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9 Education Lessons from TBEX Travel Blog Conference

Connecting with new and old friends at TBEX travel blogger conference!

Connecting with new and old friends at TBEX travel blogger conference.

The life of a Teacher-Traveler:

I administered final exams to my 150 seventh grade students Monday through Friday, then hopped on a plane to fly across the country to Colorado for the 800-person TBEX Travel Blogging Conference.

Was it worth it?

Wowza, yes! What a fun, productive, and fascinating weekend the conference was!

Here are lessons the Education world (or really anyone in any realm) can learn from the success of TBEX 2012:

Keystone, Colorado: What a beautiful place to have a conference!

Keystone, Colorado: What a beautiful place to have a conference!

1. Belonging to a community is an essential human need, and true communities CAN form online.

The online travel world is ridiculously tight-knit, so TBEX is actually a joyful family reunion.

Even though we’re on different continents for most of the year, travel folks constantly chat online via social media.

Embraces flew fast and furious this weekend, seeing dear friends (from the online world) in person at last!

The TBEX closing speech by Christopher Baker, travel writer.

The TBEX closing speech by Christopher Baker, famous travel writer.

2. Networking is THE important job skill in 2012.

We MUST explicitly teach our students how and why to network, or they will miss out on career opportunities.

This weekend was a master class in networking. Before the conference, TBEX set up an online “speed dating” system through which marketing companies and bloggers could arrange meetings to discuss business partnerships. During the weekend, we also used any free moment to informally (but often passionately) network.

Informal networking during lunch at TBEX Keystone, Colorado.

Informal networking during lunch at TBEX. Keystone, Colorado is stunning!

Me, I met with at least twenty different companies, laying the foundation for possible sponsors of the Meet Plan Go Career-Break Travel Conference (for which I’m the Boston coordinator), as well as my two websites. Networking is thrilling, a little scary… and a massive piece of adult life that kids must learn.

3. You need mentors to excel.

We’re all pretty cool, but there’s always someone more adept or experienced who can teach you more. Take every opportunity to find and cultivate such people in your life. I’ve already written a whole article about this, so just click here to read “Why You Need a Mentor… or Fifteen!”
TBEX sparkled with informal Mentor-Mentee relationships.

Formal "speed dating" sessions between bloggers and travel companies.

Formal “speed dating” business meetings between bloggers and travel companies.

4. Be friendly; you never know who the person is next to you.

I can’t tell you the number of times at TBEX that I randomly chatted up the quiet, unassuming person next to me and then suddenly realized: “This person is… WHOA!” Shyness is cute in bunnies, but in humans at a conference (and in life in general), it’s something to be surmounted, or you miss out big-time.

5. Niches pay off. Find yours.

The view out of our hotel room door in Keystone, Colorado. Wowowow!

The view out of our hotel room door in Keystone, Colorado. Wowowow!

There are hundreds and hundreds of travel bloggers, but there are only a few who specialize in vegan travel, or Antarctica travel, or fashion, or (ahem!) the teaching-traveling combo. You can either be a small fish in a big pond (and get ignored and/or eaten), or find your area of specialty and become a happy fatty fish!

Meeting with the travel companies at TBEX, I was actually shocked at the gapingly empty niche they’re missing: Teacher travel! We teachers are in the only profession that has 3 months a year of vacation. Cater to us, travel companies! And, well, you know which blogger might be able to consult with you on how? Google search the term Traveling Teacher and see who is the #1 search result in the world. :)

6. Twitter is the new note-taking… and it’s better than notepads because it’s collaborative.

Some of the top travel bloggers and companies, at the TBEX shindig!

Some of the top travel bloggers and companies, chatting at the TBEX shindig!

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a 2012 attention span, meaning I can focus for about 3 seconds before wanting to pull out an electronic device. At modern conferences, however, that’s actually fine, because the expectation now is that everyone live-Tweets remarks about the speakers in large-group events using a specific hashtag (like #TBEX) that everyone is following in a stream.

I LOVE live-Tweeting. It’s much more engaging to listen to an hour-long speech that way because it’s interactive. Plus, it’s useful and often hilarious to read the Tweets of your fellow audience members. It also allows folks who couldn’t be at the event to follow along remotely.

The tunnel leading to the TBEX conference. The art is appreciated!

The tunnel leading to the TBEX conference. Loving the art.

7. Channel your insane passion into obsessive workaholism, and don’t give up. Success WILL come, eventually.

All the keynote speeches at TBEX emphasized this, but perhaps the most striking illustration came from Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz’s speech when he projected the Google Analytics of his wife’s travel blog.

Click here and scroll to #22 to see: Her blog remained at a plateau of visitors for years, but she didn’t give up. She kept loving it and working hard… and the graph shoots upward a few years in!

I yearn for all students and adults to know this: Hard work and persistence pay off!

8. One key to success in the new economy is human emotion.

Here’s an example of this from TBEX: Humans like funny and fresh things, right? Well, brilliantly sponsored a cowboy-themed party and bought us all (yes, all 800 of us) Expedia cowboy hats.

Brilliant marketing: We couldn't help but take cowboy hat pics!

Brilliant marketing: We couldn’t help but take cowboy hat pics.

Do you know how much fun we had posing for photos with the hats, then Tweeting and Facebooking them? Well played, Expedia. Random, but effective.

In another example of this, the wonderful Passports With Purpose initiative to raise money for global causes created buzz (both in the air and of the sugar kind) with elaborately decorated free cupcakes around their information and sign-up table at TBEX.

9. New media and innovation are completely reshaping how business is done, and YOU can be part of it.

“This weekend at TBEX,” said BlogWord CEO Rick Calvert in his closing remarks, “so many of you came up to me and said how professional and well-run this conference has been. Well, you deserve that, because you have proven that you are professionals. Travel bloggers have changed the travel industry forever.”

Cheers erupted through the crowd. It feels so good to be acknowledged for passionate work!

Yesterday: Colorado horses and TBEX. Tomorrow: back to Boston teaching!

Yesterday: Colorado horses and TBEX. Tomorrow: back to Boston teaching!

And the world can expect even more greatness from us travel bloggers in the years to come, bolstered by our unity.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must sleep.

My alarm will go off at 5:35am so I can take three buses to work and teach sweet Boston students again tomorrow.

The kids will be very excited to hear about Colorado, and a lucky student may even get the cowboy hat for academic excellence. :)

Thanks so much for a stupendous weekend, TBEX crowd!

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