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6 Lessons From My First TBEX.

TBEX

Just over a week ago, I was a starry-eyed travel blogger on my way to my first TBEX, “the world’s largest gathering of travel bloggers, writers, and new media content creators”. When they said largest, I didn’t realize I’ll be one among 1,000+ travel bloggers, albiet the only one travelling from India! Among them were renowned bloggers, some of who have inspired my own journey. Then there were those who have recently found their blogging legs, like myself. And the newbies. It was a mix, that over the course of the weekend, gave me a whole new perspective on travel blogging.

Though that weekend in Toronto flashed by in a blur of pre-TBEX gatherings, parties and post-TBEX breakouts, I did get the chance to interact with several companies, and attend some thought-provoking sessions. Here’s a lowdown of what TBEX taught me:

Don’t settle.

One of the biggest blunders I’ve made in my two years of travel blogging, is naturally assuming that as a travel blogger in need of sponsorships and money, I never have the upper hand. I’ve let sponsors and publications dictate the terms, and as a fledgling travel writer, settled for whatever compensation they offered, sometimes nothing at all. TBEX came as a much-needed wake-up call. In her session, Amy Moore, who manages Everything Everywhere, said Pitch for money, and know when to walk away. I’ve taken those words to heart, and decided that if I don’t value my own work, no one else will. In the last one week, I’ve walked away from one campaign and two publications that wouldn’t pay.

TBEX, Tbex Toronto, blog content writers

Saying “no” is harder than I had thought. Photo by Gail Williams.

No one size fits all.

Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten that I only had one chance to make a first impression. We’ve all heard about how we should understand our sponsor and tailor  a pitch to offer the best value, but hearing Ryan Levitt of Housetrip talk about “how not to pitch” really got me thinking. He put forth interesting and practical ideas on how to research a travel company – for instance, searching for the kind of news stories and messaging brands are going out with, analyzing their website homepage to determine their target audience and primary markets, and being time-sensitive around key events. The point is to stand out from the clutter, and remember that no one size fits all brands, just like no one size fits all bloggers.

Indian bloggers, travel writers, travel bloggers

No one size fits all brands, or bloggers. Photo by Vinoth Chandar.

You can tell the top bloggers apart. 

I tried not to be star-struck when I met Nellie of Wild Junket. Hers was one of the first travel blogs that I serendipitously stumbled upon (back in 2010), and that inspired me to take the plunge to leave the cubicle forever and embrace the road. But this isn’t about the stardom. By day two of TBEX, I began noticing that what set the top bloggers apart was their mindset. While most of us were talking about monetizing our blogs and scoring press trips, Nellie and the others had graduated to something higher. And I dare say, more noble. They were infecting everyone with their travel stories, and sending out a much needed reminder that the love of travel is the only reason anyone should get into travel blogging. Which brings me to my next point,

bloggers India, travel blogs India, Indian travel bloggers

For the love of travel. Photo by Stephane.

Some people do think of travel writing without “travel”.

And I mean people from the travel industry, including some established travel writers. I don’t agree with the opinions reflected in the “This Week in Travel” live podcast - that you don’t actually need to travel much to be a travel blogger, or that blogging is not about “you”, it’s about the destination. I think that if people wanted well-researched facts for travel planning, they would read Wikitravel or a guidebook. In my humble opinion, travel blogging is about “you” (the blogger), it is about personal experiences, it is about enabling armchair travel – and a blogger must travel to be able to show people the world through their lens.

Indian travel blogs, bloggers India, travel blogs india

Travel and writing are two sides of the coin that is travel blogging. Photo by Gnuckx.

Armchair travel is real.

I’ve always been one to believe in virtual travel – that if my words and pictures can paint images in your head, my travel experiences are your travel experiences. It did however, sound far-fetched, until Mike Sowden of Fevered Mutterings referred to a study that used MRI scans to determine that the emotions people experience while travelling are similar to those induced by a good piece of travel writing – indeed armchair travel is a real thing. Needless to say, that has re-instilled my faith in travel blogging and sharing live experiences; getting you to see the world through my lens is what I’ve aspired to from the start.

armchair travel, travel writers, travel bloggers, Indian travel blogs

Armchair travel is real. Photo by Thomas O’Rourke.

We really are the luckiest people in the world.

But you already know that, right?!

An inspiring keynote by Dave and Deb of The Planet D, one of my favorite travel blogs, reminded us of that in so many words. Sure, most of us make very little money, work really hard, are continuously asked for free content, and have borne more rejections than anyone should in a lifetime. Yet there’s one thing that makes it all worth it – We love what we do, and the world is just starting to notice. We own the future! *evil laugh*

Indian travel writers, travel blogs India

We have wings. Photo by Cortto.

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What did you learn from TBEX? What are your thoughts on the lessons I learnt?

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Ladies, enter my #WeGoSolo Contest to win a 2 nights stay for 2 at ANY hotel / hostel on Hostelbookers (worth EUR 150 / INR 11,000).

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Note: I was invited to TBEX as one of 28 international bloggers hosted by the Canadian Tourism Commission for a cross-Canada train trip.

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Also Read:

The Haunting Beauty of Spirit Island

My First Impressions of Canada

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Join me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram as I take off on my next adventure!

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32 Comments
  1. Great pieces of insight, thanks for sharing from your experience at the conference! I completely agree that travel blogging has to be about the person not the place because otherwise why would we read so many different blogs about the same destination??

    June 11, 2013
    • Thanks, I’m glad you found it to be insightful :)

      June 13, 2013
  2. Very inspirational post not just for professional travel writers but for bloggers like me who blog about travel because they just love travel. I wish to join TBEX someday in life. This will be the only conference where I will not yawn even once :)

    June 11, 2013
    • Haha, glad you found it inspiring, Makrand. Loving to travel is the first step to being a successful travel blogger, me thinks :)

      June 13, 2013
  3. Wonderful post and insight! Thanks for sharing.

    June 12, 2013
    • Glad you found it insightful, Lauren. Thanks for stopping by!

      June 13, 2013
  4. Thank you for sharing your lessons learnt…I too feel that we are the luckiest people in the world, and we must travel to be able to show people the world through the lens. A backpacker..that is the nicest feeling for me..and keep me apart from the so-hardworking crowd of my office. :-)

    June 12, 2013
    • I think given the amount of effort and time we put into our blogs, it is important to feel that way! My favorite days are Mondays for that reason – when the whole world is scrambling to get to work, I can laze in bed as long as I like. Sadistic thought, but it works ;-)

      June 13, 2013
  5. When the enjoyment of travel reflects in our travel writing, I think I have performed the duty of travel blogger. Thx for sharing ur experience at TBEX.

    June 12, 2013
    • I absolutely agree, Manish! :)

      June 13, 2013
  6. Insightful post and I agree with much of what you have written. It was my 1st TBEX too. I went to step out of my comfort zone and be amongst like minded people. I did exactly that. I met some people I feel I will be friends with for many years to come (including you) and just had fun along the way. I felt like I had found my community and felt welcomed. I sought out sessions that were all about content and storytelling as that was my focus. For me, leaving TBEX felt akin to leaving summer camp which in my teens was a place where lifetime friendships were fostered. I did feel a little out of place as I was not searching for press trips and ways to monetize my blog. I don’t feel that there is anything wrong with it as we all need to make a living, but yes I agree in that it should be about the travel and experiences we have while travelling and be responsible in the storytelling of it to the world. My favourite night of TBEX was the 1st night after the party at Roy Thompson Hall, far from the hustle and bustle of it all, when a small group of 7 of us went out. All we did was share stories and laugh over cider and beer. Glad you have learned to say no and to value your work. Trust me, it will come! As you said if you don’t value your work first, no one else will. Hope to meet again in the not too distant future in India… or back in Canada :D

    June 12, 2013
    • It was so great to meet you at TBEX too, Andrea! I really enjoyed talking to you, and thanks again for the iphonography tips :) I mostly sought out the commercial track sessions – I felt like I read enough blogs and find enough inspiration to travel and blog online, but no one talks very openly about monetization (and related norms) in the blogging industry. Some of those sessions were helpful, though I sorely regret not attending Bruce’s session after hearing about it from you and Nellie.

      Oh well, it was all good ;-) Waiting for you in India with all kinds of curries, haha.

      June 13, 2013
  7. This a very beautiful & personal write up. Keep writing & I’ll keep stalking (vitually) :)

    June 12, 2013
    • Thanks Sangeetha! Glad you thought so. Happy to have your virtual company always :)

      June 13, 2013
  8. Very well put Shivya. Such simple concepts, yet so difficult to practice.

    June 12, 2013
    • Thanks, and you’re spot on. Some of them (liking walking away) are not easy to practice indeed.

      June 13, 2013
    • Thanks, and you’re spot on. Some of them (like walking away) are not easy to practice indeed.

      June 13, 2013
  9. TheTravelHack #

    Great summary! I didn’t make it to TBEX but I’ve been loving reading all the summaries. I particularly like your point about what sets the ‘top bloggers’ apart and that we should be focusing on our love for travel at these conferences! Monetization talk gets boring but travel talk never does.

    June 12, 2013
    • Thanks, glad you liked it! Interacting with those bloggers sure gave me perspective too :)

      June 13, 2013
  10. I have always been fascinated by travel shows and blogs, I find it the best job (I dont seem to find the right word here for it, so calling it a “job”) on earth. While reading it I found myself wondering, why aint I a travel blogger, although the answer clearly runs in my cells.
    I not just loved reading your expreience, but found it so wonderful to know so much more about travel blogging and bloggers.

    June 12, 2013
    • Glad you found it interesting, Namrota. I can’t disagree that it’s the best job in the world, especially if you love to travel ;-) But if you think it’s not your calling, I’m sure you’ll find something more fulfilling out there for you.

      June 13, 2013
      • True that Shivya :D

        June 15, 2013
  11. Thank you Shivya for the very kind words. ;) I’m extremely flattered by what you said but indeed I stand by the fact that love for travel should be the one and only reason to get into travel blogging. I didn’t make it to the live podcast/ending keynote, I’m surprised by their conclusion. I definitely agree that travel blogging is about ‘you’ – readers follow us for our experiences and our personalities, if not they may as well read up Wikipedia. Mike’s talk was probably my favorite of all — it’s amazing how armchair travel is actually a real thing huh! Glad to have had the chance to meet you. Keep doing what you love. :) I hope our paths will cross very soon!

    June 12, 2013
    • Haha, thanks for dropping by, Nellie! I know what you mean, it’s a message that stands out on your blog (and I hope it stands out on mine too) – and it is what made me want to have your / a travel blogger’s life in the first place. Really glad I got to meet you after all these years of reading about your travels!

      It wasn’t the conclusion of the podcast, but these were opinions that seemed to be unanimous among the 4 – and something that most bloggers I spoke to after disagreed with. I loved Mike’s talk too, but felt terrible that I missed Bruce’s! Hope to see you soon again. x

      June 13, 2013
  12. Thanks for the post – I stumbled upon it whilst pondering whether to go to TBEX Europe in Dublin.

    I’d like to pick up on the point you make about the need to travel to be a travel blogger. Whilst strictly speaking I suppose you don’t have to, I agree with your sentiment. The reality for many I feel, though, is that very few travel bloggers can get by purely by documenting their travels. Most have other jobs, other commitments, family, etc. In my case, for instance, I do a mix of blogging about my own travels (I run http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com by the way) and also documenting other stories. Without the latter, I’d have a blog that’s rarely updated, rather than one that is updated daily. Of course you need the regular updates in order to be noticed…

    June 13, 2013
    • I know what you mean, it’s a dilemma that so many bloggers face, especially at the start of travel blogging. I took up a lot of freelancing gigs (and still do) to support my travel expenses – and I guess the reason I really persevered with this blog is that I did it (and continue to do it) because I really love to travel. But yours is an interesting model too, offering other things on your blog.

      PS: Instead of commenting with a gravatar link, you should let your name link to your website directly. Makes it easier for people to click through directly to your blog :)

      June 13, 2013
  13. Thanks – hopefully it links at least to my Facebook this time around (tried Twitter but it kept saying my Twitter login had expired for some reason, even though I’m currently logged in). I get so confused with all the different blog commenting options these days!

    When you mention ‘freelancing gigs’, are you talking about paid trips? If so, I could go on no end of those… I think I could probably travel permanently on those alone because I get inundated. If I were single, then that wouldn’t be a problem, but I’m not and have family responsibilities (which I wouldn’t change for the world, I hasten to add…)

    But it does leave me wondering (and changing the subject somewhat) if many travel bloggers are of a particular breed, often single and with no ties/responsibilities beyond themselves. That, I would have thought, would then be reflected in the style of much of the writing to be found on many travel blogs.

    June 13, 2013
  14. Really great post! I’m attending TBEX Dublin and new to the travel blogging scene (started the blog this year) – so trying to figure out what I can do to prepare for the event. Thanks so much!

    September 5, 2013
  15. Sarah M #

    As someone who is going to my first TBEX conference in Oct I was really interested to read this. (I don’t know why I always book things before I look for reviews). I’m glad you took such positive messages from your rip.

    June 16, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. 6 Tips to Break Into Freelance Travel Writing. | The Shooting Star
  2. Learning to Walk Away. | The Shooting Star
  3. 2013: The World Through My Lens. | The Shooting Star

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