TravelCon is more like travel industry adult summer camp created by blogging legend, Nomadic Matt. He’s gathered a bunch of creatives whose passions align perfectly with your own and want to help you grow. The conference is made for any professional in the travel industry who really wants to polish their skill set, elevate their brand and create something that lasts. With some of the best minds in travel leading discussions, keynote speeches and workshops, you’ll leave feeling more inspired than you’ve ever felt. I went in with a whole lot of questions and doubt and left ready to conquer all of the challenges I saw before me.
As inspired as you’re going to feel by the end you’re going to feel equally exhausted, mentally, emotionally and physically. Which doesn’t sound that enticing but trust me it’s amazing. Now all of this can seem a bit intimidating but let me tell you, attending TravelCon was EXTREMELY beneficial to me. Which is why I sat down and reflected on my own experience to give you some tips so you-too can survive and thrive at your first TravelCon.
Join the Facebook Group
The TravelCon FB group is a great tool to get to know all the people that are attending. Start conversations, make connections with people, find others to explore the city with you. People even found ways to cut the cost of hotel accommodations by finding new roommates
A couple of days before the conference I noticed everyone was introducing themselves. This was helpful because later I could recognize people through their pictures and introductions.
One particular instance really stood out. I was reading the introduction for a girl named Michelle. Her introduction was HILARIOUS, like….openly made me laugh out loud funny. It was witty, she sounded charming and lots of fun (turns out she was all of those things). I commented that we should absolutely connect and didn’t realize it would happen when I found out she was one of my hostel roommates. She and I were two peas in a pod and I genuinely miss her even though it’s only been two weeks!
Sign up for the Excursions
A couple of months before the conference I received a notification letting me know that there would be excursions before and after the conference. There were options like walking tours, brewery tours, food tours, and even a tubing trip. I obviously chose the tubing trip with ATX Excursions because by late September, New England already shifts to fall and I wanted to get myself a Texas tan.
The best part was that it was being hosted by one of my blogging boss babe idols, The Blonde Abroad. Even better was that my friends in the industry like Glo from The Blog Abroad and Annette from Fat Girls Traveling were going too! Annette and I were strictly internet friends and after working together for nearly 2 years it seemed ideal meeting on a tube floating down the San Marcos River.
There were about 50 other people on the tubing excursion and when you’re spending hours floating down a river together you’re bound to get to know each other. By the end of the day, I had 50 new friends and it made going to the conference less scary because I knew I would have friends there.
Sign Up for the Photo/Writing Workshops
Everybody loves learning something new and it’s not often you’re taught by an expert in the field. It’s also not every day your teacher is a published author or a renowned photographer, an executive at Bon Appetit, a famous blogger, or just an absolute legend in the field.
DO NOT PASS ON THIS
These people are giving you some vital information that will help you hone in on your craft and build up your skill set.
These workshops fill up QUICK. As soon as you receive the email regarding workshops set an alarm on your phone to sign up. These workshops fill up in a matter of minutes so it pays to be on top of it.
Bring Unique Business Cards
You should always have business cards on you. But take the time to have a really nice, high-quality representation of yourself that people can remember you by. Some people put pictures which I liked and will consider moving forward.
Here’s an example of how I created a unique conversation starting card. I created two separate business cards with two different pictures I had taken during my travels. One of my favorite beach in Lagos, Portugal and one of my favorite view in Kotor, Montenegro. When I gave someone my business card I would get to ask “Which do you prefer, beaches or mountains?” This would open up a conversation. Then I would give them the card and it opened up ANOTHER conversation of where the pictures were taken.
It created more than just an exchange of paper and instead opened up a deeper conversation that people would remember when they looked back on my card. If you’re in the market for some STUNNING high-quality business cards I HIGHLY recommend using Moo.com. They’re a company based out of my home state and their print materials are simply stellar. The process of designing your materials is user-friendly, their templates are really clean and their customer service is some of the kindest people you’ll ever deal with. Plus, I can get you 25% off of your first order HERE.
Don’t Sleep On Your Instagram Account
I constantly joked with people about what is called “Millenial Networking,” which entails three questions:
- What’s your name?
- What do you do?
- What’s your Instagram handle?
A LOT of people are going to ask you what your Instagram handle is. Make sure your profile represents who you are, the message you’re trying to come across and quality content that people will remember.
Introduce yourself often and to everybody. You never know who will sit down next to you during a talk. You may end up sitting next to a keynote speaker. Internalize your inner fangirl and introduce yourself. You never know what may come after a simple “Hello.”
Speaking of friends, make lots of them. Put yourself out there. Talk to everybody. You’d be surprised how quickly you end up with a bunch of new friends.
The beauty of this conference is that it is filled with travelers and if there’s one thing travelers are good at, it’s getting to know people. Everybody has a story and there is just a genuine openness to get to know those stories. If you’re going by yourself and you’re terrified because you don’t know anybody then please let me tell you to not worry. If you are willing to talk to new people then the payoff will be amazing.
Before I left for the conference I knew a couple of girls from the internet but had never met. By the closing party, it took me an hour and a half just to get to the door because I kept running into people I wanted to thank, people I was confirming future plans with, people I wanted to wish safe travels to and have one last laugh before our roads separated again. Use this as your model, by the end of the conference, at the closing party, you should have made so many connections that you barely make it out of the front door before closing time.
Part of being social is being yourself and owning who you are. Present yourself confidently as someone who fully believes in what you’re trying to do. Let your passions shine and let your personality shine even brighter. People recognize when you’re being your authentic self and more often than not they’re going to appreciate that a lot more.
Know Your Brand
You’re going to hear a lot about knowing what your niche is. For some people, this can be scary. I get that. I denied my niche for so long because I didn’t want to be considered a “Full Figured Travel Blogger.” But once I embraced who I was it made speaking about my cause significantly easier. This is important for figuring out what you want your brand to be and what opportunities you want to pursue in the future. But it really is imperative to know for the most part what your niche is and how that works into your brand because you can clearly express what you do to others.
Knowing your brand or niche is one thing, but standing out is another thing. I can tell you right now that saying your brand is budget travel, backpacking, solo travel or just travel, in general, is not going to help you stand out. The reality is that the industry is saturated with so many people with the same niches it’s significantly harder to stand out if you’re just starting.
Figure out what you’re passionate about, what you feel like you’re an expert in and let that be your niche. Are you passionate about sustainable travel? Do you spend most of your time in one location that people often visit? Are you a minority that you feel isn’t represented? Do you travel the world with your dog? Identify these things that make you unique and let them be what makes you stand out.
Consider yourself a sponge and soak in all of the experience the people around you are exuding. Bring a notebook or your laptop and write down EVERYTHING. Really take in what people are saying and write them down so they can sink in further.
It’s also nice when a friend of yours couldn’t make a talk they wanted to go to but you can offer them your notes.
Do Your Research
As soon as the schedule goes out read up on all of the speakers. Get to know them, read their works and follow them on social media.
Know what your business needs are and go to the talks that will help you. Your options are endless. SEO needs, social media coaching, pitching to editors, organizing tours, email marketing, travel panels and so much more. Figure out where you are in your blogging journey and what goals you’d like to accomplish and choose your schedule according to that.
You are surrounded by some of the best minds in the travel industry. Ask them your questions! When you attend their talks, raise your hand and ask them something that you’re curious about. I can guarantee that someone else in that room is wondering the same thing you’re asking and you’ll learn more ways to help your brand.
Attend the Evening Parties
For some people, it’s a bit easier to loosen up after a cocktail…or two. The evening parties are a great way to get to know people in a relaxed environment. Grab yourself a drink or a meal and take up this opportunity to reconnect with people you’ve spoken to earlier or introduce yourself to somebody new!
Sign Up for Marketplace Appointments
Consider this speed dating with brands. But instead of scoring a date, you’re scoring a profitable, professional relationship with well-known brands. Figure out which brands align with your niche and convey to them why you could both benefit from a partnership.
Once again, do your research and look into what kind of campaigns or products these companies have. Find out what kind of work they do and if they’re involved in any charities. If you show that you’ve REALLY put in the work to understand the brand you’re pitching to that will show. Not only that but come with a profitable opportunity for both of you.
Don’t just show up and say “Oh I have … followers and I’m interesting in …… and you should work with me because I’m thinking about going to ….. .” Instead figure out a way that you can help elevate their brand alongside your own. Come with a detailed plan of what exactly you would want to do with them, have a detailed plan of assets you could provide and how this partnership could continuously prove to be beneficial.
Go to the Meetups
On the second day after lunch there were various niche meetups. Some of the meetup options included:
- RV/Adventure Travel
- Solo Female Travel
- Bloggers of Color
- Couples Travel
- and the one I attended, LGBT
Up until this point I really didn’t have any ideas on how to reach out to my fellow LGBT community. Other than often gushing about my longtime girlfriend on Instagram I wasn’t sure how to incorporate this audience into my already warm and positive following.
Well let me tell you, these angels surrounded me as soon as I walked in and just showered me in love, positivity, encouragement and LOADS of tips. The entire meetups we bounced ideas off of one another and celebrated everyone’s accomplishments. The people I met at that meetup are some of the most fantastic people I met at the conference. I enjoyed every second I spent with them not only at the meetups but every second we met back up the duration of the conference.
Bring Comfy Shoes
You’re going to be walking A LOT. Plan accordingly.
Wear What You’re Comfortable In
I know if it’s your first conference you’re probably wondering what you should wear. You would think conference, let me wear a blazer, pencil skirt, fancy shoes, ironed pants. But if this isn’t the type of person you are then you shouldn’t adhere to that.
You are a unique human being and you should let your style come through. Keep it professional and don’t feel like you have to dress up as someone who is not you. But do bear in mind that you will be meeting people you look up to and companies you want to work with.
Bring a Water Bottle
You’re going to be running around all day. Stay hydrated. I made the mistake of not drinking enough water my second day and ended up with a SUPER intense headache that carried into the next morning. Avoid that altogether by carrying around a water bottle and drinking from it often.
Same goes for snacks. Always keep them on you. You’re going to be so busy and you may end up talking with one of your idols and completely miss lunch. Carry some fruit, some nuts and my personal favorite, some gummy bears to get you through until you can grab a big meal.
Know When You Need a Break
It’s okay to take a minute away from TravelCon. You’re going to be doing A LOT and talking A LOT (I lost my voice on the second day from all of the networking, no joke) and meeting people A LOT. There’s nothing wrong with taking some time for yourself. Grab a second outside or if you have some hours to play with, remove yourself from the conference altogether and grab a coffee nearby.
The last day I was super behind on work and had three hours to play with. I took some time to go to a picturesque coffee shop near the conference by the river while in Austin and caught up on the things I had been putting off. It felt nice to take a minute and enjoy just being by myself.
Create a Profile on Blogger Bridge
Let others know what you’re up to and put yourself out there by setting up your profile on Blogger Bridge. Brands can browse your work and your various social media channels. It’s a great way to get an idea of who is attending and who you would want to connect with.
Stay A Few Extra Days
TravelCon is going to take up your entire day. Most people arrive for the first keynote at 8:30am and stay until the last keynote speaker which usually wrapped up around 5:30pm. Then you squeeze in a quick meal, a quicker powernap and an even quicker freshen up sesh. From there you’re at the after party events until late into the evening. Which means that if you’re visiting a new destination and want to explore, plan some time either before or after the event. This way you’re not rushing to get all the things you wanted to do in a few hours in between the madness.
Book Your Accommodations ASAP
Once you know where the location is, book your accommodations. I snagged an early bird ticket and as soon as I saw it was in the United States I knew my hostel options would be a bit limited. Which is why as soon as I booked my ticket I booked my hostel. I paid the few extra dollars for the refundable cancellation option on Hostelworld and figured if my plans changed I could always call and rearrange my dates.
Good thing I did because it also turned out that there was a football game the same weekend of TravelCon in Austin when I went. I paid around $51 for Friday and Saturday night and later found out that the price spiked up and girls had to switch hostels because the price had gone up to $91…..FOR AN 8 PERSON ROOM. NOOOOOO WAY.
Bring Your Charger
You’re going to be using your phone and possibly your laptop often. Stay charged up with an external battery or your charger.
Utilize the Virtual Pass
I can tell you right now you’re going to look at the schedule and let out a conflicted “DAMN” because two talks you REALLY want to attend are at the same time. Lucky for you, you have the virtual pass where you can access all of the talks. Catch those talks you missed after the conference from the comfort of wherever you call home.
Every professional in the travel industry should go to TravelCon. If you really utilize these opportunities that Matt has put together and take what you learn to heart then you can be successful. It’s a lot of hard work but the folks at TravelCon remind you constantly that it is worth every struggle. I cannot WAIT to attend next year and the year after that until I can hopefully be on that stage inspiring others the way I was inspired all weekend.
If you see me at TravelCon make sure you come say hi!
5 thoughts on “How to Survive and Thrive At Your First TravelCon”
Know when to take a break is such a good tip. I thought I was the only one who snuck away haha. Turns out, everyone I talked to needed a little conference detox from being overwhelmed or needing to catch up on work. I’d also add to take advantage of sitting down for keynotes early. I did my best networking at the tables before each keynote. Love this article and wish I’d had it before this TravelCon ❤
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Michelle what a great point to make! Even showing up for speakers early so that you can actually get a seat is so important.
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I love your tip about creating unique business cards and having different photos! I have different business cards for my blog and for my freelance, but the way you did it is so creative and so simple! A follow up tip for making sure you sign up for the writing and photo workshops: make sure you set your alarm for the correct time in your own time zone. I miscalculated and slept through the signup, so no writing workshop for me this past time around 😦 Next year, fingers crossed!!!
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Yes! Such a good point! Listen to Rachel folks! Check out your time zone. Thanks for that. Wish we could of connected! Next year! 🙂
Such a great post! I’m at TravelCon 2.0 – I’ll look for you here! Also, I LOVE your business card conversation starter technique!!!