I didn’t need another travel podcast to tell me TBEX was the place to be for travel bloggers.
If you’re reading this (likely a blogger too?), you’ve probably heard the same thing. TBEX, Travel Bloggers Exchange, is an international conference now held annually in Asia, North America, and Europe. It brings together bloggers both pro and amateur to share thoughts, ideas, and positive travel ju-ju (mostly the first two). This year with TBEX in Fort Lauderdale and just a 3 hour drive South from Orlando, I bought a ticket.
I bought that ticket last Spring, when Wend Away changed its design on the daily and was littered with content that read like a MySpace profile. Since then, I’ve invested in a course that’s helped me build a functioning travel blog. One that doesn’t have viewers clicking away screaming. And at TBEX I met the very creators behind that course, a huge pleasure and fantastic opportunity to make a digital friendship more human.
Over the past few months I’ve worked hard to make Wend Away a useful/interesting/attractive place to be.
But still, the travel blogging world feels, ironically, foreign to me. Do I belong here?
Most of the weekend at TBEX I sat in a vast convention hall wondering if I was correctly pronouncing the word “niche.” Does this word rhyme with the French egg dish? Or should I be emphasizing a harsher ending, one that rhymes with the female dog….
“What do you write about?” Someone would ask. Then I’d mumble through it, pronouncing both versions in something reminiscent of the beetroot soup “borscht” (neescht, nischt…oh f**k it).
I couldn’t help but wonder if I fit in. I’ll readily admit I’ve felt more comfortable amongst complete strangers in a Thai hostel.
Was I fooling everyone into believing I was travel savvy?
Was I even writing travel content people took the time to read (answer: sort of…ish). I kept waiting for someone to point, laugh, take a picture, and hashtag me for an ongoing twitter chat (#TBEX Bet she hasn’t even booked a FAM trip #noob #traveldodbird)*. If it wasn’t for keynote speaker Carol Caine confirming that she too felt this sensation at her first TBEX, I may have just wandered right out of the convention and into the nearest bar (did that anyway).
So there I was at TBEX a mix of emotions. I felt welcomed by the community of people around me, all eager to talk about some of my favorite topics (deep travel, authentic storytelling, travel-writing as a career). Yet I was still walking around with one eyebrow raised, wariness behind all my “Hellos”… You see, I tend to stay away from anything that makes me feel like I’m “drinking the Kool-Aid.” Perhaps you’ve heard of this phrase and it’s rather morbid origin. I use it to describe that kind of people that take passion into the realm of obsession. It describes those who lose sight of the bigger picture or greater purpose. They become deeply embroiled in gimmicks, fantasy, and illusion in pursuit of an imagined carrot ahead…At some moments I felt like I too was losing sight of why I started this travel-blog, and why I started traveling in general.
But then I realized that I drink the Kool-Aid….Or sip it, at least…
I bear all the tell-tale signs of a Kool-Aid consumer, walking around with a metaphorical red stain on my mouth. I’m a blatant travel-blogger with my camera, my journal, my travel-inspired writing tools (not sorry).
But mostly I’m here because I belong. I belong to this community of people all fueled by long lists of countries to visit and mountains to climb. There are distractions here certainly, gimmicks and fantasies perpetuating an illusion I refuse to digest. But the reason all of us travelers are crammed into this convention hall is not because of that (I’d like to hope). It’s because we’re all fueled by the passion to learn, see, do, discover a worldview grander than our own.
And if THAT is the stuff of this Kool-Aid, pour me another cup.
*I’m not sure why I envision my life to be an episode of Freaks and Geeks, with cartoonized bullies all around me. But to be clear, travel bloggers are unbelievably nice. If you love travel, you’re in. I walked around filled with the sensation I felt in Portland, OR, Where everyone was so nice I thought it was a prank.