WOW, what a whirlwind TravelCon was this year! If you’ve attended a conference, you know exactly what I mean. Every day is jam-packed with information and networking with heaps of energized, like-minded people.
A Quick Glance Back
This is the second year I have attended TravelCon, a conference run by Matt Kepnes of Nomadic Matt. It is for those in the travel industry who document and share the world on various platforms, provide tours, and run a plethora of other travel businesses around the world.
Last year was phenomenal. For a first-time 600-person event there was barely a hiccup. The outrageous lineup of keynote speakers included Rolf Potts, Oneika Raymond, Ryan Holiday, and Helen Russell. Seminars and workshops were chalk-full of information and led by industry leaders such as Thomas Swick, Kara & Nate, Travis Sherry from EPop, Liz Carlson, Dave & Deb from The Planet D, Hey Nadine, Brian Dean from Backlinko, Chris Mercer, Paula Froelich, Jason Cochrane, and Pat Flynn…to name a few!
I was in heaven. TravelCon felt like canon-balling into a lake on a hot summer’s day – invigorating. The energy of so many talented, hard-working, and like-minded people was nothing short of exceptional. I met many new friends who have kept in touch over the past year.
TravelCon had big shoes to fill for 2019.
The location for this year’s event was Boston. Last year I made the mistake of staying for the conference in Austin and leaving once it finished (also, work called).
This year I have a more flexible schedule and booked a few days on either side of the conference. Win!
But more to come about Boston later.
Good People = Great Times
Like any event, people create memorable experiences. TravelCon 2019 was no exception. In fact, if you’re looking for new travel reading material, inspiration, or trip planners, look no further. I have some friends I’d like to introduce you to…though be warned, this is only the tip of the iceberg!
- The hilarious and caring banter boxer Fae
- The kind and driven fashion maven Sarah from House of Wend
- The OG hostel roomie Calvin from The Calvin Chronicles
- The powerduo sunshine beamers Miya & Ian from Travelling Miya
- The dancing dermatologist Chong
- The over-the-top storyteller and inventor Eric
- The rally master Stephanie from Travanie Travels
- The nature loving teacher Jill from One Trek At A Time
- The gumbo giant Toby from Cajun Traveler
- The thrill-seeking Canadian Mike from Fearless and Far
- The linguistics lover Michele from The Intrepid Guide
- The eating master Derek from See Do Eat
Back to this year… As I said, TravelCon 2019 had a lot to live up to, given the impressive success of its first year. The first morning the conference room buzzed with 800 giddy travellers as Matt kicked off the weekend. First-timers faces’ were a blend of excitement and uncertainty. Last year’s attendees were itching to jump into round two.
Day 1 began with Clay Hebert teaching us how to introduce ourselves. Smart start, eh? Clay’s steps gave us something to chew on and sputter out each time we met someone new over the following 72 hours. He had everyone mulling over our perfect introductions for the rest of the weekend.
I crafted mine a few months back. What do you think? “Hi! I’m Tara. I teach Canadians how to pay themselves to travel!”.
Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild, was the second keynote speaker. I haven’t read her book or seen the movie and perhaps that’s why the talk fell short for me. On the other hand, she had many in the crowd listening closely.
Other keynote speakers and Q&A participants included Tony Wheeler, the co-founder of Lonely Planet, Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, the highly anticipated Kiersten Rich of The Blonde Abroad, and Tahir Shah, a captivating storyteller and author (I could honestly listen to him talk about the most mundane things and still be entranced).
I preferred the keynote speech format over the Q&A sessions, which were new this year. Speeches, specifically Kiersten’s whose wildly popular session I had missed last year, are simply more informative and engaging. The Q&As left me with more questions than new thoughts to ponder.
Points & Miles
I was eager to attend the Points and Miles panel this year because of the Canadian presence. As someone who has been researching travel hacks for over a decade, it was awesome to see Ricky Zhang from Prince of Travel share the stage. Stefan, Tiffany, and Gary, the longtime gurus of the game were generous with information and advice on how to run a points blog.
On Day 2 I attended a panel on Sustainable Travel with Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott of Uncornered Market, Katy Clair from Travel Oregon, and Adrienne Lee (another fellow Canadian!) from Tourism Cares.
They highlighted some of the issues in tourism (eg. 80% of travellers go to 20% of destinations), and provided food for thought on how to be respectful to a location and its inhabitants. The whole panel was so passionate about working with local partnerships to provide the best experience to both residents and travellers. “A happy place to live is a happy place to visit”
Stories from Chef’s Table
The Director of Netflix’s Chef’s Table, Abby Fuller, served us gold with her storytelling tips. Everyone was salivating for seconds by the time she was finished.
Abby was a last-minute add to the TravelCon roster. I’ve watched the show countless times (drooling always, of course) but didn’t know who she was. After her talk I embarrassingly fangirl’d and offered to be her shadow and help with anything (cringeworthy!), having connected with so much of what she said. She will now quite possibly tell tales of the awkward woman from Toronto.
Ambassadors & Brands
Kristen Luna from Camels and Chocolate delivered a great seminar on the Ambassador Programs with Brands session. She was to the point, funny, and full of examples of what to do and not do when working with brands. I really appreciated her perspective, as she has worked on both sides of the bargaining table.
Insects & Youtube
Mike Corey of Fearless and Far had everyone engaged with a potential snooze-fest worthy topic (video editing). The insect-loving, fear-squasher spoke about the importance of sound, colour correcting, and pacing. However his biggest tip, echoed throughout the weekend by industry professionals across sectors, was to focus on the story. YES!
TravelCon provides a number of structured opportunities for businesses and content creators to meet and foster relationships over the course of the conference. Some of the options included media meetups with brands and tourism boards, breakout niche sessions, lunch on-site, writing and photography workshops, and the evening socials. There is also a Facebook group, which is ideal for newbies, accommodation sharing, and post-conference conversation.
Last year TravelCon offered all of the sessions electronically for a small additional cost. This year, the videos were included in the ticket price. This is fantastic for many reasons. First, if several sessions you wanted to attend were at the same time, you’re guaranteed not to miss out. Second, no need to take your laptop or notebook if you would rather listen and focus that way. And third, even with notes, it can be helpful to go back to the source itself and revisit the information.
Overall, TravelCon 2019 was still a valuable conference to attend. After the first day however, many of us agreed it didn’t have the sparkle or bang for the buck that last year did and were curious to see how the next 2 days would play out.
One change I wasn’t fond of was having only one on-site lunch. Last year it was fantastic to stay at the hotel and share a bite with several different people or continue conversations from earlier in the day. Having lunches off-site meant dining with only one group, a bit of extra planning, plus the extra cost. The positive side to off-site lunches was discovering local eateries, which the conference app provided suggestions for. I love discovering new places to eat, but I would still vote for having lunches on-site at the hotel.
The second major discussion the 2018 vs 2019 TravelCon was the range and depth of sessions and the Q&A format replacing some of the keynote speeches. It is tough to pinpoint whether this was because most of us were so new last year, or whether it was because the content and format provided less value. This is in no way a slight to the presenters, who clearly put a lot of time into their presentations. It is more a nod to the types of sessions offered.
By the final day, the photography workshop and a few of the sessions were what I found to be informative and helpful. I was content, but not as ecstatic with what I came away with as last year.
To attend or not to attend – that is the question. Throughout the weekend, many of us weren’t sure if we would return next year.
To Matt and his team’s credit, year one blew everyone out of the water. That was not an easy feat, and my hat goes off to them for that! Having worked in events I appreciate everything that goes on behind the scenes, before, during, and after. The irony of that first success however, is topping it again and again.
TravelCon 2020 is going to be in New Orleans, which is super exciting. I’ve never been and have wanted to visit for the food and the music. One of our friends is from the area and is also enthused to show us around (and feed us gumbo!). Both of these are ticks towards “Yes”.
Where I flip-flop is based on two things: 1) I need to get myself in gear and buckle down with this website, and 2) I am not as wow’d with this year’s event as I was last year. As a Canadian, the cost of the ticket and the weekend itself is a bit steep, no thanks to the exchange.
I have purchased my earlybird ticket, as have a few others in our group. We’ll see what happens next year come May.