What Happens at a Travel Blogger's Conference?

Showing the hashtag to be used for every event on the big screen

I've been blogging for five years, but it was only a few months ago I realized there were conferences for this kind of thing. I had done the Amateur Traveler podcast program about Milwaukee, and as I followed the host, Chris Christensen, he mentioned a conference happening in Jerusalem, that happened to be the week before our family vacation to Dubai was planned. The conference, Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX), cost less than $200 and included tours.  It sounded like a real adventure, so I bought a ticket and planned my trip which would also include a few days in neighboring Jordan.

The conference formal session lasted just three days, but was bookended with free tours, evening events, cooking classes, food tours and parties arranged by the hosting city. In this case, it was I Travel Jerusalem. You could also apply for longer tours that extended into the region in small groups. If chosen, the expectation is that a blogger would write about the experience and places seen. It's a fair tradeoff for anyone with passion, energy, and the ability to connect with an audience. We received a free transit pass and a mobile phone sim card so we could truly explore and share what we were seeing.

TBEX hosts conferences every year in different geographic regions, so there is an opportunity to see a variety of places, though many of the speakers and sessions will be the same. With multiple tracks, it's impossible to hear every presentation anyway. The other conference locations were in Europe and the USA. Dressed in typical office wear, I showed up for free breakfast and a group session.  Then the tracks featuring many well known travel professionals were set up throughout the day featuring topics like monetizing your blog, working with other agencies, podcasting. With short breaks and snacks in between, there was time to ask questions of people I had been following as they traveled the world. There were also tables set up for networking with organizations like hotels or TripAdvisor. I expected I'd be among the older participants, but it turned out that I was in good company. Some were younger. Others were older than myself.
 Just a selfie with my new travel blogging friends
Bloggers come with all kinds of interests: food, fashion, UNESCO sites, museums, family, gay travel, disabilities, religious sites, travel with pets, solo adventures...the list goes on. So, the impact for the hosting city can be enormous with hundreds of travel writers using social media to tweet, blog, and instagram their way through the local sights. Each has a different approach and audience. Nearly all walk with cameras or smart phones.  A few even had go-pro video cams attached to their bodies at all times. Some did video blogs or interviews with locals, as well as other bloggers.  There seemed to be something happening at every minute of every day.

Doing tours with other adults was a bit of a novelty for me since I normally travel with my family, and being with other travelers was nothing short of amazing.  It was easy to make friends, share travel stories, and find a way to connect in future.  We exchanged business cards and instagram accounts.  I followed many on twitter and Facebook. Nearly every destination I had on my future travel wish list had an expert in the room who could offer tips. It was like being at adult summer camp. Though I was exhausted at the end of the conference, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
On a tour through Jerusalem, we hear about local social problems
Just a few weeks later, I attended another travel blogger event in Milwaukee that I stumbled upon looking through Eventbrite- Women in Travel Summit (WITS). It was too good to be true that something this fantastic was happening in my own home town. This one was only for females, and run similarly to TBEX, it had general sessions for 2 days and tours at either end. Having written the Milwaukee Bucket List, most of the tours were at places I had already seen, so I didn't participate in those, but it was interesting reading the social media posts of bloggers from other places discovering my favorite haunts for the first time. It reinforced my love of Milwaukee.  Visit Milwaukee did a great job of providing materials and arranging interesting things to do for attendees. There was even an evening event at the Harley Davidson Museum featuring live music.
Ladies who attended WITS in Milwaukee
For travel bloggers and others in the travel industry, I'd recommend attending one of these conferences.  I learned a lot, connected with people, and enjoyed exploring a new city. Too often, I feel we're in our own travel bubble, but having fun with people who have similar interests was unforgettable. 

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