I’ve just returned to my mom’s lake house in New Hampshire after a whirlwind four days at the second annual Travel Blog Exchange conference in New York City. SoCalGal Jennifer Miner was there, too — in fact, she was a panelist among many speaking about “SEO for Travel Blogging & Monetization Strategies.” (I wish this session had been two hours long — so many great take-away tips!)
While both of us were there to learn from the two days of professional-development sessions, we were most thrilled to finally meet in person many of our fellow bloggers we’d only “met” online. I know for most of the 300+ attendees, which also included public-relations professionals, this was the highlight of the weekend — matching real-live faces to tiny Twitter avatars. Indeed, a good time was had by all. (Well, except for my dear friend Debbie Ferm, who had her purse stolen from an NYU-neighborhood deli, and my buddy Jody Halsted, who got stuck in Newark when she was supposed to be tucking her babies into bed in Iowa.) There were certainly ups and downs throughout the hot, humid weekend, for sure, but overall, it was a tremendously positive experience. I love being on the front end of a wonderful grassroots movement of community-minded travel bloggers.
That said, what struck me this weekend’s event was its overall emphasis on narrative travel writing/blogging, as well as independent, nomadic, budget travel — or at least that’s the vibe I got. The session, “Travel Writing: Upping Your Game,” with highly accomplished travel writers, was truly insightful, but the lyrical storytelling genre they most often described is not the type of blogging I typically do at The Vacation Gals. Since I generally write service pieces or destination profiles as a freelance travel writer, as well, this session didn’t speak to me the way it did many other attendees.
When I get my copy of Condé Nast Traveler in the mail, I flip first to Wendy Perrin‘s consumer news articles and the Ombudsman column; I don’t always read the feature well. That’s just my preference: guidebook-like tips for my next trip (with plenty of personal anecdotes thrown in for good measure).
Sure, we’re storytellers here at The Vacation Gals, occasionally offering more thoughtful essays from our travel experiences, but more often than not, we’re advice columnists, sharing with you our best tips for making travel easier (and more fun) with your children, your romantic partner or your girlfriends. We love offering in-the-know suggestions for travel destinations and travel gear we’ve found helpful along the way. Generally speaking, “practical” and “how to” are our middle names.
For the TBEX ’10 community keynote, witty and wonderful travel bloggers Pam Mandel and Mike Barish showed a video and read eight compelling travel pieces (I think my favorite, or the one to which I could most relate was Sophia Dembling’s lovely “The Making of a Flyover American.”) One of the stories was written from a mom’s perspective — Leigh Schulman on the culture shock of returning to the U.S. after spending six months living in Panama.
Still, I feel like the large mass of family-travel bloggers on the web (of which at least a dozen were at TBEX) weren’t acknowledged much at all. (Shout out to Debbie Dubrow of Delicious Baby; I’d have loved to have heard more from her on the “Branding, Finding a Niche & Relevant Self-Promotion” panel she moderated.) I fully admit I did not submit a family-travel story (but again, I don’t typically write the reflective narratives that were read, so I doubt anything of mine would have been chosen anyway). In essence, what I’m trying to say is that generally my family-travel-blogging tribe is writing about the top things to see and do with kids in Orlando, Boston, Sydney and Paris; we’re not reflecting on what life is now like back at home after a long stint in a Central American country. (Which is not to say I didn’t like Leigh’s well-written piece; it’s just not part of my world right now. At all.)
Further, while I enjoyed watching the well-done “We are Backpackers” video shown at the beginning of the community keynote, I could not relate to it at all at this stage of my life. All the faces in the video were nearly half my age — I’m well, well past the backpacking, staying-in-hostels phase. Been there, done that (in 1989 through Western Europe).
While I know there are plenty of families who embark on round-the-world travel with their kids (hello Michelle Duffy!), that’s not on my radar. I love my house in Colorado, and I have no intention of leaving it any time soon for extended global travel. While I’m so happy to camp with my kids, hike with them in National Parks and get dirty on mountain bike rides, I’m equally thrilled to spend the weekend in a five-star luxury hotel.
Frankly, I sat in the auditorium watching the screen as the “We Are Backpackers” video played, thinking about my 8- and 10-year-old children, and hoping that I’m arming them with enough self-confidence and enough varied travel experiences to have the wherewithal to take off and travel on their own if they want to when they’re out of college. (So now that I’m organizing my thoughts on this computer screen, I suppose I was inspired by that video — though likely in a much different way than most TBEX attendees. It’s not me who has any interest in slipping on a backpack and hopping a plane to Asia, but I’m hoping my children will have the opportunity to do so one day!)
My bottom-line point: During the conference, more than once I wanted to stand up in that NYU auditorium and shout, “Hey! I create Top 10 lists. I take my family vacations at plush, all-inclusive resorts. I’m not going to choose the “real bus.” I’m still worthy!”
I believe there’s no “wrong” way to blog, the same way I believe there’s no “wrong” way to travel. If it’s service pieces, advice columns and bullet points that you prefer to compile, like I often do here at The Vacation Gals, then you — and I — are authentic travel bloggers, too. Because if there is anything I learned at TBEX ’10, it’s that there’s a heck of a lot of us travel blogging, in a myriad of ways, and we’re having an absolute ball doing it!
I look forward to meeting even more bloggers in Vancouver at TBEX ’11. I can’t wait to see how our community continues to grow, thrive and collaborate even more in the months leading up to next summer, the next time we gather en masse IRL.
Though I learned from fabulous TBEX ’10 speaker Lola Akinmade that she prefers her disclosures at the beginning of a post, I’m adding here at the end that these are my opinions, not necessarily those of my site co-owners Jennifer Miner and Beth Blair. (I’d love to hear their thoughts in the comments!) — Kara