I can’t say I collected the most business cards but the people that I exchanged glossy paper with were ones that I had a great time with and loved to get to know a little better than just through casual small talk. My first TBEX was a great experience for me and the very first travel blogger event I ever attended. Naturally, I wanted to share my insides and stories from Fort Lauderdale to satisfy your curiosity and maybe help another newbie out as well.
It goes without saying that once you know you’re TBEX-bound, you need to start getting organised and this also involves your transportation and accommodation for your epic week of meeting like-minded people. Activate your super nerdy travel blogger in you and get cracking, just know that two days filled with talks and networking will be preceded by two more days involving fun activities and pre-planned Pre-BEX tours. Also, TBEX arranges special rates with the surrounding hotels, so if you are not on a backpacker budget, check those out as they probably will be super close to the convention. In case you don’t, book your accommodation as early as possible or else you might have to pay for a much pricier rate as the rooms fill up quickly. TBEX Fort Lauderdale listed 700 attendees; that is a lot of beds that are filled within just one week. In case you need new ones, get your business cards printed in time as you will need them. Also, follow TBEX via newsletter and its social media feeds to stay on top of announcements, such as the tours, schedule and speed networking opportunities, which you can access via Blogger Bridge. So why not create an account now and while you’re at it, make sure you use the same email address with your Blogger Bridge account and your TBEX registration.
Know about the Perks
I’ve mentioned Pre-BEX tours. These are the ones that will bring you the destination closer. This time around it was for Fort Lauderdale. Out of the list of tours, you have to choose which one you want to enter in as depending on the number of attendants those are limited and can be booked out quickly. The tours are not announced right away, so you need to calculate them in. It could mean that you have to arrive at the first day and then have a day off, for instance. With me, I had to do quite a lot of rearranging as I had not anticipated my tour of choice to be early on the 27th, when the official dates were 28 to 30th October. Luckily, I still managed to do it and then had a second day off. However, if you are cheeky and the tours are not quite full, you can simply walk to another tour you’d like and ask if there are available seats. A lot of us did it and it worked fine. Just don’t expect them to be available to you when you show. So ultimately, I went on the boating tour, where I met the lovely Ulla from Rantapallo and Jenia from House to Laos, and then I boarded the airboat to see the Everglades. It just so happened that I sat next to Karisa from Flirting with the Globe, whom I knew before from the facebook Girls vs Globe group.
Be on Time
Another no-brainer, I know, but as always with my frenemy Google Maps, I was mislead and the supposedly 15 minute walk turned into a 25 minute chase down seedy back lanes with unidentifiable smells, massive highways with slow–changing traffic lights and entrances that weren’t marked clearly. The gist of it was that I was late and it was not looking good. Luckily, I had my new blogger friend Beth from The City Dweller with me and we decided to go down the actual wrong way, where we were interrogated by security guards regarding our origin and then, before we could follow the advice of the one guard, did not choose to walk down yet another wrong lane but saw the bus heading towards us just in time so we could wave it over. Just imagine if we hadn’t been talking to the guards or had taken another detour down a different seedy lane, we would have missed the bus and our boat trip. So let this be a lesson: A) don’t let me check Google Maps and B) come way before the scheduled departure time.
The top three things you will need are business cards, pen/paper and your smartphone. This is a conference that will leave your head boggling with new contacts and information and you need to write it all down. You will forget most of it anyway and need a clear head, so why try to lock it all up when you could pen to paper or finger to screen? Exchange cards, write down how you met (to foster that personal link and stand-out criteria as there are hundreds of other people that are fighting for attention also), important information (such as when and on what to follow up) and maybe bits and pieces of shared advice that you want to ingrain into your brain. Once you get the contacts of interesting people, be sure to social media stalk them, i.e. follow them and thank them for the nice chat. You can either scan the contact details with some handy phone apps or find another way to sort them. I chose to make an extra twitter list for the people I’ve met.
The Art of Starting a Conversation
So you want business cards but don’t know how to actually talk people out of them? Don’t scare people, grab the thing and then run off. Be nice, be talkative and, most of all, be yourself. Remember, these are all people like you who have entered into this crazy business of blogging or working with bloggers. The main point of attraction with bloggers is their unique voice and perspective, so be uniquely you. So you can shake the idea of coming in a suit or costume. Unless that’s you. Be classy and comfortable, be easy to talk to and don’t be afraid to start a conversation. If that’s still not your forte, just make a comment about how great it is to be at TBEX, about how you are looking forward to a specific talk or possibly even the weather. It is easy. Or you can ask them who they are and whether they are a blogger. Just don’t put them on a pedestal and lose your voice over your exasperation of meeting someone whose blog you constantly binge-read. They are normal people, extraordinary and fascinating, but still normal people. If you think you can’t offer them anything, think again. A smile is a great start.
After talking to people for hours on end or sitting back and listening attentively to the shared knowledge during the talks can seriously drain your energy. I am an introvert, so this is nothing new but I was surprised how me and my two new room mates/blogger friends, Ashlea from A Globe Well Travelled and Beth, withdrew for daily naps to our hostel beds before we headed back off to the evening parties. The whole things sure took a toll on us even though it was fun. To prevent you from drifting off while standing and missing out on great opportunities to meet more people, know your limits. You can always withdraw for a little while, maybe take a quick walks around the vicinity to get some fresh air. Or you can sit with new friends and enjoy some peace and quiet over sipping your coffees. Very helpful with all of this was the catering. I wasn’t aware of how much amazing food and drinks we were to receive. During the TBEX talks, we had a small breakfast buffet with the most adorable milk drinks, sweet treats and strawberry infused water – and of course coffee. Lunch was provided in a bug hall with a generous buffet of all different kinds of delectable dishes ranging from fresh salads over meat in gravy to artful cakes and cupcakes. Come afternoon, treats were served up, but not just any treats. One time we had too-good-to-eat Halloween cookies with chocolate desserts, cake pops and tiny savoury cones that were beautifully arranged on a wood instalment, which drew on the autumn/Halloween theme of the food. And don’t get me started on the food during the parties. I uploaded just a few pictures to not tease your appetite too much. But if it makes you feel any better, I could not eat it either.
Bonus: Surviving despite Food Poisoning
I have the unfortunate skill of attracting disaster wherever I go and this time around, my stomach had decided it was his turn to cause some trouble and it became queasy over a not fully cooked meatball I had devoured heading off to the first TBEX event. It punished me all week and I spent an unfortunate amount of my non-conference time in the hostel bathroom. This did not only leave me feeling like a horrendous monster, trying to make friends with nice and healthy people, but it also meant I wasn’t in my usual spirits, I constantly tried to assess the distance to the bathroom whenever I engaged in conversation and it left me without a lot of energy. The worst thing, to a foodie like me, was that I was not allowed to touch the mouth-watering dishes. I tried a little chocolate here and a little creamy soup there, but my stomach was never too happy about that and certainly let me know. So my advice to you is A) look after your health and the temperature of your dishes and B) always travel with an emergency first aid kit and locate the nearest pharmacy. I ate up all my coal tablets and then stocked up on Immodium while investing in the energy drinks industry. It patched me up enough to make it through the day and then get some much needed sleep.
Check Your Expectations
TBEX wasn’t what I had expected. But then again, I always say that you should check your expectations and better have none. My imagination runs a little wild sometimes and then expectations sneak in. What I did get from TBEX was a fun week filled with inspiring people that I was happy to see every day and who I missed after the conference was over. It was honestly strange how quickly I got used to this short-lived conference life. Maybe it reminded me back of uni when I attended lectures and mingled with friends in the corridors. Only the food wasn’t good and we had exams. Never mind that, TBEX is all about networking and connecting. If you, like me, expect it to be super nerdy and around-the-clock-talks (check the schedule online as well as the social media platforms and groups), then you might be disappointed. Not every talk lived up to its title and some very directly targeted at the attending businesses instead of bloggers (hint: these are the talks labelled “TBEX business”). Nonetheless, some talks were absolutely great, such as the one by Carol Cain from Girl Gone Travel, Rachelle Lucas from The Travel Bite and travel writer Don George. But ultimately, I split the talks with my friends as there are always six running simultaneously and thus we all got some insightful notes and actionable advice among ourselves. The slides will also be uploaded into the facebook group, so that is good to have a look into as well.
Get into the Party Mood
Now that you know TBEX is about the people and getting to talk, it should not come as a surprise to hear that nearly every night there was a different party going on. I am so not a party person and you will rather find me crouched over a good book by the fireplace than at a dance-off among neon lights, but it’s not that kind of party at TBEX either. Sure, the first night, we barely got to talk over the loud music and silent disco headphones but the other parties were meant solely for mingling. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling well enough to attend the party in the museum (still sobbing over this) but I pulled myself together for the last one. And it was a stunner.
Situated in a high class hotel commanding its own street and complex, we had a floor to ourselves dedicated to la dolce vita with eye-catching food presentations, a samba dance show with live music and an open bar. I hopped from table to table (mostly as they had chairs and I had trouble standing) and this way met a lot of people without even starting the conversation. I also lost y camera but the TBEX team was quick enough to secure it for me. There was a special shuttle bus to and from the events, so that even without a car, you are taken care off. Just know those parties do not last until the wee hours. They ended at 10pm. Gotta stay fresh for the next day, right?
And so my week with TBEX ended. I had made eye contact with wild alligators, swam away fro brown jellyfish in front of Honeymoon island, defied reason and tried some irresistible food and met people who I admired and love to stay in touch with. And yes, I wasn’t the only non-American around, but met people from as far as Australia, Finland and Russia. I love my international crowd!