Last month, bloggers and writers and vloggers from all around the world gathered in Boston for the second annual TravelCon, the largest and most epic travel conference on the market.
All of the biggest names in travel were there, and I confess I was super impressed when I saw the lineup of keynotes. Mark Manson, The Blonde Abroad, Cheryl Strayed, Toney Wheeler…the list goes on.
I definitely had to work hard not to fanboy from time to time — and I say that as someone who actually helped organize the conference!
Now, I’ve been to travel conferences before, but TravelCon — both the 2018 conference as well as 2019 — was on an entirely different level.
Personally and professionally, I think it set a new standard for travel conferences (though maybe I’m a little biased since I was part of the team that put it all together).
Conferences aren’t cheap, but they can be a worthwhile investment if you’re serious about succeeding in the travel industry. Naturally, if you’re a creator you might be wondering whether or not buying a ticket for TravelCon is going to be worth it . I’d be asking myself that same question too. It’s for that very reason that I wanted to put together this post.
Since I was busy working behind the scenes, I didn’t actually get to take part in the conference in the same way that a regular attendee would. For that reason, I wanted to reach out to some bloggers and creators whose opinions I trust to ask them what lessons they learned from TravelCon.
Hopefully, you’ll be able to glean some wisdom from their experiences to help you answer the question, “Is TravelCon worth it?”
Laurence - Finding the Universe
Laurence is one heck of a photographer. His Instagram is #travelinspo gold, and he’s just a stand up guy, always willing to help out a much less talented photographer. He’s an industry vet who has spoken and led workshops at all pretty much every travel conference there is, which is why I highly value and trust his opinion. - findingtheuniverse.com
I was thrilled to be invited to lead a photowalk at TravelCon in Austin. Not least because I would get to meet many of the students in my Photography Course, but also because the speaker lineup looked fantastic, with familiar faces I was looking forward to catching up with, as well as many speakers I’d never seen at a travel blogging conference before. So, after the fact, was my excitement worth it?
I was blown away by the quality of the conference. You sort of expect a first time conference to have a few rough edges and hiccups, which will be caught and ironed out for the second round. And whilst I’m sure there were a few of those, Matt’s team certainly did a great job of hiding them from the likes of me.
So what did I learn?
Well, the main value of the conference for me was the face to face meetings and networking opportunities with peers and brands. Whilst e-mail and social media outreach works to a point, you can’t beat actual in person time chatting with people — both people in the travel blogging space, so we could compare notes, and brands with whom we would like to work with in the future. So certainly the networking was a big part of it.
We were also impressed by the calibre of the speakers, especially the keynote speakers. Clearly, a lot of thought was put into all the sessions, and it was awesome to see that all the sessions had clear takeaways that folks could go ahead and implement.
I also appreciated that no-one was talking about overnight success or easy wins. Travel blogging, and content creation in general, is a long journey to success, and no-one was trying to sell a quick formula to victory. It was all about developing key skills in content creation, SEO and marketing, followed by various strategies for how to monetize. Overall, I was really impressed by this first time conference, and can’t wait for the next one!
Michele - The Intrepid Guide
Michele has a killer blog on language and travel, offering tons of tips, free phrase guides, and entire book on learning Italian! She also has an impressive Instagram. Her IG stories are always well done and are genuinely interesting and informative! - - theintrepidguide.com
Considering it was TravelCon’s first year, the line-up of speakers was incredible. At one point I ended up leaving one session a tad early just so I could catch the end of Steve Kamb’s talk on building a community. By the time I got there, Steve was already answering audience questions, but in the 10 minutes I was there I learned my most valuable lesson of the conference.
It may not be an earth shattering idea but it was exactly what I needed to hear at my point in my blogging career.
When someone in the audience asked Steve how he prioritizes his ever growing ‘to do’ list, Steve swiftly responded that you should focus on what is the most important and valuable task for your business. He explained that just because you spend the whole day responding to emails it doesn’t mean it’s been a productive day.
You have to stop and ask yourself, What did I do today to grow my business? You have to work on business development first.
This idea really resonated with me because it’s exactly what I do. I still have a full-time job and more often than not, when I get home I’ll answer emails and feel a sense of accomplishment doing so, but this isn’t my going to building my business and take my blog to the next level.
It just goes to show that in only 10 minutes you can learn something that will have a huge impact on your business!
Nate - Travel Lemming
Nate is a student in Nomadic Matt’s blogging school, Superstar Blogging, which is where we first met. He’s done an impressive job of building up his own blog, standing out from the crowd as he builds his brand (and his income!). - travellemming.com
The question bloggers get most from the outside world goes something like this: "How do you make money off blogging?" And, in fact, it's a question I ask myself all the time! Building a blog is one thing, but actually turning it into a profitable business is something else.
My biggest takeaway from TravelCon, which came mostly from conversations with the 600 other awesome content creators in attendance, was just how many different creative ways there are to generate revenue from a travel blog.
Before the conference, my only real source of income from Travel Lemming was through affiliate links. I do that mostly because it's easy and relatively straight forward. But I left TravelCon convinced that I need to think more broadly!
I met people who were making money from self-publishing guidebooks, from selling t-shirts and apparel, from conducting their own tours, to long term brand sponsorships, to using Patreon, to creating their own courses, to acting as a travel agent, and so so so much more.
The key is to attract the right kind of audience (not just the right size) and to find something that offers real value to your reader. It's encouraging to see just how many creative ways content creators are able to find to accomplish that!
Jim and May - Spanish and Go
Jim and May have run a fun and insightful YouTube channel dedicated to helping travellers learn practical, real-world Spanish. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting these two a few times over the years and they are both just awesome people. If you’ve ever wanted to learn Spanish, these two will help you make it happen! - spanishandgo.com.
1. It’s Not Just What You Know. While this is true for any industry, knowledge alone won’t get you far. You need to develop relationships with others in the field. Collaborating with others in similar niches will help you grow faster.
Successful people tend to hang out with other successful people. But most of those relationships don’t begin once success is already achieved. Savvy workers find mentors and other motivated people early on. Often before realizing any sort of major success.
2. Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket. Not everyone who might enjoy your content is on Facebook. Chances are some of them are on Youtube and Twitter. They might never even see your new stuff on Facebook anymore because the algorithm changed again. And what happens if one platform shuts down like Vine or Friendster? There goes your following. And if you have no other way to reach them you risk fading away as a distant internet memory.
Focusing on only one platform might mean that someday you won’t be able to reach your audience anymore, so...
3. Own Your Audience. When you start building a following on any major social media platform, you’re at the mercy of the owners of that platform. Should Facebook, for example, decide to stop showing your content to your audience, you better have another way to reach them. If you don't, you might find yourself having to start from scratch.
Your best bet is to start developing a relationship with your audience early on and get them on your email list. Email may be the last platform available to creators that allows you to reach your entire audience.
Nate and Marta - The Tipsy Gypsies
I’ve been following these two characters on social media for a while, impressed by their amazing travel videos and non-stop-party attitude. I was finally able to meet them at TravelCon and I can now assure you they are even cooler in real life. But seriously, check out their travel videos. They’re epic! - thetipsygypsies.net
After blogging for about 2 years, we finally decided to take it more seriously and signed up for our first travel conference ever: TravelCon18. Honestly, we thought that we already knew everything, but after just the first day we realized that we fell into the newbie blogger category. The learning sessions, in particular, were very helpful to us. They were relatively short but packed with lots of information. We didn’t learn everything we wanted, but it gave us an idea where our knowledge was lacking and the areas we should focus on. We also learned what we don’t want to do as bloggers, or influencers because everybody has a unique voice and its best to do what you are good at.
Attending the conference was also a great time saver. Instead of searching the web for “how to run a successful blog” we had a team of experienced people who could answer these questions in person. But most importantly we got to interact with other travelers, and people who inspire us every day. It was a great place for making new friends and networking. We only wish this conference was available earlier when we started blogging. We already purchased tickets for next years and we can’t wait to attend TravelCon19.
Samantha and Chris - Boozing Abroad
Like Nate and Marta, Samantha and Chris are fans of the occasional drink. They travel the world while sampling the best local offerings they can find. They’re just shy of their 10,000th drink, so be sure to visit boozingabroad.com to follow their adventures!
Our travel blog is in its infancy, turning a year old in late 2019. Figuring out how to grow your audience and monetize your blog is challenging. In 2018, at the first TravelCon, we knew next to nothing about blogging and the blogging business. Making a comeback to TravelCon for year 2, we were blown away, again, by how much we learned in Boston.
The most powerful session we attended was one of this year’s keynote speakers, Kiersten Rich who runs The Blonde Abroad. In her speech about how she created a million-dollar blog, she said that her audience helped to craft her monetization, leading to her offering trips and even a creative agency on her blog. Her overarching lesson was that you can’t force your blog into something it’s not and that you have to evolve with what YOUR audience wants, not what you think they want. Just because it’s working for someone else, doesn’t mean it will work for your audience. Understanding this will allow you to develop a long-term strategy that will change the way you approach your entire blog business.
While this seems relatively obvious to some, hearing this from a successful blogger really helped us understand that we need to treat our blog as a business. Kiersten said that a lot of people think narrowly about what you can do to make money as a blogger, but if you really know who your audience is, you will be able to craft a business strategy around your blog to grow it into a long-term business. While we have a long way to go, her speech forced us to re-evaluate what we thought we knew and change our strategy for the future.
Meghan - Meg Moves Mountains
Meghan is a badass blogger and inspiring explorer who shares helpful tips and oh-so-gorgeous pics of her outdoor adventures. Oh, and did I mention she has 3 doggos?? Don’t miss her awesome adventures at megmovesmountains.com.
Is TravelCon worth it? You get a resounding “yes” from me!
I attended TravelCon in both 2018 and 2019 (and I already have my ticket for TravelCon 2020). The conference has so much to offer no matter what phase of learning and growth you’re in. The sessions were the perfect mix of inspirational and educational and actionable. But I found the opportunity to connect with so many people who have similar goals and big ideas to be the most valuable part of attending TravelCon (and what keeps me coming back).
TravelCon draws so many amazing, talented and inspirational people in the travel industry. Attending the conference has been the best way for me to make in-person connections with people who I can learn from and grow with well beyond the sessions. Since I’m based in a little mountain town, and most of my travel is to other rural areas, I don't get the opportunities for networking that people who spend lots of time in big cities do. TravelCon has helped me build new relationships and strengthen online friendships in a big way.
This year, I found so much value in connecting with people who asked similar questions to me in sessions. Having those new friends with similar goals for the coming year to bounce ideas with and encourage each other will surely make this year more successful for my business than if I had been spinning my wheels in my little mountain town silo.
So there you have it! I hope these lessons learned from TravelCon give you some added insight into whether or not TravelCon is worth attending based on your own goals and aspirations within the travel industry. Conferences aren’t cheap — but they are an investment.
Hopefully these insights give you a sense at just how valuable it can be to attend a travel conference like TravelCon.
TravelCon 2020 is happening in NOLA — and it’s going to be even more epic. If you’re working in the travel industry this is a conference you need to consider attending. The biggest names in the biz will be there. Hopefully you will be too!
P.S - Be sure to go give these awesome bloggers some love. They are amazing creators and wonderful people. If you like me, you’ll like them even more!