Note: This is adapted from a post I wrote on Indie Traveller after attending the TBEX Europe conference for travel bloggers in 2017.
Oh dear. I should done this so much sooner.
I’m now in my fifth year of travel blogging, but it’s taken me all this time to finally attend my first blogger conference.
I’ve just wrapped up three exhausting but incredibly fulfilling days at TBEX Europe, an event held in Killarney, Ireland.
Still dizzied from all the talks, lunches, networking sessions, and parties, it’s clear to me that I’m a dum-dum and should have gone to these blogger events from year one.
You see, blogging can be a lonely pursuit. You often don’t have (m)any direct colleagues, as you typically start out as a solo blogger or maybe co-blogging with one other author. So you’re just plodding along, learning by yourself, and doing your own shtick.
That’s what makes it so valuable to go to a conference: being in the same room with hundreds of people who are also bloggers is simply priceless.
While TBEX in particular is set up to facilitate connections between travel bloggers and the travel industry, my purpose for attending was simply to attend some talks and meet other bloggers.
I also hoped it would help me think about the strategy behind my blog, since I’ve been consumed for a while now by questions about what the next five years of Indie Traveller are supposed to look like. In all cases I believe I got a lot out of this conference.
Don’t go to just for the talks
When you first start attending conferences, you assume they’re all about the presentations and panels.
But honestly… no.
In practice, most sessions won’t tell you anything that you can’t already easily find in an online tutorial or ebook. Panels with multiple speakers can be particularly bad as they are mostly unstructured, inviting all sorts of rambles and tangents.
I already knew this from attending many digital media and video game industry conferences in my past career. When I used to work in the games industry I attended GDC (the Game Developers Conference) almost every year, and while the talks could be a mixed bag, there were many other reasons for attending this event. I felt the same about BrightonSEO, a UK SEO conference I’ve attended in the past.
As I expected, there was nothing truly earth-shattering in the TBEX talks, which covered topics ranging from writing to monetization to landing sponsorships for your blog. However, the talks often did help remind me of a ton of things I should be doing — or just doing more of.
Often it’s not just the content of the talks or workshops that gives value (unless you are a true beginner) but the ideas that spark later.
The value of networking
I hate the term “networking”. It sounds so mechanical.
But the true value of a conference does truly come from the incidental chats over lunch, the parties, and the mini discussions about the talks that you end up having with fellow attendees.
I was actually a little amazed by how many business cards I exchanged at TBEX. At game industry conferences I’d been to in the past, I’d give out maybe ten cards over a whole week. At TBEX, it was closer to 100.
That’s probably because most people you meet at TBEX aren’t just one of many representatives of some larger company; instead, they’re all individuals representing their own blog and their own brand. That means you really want to get their card so you can check out their blog, their Instagram, or their YouTube channel, and discover what they’re all about.
If you’re ever going to TBEX, definitely bring a big stack of business cards!
It was super fun to finally meet people in person who I’d only known online for many years. For example, Agness and Cez of eTramping, who I guest blogged way back when I first started blogging. I got to meet the wonderful Francisco & Analucia (Spanish-language travel bloggers extraordinaire), Teresa of Brogan Abroad, Sally of Passport & Plates, Tiana of Passport Chronicles, and Steph & Jim of The Upbeat Path. Big shout out to Tino and Angela of Dutch Nomad Couple, two super cool vloggers (be sure to follow them on YouTube).
When I wasn’t talking with people about blogging, conversations inevitably drifted to our favorite destinations; Asdghik (@jetsetterdiaries) totally convinced me I should add Lebanon to my on my list, while Megan of Bobo And Chichi reminded me just how much I need to go back to Laos. (Hmmm, that list never gets shorter.)
Needless to say I’ve been inspired by meeting so many people doing cool things from so many angles.
My goal was to connect with other bloggers, but if you are looking to make industry connections, then a conference can be truly invaluable. While my blog doesn’t rely on sponsorships or press trips, TBEX offered numerous opportunities to obtain them or to get in touch with travel brands that you could collaborate with in the future.
There are ‘speeddating’ sessions where you can meet dozens of representatives in just a couple of hours. And these introductions are so much stronger than just cold emailing companies you’ve never had any contact with.
The big theme: quality over quantity
It’s impossible to distill just a single takeaway from a conference such as this, though “quality over quantity” seemed a common theme at TBEX.
Gary Arndt of Everything Everywhere spent much of his keynote address essentially making this point. He emphasized how travel blogging is all about building authority and focusing on quality, not just building up traffic numbers for vanity’s sake. He encouraged everyone to be their own biggest critic, to try to stand apart from the crowd, and to focus on meaningful engagement (beyond merely comments or likes). Wise words.
You could sense this theme elsewhere as well. Writers talked about narrowing your focus and finding fresh ways to tackle tired topics. Social media personalities talked about building lasting organic audiences and not relying on quick-and-dirty tactics. And every blogger seems obsessed with carving out their own niche.
Travel blogging has become a more crowded and competitive field. At the conference, travel blogging definitely seemed to have reached a certain stage of maturation. As a result, everyone is trying to do better. It’s not about just boosting meaningless numbers, but about real substance. That seems like a nice aspiration to have.
My thoughts after TBEX
This event definitely gave me a lot of food for thought, and I met a lot of wonderful travel bloggers. If you’re trying to make connections in the world of blogging or in the travel industry, it’s definitely a lot easier when you get to meet face-to-face at a conference.
If you’re new to conferences, don’t expect the talks to give you any mindblowing revelations. Anything you want to learn about blogging you can honestly learn from ebooks, courses, Facebook groups, or free resources that are out there.
But there is nothing like the human experience of being at an event, and attending sessions that can spark interesting discussions with your peers while you’re having a post-conference Guinness or two.