28 Things I Learned At TBEX

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This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend TBEX, a meet-up of travel bloggers organized by Travel Blog Exchange and, in particular, Kim Mance of Galavanting. For those of you who attended and may have met me, I was under the guise of Italofile, my blog about Italy travel (@italofileblog on Twitter), and also as USA Tourism Board (@usatourismboard), an unofficial guide to USA travel that I’ve been playing around with over the last year (to little success sigh).

At any rate, the TBEX conference was incredibly useful for knowledge gathering, networking, and enjoying a few Gin and Tonics on a lovely, if sticky, June evening in New York City. Here’s a list of what I learned, some professional, as well as personal, revelations. I’d love to hear what you learned, too, so leave a comment below.

Things I Learned At TBEX

  1. Travel bloggers and travel writers are the same. We have (or should have) editorial calendars, self-imposed deadlines, and an inherent drive to learn more about the world around us.
  2. My travel writing heroes are real and they are fabulous. Pictured are Jim Benning, Mike Barish, David Farley, and Robert Reid. Not pictured, but also in my pantheon are Johnny Jet, Spud Hilton, Chris Gray Faust, Sean Keener, and many many others.

  3. Your own travel photos are better than photos you’ve “borrowed” from Flickr, according to Gary Arndt of Everything Everywhere. (See horribly grainy photo in link #2 – but, hey, it’s mine!)

  4. Travel writers like to drink.

  5. Some travel writers like to drink $300 glasses of scotch. Don’t do that if you’re on a press trip and liquor is comped. Bad form.

  6. If you go on a press trip or get PR stuff in the mail and you’re going to write about it, disclose it. Every time.

  7. Both PR people and travel writers should do research on each other to make sure that their relationships make sense.

  8. If you want to increase your SEO, make sure you add titles, alt tags, and descriptions to your posts and especially any photos or videos that you use because the latter have less of the “market share” on search engines.

  9. Knew this, but it was reiterated at TBEX: Google’s Adwords Keywords is invaluable for SEO.

  10. You can SEO your site to death, but if the content is no good no one is going to care. Write for humans, damnit!

  11. It’s not enough to have a laptop and an iPhone. Travel bloggers use all kinds of cool tools like the Quick Pod handheld tripod for shooting video or taking photos of yourself, the wireless mini battery extender for iPhone, and Pano, an app for taking outstanding photos on the iPhone (as long as the light is right).

  12. My next computer should be a Mac or an iPad. Really jealous of the three TBEXers who won the iPad drawings from TripAdvisor.com.

  13. The people who work at TripAdvisor.com are pretty nice and know how to throw an awesome happy hour (see #4).

  14. I should get to Australia – and particularly the Northern Territory – immediately. I was mesmerized by Mike Barish‘s talk about it during lunch on Saturday. Wow.

  15. If I could write about travel the way Mike Barish casually talks about travel, I’d be eternally grateful to the universe and perhaps much wealthier than I am today. But then….

  16. Overheard at TBEX: “Travel writers have been starving artists for an eternity. Travel blogging’s not going to change that. Much.” Or…something like that.

  17. I’m not the only travel blogger with kids. LOTS of mommy travel bloggers were at TBEX including Ciao Bambino and Luxury Travel Mom. The work that these ladies do is amazing and makes me realize that I need to stop bitching about having no time to write. (That said, ladies, are your kids in school, have a nanny, etc.? Or are you parenting and writing at the same time, all the time?)

  18. Having a son with autism also should not hamper my ability to be a kick ass travel writer, as evidenced, once again, by TBEX organizer and galavanter Kim Mance.

  19. Two days to attend TBEX was both too much and too little time to spend away from my kids.

  20. Some travel bloggers look just like their Twitter avatars, in particular @italylogue and @journeywoman. It was so great meeting Jessica and Evelyn.

  21. Journey Woman, aka Evelyn Hannon, is a pioneer of women’s travel, having started in 1982. And don’t ask her to change her website: it’s comfortable, like your grandmother’s house.

  22. Finding your niche is important. More important is sticking with it, getting better with each post.

  23. If you’ve excelled at your niche, create and sell an e-book about it, a la Nomadic Matt. It’s a way to monetize your blog without having to fill it with ads.

  24. Invest in your blog by, for example, purchasing a theme. (Something I learned from Nomadic Matt’s eBook How to Make Money with Your Travel Blog. (See…#23 works!)

  25. The extremely prolific travel writer Zach Everson doesn’t seem to have a geographic specialty, rather his niche is humor, a trait that works for a ton of markets. To wit, this tweet on ethical blogging and this one about shooting travel video and this tweet on traveling within the U.S. Was cracking up the whole time. Wish I had such a gift.

  26. Speaking of gifts, An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town by David Farley comes out in paperback on July 6, 2010. Who doesn’t want to read about the search to find Jesus’s foreskin? Yeah, thought so.

  27. Pam Mendel, of Nerd’s Eye View, is incredibly funny (knew that, TBEX cemented it) and quite the activist for travel writers. I love the way she used her guest spot on a conference panel to demand Free WiFi in hotels. It really is just as important as the lighting and indoor plumbing.

  28. Try to keep the emotion out of travel writing. Look at your work objectively and don’t beat yourself up thinking that every one else but you has got it figured out. As Sean Keener so nicely put it in this tweet:

It’s not about keeping up. It’s about finding your voice and your “why”

Thanks everyone for a great weekend! I sincerely hope I can make it out to Vancouver for TBEX 2011.


  1. Thanks, Mike. You deserve all the compliments. I may take you up on dropping you a line some time. By the way, surely you’ve seen that silly video “Sky Mall Kitties“? Thought so… 🙂

  2. Thanks for the recap Melanie! I was sorry to miss TBEX this year since I learned so much last year, so it’s nice to get an update. Also very happy to hear next year is in Vancouver – that is incredibly convenient for me (yeah I’m sure that’s why it was chosen 🙂 so maybe we’ll meet in person next year!

  3. Thanks, Sara. I hope it was helpful. The face-to-face meeting was the best part of it, though. I’m already feeling anxious about going to next year’s – I really want to make it out, but how?!

  4. So glad it was helpful, Madeline. I know I left a ton of stuff out, due to undiligent note-taking. Hopefully more attendees will post tips, so come back and check. I think you can also subscribe to the comments.

  5. This is a great round up – I feel like we learned a lot of the same things. To answer your question about traveling moms: my children are 5 and 8, I started blogging when they were 3 and 6 and I had a 20-hour-a-week job. I’ve never had a nanny, consider myself a full-time parent, and am singing hallelujahs that my youngest son will be in school full time in the fall so that I don’t have to blog between 9 and 11 at night as has been my regular practice.

    To your excellent list I would add the emphasis on collaboration – I felt like there was little ego and lots of “let’s help each other out” going at this conference. One excellent example would be the suggestion to ask fellow travel bloggers for contextual links – because if we can’t all exchange those links, who can?

    Sorry I didn’t get to meet you in person – sounds like we would have had a lot to talk about. Maybe next year?
    .-= Mara´s last blog ..You’d think I had time on my hands =-.

  6. Aw, Melanie, you are so sweet. It was a pleasure to meet you as well.

    I love this list. I agree with Mara: the best part is that we can all learn from each other. The panel on SEO/monetization showed that different people are trying new and exciting approaches to turning their passion into a business. If one path doesn’t work, it’s OK to try another, instead of labeling the whole thing a failure. I think that’s the most important lesson I learned.
    .-= Chris´s last blog ..TBEX bound- Travel Blog Exchange conference Q and A =-.

  7. Thanks for the great overview and for sharing your experiences. I particularly like the tip about ‘finding your voice and your why’ – great advice.
    Wish I could have attended but fingers crossed for next year!

  8. I’m so disappointed I missed meeting you, Bobby. Can I just say that the name of your site is GREAT?!? 🙂

  9. I know exactly what you mean about 2 days of TBEX being long enough and not long enough, too. It was really so interesting to put faces and personalities together with names of people I’ve seen on Twitter, or whose blogs I read. This is a great round-up.

    I’m already looking forward to Vancouver. 🙂
    .-= Jennifer´s last blog ..New York City Travel Moment =-.

  10. Mara, I couldn’t agree more. The collaboration aspect is key, especially for us mom bloggers. We need a bigger bang for our buck since we don’t have a ton of time to put into this writing thing. So, linking up would be great.

    I’m hoping that I can make it to Vancouver next year. But, from where I sit now, it looks doubtful. New York is a lot easier to get to and I can justify a weekend there. Still, I won’t count myself out just yet!

  11. Chris – it really was great meeting you, even if briefly on Saturday morning. Thanks for your insight on this post, too. I’ve had too many experiences that I’ve labeled a failure, when really there were bits and pieces that were successful. It’s just finding the time and energy to retool and try something else. That said, I recently re-launched my USA Tourism Board site as a user-generated Tumblelog. I’d love for you, or others reading these comments, to have a look at it and give me feedback on what I can do to improve! Thanks.

  12. Yes, Craig! Let’s make that tip #29. I meant to speak to you but ran out of time. The vuvuzela wasn’t all that bad in person. In fact, I liked it when you tooted it after the iPad winners were announced. Gave the moment a bit of triumph, don’t you think? Too bad you weren’t able to blow it in celebration of a U.S. victory. Maybe for TBEX 2014?

  13. Thanks for liking the post. I loved the SEO panel, but we’ve got to keep up the good writing. It would have been interesting to have the SEO panel followed by the “Upping Your Game” panel as contrast.

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