#TBEX: Well, that wasn’t too bad at all!

Of all the spectacular things at the Cliffs of Moher, the free wi-fi was one of them.
The Cliffs of Moher are strikingly, primally beautiful. Also, there is free wi-fi.


So yes this travel blogging conference thing I went to last week! I was lucky enough to meet a lot of nice smart people (see links throughout) and although I had worried it would be SUPER BUSINESS-Y, it managed to be pretty writer-y too. I will be writing more about the pre-conference press trip to Limerick I went on, including the people I met on it, but here is a brief [re-reading before publishing: HAH!] overview of the sessions I went to back in Dublin:

Wednesday 2 October

Writing workshop: I liked this best of all. Four sensible pro travel writers – Leif Pettersen, Christine Cantera, Ernest White II (II!) and David Farley – stood up and talked for around 20 minutes each on Travel Writing, Vaguely. After a break, the audience split into four small groups and the writers rotated among us for another 20 minutes each of workshopping short pieces/answering questions/nattering about whatever. I think this was my favourite session because everybody who was there cared about writing, so I didn’t hate any of my fellow attendees, and again all the speakers were sensible, generous and low-bullshit which is always useful.

Opening night party at Guinness Storehouse: This was slightly scary: we were greeted by fire dancers and drummers! Dozens of foods! Six storeys and a Gravity Bar! Trad dancers and a jangly folk rock band! The food was amazing (that ice cream, those beef things!) and the marketing manager for one of the conference’s sponsors, who like many marketing managers is extremely friendly yet somehow falls into the uncanny valley, introduced me to person-with-an-actual-Wikipedia-page John Minihan and we hid in a corner and talked about red wine. I also met Deaf travel writer Rexy Edventures and Alex Leviton and Arctic Nomad (all recommended); on the coach back to the hotel I ran into someone who offered to hook me up with American Ocean Spray cranberry jelly before Thanksgiving, whose card I promptly lost.

Thursday 3 October

Slept through the morning keynote (sorry not sorry) and popped down in time for the coffee break, which was somewhat puzzlingly served with many tea bags but no hot water (there was however a coffee pot). Possibly hot water only for keynote attendees.

21 Tools and Technology Tips to Dramatically Grow Your Following Online: The speaker Ian Cleary was very dynamic (and at the closing party was nearly kicked out for dancing on tables) but I quickly realised that I don’t care enough about “growing my following online” to put in the time needed for a lot of his suggestions. I was sat next to Tim who writes Slow Roaming, and when Cleary suggested something about looking up our competitors’ keyword analytics we made eye contact and he was all, “Who has time for this?” and I was all, “Right, and like who are we ‘competing’ against?” Over the next 12 hours we formed a self-dubbed “TBEX Mean Girls” clique with The Trip Architect and Indiana June meaning we spent a lot of time drinking and making fun of SEO.

All The World’s A Status Update: Using Social Media To Tell Good Stories: I liked the idea and I really admire Mike Sowden’s blog Fevered Mutterings; I loved the presentation (A+ use of Agent Coulson to illustrate a point) and broader ideas about storytelling and structure, especially connecting personal blog writing (definitively an ongoing narrative) with serial narratives like Netflix series and Dickens novels. I don’t really use social media enough for things other than “retweeting #marxistsatthemovies jokes” for Sowden’s main idea to be very useful for me, but I’m glad I went; I think one of the most useful things about conferences is just hearing little things that tweak your ideas about your work.

Lunch: Here I (re)discovered how much I hate socialising while I eat, even when I am sitting at a table full of people I have met before and like. I sneaked out to do some writing and wandered through the ‘open marketplace’ room where all the companies attending the conference had booths set up; most of them were tourism boards, big travel brands or start-ups I am deeply sceptical about. I said hello to the person who looked the most bored, at the Get Going table, who turned out to have an actually good start-up idea and was also very smart and funny. I love their “Pick Two, Get One” idea (submit two trip itineraries, eg London for a week or Paris for a week, and it picks and books the cheapest one for you) and may actually use it IRL (!!).

Hook ‘em With Humor: Oh man, THIS SESSION. I really like Leif both as a writer and, now that I have met him, as a person, but through no fault of anybody’s this was packed with dudebros seeking validation for their genius (read: lazy, terrible) jokes. (I mean, it is the fault of the dudebros for being dudebros, obviously.) The presentation was a clear simple breakdown of the classic ‘rules’ of humour writing, with good examples, but I think it did not make it clear enough what the difference was between “offensive” (poop jokes) and “offensive” (rape jokes), possibly because it was assumed to be obvious, and when Leif asked for crowd suggestions they came back with things like “banging flight attendants” (which to his credit he promptly squashed). Presentation B+, audience D-.

Speed Dating: This is a thing where companies and bloggers could schedule 8-minute meetings to figure out whether they would be good fits to work together (whatever that means). I had three meetings, with a tourism board, an accommodation company and a travel company. One took copious notes and asked clear, thorough questions; one seemed confused but also took copious notes; one refused to give me specifics about what they did/were looking for and kept leaning forward and saying “So ARE YOU INTERESTED?”. I left very unconvinced about the usefulness of “working with brands”.

Pub and Expedia ‘Go Wilde’ party: I met up with friends in the lobby and it turns out said friends knew Don George, global travel editor of basically everything (Lonely Planet & Nat Geographic), so we went to the pub and kind of hovered around him, and Candace of The Great Affair very kindly bought me a half. After this and a quick £2.69 Indian “meal” from Spar I went on to  that night’s party, sponsored by Expedia, where an energetic marketing woman stood on the bar and shouted out trivia questions about the company: the prize for a correct answer was her hurling an Expedia T-shirt across the bar at you. This is where I met Alena of Trip Architect and after about thirty seconds formed a deep and lasting bond based on being extremely snobby about focusing on ~the craft of writing~ rather than, you know, monetising or whatever (it was around this point that I knocked my drink all over the table). The fish and chips were incredible. There were giant head versions of Bono and U2 on the dance floor. “Are those the Beatles?” I heard a 20-year-old American ask. I left early.

Friday 4 October

Again slept through the keynote; again regret nothing.

The Quality Quotient: Creating Content that Engages Your Audience: As above Don George knows a lot about publishing travel writing; he is also a warm and sparky public speaker and this session was just delightful. It made me and everyone in my row want to run out and do some Proper Writing – really it made me wish that TBEX had a writing room, where people could go sit down and work if we wanted to, as there weren’t very many public places to sit down in the venue. I was too busy googly-eyeing at the podium to take many notes and so can’t pass on many specifics. Actually I can, but I’m not going to, as it’s all in Don’s book on travel writing and you should buy that if you’re keen because it’s great.

How to Organize & Manage Your Photography Work Flow: Gary Arndt takes a lot of photos and does not take any crap. This was an hour of him firmly and methodically talking us through exactly how to deal with a lot of photos, not lose any, manage giant hard drives full of pictures, where and how to upload and host photos, how to share them on social media so they get the most attention, etc. It was like Internet Image Boot Camp. I adored it.

Lunch: I accidentally sat at a table full of people (a) who did not have a very clear grasp on journalistic ethics, which is fine, but (b) thought they did and (c) were very cross about all the amazing fun free trips that magazine writers apparently get, so (d) wanted to figure out how to get in on that action, but (e) without having to disclose anything because disclosure feels awkward apparently. The Lord Mayor of Dublin gave a speech about the importance of social media something something and kindly replied when I tweeted him to say thank you, which was nice. I met Katrina of Tour Absurd who’d helped set me up with the Eating London tour and is really just cool.  The salmon with leeks and oysters was excellent.

Getting it Right:  Fact Checking & Sourcing in a Digital World: A reprise from Ernest who had talked about privilege and stereotypes at the writing workshop on Wednesday. It was a clean cold blast of journalistic ethics and I loved it, also he is hilarious.

Closing Keynote: There was a two-hour break before the closing keynote, so I and the other Mean Girls sneaked off to the back bar and split several bottles of white wine. “Who’s Lindsay Lohan?” “We’re all Lindsay Lohan! They’re the real mean girls!”, gesturing vaguely in the direction of empty conference rooms symbolising How To Monetise Or Something. After creeping into the back of the room with coffee cups full of chardonnay feeling sarcastic, we listened to the keynote speakers Uncornered Market give a really genuinely lovely speech that amounted to Don’t Be Money-Grubbing Shills, Use Your Powers For Good. “I was about to start tweeting emo shit,” one of us said. “Unironically.

The afterparty complete with no fewer than seven G&Ts was just not sensible. Particularly not sensible was moving onto the second location. I got a £10 cab back in the rain and, according to my camera, took twenty-seven pictures of my feet.

Saturday 5 October

Ferry: Desperately dehydrated, got a cab to the ferry, on which it turned out Don George, Gary Arndt, Mike Sowden and Sophie on Track were also travelling. Spent an hour and three-quarters sleep-deprivedly nattering about ~the industry~ then got off at Holyhead where JAN MORRIS, I repeat JAN FUCKING MORRIS, was meeting Don. The rest of us formed a reverent semi-circle around her and shook her hand while she looked politely bemused then vanished towards the carpark. I spent the rest of the morning crashing at the WH Smith in the ferry terminal eating crisps and basically falling asleep on Mike and Sophie (sorry both) before getting the train back to London and actually falling asleep on Ewan.

VERDICT: I will probably go again, I think? I still don’t grok the difference between travel “blogging” and travel “writing” but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I was able to hear about how to do good writing, although obviously that was self-driven to a degree. Each time slot had five tracks: “content” (both writing and photography), “community”, “commerce” and two “business”. I do not understand what the difference between commerce and business is, but either way that’s one track of Creating Stuff and three tracks of Making Money Off Stuff, which, hmm. I feel like maybe I am being a jerk for being snobby about people trying to make a lot of money out of blogging because I have a day job and don’t need to, but also I feel like “blogging!” is not a sustainable business model and I worry about new people being encouraged to think of it as one.

On Thursday night I drunkenly wrote several pages about how new writers need editors but if you’re not working for a publication you have to pay for someone to edit your work which means there’s a financial disincentive to do it and a major financial incentive to do cheap monetising tricks; I will spare you those right now as this post is long enough already.

15 thoughts on “#TBEX: Well, that wasn’t too bad at all!

    • Kerry says:

      The writing workshop was excellent and probably my favourite thing at TBEX that didn't involve drinking – I'd really recommend going if they run one next year!

    • Kerry says:

      Next time we should run our own parallel track, like "Writing sponsored posts without being a wang" and "No one is going to contribute to your vacation Kickstarter". Sessions would take place in the bar.

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