New York & TBEX ’10 – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Last weekend I was in New York City to attend the Travel Blogger’s Exchange (TBEX) Conference with 300 or so fellow travel lovers. Some of what the city and the conference had to offer was just what I expected, but there were a few surprises along the way too.

New York City Sunset View
New York City Rooftop View

I’m pretty sure I’ve missed the TBEX train of posts about the conference. Even though I’m The Travel Mama, the “Mama” portion of that name comes first, with the traveling and writing aspects of my life sometimes getting stowed in the overhead compartment. Oh well, here are my thoughts nonetheless…

 
THE GOOD

New York City was downright friendly.
The last time I visited New York was 11 years ago when I was first dating my now husband and I felt a little intimidated by the gruff attitude of the city’s rushing populace. Ordering a coffee the right way seemed like a feat in itself that could result in being sent to the back of the line à la Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. It wasn’t just my youthful age either; by that time I had already traveled to twenty-something countries, to many of which I journeyed alone. Now, while New Yorkers are still in a hurry, everyone seemed willing (eager even!) to show off their town. And for good reason!

The subways were a pleasant surprise.
I did not expect to find the subways as clean as they were. Again, I’m comparing to my last experience in New York City over a decade ago, but I remember practically wading through a sea of subway tickets in the underground train stations. Today everyone reloads their Metro cards and apparently discards used single ride tickets neatly in the trash dispensers. Way to go green, NYC!

I found a great hotel with lots of room for families to spread out.
One of the hotels recommended to conference attendees (at a special TBEX rate) was the artsy, boutique place, The Roger Smith Hotel. I split a two-bedroom suite with three other blogger moms. The suite was bigger than many New York apartments and came with a microwave, a mini fridge, and enough room for all of us to sleep comfortably. This would make a great option for a family looking for extra room to in which to spread out while visiting the city.

The networking and the chatting was beyond fun.
My favorite part of any blogger meet up is talking with people who are just as crazed about Word Press, Google Analytics, and pixels as I am. This was doubly the case at TBEX because I got to cavort with gobs of people who love to travel as much as I do. This weekend was like giving a kid an hour and $100 to go spend in a toy store…so many great bloggers…so little time!

Family Travel Bloggers at Dinner in New York for TBEX
Out for an Indian dinner with some of my all-time favorite travel bloggers (from left to right): Amy of The Q Family Adventures, Jennifer of The Vacation Gals, Debbie of Travel Dither, Jody of Family Rambling, Kara of The Vacation Gals, Moi, and Sharlene Earnshaw of Double the Adventure

The PR reps rocked.
You know what was so great about the public relations folks at this conference? They made an effort to truly get to know those in attendance and understand which bloggers would be a good fit for their brands. As the blogging world gets bigger and more influential, many companies are jumping on the blogger bandwagon without much idea of where that wagon’s headed or why. These PR folks spent time connecting with the attendees and most of the companies were a good fit for a conference specifically targeted at travel bloggers. Examples? Marriott San Juan, Vail Resorts, and TripAdvisor, just to name a few.

You had me at travel bloggers’ conference.
Even with a few bumps in the programming, the TBEX conference was an incredible experience for those obsessed with seeing the globe. Beyond the social and networking aspects, there was also a stellar speech given by travel blogging phenomenon Gary Arndt of Everything Everywhere and lively panel discussions with such esteemed travel writers as Evelyn Hannon of Journeywoman.

  
THE BAD

The conference was a bit disorganized.
Kim Mance, Go Galavanting editor and the mastermind behind TBEX, has admitted that she is a writer, not a conference organizer and has thus hired someone to take on that role for the 2011 TBEX conference in Vancouver. I understand that TBEX grew much bigger than a small gathering for drinks, as was its original intention. Still, I hope things are a wee bit better structured next year, with sessions starting on time, technical difficulties kept to a minimum, chairs provided for all at hosted lunches, and nametags held in some semblance of alphabetical order rather than strewn silly-willy across a table.

Break-out sessions would have been nice.
It’s hard to be all things to all people. For much of the actual learning portion of the conference I was B-O-R-E-D. This is not to say that the speakers weren’t good, but a few of the topics covered were simply not of interest to me. For example, I have no desire to incorporate podcasts or video blogging to my site (at this time, anyway) so while others found this fascinating, it was ho-hum for me. Plus, sitting for hours in a big lecture hall is sure to put even the most dedicated of students to sleep. TBEX attendees were at a wide range of levels of their bloggerdom. Some (like Johnny Jet and World Hum) have been at it for a very, very long time. Others may have started just a few months ago. Certainly, these bloggers on opposite ends of the blogging spectrum have differing needs and interests when it comes to what they would like to get out of a conference. With the No Blogger Left Behind approach, I felt a little underwhelmed.

I’d prefer a more-inclusive environment.
There seemed to be a definite preference for backpack/independent travel at the TBEX 2010 conference that I don’t necessarily subscribe to. I loved traveling during college with nothing but the backpack on my shoulders and a Let’s Go Europe! in my hand. I think everyone should experience the freedom that comes from seeing the world alone at one point in their lives. However, I’ve been there, done that. I’m ready for high thread count sheets, private bathrooms, and preferably a fancy pool with a waterslide. My friend, Kara Williams over at The Vacation Gals, covers this more thoroughly in her post Reflections on TBEX ‘10 and Travel Blogging.

 
THE UGLY

The hangovers.
Certainly not everyone was drinking too much at TBEX, but many of us were. And the hangovers during the sessions on Sunday were apparent in many of the attendees’ faces. In fact, when the Canadian Visitors’ Bureau announced they would be hosting the next Travel Bloggers Exchange, one of the representatives joked, “Well, we know you guys like to drink…so we’ll have alcohol for you in Vancouver!”

Central Park Fountain
This Central Park fountain seemed to be the only oasis of relief from the hot New York day for tourists and locals who took a dip in its water to cool off

The heat.
The ugly stepsister at TBEX was the muggy weather. The day after the conference had officially ended, my friend, Jody Halstead of Family Rambling, and I took a long walk through Central Park. The grounds were gorgeous but it was hard to appreciate the beauty of our surroundings when simply taking a stroll made it us look as though we had just stepped out of a steamy shower of hot glue.
 

THE VERDICT

Will I go to TBEX next year?
I already bought my early bird ticket and I plan to be there. I’ll take any chance I can to hang out with people who are wacky enough to devote a good portion of their lives attempting to perfect packing, finding a great hotel deal, and climbing to the top of the tallest building around for an aerial view.

I’m hoping the hubs and kids can join me in Vancouver for a few days (AFTER the conference)!
Vancouver is toward the top of my very, very long list of places I would like to someday visit. I’ve heard it’s an extremely family-friendly city that I’d love to experience with my kids…and then share our experiences with you!

Did you go to TBEX this year or do you plan to go next year? Do you have  thoughts to share about New York City as a vacation destination? Let us know in the comments! 

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin is a mom of two and the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of THE TRAVEL MAMAS' GUIDE, she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen teaches blogging classes and has given travel tips on television, radio, and as a paid video blogger. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing.

Comments

  1. I am also hoping for more breakout sessions but overall had an aboslutely wonderful time at TBEX, especially out with my fellow family travel writers. I bought my TBEX ticket today as well and hope to have the family tag along next year in one of my favorite cities in the world, Vancouver. It was so great to meet you in person and I look forward to sharing a drink close to home soon!

  2. I can’t wait for the Vancouver TBEX and I hope that the wrinkles are worked out! Look forward to meeting you~ I have pre-registered as well.

  3. I went to TBEX 09 but missed this year’s event, partly due to waiting too long to purchase a ticket until my plans were firmed up. I’ve bought a ticket for next year, just because I don’t want to get caught without one again. It’s hard to plan a full year out, but what else can I do if I want to try to go?

    So I have a ticket and will consider the option of going to Vancouver. Whether I actually go or not, however, will be decided when I see the actual schedule and speaker list. (I’ll also need to check my phone plan to see if my data plan extends to Canada, I guess.)

    thanks for the thoughts on this year’s event.

  4. Thanks for the shout-out. Agree with all points here, for sure.

    I love me a cocktail and a great glass of wine, but the emphasis on drinking and partying was a bit much (maybe not for the 22 year olds, but for this 40 year old, yes).

    TBEX ’11 is going to be amazing — especially since it sounds like organizers are listening to the feedback from New York’s event.

  5. It was great to spend so much time with other travel obsessed moms like myself! I’ve been to so many conferences (and host my own) that many of the sessions were repeats of what I had already heard. Even Gary’s absolutely entertaining and terrific session was almost a repeat of a session at my own conference last year. That said, I really go for networking and time with other travel people. I do hope next year’s conference has more organization and definitely internet access!

    I also bought my early bird ticket for next year and, like you and Sharlene, want to bring my family to Vancouver. I am hoping for a family-travel TBEX meetup! Surely there’s a sponsor out there for an event like that!

  6. I love the photo:) Yes, I plan to attend TBEX next year, and have bought my ticket as well. Meeting so many people was more fun than I imagined, and in such a weird “social media” way, like recognizing people from their twitter handle!

    I’m glad to hear there will be a conference organizer next year so everyone can enjoy themselves without worrying about the details.

    It was good to be your roomy:)

    Debbie

  7. It was great to have met you at TBEX. I hope we’ll get more time to chat next year!

  8. I didn’t go but I’m finding that my blog will be more geared toward travel since it is my passion.
    Reading about your experience helps me determine if it is somethign I truly want to to attend.

    Thanks!

  9. I didn’t attend TBEX, however I follow many of the attendees on Twitter. To be honest, I got pretty tired of hearing the details about various bloggers’ hangovers. Hopefully, next year there will be more tweeting about the conference itself!

  10. Very fair assessment of this year’s conference, Colleen. Thanks for posting your thoughts.

  11. What a great wrap up for a conference I was eager to attend, but couldn’t as it was just after our int’l move. I really want to get to Vancouver next year (perhaps planning now would help me out?) and am hoping that the organisers read this blog post to get some tips on how to improve! There is nothing like getting to spend a few days at a large conference dedicated to one of my life’s great passions…and sharing it with someone fun like you is icing on top! :)

  12. TBEX is definitely a work in progress. I think many of the things people think they should have next year (breakouts, tracks, etc) will be incorporated. The event has grown tremendously in just two years. Should be great fun in Vancouver in ’11

  13. I am hoping to go next year! I wish I had made it this year to NYC – I have yet to visit the Big Apple…I know, I know…..

    Hope to meet you next year in Vancouver!

    Sarah
    The Ohana Mama

  14. Sounds like overall it was a good conference! I agree, breakout sessions are essential for a good conference, no matter the subject. It’s too much to expect people to sit in lecture-hall-type environments for more than an hour or two!

  15. A great assessment and I have to agree with several of your points on this post.

    My biggest plus is getting to meet many travel bloggers I have followed this past year including you! :)

    I have to take your word for it if you said the subway is already clean. :) It is pretty dated. I guess that what you get when it has been around for a while.

  16. OOooh….I’d love to go next year and Vancouver too! Never been! Maybe I need to break out and do a Frugal Travel blog too! :-)

  17. It sounds like this was a great conference. I would love to attend next year. Looks like you had an amazing time. Of course not as much fun as parasailing with me. Hope we can do it again sometime.

  18. It was so great to meet you and all my new TBEX friends. NYC is certainly a fun place for everyone. Next year will be a bit different, I would think!

  19. I have a new travel blog myself and keep hearing more about TBEX and have connected with several of the attendees through Twitter over the past few months. I would love to be able to coordinate a trip to Vancouver for a little bit of work and play as well!

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