Hitchhiking, Hot Tubbing and Hobnobbing at TBEX

By June 21, 2012 Featured 20 Comments

I spent this past weekend at TBEX 2012, a conference catering to travel bloggers, and let me tell you, it didn’t turn out at all like I expected.  I made some fast friends and reunited with some old ones, learned more than I knew but less than I expected, and networked with travel industry representatives and other travel bloggers.

The Soiree at the Summit

The Soiree at the Summit event the night we arrived into Keystone Colorado. Photo by Graciel Cecilio.

TBEX in a nutshell

Taken directly from the TBEX 2012 site: “TBEX (is) the world’s largest gathering (of) travel bloggers, writers, and new media content creators”.  The conference was started about four year ago by Kim Mance and up until this year was apparently wrought with problems.  Not having attending any of the previous three years, I can’t speak to the past except to stay that my expectations for this year’s conference were not very high.  I decided to attend this year because of the networking opportunities the conference presented.

Although there were some hiccups from my perspective, I really didn’t expect the level of quality and organization that was apparent from the first night.  From the fully catered “Soiree at the Summit” hosted by Keystone Resort and Vail Resorts to the scheduled sessions that all ran on time and provided high quality content, the time and effort put into making this a successful conference was apparent.

Pine Ridge Condos

The Pine Ridge Condos where a number of TBEX attendees were staying during the conference. Photo by Jason of Jason's Travels.

My Experience

TBEX started earlier than expected for me with the shuttle ride to Keystone, Colorado.  The two-hour trip was filled with introductions, our hopes and expectations for the conference, and a little bonding over “Game of Thrones”.

Having arrived just in time to register, I caught up on some emails before going to the opening “Soiree at the Summit” party.  As I had arranged to stay with six other bloggers (aka “the Pine Ridge Seven”) at a condo 30 minutes from Keystone, my primary mission that night was to locate members of the group, else I’d be sleeping in a gondola.  Little did I know I’d become quick friends with two of my condo-mates, Matt Karsten of Expert Vagabond and Graciel Cecilio of Pinay On The Move.  For a glimpse of our accommodation, Jason of Jason’s travel did a great rivew of the Pine Ridge Condos,

The altitude hit everyone hard.  Moving faster than a walk at the party Friday evening and sleeping later that night were difficult activities at best.  Since Matt and I were up at the break of dawn, he convinced me to hitchhike (Matt took the photo above) to the conference, not something I’d ordinarily do mostly because of the unpredictability of arrival (I’d rather spend my day exploring than waiting 3 hours for a lift).  To my surprise, it took only 10 minutes after putting the signs out to get picked up by another TBEXer heading to the conference.

The Pine Ridge Crew

Four of "The Pine Ridge 7", these were my condo-mates at the conferences. Left to right: Graciel Cecilio, Michela Baxter, Matt Karsten and myself. Photo by Graciel Cecilio

Saturday was mostly sessions and networking, with a western-themed party hosted by Expedia that evening.  Highlights of the day were seeing Jodi Ettenberg again after almost two years, getting my learning on, meeting new faces, watching Matt parade around in a bull costume and a relaxing soak in the hot tub at days end.

Sunday was more of the same with a really cool and unexpected “speed dating” event thrown in the middle.  This was the highlight of the day for me as I was able to interact with a side of the travel industry that is sometimes difficult to reach.  That initial introduction might not lead to anything immediately, but it certainly helps put them on my map and vice versa.

Things I’d Love To See At The Next TBEX:

Speed Dating Organization

Speed dating shouldn’t be just for Bloggers meeting industry folk but bloggers meeting bloggers.  I saw Nomadic Matt running around just before the speed dating kicked off looking for a place to situate himself for his meetings.  Later, in between my own meetings, I spoke to an industry rep without a table who was trying to figure out how she was going to find the bloggers she had scheduled meetings with.

Keystone Colorado

Our view from the location of Friday night's Soiree

More Sessions

There were only four breakout session time slots on the schedule, each having five talks along a theme.  With two of those themes focusing on business, I had to decide which session to attend during each time slot, meaning I was always missing a session I would have liked to attend.  One option might be adding a couple of hours to each day, allowing for additional break out session slots so that sessions with similar themes could be moved out of conflict with each other.  On that note, I have notes from the four sessions I went to if anyone would like to trade.  Email me and we’ll chat.

Better Location

I’ve been to a variety of conferences in a variety of cities for a variety of reasons.  This is easily the furthest I’ve had to go to get to/from the airport.  This distance directly affected my conference experience with a couple of panelists for the last talk I saw on Sunday who had to leave early to make sure they made their flights.  My own time spent networking was cut short Sunday so that a member of my carpool could make her flight.

On top of the distance, the altitude hit everyone like a ton of bricks.  Headaches and sleep issues were the most common complaints I was aware of.  I made it through 10 days of burning the candle at both ends during SXSW in March and felt more tired after two less strenuous days at TBEX.  Keystone was beautiful and looks like an amazing place for a vacation, but the location took more out of the conference than it added.

Heading to the "How the west was fun" party

Here's a photo taken by Graciel of us heading to the "How The West Was Fun" party hosted by Expedia.

More early information

I knew the TBEX dates far in advance but only found out about the advance activities after booking my flights.  I would have loved to participate in the rallies and “prebex” but arrived too late to do either one.  Next year I’ll plan on being there a couple days early, but new attendees not in-the-know might have the same problems I did this year.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the conference was, for me, a great success.  The sessions were mostly lively and informative.  The parties were fun and well catered with some great food and drink.  The networking opportunities, both planned and random, were ample and valuable.  I learned a ton, met some great people, made some new friends and came back with new ideas and more motivation than ever.