I attended my first travel blogging conference, TBEX, on a whim. I’d just finished a week of teaching English in Poland and had some free space in my travel schedule before I headed to Budapest. While perusing the Travel Massive site for a webinar, I saw TBEX Ostrava (Czech Republic) advertised for that week! Since I was just a bus ride away from Ostrava, I decided to book a last minute ticket and go check it out.
In order to understand my mindset going into this conference, I think a little bit of background information is helpful. When I decided to go, I was at a point in blogging where I had to figure something out, because it really wasn’t working the way I’d hoped. I’d gone to a blogging retreat with Pangea Dreams a few months earlier and was doing my best to implement what I learned, it just wasn’t translating. So I was looking to learn from those who’d built financially successful blogs.
Additionally, I wasn’t a stranger to conferences. I’d been to plenty in my former career as an athletic trainer with my coworkers. I knew the “water cooler” chat. But travel blogging was a whole new world. I had zero idea what to expect from a travel blogging conference and going solo made me nervous. What did travel bloggers talk about?!
This blogging conference was my true first step at taking blogging seriously. It was more than just an online course, it was the first time I ever introduced myself as a travel blogger.
TBEX was a whirlwind and made me question the role blogging plaid in my life. But it also taught me invaluable information about the blogging world which I knew that if I implemented it correctly, could provide the success I desired. A few months after TBEX, I attended my second travel blogging conference, TravelCon, and noticed a dramatic difference in my approach to this conference compared to the first.
In this post, I will share with you what to expect from your first travel blogging experience to help you show up as prepared as possible. And I will also share with you my tips to decrease the overwhelm of travel blogging conferences whether it’s your first or your fifth.
This post contains affiliate links, which means that, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a tiny bit of income if you decide to make a purchase or booking.
How to Decide which Travel Blogging Conference to Attend
There are a wide variety of travel blogging conferences worldwide. I’ve got a few on my radar for the coming years, such as Women in Travel Summit. This summer I only plan to attend one, TravelCon round two in Boston. For a comprehensive list of travel blogging conference, these are two good resources from Honey Moon Always and Tourism Currents.
What to Expect from Your First Travel Blogging Conference
Before the Event
The best way to prepare for the conference is before you even arrive. I did not do a good job at preparing considering it was a last minute decision to even attend. This added to my feeling of overwhelm. I didn’t even know what to wear because I’d been living out of a backpack for months. But what you wear really isn’t important compared to your mindset.
Know Your Blog and Your Goals
The best thing that you can do before the event is an evaluation of your blog and your goals for it. Get familiar with Google Analytics and know your numbers. A few key metrics to know about your blog
- The number of unique and returning visits to your site
- Your audience’s demographics (gender, age, location).
- Know the numbers for your social media accounts
- Know how many people are on your email list and their engagement
- Be able to explain your niche
- …and what sets you apart from others in that niche.
Then create a short elevator pitch for your blog which shows what you write about and for whom.
Next, determine your goals. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. Are you a great photographer looking to develop your blog around that skill? Do you need to learn about SEO so you can decrease your time spent on social media? Know where you are and where you want to go. This will help you guide your decision with which education sessions to attend.
Pick Your Sessions in Advance
After you register, you will receive a multitude of emails with details for the event. Everything from the schedule to where to stay to how to get there. Look at the schedule before you arrive and pick the sessions that will benefit you the most based on your evaluation of your blog. The best session I attended at TBEX was about SEO. I didn’t understand SEO at the time, but after that talk, I realized it’s what I needed to focus on in order to get the traffic to my blog that I desired.
Typically, there are a variety of sessions held at the same time, so you may have to sacrifice one for another. Or inquire about a virtual pass. At TravelCon, there is a virtual pass option – so attendees could watch all of the sessions after the conference if they missed one. TBEX did not offer one, but it doesn’t hurt to ask if it’s available.
Decide if You’ll Meet with Companies for “speed dating”
You’ll also be registered for a system that can connect you with companies that will be present for the event. The system that was used for both TBEX and TravelCon is called Blogerbridge. Through Bloggerbridge you can set up meetings with the companies to strike up a partnership or just learn more about them.
Before you meet with a company, know the value you bring to the table. These speed dating rounds are about 15-20 minutes long. You’ll give them the rundown of your blog and they will give you the rundown of their offer. If you are a good fit for each other, then exchange business cards and continue the connection after the event.
At TBEX I saw that an Ireland travel company was there and figured I’d send out a request to meet with them. To my surprise they accepted. I wasn’t ready for the meeting. The first thing the representative asked me about was my numbers. How many people followed me on Instagram. How many people visited my site each month? Was this number growing each month? I walked away feeling ashamed for even asking for a meeting because my numbers were quite small and unimpressive. But even if you’re numbers are small, if they are highly engaged and you can prove it, then don’t be intimidated by meeting with a company that is a good fit for your blog.
At the Event
Your first travel blogging conference will bring up a variety of emotions, questions, and decisions. But you’ve done the prep work. You know where your blog is and where you want to take it. You’ve already decided which sessions you’ll attend, so now you just have to soak it all in. Here’s what you can expect once the event arrives.
You Will Meet a lot of People
I arrived at TBEX just in time for the opening party. I didn’t know anybody so unless I wanted to stand alone in a corner all by myself I had to put myself out there. So after a little bit of liquid courage to help me overcome my introvertedness, I went for it. I actually met a fellow Pangea Dreams retreat alumnae and chatted with her for a bit. While in line for dinner I met a blogger from England who I ate with and met some of her blogger friends. I loved hearing them talk about blogging. Quite a bit of it was over my head, but I soaked it all in.
Throughout the rest of the event, I forced myself to sit at lunch tables with different people. This helped me meet people who’d been in the industry for a while and connect with them, whether it was over blogging or travel or something else entirely. I began to learn the “water cooler” talk of the blogging world.
I will say that the attendees at TBEX were different compared to TravelCon. The TBEX attendees that I met all seemed to be established bloggers. Which intimidated the hell out of me. Many of the TravelCon attendees were at the same level of blogging as me, so I found it easier to connect with them.
At TravelCon, I met a fellow travel blogger who I’d met through Nomadic Matt’s Superstar Blogging course. We’d started following each other on Instagram and met up at the event. She and I hit it off and now we are blogging accountability partners. We share our goals with each other each week and bounce ideas off of each other. It’s been so nice having someone I can talk blogging with on a consistent basis, because as much as they mean well, my family and friends just don’t get it. Plus she’s cool too and you should totally check out her blog – Blue Eyed Compass!
You Will Feel Overwhelmed.
Overwhelmed is almost an understatement. At TBEX I was overwhelmed by EVERYTHING. The schedule overwhelmed me, meeting people overwhelmed me, the sessions overwhelmed me. I felt like a total outsider, an imposter. As a new blogger, I felt like I didn’t have anything to add to the lunch conversations and much of the information at the sessions was over my head.
This is why it’s important to evaluate your blog and your goals before you attend. This way you attend sessions that will help you instead of ones that sound cool. And you’ll be able to ask good intelligent questions of the more experienced bloggers when you sit with them at lunch!
You Will Feel Inspired
Aside from feeling overwhelmed you will also feel inspired. Even though the bloggers at TBEX were leaps and bounds ahead of me, they were inspirational. I realized that they are no different than me. By the end of the conference, I realized that they all started out just like me. With absolutely no idea what they were doing, but they kept learning and implementing. They put in the hard work when others gave up.
You Will Realize How Much Work this Actually Takes
Their implementation did not bring them overnight success. For some of them, it took years of consistent effort to make their blog sustainable. They didn’t just work on their blog for a couple of hours each week in order to achieve their success. They treated it like a full-time job, in addition to an actual full-time job to pay for the WiFi (and other) bills.
One story stuck with me. It was a second-hand account from a presenter. He said that at his first conference he met a blogger. After the conference they spent a day exploring the city together. He said that after their day in the city, his new blogging friend returned to the hotel and worked until the wee hours of the morning on her blog. Only to wake up and explore more of the city the following day.
I realized I’d been treating my blog like a hobby. If I wanted to have this blog be financially sustainable one day, I needed to change my approach to not just my blog, but my travel style. I needed to slow down in my travels, take notes, and create quality articles that you are interested in.
Ever since I made that shift, I’ve seen small incremental changes in my blog. My writing improved because I’m writing every day. I’ve stopped using Instagram because it took too much time and energy without enough return. Now, I work on Just Chasing Sunsets every single day. Sometimes for hours at a time, sometimes for one hour. But every day I make sure that I make it just a little bit better. And it has just now, many months later, started to show that my work is working.
You Will Learn that the Opinions of Other Travel Bloggers are not Your Concern
Generally, I love the travel blogging community. It’s definitely a small community, so it’s best to play nicely. But like anywhere, there can be a degree of judging, or people simply not realizing the effect of their words. The biggest hits to my ego at TBEX occurred when I told someone the name of my blog.
Them: What’s the name of your blog?
Me: Just Chasing Sunsets
Them: Oh so it’s a photo blog?
Me: No, not specifically. I write about solo female travel.
Them: (eye roll) Just like everyone else
Me: oh… (slinks away from the conversation)
Now, not everyone reacted this way, but enough of them did to make me seriously question why I was writing about solo female travel. I mean I am a female and I travel solo. Everyone says to write about what you know. That’s what I know. But is it overdone? The doubts and fears started to creep in.
Then I realized a few very important things. First
fuck screw em. Who are they to say what I can and can’t write about and who it will or won’t help? I have a story to tell and I am going to tell it.
I’ll use an example to illustrate my second point. I recently worked at Athleta – an active wear clothing store for women. Our store was directly next to a Lululemon, who also sells active wear for women. Women shopped at Athleta for a certain reason and women shopped at Lululemon for a certain reason. On this shopping street where I worked there are also three cafes, three bakeries, two blow dry bars, and multiple Italian, Asian, and Mexican eateries. Just because there was already a Lululemon didn’t stop Athleta from showing up to the game. And each coffee shop is packed on the weekends. Just because my topic appears to be popular doesn’t mean that I can’t still show up to the game.
My third realization plays on my second one. These other solo female travel bloggers, some I won’t “beat” in terms of ranking on Google. They’ve been around for a while, they’re established, they’ve made a name for themselves. I can learn from them, I can try to befriend them, but they aren’t my competition. I just have to create better content than other solo female travel bloggers at my level AND I have to outlast them.
Due to the amount of work that blogging takes, many people’s blogs last for two years and then they give up. I just have to outlast those bloggers with quality content and I will be just fine. There is a slice of the pie for everyone. Go get yours!
Don’t ever let another travel blogger, or anyone, make what you write about feel insignificant.
You will Realize How Much You Don’t Know
Unless you’re coming into travel blogging with a background in writing, photography, videography, web design, coding, marketing, social media, and graphic design… there is something for you to learn at a travel blogging conference. As I mentioned earlier, I attended a SEO session at TBEX that was the most pivotal learning moment in my short blogging career. Before that session, I thought I knew about SEO. I made sure all of my posts had green lights on the Yoast plugin. But silly me didn’t realize that Google didn’t care that I put Paris as my keyword and got all green lights!
This SEO session broke down EXACTLY what to do in order to start ranking on Google to bring organic traffic to my blog. I bought their e-books. The presenters held a small chat afterward which I attended and one of them spent 20 minutes with me and my blog detailing what I should focus on. Then I attended one of their SEO Bootcamps in England and spent an entire day learning about SEO from them.
Now I actually know how to implement an SEO strategy which is one of the best things a blogger can do. It might take longer than an Instagram post to get a return, but it lasts much longer!
Go to the Parties
Admittedly, I was not good at this at either of the conferences. At TBEX I was too overwhelmed to go out at night to meet more people. My imposter syndrome was in full swing and I just couldn’t get the energy to overcome it to attend the evening parties. At TravelCon jet lag got the best of me as I traveled to Austin from England. I would make an appearance at the urging of Laura, but I quickly made an Irish goodbye.
But like most good conferences, the parties are where people let their guard down and talk more candidly about their journey. Laura stuck it out at one party and spoke with Kristin of Be My Travel Muse – one of our favorite bloggers. So next time, I will be better at going out to the parties and continuing to meet people and grow my blogging friends!
You Will Learn the Importance of Making Connections
I already touched on this at the beginning of this section, but I want to expand on it. Blogging can seem like a solo world. In fact, I am sitting in my bed as I write this post. Most of my days are spent behind a computer screen creating posts, sending emails, working on Pinterest, editing photos. Much of the blogging work happens alone behind a screen.
And while you may make connections through the screen whether it’s on Instagram, through a course, or through a Facebook group – the magic happens once you step out from behind the screen back into the real world. When you shake hands with a well-known travel podcaster while waiting in line for a beer. Or you actually get to meet one of the people that works with Nomadic Matt who you’ve talked with multiple times in the Facebook group. Or you actually get to meet Nomadic Matt himself and then get the opportunity to interview him for your own blog.
The connections you make at these conferences can open up doors. You could be invited to guest post on someone else’s blog or be a guest on a podcast. At lunch, you may connect with a representative from a tourist board and strike up a partnership (a dream of mine). You could also connect with someone who becomes your blogging accountability partner (shoutout to Laura again!).
These real-world connections you make are not just important to help you along in your career. They will help you mentally as well. You’ll chat with like-minded people about traveling, about writing, and about how to fit it all in. You’ll see that you’re not alone in working your ass off and feeling like you’re not getting anywhere. And that’s worth the cost of admission!
A Few More Practical Tips
Let’s chat about some practical tips for attending conferences. Like what to wear, what to bring to the conference etc.
What to Wear
This was one of my biggest struggles. I’d been living out of a backpack for months and didn’t believe the clothes I had were suitable for a conference. Yes, we are travelers first, however, if you’re at a conference you also are likely an entrepreneur and should look the part. A suit is not necessary, but business casual is. In these situations, I abide by the rule of dress for the job you want. Ok, I know, most of our days are spent in sweat pants behind the computer. But, dress like you are the owner of a business – which you are. If you are meeting with companies, they will want to work with someone who looks professional.
In order to remedy my situation for TBEX in Ostrava – I swung by a Forever21 and purchased two dresses that worked quite well for the event, and for travel afterward! Also, wear comfortable shoes. You’ll likely be walking a lot through the conference center and standing in hallways talking with people. Then afterward, being the spontaneous traveler that you are, you will likely head out to explore the city or some great cafe!
What to Bring to the Conference
You’ll need some business items to bring with you to the conference each day. Such as:
- Conference schedule and any appointments
- Business cards
- Notebook and pen or recording device
- Phone to take photos of informational slides
- Phone to exchange information with new travel blogging friends
- A phone charger
- Personal hygiene items: Breathmints, hairbrush
- Snacks – always
Business Cards & Media Kits
I highly recommend bringing business cards. Thankfully, I had some with me that I’d made for a Travel Massive event a few months prior. You can easily do this online yourself or hire someone on FIVER. If you don’t have any, don’t worry. Many people exchange Instagram handles, but collect other people’s cards at least. Then you can email them afterward.
If you’re planning on meeting with companies, have a media kit ready to go. A media kit is like a resume for your blog, but prettier. It will include your blog’s information (niche, demographics…all that information you got from Google Analytics at the beginning of this post!) If you’ve already worked with brands, include this information. If not, include the services you provide. Now, if you’re sitting there thinking, you’re not ready for a media kit and don’t plan to meet with any companies, don’t sweat this part! This could be a goal for next year’s travel blogging conference!
What to Do After the Event
Phew, you made it through the event. Now what?
Organize Your Notes
Take a day to decompress. Unwind and reflect on your experience. Journal, workout, meditate, spend time with family and friends, or get back on the road. Do what you need to do.
On the second day, organize your notes with everything you learned filled with insights, tips, and strategy for how to build your blog. Reflect on your goals and develop what you learned into an actionable game plan. Don’t try to do everything at once, pick your top priority, go all in with it. Once you feel comfortable with it, move on to the next priority. If you try to do it all at once, not much will get accomplished and you’ll feel overwhelmed. But one thing at a time, done well, will get you there with less overwhelm!
Send Thank Yous
Keep the connection going with the people you met at the conference. Send a follow-up email regarding something you discussed at the event or a simple “nice to meet you”. The conversation may end there, hey we’re all busy, but at the next conference you’ll likely see them again. Or you may see their name pop up in a Facebook blogging group asking for guest posts or a collaboration opportunity and you can reconnect with them again.
Get to Work
So you invested time and money to go to this conference. Don’t let everything you learned just sit there in your brain. Get to work. Implement. Evaluate. Adjust. Rinse and repeat until…well… I don’t know when it stops actually. But if you want to see growth in your blog you have to put in the work. So get to it.
Wow! What I initially planned to just be a simple “a few things to know” type of post turned into this close to 4,000-word monstrosity (which by the way will actually help me in the SEO world!). I hope that you found some tidbits of information to help you feel prepared to attend your first blogging conference. And I also hope that some of my stories help you not feel so alone in this whole blogging thing. I’m a big proponent of learning from those who’ve accomplished what you want to accomplish and conferences are a great way to get in the same room as them. So seek out events with those people, get to networking, and get to work. Hopefully, I’ll see you at a conference!
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