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I’ve been travel blogging at Justin Plus Lauren for two and a half years. I’d wanted to attend a travel blogging conference for a while. TBEX North America 2015 was held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida this year, which wasn’t too far from home. Flights from Toronto to Florida aren’t terribly expensive. I was already quite familiar with Fort Lauderdale as I’ve boarded cruise ships on several occasions from this port. I even stayed at the official TBEX hotel, the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina this past March before a cruise. I had no idea six months ago that I’d be back at that same hotel to attend TBEX.
Over 700 bloggers gathered in Fort Lauderdale to network and learn more about the wonderful world of travel blogging. Many people that I met were brand new to travel blogging. I even chatted with a couple who barely blogged and were there primarily because they loved to travel and wanted to discover new blogs to follow.
My favourite aspect of TBEX was networking with fellow travel bloggers.
Everyone was really nice, friendly, and helpful. Even though there was a limited amount of time to speak with industry representatives, I really didn’t feel as though the bloggers were acting combative or negatively towards one another. Overall, there was a strong feeling of community. We were all there to learn and help one another. Travel bloggers are really the greatest group of people that I’ve ever met in my life. I definitely made some lasting friendships throughout those few days in Florida. I felt so fortunate to meet like-minded people who shared a mutual love for travel, writing, photography, videography, and social media. And even though we all adore travel, everyone contributed their own unique interests and perspectives. I loved connecting with fellow travellers to have in-depth conversations about everything from learning languages to worst bathroom situations while travelling (I’ll spare you those details).
Travel Massive Event
I am a member of Travel Massive and regularly attend the Toronto Travel Massive gatherings each month. Travel Massive is almost like a mini-TBEX that happens in various cities around the world. Travel bloggers, industry representatives, start-up companies, and tourism board members get together to mix and mingle every month. The South Florida chapter of Travel Massive hosted a meet-up right before the TBEX festivities were underway. This served as a warm-up to TBEX, really. This particular Travel Massive was on a much larger scale than most TM meetings. I connected with some bloggers face-to-face that I already knew from the online world, such as Carmen from Carmen’s Luxury Travel and Eric from Travel Babbo (pictured above). Though the music was quite loud (which made it difficult to chat at times), it was a really fun and laid back event where we had some drinks, swapped business cards, and broke the ice.
I arrived a couple of days ahead of the official start of TBEX, giving me the opportunity to take a pre-BEX tour. Travel bloggers are invited to try a local tour and I was fortunate enough to take a kayaking trip in Fort Lauderdale. I’ll be writing about this more extensively in the coming days. Jessi, one half of Outbound Adventurer was my tandem kayaking partner in crime, and we managed to navigate the waterways with great success. Jessi, like myself, was travelling independently of her significant other to TBEX. It only made sense that we team up to tackle TBEX together (and the manatee-filled rivers of Fort Lauderdale, naturally).
So, Where Was Justin?
Justin had originally decided to stay at home to work. This ended up being a very good idea as we would soon both realize. Once I arrived in Florida and gained access to WiFi at the hotel, I received Justin’s distressed text messages. He told me that his stomach ached, quite badly, and he didn’t know what to do. I asked if the pain had progressed to his lower right side, and indeed, it had. This led me to believe that he may have appendicitis and I asked him to look up the symptoms online. As it turned out, he had all of the symptoms. I advised him to go to the hospital immediately.
In the meantime, I had rented a car to explore a little bit of Miami. I was without WiFi here and there, all the while worrying about Justin. When I returned to the hotel in the late afternoon, I learned that he did have appendicitis and would have to wait to meet with the surgeon at the hospital. I was so glad that he didn’t come to TBEX with me. He would have had his surgery at a hospital in a different country. Or would we have flown directly back home, all the while hoping that Justin’s appendix wouldn’t burst. I was really happy that he was at a hospital near our home with his parents by his side. I asked if he wanted me to return home to be with him, but he wanted me to stay in Florida.
Justin had his surgery in the middle of the night and it was a success. He had to stay home from work to rest for one week.
Throughout the day, there were sessions on various topics pertaining to travel blogging, social media and community, the business aspect to the industry, and more. These were very helpful for gaining additional skills and expertise. The sessions I attended were: self-editing skills for bloggers by Emma Sparks, a discussion about Twitter with Rachelle Lucas, a Youtube seminar with the Vagabrothers, and a talk about accelerating your community with Food Travelist. I won’t go into too much detail here, but lots of valuable information was shared at these sessions. I was grateful to learn some new tips.
Tip: If you’re going to TBEX, grab a copy of the schedule and plan out your day. Choose the seminars that you’d most like to attend. Team up with a buddy (or two, or three) and split up. If everyone goes to a different session, you can exchange notes with one another.
One of the most valuable aspects of TBEX was the opportunity to meet industry representatives. Through our accounts on Blogger Bridge, we were able to pre-arrange a speed networking schedule. There were many companies with tables at TBEX. As bloggers, we were able to invite them to network, and conversely, they could invite us. Bloggers weren’t guaranteed an official time to network with companies, though the representatives could be met at times outside of speed networking. Every day between 3:00 and 5:00pm, there were ten minute time slots at each table reserved for speed networking. This allowed up to twelve meetings per day for each blogger. Fortunately, I managed to fill my entire schedule up with speed networking dates – 24 meetings in total! Needless to say, I was racing from table to table, and I was getting very used to explaining the basis and niche of Justin Plus Lauren. Speed networking was incredibly valuable. I made so many great connections with tourism boards and brands throughout those quick chats that I’m certain will flourish into great relationships. I’ve already managed to secure two upcoming press trips!
Tip: Definitely participate in speed networking. Research the brands ahead of time and invite the ones you’re interested in to network. If you don’t manage to secure a speed networking time, be sure to visit their table outside of speed networking to meet.
It’s definitely an excellent idea to be present at the opening and closing keynotes. To kick off TBEX North America 2015, Carol Cain of Girl Gone Travel shared some inspirational stories. She’s such a great speaker and it was truly a pleasure to learn more about her experiences. I was also really happy to connect with her during Travel Massive and throughout TBEX – she’s such a delightful person!
The closing keynote was presented by none other than Don George, the man who literally wrote the book on travel writing. He read excerpts from his own travel stories, and it was incredible to hear him speak. I got lost in his stories as he so eloquently depicted such vivid images with his words. At the end of the event, we were all invited on stage to take a giant group photo. I happened to be right next to Don, so it was time for a selfie. Don happily participated!
The Best Part
My favourite part of TBEX was personally connecting with fellow travel bloggers. Some of the travel bloggers were already online friends who I finally was able to meet in person. There were other bloggers I had never met prior to TBEX that are now friends that I’d love to meet again. Of course, if anyone happens to be travelling through the Toronto area, I’d love to get together for coffee or a meal! We had plenty of opportunities to network with travel bloggers
Brace yourselves….it’s selfie time!
Though I met so many wonderful people, I’d like to give a few special shout outs to Chris and Heather of A Brit And A Southerner, Brian and Amanda of Eat Work Travel, Carolann and Macrae of One Modern Couple, Mimi of The Atlas Heart, Amanda of Unresting Sea, Vicky of Buddy the Traveling Monkey, Joe of Without a Path, Jen and Ted of Thrifty Nomads, Dave and Deb of The Planet D, Sandy of Canadian Blog House, Maria of Vegan World Trekker, Jessica of The Wanderlust Yogi, and so many other talented and amazing people. It was such a pleasure to meet all of you, and I hope to see you next year at TBEX!