Oh, Florida. The state of oranges, lightning strikes, key lime pie, and cuban sandwiches.
It was supposed to have something called “the sun” as well, but unfortunately it didn’t make an appearance for me.
I flew down to Fort Lauderdale last week for TBEX – a popular conference for travel bloggers interested in taking their online businesses to the next level.
Even though I was excited for the trip, it was inappropriately timed for two reasons: First, my Grandmother passed away just over a week before. This meant I had to decide on whether to skip the conference completely and go back to Australia, or miss the funeral and continue my conference plans.
After much internal deliberation, I chose the latter. It was an incredibly tough emotional decision which I wrote about here.
Second, Robert’s new office was holding a Halloween bash on the Friday night. Now a Halloween party might not seem all that important to someone who has spent their life living in the states, but as this was our very first Halloween in the US, I really wanted to experience it.
Again, I had to choose – this time between missing the party, or leaving the conference a day early. I chose to leave early, hoping that I’d get enough out of the pre-conference happenings for it to still be worth the trip.
I still felt it was important for me to attend TBEX, even though I’d only be in Florida for part of the conference. I was at a point where I needed ideas for the direction of my blog, and TBEX seemed like a great place to get inspiration.
Beth, Annemarie, and myself
the pre-conference happenings
Stepping out of the taxi, I inspected the ‘hostel house’ where I was staying with Annemarie of Travel on the Brain and Beth of The City Dweller. It was a bit of a dump, but at $40 a night, I didn’t expect much. Aside from the three of us, the place was occupied by a few guys who seemingly did nothing but play video games for days at a time.
Our first official event was the pre-conference tours. I’d booked the Brew Bus, which involved a tour of the local craft breweries around Fort Lauderdale.
Florida is not really known for it’s beer so I was curious to see what this would be like. It was a surprisingly good tour, and the other conference attendees who had also chosen it were a fun bunch. This is where I ran into Nik and Dusty of Two for the Road, who are some of my favourite Instagrammers/Vloggers of all time (and also unbelievably nice people). I may have been just a tad starstruck when they sat next to me at our second brewery.
After plenty of beer samples, we all returned to our respective accommodations then went back out for the Travel Massive TBEX party.
At the risk of sounding like an oldie, I’ll complain that the music was a little too loud for talking and the queue to receive our complimentary drink moved at a glacial pace. Still, I was very happy to bump into Jen and Ted of Thrifty Nomads. Ted worked with my husband Robert in a small digital agency back in Sydney in 2013, and I later discovered that he and his wife also ran a travel blog. Small world.
Alligator sightings in the Everglades
We were supposed to sign up for only one tour, but the next day I managed to wrangle a spot onto a second tour by showing up at the meeting point and asking nicely if they had any spare seats for the airboat through the Everglades. As a huge fan of eco-tourism, I was rather excited for this one – even the heavy rain didn’t dampen my enthusiasm.
My expectations were exceeded. You’d think that I’d be accustomed to encounters with terrifying animals back in Australia (and yes, that is somewhat true) but it was still awesome to have wild alligators swim up to within a few feet of the airboat, gliding through the water as we floated beside them.
Here’s a 30 second video of the tour.
That evening we made our way to the Museum of Discovery and Science for the TBEX opening party. Let me tell you, attending an event held inside a museum is was way cooler than you might imagine.
The tables were set up at random spots between the exhibits. We wandered around the venue, occasionally stopping to pick up some food and drinks or chat with other attendees. The fact that there were no kids running around was a huge novelty (there should definitely be adults only days at museums). We even got to take our drinks into the 7D zombie ride, which I know sounds really lame but was actually pretty damn awesome.
During the evening, I also ran into Karisa of Flirting with the Globe who I’d been chatting with online beforehand, and Jenia of House to Laos who became good friends with us for the remainder of the conference.
The opening party at the Museum of Discovery and Science
The conference itself
I’d heard from a few other bloggers that the conference can attract some people that are… uhh… snobby (apparently internet fame can go to people’s heads, too). Luckily, I had no experience of this while I was there.
Carol of Girl Gone Travel was the keynote speaker, and her quirky character had us all laughing in no time. I picked up some fabulous self-editing skills from Emma Sparks of Lonely Planet, and a few tips on pitching companies from Katie Hammel of Viator.
My favourite talk of the conference, though, was Chris Ducker. His Youpreneur session advised us on how to create a business as a budding entrepreneur, which is exactly what I’m looking at doing with freelancing.
I attended this conference in the hopes that it would give me direction for my blog. I think Chris’s talk did the most for me in regards to inspiring me and creating ideas. When I went through all the notes I took during his speech, they helped me put together monetisation and action plan.
Chris Ducker during his ‘Youpreneur’ talk
The only complaint I have about the conference (and one that was shared by almost every other attendee) was that communication from the organisers was not all that great.
Most of the evening events I ended up finding out about through word of mouth on the same day as the party. I had no idea that there was a Facebook group for attendees, in which some crucial information was posted that I totally missed, and I also wasn’t aware of things like the location where buses were departing from for tours, or that I had to register for the conference the day before. It would have been great to have someone just send out a few emails before the conference letting us know these details.
if you’re planning on attending TBEX…
- Only attend the conference if you’re taking blogging seriously. There’s a lot of business talk that will won’t benefit people who blog as a hobby, and who don’t plan on making blogging a business.
- You don’t have to have a certain number of readers or have your blog at a certain size before attending. You can have zero followers, but as long as you’re serious about improving yourself as a blogger, then you’ll fit in.
- Try networking at the pre-conference events and parties rather than at the conference itself. The relationships you create in these casual situations are often more powerful than ones created in the conference environment.
All in all, if you’re a travel blogger wondering whether TBEX is worth it, I’m going to say that yes, it is. I’ve come out the other end with new friends, new ideas, more knowledge, and a rather large pile of people’s business cards.
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