When it comes to what you can get out of attending TBEX, you don’t have to take our word for it – blogger Mara Gorman has attended every North American TBEX, and is equally excited about the upcoming TBEX in Toronto. Here’s why.


maragormanIn the summer of 2009 I had just finished my first year of blogging and couldn’t quite believe the opportunities it had already presented in the form of travel (my very first press trip was an extravaganza at the Atlantis Resort involving more free Legos than you could shake a stick at) and new relationships. Suddenly there was the huge community of people I had never met in real life commenting on my site and connecting with me on Facebook and Twitter. I had literally hundreds of new friends, kindred spirits with shared interests and smart ideas. I couldn’t believe my good luck. The path forward seemed easy and obvious – I would just keep writing blog posts and sharing them on social media and wait for the riches to come piling in.

So when Kim Mance emailed me and said she was thinking of getting a group of travel bloggers together for a small meeting in Chicago that would coincide with the BlogHer conference, which I was planning to attend, I was all in. Finally – a chance to meet some of these new friends in person! Before I knew it, I was planning a large group dinner with over a dozen fellow bloggers who up until that point had only been faces on a screen: Pam Mandel, Jennifer Miner, Amie O’Shaughnessy, Jamie Pearson, and Michelle Duffy were just a few of the rock star bloggers I’d share mediocre Cajun food with (I’m still embarrassed that our dinner wasn’t better since I chose the venue – a belated apology, ladies). Although I hadn’t met any of these people in real life before that night, it felt like the best kind of party where every single person on the guest list has something fabulous to add to the mix.

And then Sunday when I walked into a light-filled room with a view of Millennium Park and Lake Michigan that was crowded with people and tables, I realized very quickly that this more than just a chance to connect with some online friends. Within five minutes, I had met Chris Elliott and Wendy Perrin, two of my travel journalism heroes. A few feet away, I saw Mike Yessis from WorldHum and Heather Poole, whom I idolized for her hilarious Twitter presence and Gadling blog. All of them, along with a number of the bloggers I had dined with earlier in the weekend, would be speaking and share their considerable knowledge.

When the panels started, I felt like a dry sponge soaking up information. Wait, other bloggers had trouble managing their time and writing posts from the road? And I could think about working with PR people? I could pitch them with ideas of my own? Numbers mattered less than quality content? But at the same time, I needed to be able to quantify my value in a meaningful way? I couldn’t scribble notes fast enough.

I still have a backpack with a Hertz logo on it that contained the swag at that first TBEX – it’s gone on pretty much every trip with me since that day. But I took away two things that were even more significant from that all-too-brief first meeting. I realized that what I was doing had the potential to be more than a hobby. And I realized that in order for it to be so, I needed to take myself seriously, as everyone in that room took themselves (and by extension each other) seriously. For the opportunities to continue, I needed to learn about how to write a pitch that would get PR people excited about what I had to offer, rather than just waiting for them to find me. It was a turning point for me and for my blog (which I’ve redesigned twice since that time) and I’ve never looked back.

I’ve been at every single North American TBEX meeting since that first one, traveling to New York, Vancouver, and Colorado, and I’ll be in Toronto this spring. As the conference has grown, so have the opportunities that have arisen for me from it. At my last counting, I’ve taken five trips and gotten three regular writing gigs as a direct consequence of attending TBEX. And that doesn’t even take into account the professional relationships I’ve developed, which are really too numerous for me to tally.

Have I heard some of the speakers who will be talking in Toronto before? Of course I have. Will all of the panels be directly applicable to what I’m doing? No. But I can say with confidence that this conference will offer me a chance to network with some of the best people that the travel industry has to offer, from PR and destination representatives to professional bloggers and editors. I will have exciting conversations that will inspire me to try new things. There will be good food, laughter, and the chance to learn from a large tribe that shares my belief in the importance of travel.

And even though this fifth TBEX will take place during the week that is also the fifth anniversary of my blog, I know that I will learn things I never before knew about travel blogging. I hope to see you there.

Author bio: Mara Gorman blogs about family travel at The Mother of All Trips. She lives in Delaware with her husband and two school-aged sons.