during closing keynote- Gary of Everything Everywhere, Jen Leo, Spud Hilton, and Chris Christensen of The Amateur Traveler

The ‘This Week in Travel’ crew during closing keynote- Gary of Everything Everywhere, Jen Leo, Spud Hilton, and Chris Christensen of The Amateur Traveler

I’ve been my own biggest critic when it comes to my writing, and while I’m not going to say it’s unreadable, I certainly have a lot to learn. I need to learn to take more chances when I sit down at the keyboard. If there is anyone left reading this post at this point, it’s obvious I could stand to learn some brevity. I need to focus more on the editing of pieces rather than simply hitting ‘publish’ because I’ve worked so long on it and can’t stand looking at it anymore. During the closing keynote, Spud Hilton of The San Francisco Chronicle really took bloggers to task on their writing, and I know he offended some people by implying 99% of the blogging community are lousy writers. When talking briefly with Jen Leo (another of This Week in Travel’s co-hosts) afterward, she disagreed with the number being that high and the assessment that people don’t want to get to know bloggers personally. Either way, both seemed to agree that if you want to be taken seriously as a writer or blogger, it is important to constantly be striving to be a better writer. It’s advice I really took to heart. It may turn out that I’m not able to be better at the craft of writing, but that no reason not to try.

7. I was shocked at how little I actually talked about the traveling side of what we do.

One of the biggest reasons I wanted to attend TBEX was to talk travel and listen to other people’s travel stories. I have very little outlet for that love here in Detroit other than the online community, and I incorrectly assumed that would be more of the subject than the industry and where it was going. That was a silly assumption on my part, especially since we all had differing travel styles, but most were there to try and grow their blog’s business. I’m certainly not judging people for this, more just making a comment at how naively I went into this. That said, I did talk travel with a number of people and enjoyed just about everyone of those unique conversations.

A Visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame

A Visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame

8. You don’t need to attend every session or activity offered to have a successful conference.ย 

After the keynote speaker on Sunday morning, I walked over to the Hockey Hall of Fame so I could use one of the free admissions provided to TBEX attendees through theย Tourismย Toronto’s Attraction Passport. I felt guilty skipping the two morning breakout sessions, but I had looked over the descriptions and found that they mostly didn’t apply to my situation as a blogger. I was glad I made this decision, since I really enjoyed the Hockey Hall of Fame. I found out later, mostly after reading many of the post-TBEX posts how many of the people attended little or even none of the actual conference sessions, preferring to do their own thing instead and showing up for the social functions.ย 

I did go to all of the keynotes and many of the breakaways, and enjoyed and took away something from every one I did go to, but I understand how many of the people didn’t want to go. So many of those sessions were packed (standing room only in a lot of cases) and the people who asked the questions during the question and answer sessions were, for the most part, either self-serving or long winded. I really thought the conference well-run and well-organized, and I felt like that was the overall view most people had, but there will always be complainers.

9. A couple of things would have to happen for me to go to another TBEX.

As I told people all weekend, I really do believe this will be my last TBEX, at least for a while. I thought about it a lot on the way home, and while I very much enjoyed the conference as a whole, a few things would need to fall into place for me to go again. First, I would need to be more serious about my blog. That means increasing the number and quality of posts, following a general direction in it’s formatting and content, working on optimizing SEO (which I barely understand now), driving the numbers up and creating a community so that I am able to take advantages of the networking opportunities with advertisers and tourism boards. With my current job, one I really do like despite it’s time commitment, it’s hard to see how I would make all of those things happen. It’s possible if I prioritize it, but still unlikely.

Secondly, The conference would need to be scheduled in a place I really want to go, or be something that I could, with some geographic sensibility, link to a trip I am taking right before or after the event. For example, If it ever got scheduled in the San Francisco Bay area, I would probably at least look into the possibility of going since I adore that area.

10. #FlatDeej is the man, and I had fun hanging around him.ย 

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Lola, #FlatDeej & me

This one is a little bit of an inside one. The incredibly creative Lauren of the blog where in the world is lola? made a few ‘falt’ versions of a blogger friend of ours, Deej from The World of Deej, who wasn’t able to come to TBEX this year. I noticed Ted, of Traveling Ted, had one of these as we boarded the boat to the Expedia Night with the Stars Party on Center Island. He graciously offered to allow me to be the guardian of #FlatDeej for the rest of the weekend and I had fun carrying him around and catching him taking in some of Toronto’s sights, food & nightlife. I was glad to do it and it gave the real life Deej something to follow along with all weekend. While I would have preferred the 3D version be in Toronto, #FlatDeej was still fun to hang around with.

(Deej wrote this post on his blog detailing the Adventures of #FlatDeej).

 

Jeremy of Budget Travel Adventures & I at the CN Tower

Jeremy of Budget Travel Adventures & I at the CN Tower

All in all, it was a rewarding experience. Since it was so close to home for me, it provided me with the opportunity to meet so many of my blogger idols, see a cool city, and learn some things that may, sometime down the road, help me to reshape this blog. I’m glad I went, and most of all, am incredibly grateful to all of those people (far too many to name) who were so kind to an intimidate small-time blogger by myself.

 

(Disclaimer: When I originally put did my notes for the post, I had intended not to include any names, in fear that, no matter how many I put in, I wouldn’t be able to include all of the people whose company I enjoyed. Obviously, in the end, I did include a fair number of names and pictures. I hope everyone not mentioned understands my difficulty here and knows that I am thankful to have met them, even if not specifically commented on.)

28 Responses to “10 TBEX Takeaways”

  1. sehar19 says:

    interesting share Erik. thanx for sharing!

    Giving compliments is easy, learning to take one is harder….yesss true:))

    Sehar

  2. Erik – I was looking for you everyday and in the evening and I’m bummed we didn’t connect. There were at least another six bloggers I’d hoped to say hello too. On the other hand I had a few chance encounters with people who happened to end up sitting next to me in a session like Leslie from Downtown Traveler and we had a short but great conversation. Also sat beside the main PR rep in a session and at lunch from San Francisco and judging by the prices TBEX wants to charge firms/tourist boards next year, she doesn’t think there will be a need to host the conference in the future. As she said San Francisco doesn’t actually need TBEX. I could understand smaller cities with less press coverage enjoying the press from a blogger’s conference.
    I find the evening parties can be a bit lonely – and loud. I also would have loved a way to hook up with other adventure type travelers- especially new ones I’d never heard of before. Small one hour focus groups would be fun.

    • Erik says:

      With 1300 people, and trying to notice people from their gravatar or pictures on their blog, some people were going to be missed. I wish I had prepared a list for myself before I went. I thought I would remember everyone I wanted to meet, but was so throw off by the sheer size of the event that I couldn’t keep a clear thought.

      I’m not holding out hope for a San Francisco TBEX, but it is about the only way I could see myself attending again. The rep is right, San Francisco doesn’t need TBEX, but, I fear, in a few years, when the event begins to get a little stale, TBEX might need San Francisco!

  3. I read your post a couple days ago, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

    You danced lightly around your awkward first encounter and cast it as mercifully as possible, but let’s call a couple of rude, self-centered, boorish young women just what they are. (I can, even if you didn’t)

    There is NO excuse for that behavior, and it kills me to think of how dreadful and embarrassing that was for you. (Probably because I’m projecting. I’d have been standing in the same corner, minus the beer.)

    I’ve attended big writer’s conferences, and I’ve done small breakout sessions at big writer’s conferences. NO ONE ought to be so crude and self-important.

    There. I feel better now.

    • Erik says:

      I appreciate the support, Kate, but I’m sure it meant a lot more in my mind than was intended. (And it wasn’t 2 girls, it was a guy and a girl) Anyway, as I found out all weekend- this social media conscious group scrolls through their phones constantly- and offense is never intended.

      In the end the amount of really amazing, really nice, down-to-earth people I met was 100x times the self-important ones. It was a learning experience for sure.

  4. Cool, you saw the Stanley Cup too! It’s interesting to hear about your experiences. Meeting your colleagues is one of the best things about TBEX, isn’t it? I wouldn’t make anything of that perceived slight – many of us were frequently checking our tweets and looking around the room, just because you don’t want to miss anybody at an event like this!

    • Erik says:

      I’m not putting too much into the slight, I know it probably wasn’t intentional, but, at the time, already overwhelmed by the size of the crowd, it wasn’t helpful at all ๐Ÿ™‚

      It was great meeting you!

  5. Erik! Great meeting you at TBEX. Keep in touch! – Jason

    http://www.tourguys.ca

  6. Really interesting read โ€“ I keep meaning to go to one of the big blogger conferences but share a lot of those feelings about being intimidated and nervous to meet bloggers I admire, and like my blog is too small to be really taken seriously. So far travel plans and life have clashed with every conference this year but I will try and make one next year, though the scale of TBEX does put me off a bit, I’d definitely be hiding in a corner with a beer at least part of the time too!

    • Erik says:

      Lucy, You have a great blog! I learned during TBEX that it doesn’t matter how ‘small’ your blog is- it’s yours and you should be proud of it!

  7. fotoeins says:

    Thanks for your great summary, Erik; it was just like being there with you every step of the way, in all of the awkward and awesome times. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I’ve never been to a travel blogging conference though I’d love to meet some of the folks I’ve known for 3 years and that might be the best way ๐Ÿ™‚

    At my first Travel Massive in Sydney, I was definitely nervous before I walked in the door, and even after a few I still felt a little overwhelmed!

    Really great, detailed post. I’ve been interested in hearing what my blogging friends thought about the experience. Thanks for sharing!

    • Erik says:

      Thanks, Heather!

      I like the term detailed! Most people use ‘rambling’ or ‘long-winded’ ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Nice post Erik! Great meeting you as well. And totally agree with you about the disappointment in not talking more actual TRAVEL with people! I don’t have many friends at home who I can just talk travel with ad nauseum so I would’ve loved to do so with like-minded peeps at TBEX. I did have a couple good chats solely about travel and those were probably some of my favorites.

    Also totally relate to the star struck feeling as that’s how felt when I went in Vancouver. My blog was barely off the ground then and many people I met don’t even remember meeting me there.

    • Erik says:

      I’m in Chicago on occasion (I went to university there), so I’ll get a hold of you next time I’m in town and we can talk travel ๐Ÿ™‚ I, too, have little outlet for that at home!

  10. Great insight Erik. As someone that has a hard time getting out of the corner, I applaud your efforts to do so even if it didn’t go the way you’d hoped. Not sure if the real Deej will ever make it to TBEX, but I know FlatDeej had a blast:)

    • Erik says:

      Being the only blogger to have met you, I can vouch that #RealDeej is even cooler than #FlatDeej ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Erik – Do people know what a great sense of humor you have? Very nice to meet you and to have the chance to chat for a bit. Glad we caught you ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Erik says:

      Thanks- I come across to most people as pretty humorless, I fear. Thanks for helping give me the confidence to let my hair down and let people see I’m not so severe.

      Awesome meeting you guys. It was one of the best moments of TBEX for me.

  12. Nice wrap-up, and it sounds like you had a great experience overall. I think many people probably had similar fears or worries about there being too many people, being in the corner, not finding those people they really want to meet, etc. It would be hard not to in such a large crowd. I wish I could have met the people you mentioned above (except the one who scrolled through her phone twice…)–it looks like it was a lot of fun.
    About the writing, I understand the difficulty of keeping up a blog with the commitments of work (and kids in my case), but I think you should be a little easier on yourself and continue to write about what you enjoy. With the intention of writing better and improving SEO, you will improve in those areas step by step.

    • Erik says:

      Thanks, Jenna.

      I hesitate in even telling the story about the first two I met. I hope I’ve made in clear in the telling of that incident that is was as likely it was my insecurities and it was any perceived snub from those two. If I named them, it would be putting more of the blame on them, when that is not fair at all. Also, the longer the weekend I went on, I realized that pulling out one’s phone while in the middle of a conversation is something most travel bloggers do. It’s not a rude thing- it’s just something this social media addicted bunch do. ๐Ÿ™‚

      You should try to make one someday- even if it doesn’t work for you, it’s worth the trip once!

      • Jenna says:

        Ok, so i take back what i said about not wanting to meet the one who scrolled through her phone a couple of times. She may not have had the intentions that it seemed like she did. It sounds like you are giving that situation the benefit of the doubt–definitely a good thing to do. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Rishiray says:

    Damn Erik …
    This is a great post … better than what I wrote!!
    Definitely glad i went to TBEX!!

  14. Kris Koeller says:

    Nice post. I enjoyed reading about your experiences, in particular your experience with meeting many luminaries in this space. I wondered if such a gathering would feel clubby; maybe in some regards it did, but sounds like (and looks like) you connected with a number of terrific people nonetheless. Well done, keep up the great work.

    • Erik says:

      Thanks for all your support Kris.

      You are right about it being ‘clubby’, especially amongst the younger, more successful bloggers for whom this is a career. I understand they would want to be more insular and protective of themselves since it’s their career, I guess… ๐Ÿ™‚

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