As the car pulled higher above sea level through the hills of Colorado, the lack of oxygen made the jokes of my fellow travel bloggers even more hilarious. After a few days warming up in Denver, I was so ready to try out this whole travel blogging conference thing. is the first of its kind. What started as a small gathering of bloggers one year in Chicago had transformed four years later to an 800-attendee-strong conference in Keystone, Colorado. This year, I was adding myself to that mix.
Back at the New York Times Travel Show in March, I met insta-friend Jessie and she invited me into her house share in Keystone. I didn’t realize quite how lucky I was to join in until we arrived at the condo. What was easily a several thousand dollar a night pad in the ski season was made laughingly affordable thanks to the off season and our cramming the place full like a boarding house.
While everyone unpacked, I couldn’t help but explore the tiny hamlet of Keystone. I had been skeptical of the idea of holding a conference in the middle of nowhere, but as I walked around snapping away with my camera and gulping the clean air, I became a believer.
Photo on right via Matt at
I didn’t have long to scamper around on the ground, because I had a mountain to scale. TBEX’s kickoff party was being held at The Outpost, a whopping 11,444 feet above sea level, reached by a journey of two gondola rides, three miles into the White River National Forest.
I don’t know about you guys, but I think gondola may be my new preferred method of arriving at parties. The views are dreamy, there’s no designated driver required and the slow pace and enclosed space forces pre-party bonding with your fellow passengers.
via Matt at
via Matt at
The views at the top of our first gondola ride were so beautiful, we had to stop for some prom-style group photos. But the real treat would be gondola ride number two — in which we were handed warm cookies and cold champagne. These people really know the way to this girl’s heart.
And then, the summit. The air was noticeably thinner, and the altitude’s effects were only intensified by the free flowing wine.
Walking into The Summit lodge, I was blown away. I’ve worked at over-the-top, high-end weddings, and this event could hold its own against any of them. A live band entertained in the main room, Vail Resorts chefs served up their favorite specialties from elegant stations — and then there was the dessert tent.
Yes, you heard me right — dessert tent. Have there ever been two happier words in the English language?
These chefs are true artists — can you believe this is all made of chocolate?!
I was done for. TBEX could do no wrong. They had, after all, given me cupcake hamburgers.
The content portion of the conference kicked off on Saturday with the opening keynote. The welcome presentation was peppered with inside jokes and references to TBEX’s homegrown origins and sometimes rocky start. I have read fairly critical reviews of TBEX in the past, but the recent acquisition of the conference by Blogworld gave me high hopes for the professionalism of this year’s event.
Aside from the three keynotes, there were four “breakout periods” where attendees could pick one of five different sessions being offered. To give you an idea of the kind of content being offered, over the weekend I attended Monetize Like You Mean It, a panel given by several successful bloggers about various ways to generate income; How To Create a Social Media Strategy, another panel on a topic I am desperately deficient in; Ten Steps to Better Writing, sadly one of the only content-based panels on offer; and Advanced Web Design, a fun seminar but sadly not so advanced.
Also taking place during conference hours was a networking breakfast hosted by a Canadian celebrity chef from Bitchin’ Kitchen, an afternoon networking session that most notably featured a mashed potato bar, and something called “speed dating.” Speed dating gave bloggers the opportunity to make one on one meetings with industry PR representatives. While it’s a good idea in theory it was a little confusing and I don’t think I’m at the point yet with my blog where I could fully utilize it anyway.
One nice perk throughout the weekend was the AMEX lounge, where we were pampered with fancy flavored waters, points giveaways, and hand massages (for fingers tired from typing!). Yeah. I was all about those hand massages.
Saturday night brought another fun and flawlessly executed event. How The West Was Fun, hosted by Expedia, had a location listed as Soda Ridge Stables. Must be a themed bar, we all thought. Then the shuttle arrived, and we stepped out into an actual stables.
via Matt at
Mechanical bull riding, simulated horse-roping, fun cocktails and delicious barbecue — it doesn’t get much better.
via Matt at
via Matt at
While I was kept busy wolfing down sloppy joes and posing in my cowgirl hat, I also took the opportunity to
embarrass myself in front of bond with of a whole new group of blog buddies. Some of them were totally new to me, while others were mini celebrities whom I’ve been reading for years.
via Matt at
Did you know I hosted one of my birthday parties at a mechanical bull bar in New York City? I must admit, I’m pretty fond of the things. So it was no surprise when I found myself in line for the steel beast.
The highlight of the night was still to come. As everyone was winding down and discussing after-party opportunities, Expedia starting announcing the winners of the drawing we had all entered earlier in the night. In a case of comical timing, I was in the middle of telling a slightly teary (and alcohol addled) story to a captive audience when I heard my name being called out over the microphone. I had won a trip to Las Vegas, one of my favorite guilty pleasure destinations! Thanks Expedia… and feel free to interrupt my sob stories anytime with comped nights at the Cosmopolitan.
Sunday was the second and final big day of conference activities, as described above. Things let out in the early afternoon which afforded me unexpected hours of lounging by the condo’s pool and preparing for our epic TBEX after party.
Ah yes, the after party. Very strictly against the rules of our condo rental agreement and much to the displeasure of the local sheriff’s department, we threw the hottest post-BEX party in town.
These are my professional peers. I can’t think of a group I’m better suited for. As I boarded a mini-bus back to Denver to catch my flight, I wondered if the effects of the weekend would wear off as soon as the altitude did. I certainly hoped not. I so, I’d just have to get another fix in Toronto at TBEX’13.
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After so many years of mixed reviews, I had been skeptical of how my first TBEX would shake out. There are a few different aspects of TBEX: learning, networking, partying, and even a bit of traveling.
The travel aspect was a treat — while I had initially been unimpressed with the idea of the conference being held in a remote town, it turned out to be perfect. With fewer distractions, all my energy was focused on the conference content during the day and other conference attendees at night. The Pre-BEX events and time in Denver was the perfect bonus.
I knew from the beginning that the networking and socializing aspect would be the highlight, and I was right. I strengthened previously existing friendships, started new ones, made new business s and shook hands with people I’ve admired for years.
The parties and the partying is kind of a byproduct of having a bunch of travelers all in one place — these are the kind of people who like to let loose. I think the photos speak for themselves — the hosted events were spectacular. And it goes without saying that the afterparties were pretty fun as well. I even know of one attendee who isn’t really a travel blogger but came along with friends and bought a ticket anyway. At first I kind of laughed but a $90 ticket isn’t bad for a weekend of unlimited booze and parties.
Then of course, there is the content. This is the heart of the conference, right? Well, it seems for many people they are there for the networking and the partying — and that’s fine! But as a lifelong nerd I sat in on every second of scheduled programming as well. While I was impressed with the formats and the general professionalism of the conference and I have a notebook filled with lessons and inspiration ideas gained during the weekend, I found the sessions were generally too basic. I consider myself still new at all this and so I would expect the content to fly over my head at some points, but some sessions were so frankly common sense that I didn’t raise my pen once to take a note. I heard this feedback from others and passed a more detailed account on to the TBEX organizers, and I have high hopes it will be addressed next year!
The biggest high of TBEX for me was sitting in a room of 800 people and realizing we are all in this crazy boat together. We’re all out there trying to make a professional career (one that didn’t exist ten years ago!) out of a passion for travel and writing and photography and the million other elements that make up travel blogging. Blogging can be a lonely road sometimes — but not at TBEX. I have not a clue where in the world I will for the vast majority of dates in the Spring of 2013 — but I do know one for sure. On June 1st of 2013 I will be standing in Toronto, proudly wearing my TBEX badge.
Like The New York Times Travel Show, or Beneath the Sea Dive Show, I loved attending an event all about one of my passions! Do you attend conferences or conventions that correlate to your passions? I’d love to hear about them!