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 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…
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!
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 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.
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!”
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 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.
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!