Considering going to your first ever Travel Blogging Conference? You're not alone.
My sister Jill and I had many questions last autumn after we kept seeing tweets about this subject on the web.
We participate in an online conversation every Tuesday called #TTOT which stands for Travel Talk on Twitter. Since we follow this hashtag, I noticed many travel bloggers mentioning something about a Travel Bloggers Unite conference in Innsbruck. @TravelDudes and @SoloTraveler amongst many others were tweeting from the conference and I was able to kind of follow what they were doing.
It sounded like a lot of fun, so I sent out a message on Twitter asking anyone if it was worth going to. I got a quick reply from a guy we follow, Paul Corbett @MyPostCardFrom and he said it would definitely be worth it.
So besides all the logistics, Jill and I were determined to attend the next event wherever it was to be held. Lucky for us, the upcoming venue was selected to take place in the beautiful region of Umbria, an area we would like to return to since visiting Assisi back in 1994.
In the meantime, as we were making plans for Christmas 2011, Jill announced she was pregnant with her first child. What glorious news for my family, but it did put a slight snag in our travel plans. Fortunately for Jill, she would only be a few months pregnant in April and would be permitted to travel overseas if she'd like. However, Jill's husband would worry about her the whole time, so we managed to use Airline Points so Nick and my boyfriend Joe could join us. Our cousin Amber, a photographer, wanted to travel with us as well, so by this time, we had a solid group of five ready to set off to Italy.
We sent a message to the founder of Travel Bloggers Unite, Oliver Gradwell, to let him know about our situation and if we could all purchase tickets to attend the conference. He was able to completely walk us through this process, get everyone signed up and we registered early enough to get the primo villas at Valle Di Assisi Resort reserved for us. We felt pretty confident heading into this thing, thanks to all the friendly advice from so many people.
Below are a few survival tips for all you newbies out there:
1. Engage with conference attendees on twitter and facebook
My advice- type in the search bar of twitter: #TBUPOR or #TBU or whatever the next conference is coming up (make sure you find the hasthtag) and start liking and following many of these people if you aren't already. A month before the conference, we tweeted with this hashtag along with the #TTOT hashtag to start up conversations about attending. It's exciting to finally meet these people you've been speaking with over Twitter. Some people we were excited to see in person; Rachelle @Travelblggr, Melvin from @TravelDudes, Elyse @FoodieIntl, and Shane @PeterParkorr
2. Plan out your talks
A few weeks before the conference, TBU posted the latest info about speakers and talks. Try to find ones that fit your skill level -we found most beginner classes to be too beginner in ways. Some of the best talks we heard in April were Dave and Deb from @theplanetD, Mike Sowden @Mikeachim will crack you up if you're into that British self-deprecating humor, (which we totally are into). We also valued speaking with Katja Hentschel, founder of @Travelettes, after her informative talk.
3. Lull in conversation? Casually mention a pervasive teen pop megastar
I know sometimes socializing can be somewhat awkward, especially when you're around people who know each other and are excited to reconnect. You tend to feel somewhat left out. What forced us to get to know people initially was the airport shuttle from Rome to Umbria. We ended up having an eclectic mix of people on our bus, but many of them were up for making the most of our two-hour bus ride. We all grabbed a few roadies (i.e beers) from the airport convenient store and boarded the coach. A conversation piece to get you started: mention the name Justin Beiber. You will get a response either way, people either love him or they hate him. We had fun riding with Rebecca Enright @BackpackerBecki Mike Sowden @Mikeachim and Jai along with Forrest Walker. Eventually our hour-long conversation went into various tangents about UFOs and aliens. But, like a gravitational pull, all topics somehow lead back to Justin Bieber. Mike Sowden even secretly timed how long it would take to mention Bieber again once the subject was changed. I think we didn't last five minutes.
4. Be prepared not to sleep
We realized that there's no time for sleep at these conferences. Besides the early morning meetings and the amazing dinners, there was so much to do besides the set schedule. Sure, most events end at midnight, but that is when things started happening. Jill and I made the mistake of going to bed at 1 am instead of staying up till dawn with Amber, Joe and Nick on the first big night and we missed out on a lot of fun. You know that saying err... rap song- "After the party is the after-party"? Well that's exactly what happened when the DJ from the welcome dinner set up late night at one of the villas. I was worried I would be miserable listening to the talks the next day, but being tired is something I would never remember either way. I made it a point after the first night to try to participate in any late night event, because that is where you make the most lasting friendships in my opinion. Note: A quick power nap before dinner can help you survive.
5. iPod speakers are your best friend
If the stars don't align and there is no resident DJ for the late night social hours, pack iPod speaker and batteries. Jill and I are firm believers in having music playing at any party. For our last night, we managed to coordinate with blogger @PeterParkorr to set some music up. It wasn't as booming as we would want it to be, but the only alternative is to just upgrade our equipment for next time around.
6. Stay Connected
Bring your iPad, laptop or smart phone at all times to stay connected with changes in the conference schedule. Since we arrived after midnight to Umbria, we got caught up in meeting people and settling into our rooms that we didn't hear about the information of the times of the free helicopter rides. The next day when we heard about the itinerary, we had already missed our slot, very disappointing. I have never been in a helicopter before and have still yet to go.
7. Attend the Post conference blog trips
I know this sounds like a no-brainer but being a newbie, we were confused as to what this really meant. We had already planned to go onto another destination separately before getting a grasp that most people go to this. If we knew then what we know now, we would have done our best to attend that.
8. Win the sponsor blog trips
Get creative, Some sponsors held blog trip contests where you had to tweet with certain hashtags in order to be chosen. I wish we had tried even harder to win some of the various prizes. Canadian tourism offered a polar bear expedition and Intrepid Travel featured two different European destination contests. @AlexBerger inundated Canada's twitter feed and snagged the big prize to see Polar Bears in their natural habitat. We were jealous!
9. Take advantage of SEO advice
We had the chance to sit down with Caliber Interactive who was offering free consultations, They suggested ways to increase our chances of being found by search engines. If they offer this at the next conference, be sure to carve out some time to meet with them. Jill and I met with Jaime @ForeverTrend who works for Caliber, she's a great girl that gave us some helpful advice.
10. Relax and try not to be intimidated
Yes we love to blog, but we are also here to learn and grow "You went to Istanbul and not Cappadocia? What an amateur!" No Joke, this conversation actually happened while we were there. What is that saying by Eleanor Roosevelt? "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent" True, but they can definitely make you feel awkward to say the least. The point of this conference is to meet people and gain knowledge. That's it. I suggest just being friendly, humble, positive and open to good constructive criticism from some of the experts there. Dave and Deb from @theplanetd and Janice @Solotraveler were so personable and encouraging to us. They made us want to try harder plus their enthusiasm was infectious. A few people can drag you down, but just ignore any snobbery and move onto another person.
11. Get to know the PR firms
Besides the networking events between the sponsors and the bloggers, find time to talk with a few of the PR members. We enjoyed speaking with real experts like Debbie Hindle (she has the most pleasant speaking voice) of Four BGB and Nicola Vogt of Wilde and Partners during session breaks. PR firms will work with clients and bloggers to create blog trips and other ways bloggers can engage with a specific target audience.
12. Brush up on your Flip Cup skills
Never played Flip Cup before? Well every moment is another chance to turn that all around. Amongst our group of mostly European bloggers, most had never played Flip Cup before. If you're from the US, you've likely played this game at any college party or tailgating event. Don't know the rules? Just ask us or any American at the conference. We played flip cup several late nights. What's great about the game is that there isn't a limit to the number of players. Want to be the life of the party? Bring authentic Solo Cups, the perfect chalice to flip on-end. Find any number of people like @AngieAway @BudgetTraveller @AlexBerger or @PeterParkorr for a demonstration. Don't drink beer? That's perfectly fine, filling up with some water is completely acceptable -the point is to participate!
13. Bring Business Cards
Be sure to include your name, your twitter handle, website address and cell so people can contact you. When we returned back to the states, Jill and I collected our business cards we received from everyone at the conference and entered the info into a Google document- a valuable resource down the road.
14. Don't talk travel the whole time
Just because you're attending a travel blogging conference, that doesn't mean you have to talk travel 24/7. Yes, we all share a common bond but I, along with many people, are passionate about many things. Jodi Ettenburg from @LegalNomads mentioned valid points in her keynote speech that I agreed with. (I am paraphrasing this and I am sure I am botching this up) The best way to connect with someone is to show your "human" side. Have real conversations, strictly spouting off travel facts and one-sided stories can get old really fast. Loosen up and have fun. Want someone to show you how to have fun? Find Elin from @TasteofSlow, she can really dance.
I think the most important thing to keep in mind about these conferences is you're not only going to make some great networking connections, you will now have new found friends located all over the world. We met some solid girls whom we became fast friends with like Nathalie Salas from @perfectBoutique, Amanda Rugari from @RevealedRome, Cherina Hadley of @quietwanderings, Angie Orton from @AngieAway and Alexandra Korey from @ArtTrav among tons of other amazing people.
So to answer the question "Should I attend a Travel Bloggers Unite Conference" the answer is a resounding YES! If you don't know, now you know.
Jill and I will not be able to attend the Porto Conference since she now has a newborn baby girl (congrats Jill and Nick!) and I help run my Grandpa's flea market in September. We plan on making it back to Europe for the conference next year in 2013. Please keep us updated if you attend!
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