TBEX – What I Learned

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I'm sure I won't be the only one writing a wrap-up post from the travel blogger conference held in Vancouver this past weekend. But, regardless if this is the first or fifteenth post on this topic you've seen, I'm going to write it anyway to share with you what I learned at TBEX 2011.

No, I didn't learn all the secrets or find out how to make millions from my blog. In fact, many will probably argue that the conference itself could have been much better. But I'll leave the scathing reviews to others. For me, it was all about the people I met and the inspiration I took away from meeting them.

But what did I learn?


I learned how to take silly photos while wearing stuff from the Men of TBEX photo shoot.

It's Not All About You

A recurring theme in some of the sessions I attended over the weekend revolved around the idea that travel blogging isn't all about the blogger. Yes, travel blogs can be incredibly personal, and most are written in the first-person about first-hand experiences. And, if we're being honest, most travel bloggers have a bit of an ego and assume that everyone loves to read about what time they woke up, what they had for breakfast, and the fact that they can't remember why they aren't wearing any pants.

But you know what? It's not always about you.

If there was one major point I took away from TBEX this weekend, it's that we as bloggers have to consider our readers a lot more. We have already experienced the places we're writing about — but many of them haven't. Good travel writing will make them feel like they've been there, too.

Some good quotes on this topic:

  • “Your piece is not about your trip; it's about your reader's trip.”
  • “Use yourself as a window into a place, but don't make it ALL about you.”
  • “Your reader is your companion.”
  • Talking about non-narrative travel writing: “It's still about storytelling, but it's not all about you.”

There are plenty of stories to be found here in the crowd after the Canucks won Game 5!

Some Solid Advice

I could go on and on about all the advice being thrown at us bloggers this weekend. Instead, I'm just going to share with you random snippets, quotes and things I jotted down in my notebook:

  • On length: “Stop when you stop being interesting.”
  • Create content that advertisers want to be associated with, but don't pander to them.
  • “Top 10 the shit out of your website.” (This one I know could lead to a lot of debate.)
  • Bring something new to the table, otherwise you're just wasting your time.
  • What is narrative travel writing? A crafted evocation of a journey. A sequence of anecdotes, scenes and encounters that illustrate a point and illuminate a place or culture.
  • Tell YOUR story; look for things that define a place for YOU.
  • Ask yourself, “What have I learned? How did I learn it?”
  • Don't make it a summary/diary entry.
  • Avoid complete negativity.
  • Avoid artificial ingredients — don't write about the accordion music and smell of fresh-baked bread in Paris if there wasn't any.
  • Read your stories out loud.
  • Think like a 3-year-old — find new ways of experiencing and describing things.
  • Try not to sound too wide-eyed.
  • Have an opinion.
  • If you wouldn't say it to someone in conversation, don't write it.
  • Do the opposite of what people might expect.
  • Use negative headlines to get readers' attention.
  • Never write something bad and use the excuse “It's just a blog.”

Quotes to Think About

Here are a few quotes I really liked:

  • “Sometimes travel bestows the most unexpected gifts.” — @don_george
  • “Really interesting people make really interesting stories.”
  • “Good travel spawns good narrative.” — @WheresAndrew


The Best TBEX Metaphors

And, of course, who could forget those golden metaphors used over the weekend…

  • “There's no sell-by date on (a story). It still could be good — you just have to smell it.” — @nerdseyeview
  • “Your story is like a puppy. Don't squeeze your puppy to death. Let it run around a little.” — @WheresAndrew
  • “People are like piss.” — @rediontravel

Random Observations

  • Travel bloggers are, in general, a friendly, chatty bunch. They also can drink like sailors.
  • Vancouver is a nice city (with really enthusiastic hockey fans), and I regret not having more time to explore it.
  • TBEX isn't really about the conference — it's about the people. And the after-parties. And the after-after parties. And, sometimes, the after-after-after parties.
  • Poutine is actually kind of delicious. Like a heart attack in a bowl.
  • We bloggers have a hard time unplugging. The TBEX wifi network barely worked as a result.
  • If you're going to do a presentation, make it more awesome by adding doodles and artwork that you made in Microsoft Paint.
  • A new word was born over the weekend: “Jourblist” — someone who is both journalist and blogger.

Having fun at one of the after-after-after parties.

I had a really great time at TBEX 2011, and I'm looking forward to TBEX 2012 in Keystone, Colorado! Who else is already registered?

Were you at TBEX this year? What sorts of things did YOU take away from it?


Sadly, I was not able to make it to all the sessions, including Gary Arndt's “State of the Blogging Union” address (I had to catch a train). Therefore, I'm sure there are plenty of great quotes that I missed. If you have anything to add, please share it in the comments!


  • ehalvey says:

    I think your observations of your first TBEX match a lot of mine for my first TBEX. The networking with people seemed to carry more influence and importance than attending sessions. I did learn something from all the sessions I went to, but I feel like some needed more time while others really didn’t need to last as long as they did. Overall, it needed a bit more structure and planning to be really effective, but I met so many incredible people and gleaned some nuggets of knowledge from everyone.
    ehalvey recently posted..Visual Vacation is Growing and Evolving

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I’ve heard this year’s was better than last year’s (though I didn’t go last year, so I can’t really confirm or deny that), which would suggest they’re at least improving and probably taking suggestions to heart. I can’t be too judgemental, though, because I really did have a great time. Connecting with others was definitely the best part for me, though.

  • Suki says:

    Already registered for next year! It’ll give me time to find the cheap flights. 😉 I couldn’t stay up for the after after after parties, but still had a fantastic time in Vancouver.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Good call on registering early to keep an eye out for cheap flights! My one regret this year was not allowing any extra time in Vancouver before or after the conference. Next year, I think I’ll plan to spend about a week in Colorado!

      Glad to hear you had fun this year!

  • Stephanie says:

    I really like the way you did this with the quotes and the tidbits. When people ask me what I learned it wasn’t necessarily huge concepts, but little thoughts and small points that really resonated and which I will try to implement in the future.

    You took much better notes than me!
    Stephanie recently posted..Out My Window: A Retrospective

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Thanks, Steph! I couldn’t figure out how to best present all the info I’d gathered — like you, I didn’t take away huge, life-altering concepts, but there were a lot of good tips and quotes that I wrote down. And, if I wrote it down, I figured it was worth remembering. So this just seemed logical!

  • John Wasko says:

    If you are going to do a presentation it has to be a LOT better than Microsoft paint.

    Try geo modeling sketch up into Google earth with an audio track from garage band and animated graphics from Apple Keynote.

    Exceed your audience’s expectations.

    From Pago Pago, John Wasko
    John Wasko recently posted..Keeping the Ancestor World Alive

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Oh, I was being sarcastic about the Paint comment (as was the presenter who used it). It was just a funny way to get everyone’s attention!

      • Kim@TBEX says:

        The presenter (@reidontravel) actually did it the old-fashioned way. Crayons on graph paper…then scanned them all. I told him it was so, so wrong that it couldn’t be more right.

  • This is a great summary post. I couldn’t be there, but I feel like I learned a little from reading this. But I need you to explain the “people are like piss” metaphor. And what the hell is poutine?
    The Travel Chica recently posted..Meeting Expats and Drinking Wine at 0800 Vino

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Thanks! Glad to know people are enjoying my little tidbits and notes.

      The “people are like piss” comment of Robert’s was a bit off the wall, and kind of hard to explain. The metaphor was something like… if you take a story you write and identify the different parts of it, the parts that are just about YOU are the piss. And, if you’re only writing about you, then the story is just piss. But as long as there are other aspects to the story (description, background info, other people), then you can piss all over it here and there and it will still be okay. … Can anyone else explain this better? Lol.

      And poutine is basically french fries covered in cheese curds and gravy, with some chives on top. It sounds disgusting… but it’s pretty tasty!

    • Mary says:

      Poutine rocks! I bought cheese curds @ Seattle’s Pike Place market on the way home, and made poutine the next day. I’ve never seen cheese curds in Pennsylvania, but maybe I should look into it. I discovered poutine on a trip to Quebec. I hear they’re made in Wisconsin, too.
      Mary recently posted..Olympic Peninsula day 2 – rainforests, sea stacks, and Roosevelt elk

  • Sally says:

    Thanks for sharing! Since I also couldn’t be there this year, I enjoyed reading a few things that were said even if I don’t agree with everything. (What do you mean “not about ME”? But I love reading about ME? Who wouldn’t?) I definitely agree with reading your stuff out loud — I do that every single time with my posts (over and over again… I’m glad my apartment doesn’t have thin walls!) and I think that’s what lends my writing its conversational tone. Plus, it really helps me catch errors and other flow problems.
    But, uh, could you explain this: “People are like piss.”??
    Sally recently posted..Super Sized Me: The Big Girl’s Guide to Surviving Asia

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Thanks for reading, Sally! The “read your stuff out loud” is a great bit of advice!

      And as for the “people are like piss” analogy, see my reply to the comment right before yours! I try to explain it as best I can.

  • Great write-up! I wasn’t able to make it to the TBEX Conference, but I feel like I learned a lot by reading this. 🙂
    Michael Figueiredo recently posted..Travel Fun Facts! Volume: 1 – Former Country Names

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Awesome! I just figured people who didn’t go (or those who did and didn’t make it to all the sessions) might like a quick wrap-up. Here’s to hoping you can make it in person next year!

  • Alouise says:

    I really enjoyed TBEX too. I only that I couldn’t attend more seminars and that I wasn’t able to meet more people, like yourself. I’m still debating about going next year, just because I want to study abroad, so I don’t know if I’ll be here. I’m not going to stress about it too much. There always seems to be people selling last minute tickets on Twitter if I did want to go.

    I really enjoyed the quotes you included. I think one of my favourite speeches was the one from Evelyn Hannon. It was really inspirational to see how she was able to incorporate travel into her life, and of courrse to know that it’s never too late to travel.
    Alouise recently posted..Swimming With The Fishes At Ik Kil

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I’m glad to hear you enjoyed yourself, Alouise! But I’m sad we never bumped into each other. Maybe next year, if you’re not abroad. Though, studying abroad is definitely a good excuse to miss TBEX, if you ask me! 🙂

      And I agree that Evelyn is one inspiring lady! I’ll admit that I didn’t really know much about her or her story before that opening speech. But she was great! It’s amazing to realize how far a little curiosity and determination will take you.

  • Mike says:

    You did a great job summing it all up. This was our first TBEX and we flat out had a blast! For us it was so much fun meeting all of the people face to face that we have gotten to know over the blogsphere. You are right, it is not so much about the classes, as it is about the people. Some say that electronic media will replace in person. That is bunk!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Thanks, Mike! Really sorry I didn’t run into you guys at all. Too many people to try and meet them all! But I agree that it was fun to finally meet people that I’ve been following for months or even years. A great experience!

  • Robert Reid says:

    Hi there,

    Nice write-up. For clarity, I didn’t quite say ‘people are piss.’ I divided blog posts into four color-themed categories: researched facts (green/meadows), on-the-ground observations (blue/sky), local quotes (red/roses), and stuff the writer does (yellow/piss). So, basically, what we do traveling is like piss. At least when a blog post ends up all about the writer, without a balanced landscape of research, observations and local quotes. It was just a theory, as part of researching research.

    By the way, of the dozen random blog posts I striped in these colors, not one had a rose.
    Robert Reid recently posted..76-Second Travel Show: ‘Who Is Dean Reed?’

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Thanks for helping to explain it! I know you weren’t saying “people are piss,” though in the video session you definitely dropped the “People are like piss” quote. Then you told us we’d have to wait for your presentation to find out why. I like the analogy though, and I really enjoyed your research session. As someone coming from a journalism background, I’ve never quite worked out how to blend the newsy side of myself with the personal blogging side. But I will definitely be taking your suggestions to heart. I definitely need to add more roses to my writing (and maybe a crayon doodle or two…).

    • Mary says:

      Robert – was it you that said you should use all of your senses while traveling? I used this…very powerful from a personal experience perspective as well as a blogging perspective.
      Mary recently posted..Olympic Peninsula day 2 – rainforests, sea stacks, and Roosevelt elk

  • Ryan says:


    This is a really great write up and I really like it. You took some awesome notes, and I saw some of them during the conference as you tweeted them 🙂 … I think one thing I took away as well is that the travel blogging community is made up of really friendly people, and that people are generally wanting to meet you, talk to you, and find out what you are up to. I really liked seeing your smiling face once again! 🙂
    Ryan recently posted..How My Life Has Significantly Changed After My First Trip Abroad

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Thanks, Ryan! It was great seeing you there again, and getting to hang out a bit, too. I’m glad you like my round-up. I only wish I had made it to one or two more sessions — I know others had great things to say, too!

      But yes, a major take-away for me was the affirmation that travel bloggers truly are a great bunch of people. 🙂

  • Matt says:

    Thanks for the round-up – really enjoyed your angle of quick quotes and random observations; as expected, very jealous I didn’t make it again this year. TBEX Keystone? Sounds extremely tempting!
    Matt recently posted..5 Tips for Finding Vegetarian on the Road

    • DangerousBiz says:

      My pleasure, Matt! I know I enjoyed reading all the round-up posts after TBEX last year, but I’m actually kind of amazed at all the great feedback this post is already getting! Exciting. I guess I must have done something right with it! As for the quick quotes and observations… I felt like those short sentences could sum things up much better than any long-winded blog post could…

      And I hope to see you at Keystone next year! I have a feeling it’s going to be all kinds of awesome.

  • Thanks for this post. I was hoping someone would write something like this so I could learn something from the conference that I missed. I hope to make 2012.
    Traveling Ted recently posted..Photos of the week: Ardenne Abbey in Normandy, France

    • DangerousBiz says:

      You’re very welcome! I’m not sure how much one can really learn from these snippets, but I’m glad you enjoyed them anyway. Hopefully you can make it to TBEX next year!

  • Had to bail on TBEX2011. Have signed up for 2012. Looking forward to meeting people I “know” from the Internet in person. Thanks for the wrap-up.
    santafetraveler recently posted..Discover Santa Fe’s three world-class summer artisan markets

    • DangerousBiz says:

      My favorite part was turning those online relationships into real-life ones! Definitely the highlight for me. I’m already looking forward to next year.

  • Great summary! I agree that actually meeting with people made it all worth it – putting faces to all those names! YEEHAW!!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I think that’s the general consensus – that meeting people was the best part of the conference, hands-down.

  • Jenna says:

    I love that you gave this fun round-up of TBEX. Since I couldn’t go, I really enjoyed reading these highlights and learning some tips, too.
    Jenna recently posted..Getting to Know You #5: Amanda

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Thanks, Jenna! I know some people weren’t impressed with the conference as a whole, but I felt like it was valuable for me, personally. No, I didn’t come away having learned any life-changing lessons. But I definitely came away with some fresh ideas for my blog!

      • Jenna says:

        If you came away with some ideas, that makes the conference worthwhile, in my opinion. I used to go to a lot of conferences related to my work, and the combination of networking/seeing old friends, staying in a different city, and getting a handful of new ideas was worth it.

        • DangerousBiz says:

          Yup, and that’s exactly how I feel about TBEX! Despite it’s flaws, I would definitely say it was worth it.

  • Thanks so much for sharing your experience! So really Top 10 the shit out of your website? One of our top posts is a top 5 and it really surprises me because I honestly didn’t put much thought or time into it. Kinda disappointing to hear but I do get it.
    Jerri Stephenson recently posted..I Love to Travel But I Also Love My Paycheck

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Search engines love “top” lists. Or “worst” lists. Basically, any kind of list. I know this is horrifying to a lot of travel bloggers. But I suppose it makes sense. The non-narrative panel did emphasize that your list has got to be unique and really well-researched to stand out, though.

  • Hey There! (Julie from Road Trips for Girlfriends) sneaking in a response. I loved the “heart attack in a bowl” visualization. :Thanks for this post-review. I would also like to add that I learned the word “glamping,” as in Glamour + Camping. See you in Colorado for some drinking in elevation (maybe the after, after, party will be in the ER with a bag of IV fluid). 🙂 Julie
    Julie Henning recently posted..GPS Review: Magellan eXplorist 510

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Hey Julie! Thanks for dropping by! Glad you enjoyed my TBEX round-up.

      Next year’s shindig in the Mile High City should certainly be interesting… I can only imagine the drunken shenanigans that will ensue! Haha.

  • Audrey says:

    Thanks for writing this so that those of us who couldn’t make it could get a little of the TBEX feeling and knowledge. I like the idea the focus that it’s “not all about you” when it comes to one’s writing and blog. Although the travel blogging community is growing and is strong, there are a heck of a lot of non-travel bloggers looking to blogs for inspiration and travel information – the story needs to include them as well.

    We went to TBEX last year and the highlight was also meeting everyone and getting to know people beyond the little Twitter or other avatar. Glad to know that this theme continued this year as well.
    Audrey recently posted..Climbing Kilimanjaro: Life Lessons from the Top of Africa

    • DangerousBiz says:

      The whole “it’s not all about you” theme I think kind of accidentally ran through a lot of the sessions. Which I took to mean it was a pretty good take-away point from the conference. And it’s true, too. People like reading personal stories, yes. But they like reading them even more if they can connect with them, too.

      But yeah, the highlight for me was definitely meeting so many people!

  • Emily says:

    I enjoyed reading this! I went last year in NYC and overall had a pretty bad experience, so I decided not to go to Vancouver–I decided I’d rather spend the money on a leisure trip. Most people I have talked to or blogs I’ve read have had a ton of complaints about this one as well (the majority of which seem completely legit and would upset me as well). But I haven’t seen many people say what they actually learned there despite all the issues, so I really appreciated hearing some of the little gems you got from it. Some of them are not what I would expect (like negative headlines or thinking like a 3-year-old)…I might have to give some of those a try 🙂 I did hear that the narrative session was led by all white men–I was a little bummed to hear that no women or anyone from another culture were represented in a topic that is so different for different people–but I love hearing that Evelyn’s speech was really inspirational!
    Emily recently posted..Stay in a Palace in France…Sort of

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Thanks, Emily. I’ve been reading all the negative reviews, too. And, yes, there were plenty of things that could have been improved upon. But the conference wasn’t a total waste for me. And, as many of the pros were saying last weekend, you should always try to find at least one positive thing about a place. Well, shouldn’t that apply to travel blogging conferences, too? 😉

      And, as for the narrative session, there were actually two with two different panels. The one I attended did include a woman — Pam Mandel of Nerd’s Eye View. And she was great. In fact, most of the panels I saw included women. So one out of perhaps dozens being all-male really isn’t too shabby.

  • Cailin says:

    At TBU earlier this year the journalist blogger was also referred to as a “Jogger”
    I personally prefer “Jlogger” pretty much because its harder to say 🙂

    Maybe Jogger will be the European term and Jourblist American? 🙂

    It was nice meeting you at the conference even if it was only for a second!
    Cailin recently posted..How to do Banff in two days

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Haha, I like “Jlogger,” too, though “Jourblist” has a silly ring to it that I also really enjoy…

      It was good meeting you, too, for those brief 5 seconds as we discussed Candice’s hungover state. Lol. Hopefully next year we can chat more!

  • Shereen says:

    Thanks for this great summary. I didn’t make it to Vancouver, but I would love to get in on TBEX 2012 next year. This lets me know that I would get quite a bit out of it and it’s worth the trip. to CO.
    Shereen recently posted..Portugal: It’s Like the California of Europe 7.23.11

    • DangerousBiz says:

      TBEX was a lot of fun, and I’m definitely planning to attend next year, too. If you’ve never been before, I think it would be worth the trip. Then you can judge for yourself what you think. 🙂

  • I have nveer been to TBEX, but it sounds like a great time and a great opportunity for growing my blog…I will defintely be adding it to my wish list for next year!
    Shanna Schultz recently posted..2012 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show: Unique Jewelry Vendors

    • DangerousBiz says:

      It is definitely a great opportunity for new bloggers to meet people and get their names out there. You should come to TBEX this summer in Colorado!

  • I’ll definitely be in Keystone for TBEX this year, Can’t wait to meet some of my favorite writers in person! wink-wink
    Heathers Harmony recently posted..It’s a Postcard Party! Will you be the Winner?

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