My First TBEX and Misadventures in Florida

My First TBEX and Misadventures in Florida

I’ve had a few people ask me to write about my experience at TBEX – an annual travel blogging conference that happens in 3 regions around the world every year.

So, since you asked for it, I created this monster of a post to cover all the bases behind TBEX and my overall trip to Florida. Make some tea and settle into a comfy seat to get through this beast. If you’re just looking for tips as a travel blogger, skip down to the bottom. If you’re just a reader who wants to know more about Southern Florida, start reading from Miami. Otherwise, enjoy and read on!

I just have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with the conference. I wasn’t sure what to expect since I only recently started to dip my toes into the professional side of the travel blogging industry. Travel blogging is a highly competitive career, so I was preparing myself for the worst, not sure what kind of cutthroat bloggers I would encounter in Florida.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Every person that I met, besides maybe an odd one of two, were so laid back, friendly, and not judgmental at all. I could be talking to a blogger who had 3x the following I had, and I wouldn’t know until I went home later and connected with them on social media. I even met the husband of Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown, and didn’t realize it until we were at the end of our conversation.

TBEX made me realize how happy I am with my current career path, and made me feel like I’m in exactly the right business for my personality and future goals.

I’ll get more into TBEX soon, but first, I’d like to share with you my misadventures while I was in Florida – outside of my time at the conference. It’s actually hilarious how much bad luck I had, but somehow I still had a wonderful time in Florida.

This could be due to my great experience at the conference, or maybe it was enough just to be exploring another state, but it wasn’t easy to bring me down while I there.

Miami

Our journey to Miami had perils from the start. We soon realized that the hurricane hitting the Gulf of Mexico was already effecting Houston weather, our layover stop on the way to Fort Lauderdale. We had some of the worst turbulence I’ve experienced, but before we reached Texas and the rough weather, we had a gorgeous view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains flying across my country.

Sierra Nevadas - USA

We made it safely in Fort Lauderdale after minimal delays and a slightly terrifying flight. We picked up our rental car and drove to South Beach Miami, only a 45 minute drive south.

There were some issues finding our nondescript hostel in the dark, but we eventually made it and took off for the South Beach strip for some much needed dinner, our rumbling stomachs leading the way.

We stopped in at a decently priced restaurant (for South Beach), and made sure to get one of those ridiculous margaritas that was about the size of my head. That first night was fairly low-key, heading back to our hostel early for a much needed sleep after our long journey across the country.

In South Beach, we soon realized a few different aspects.

  1. It is still stuck in the 1980s
1980s in Miami, Florida
Exhibit A
Miami, Florida
Exhibit B

2. There are drugs everywhere, we couldn’t walk a block without being offered cocaine by a sketchy dude coming out of the darkness.

3. The fashion is anything goes and the more revealing the better for women. There were some women just walking around in neon bras. Seriously, anything goes. This was actually a little refreshing after coming from the strict hipster fashion of Portland, which gets old after awhile.

4. Theft & dishonest business practices are common – as we would soon find out. I had my wallet stolen and Kendall has his passport stolen in separate incidences. There are common cases of not getting the right amount of change back from businesses, and we also had to deal with cab drivers who took us to the wrong part of town, on purpose, just to make a quick buck.

Besides the negative sides to South Beach, we still managed to make it a good few days in Southern Florida.

Walking along Miami Beach and people watching, trying the best cubanos in Little Havana, and seeing the Everglades were all highlights to our time in Miami.

Miami, Florida

Gator Park

We went to the Gator Park in the Everglades, and enjoyed an air boat ride while spotting some gators in the process. Our tickets included a gator show where we learned more about these misunderstood creatures and what exactly they were capable of. I also kissed a toad during the show, but that’s another story.

Gator Park - Everglades National Park

My favorite part was having the chance to hold a baby gator. Who knew alligators could be so cute? After realizing their potential cuteness; however, Kendall, of course, wanted to try alligator for lunch. Not one to turn down something I haven’t tried yet, I was game and tried the alligator sausage. It tasted a bit like chicken, but left a salted fishy aftertaste in your mouth long after you were done with your meal.

Gator Park - Miami, Florida

You may question the humaneness of a place that has an alligator show, but we soon learned that the Gator Park only takes in nuisance alligators that have had interactions with humans. Once alligators interact with humans they will start to see them as food, and the state then has to put them down as a safety measure. So, instead of killing the alligators, parks in the Everglades, like the Gator Park, take them in and educate tourists about the creatures instead.

Gator Park - Everglades, Florida

Key Largo & A Mini Road Trip

After spending an afternoon at the Gator Park, Kendall and I beelined it for Key Largo. I have to tell you guys – I’ve wanted to try traditional Key lime pie in The Keys, since I watched a documentary about where it originated from when I was a teenager. Also, I’m just a tad obsessed with Key lime pie, so it was safe to say I was ecstatic.

Road Trip to Key Largo

We stopped in at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen for their famous Key lime pie and was not disappointed. Not to mention, the staff were some of the friendliest people we met in Florida, and that’s not just the Key lime pie high talking!

Mrs. Mac's Key Lime Pie - Key Largo

The next morning, leaving Miami behind, we drove up the coast past Fort Lauderdale, and stopped just north of Pompano Beach. It was the perfect afternoon, slowing down when we felt like it and enjoying time in the smaller beach towns of Southern Florida – although they were still very ritzy!

Southern Florida - USA

Fort Lauderdale

Finally, we made it to Fort Lauderdale and hunkered down for a good 4 days. I have to say, I didn’t really get to see much of Fort Lauderdale since I was at the conference for most of the time we were in town, but I at least liked the few parts of town that I saw.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida - USA

It was so much more laid back than Miami, the little strip of beach shops and restaurants was my favorite place to hang out when I wasn’t at the conference. I hope to come back and explore this area and Florida as a whole more in depth at some point in the future.

Although I had a great time in Florida, I didn’t necessarily hit it off in terms of luck for this first encounter – did I mention the return journey that was meant to be 8 hours ended up be 16+ hours due to weather delays and we came home to our car missing from our apartment?

However, I see it having a lot of potential for future trips to that part of the country!

TBEX

For Travel Blog Exchange, or TBEX, I’ll give you an overview of all that was involved for the conference and then go into what I did well and what I could do better for next time.

Travel Massive Party

The first event related to the conference was the Travel Massive party on Tuesday night. It was my first Travel Massive event and I’m glad I was finally able to see what the organization is all about – although apparently this one was on steroids compared to most of their local chapter events.

I was finally able to meet Dave from Travel Blog Success, which was awesome, and I made my first friends of the conference through meeting Jenia from House to Laos, Mike and Anne from Honeytrek, Maggie from Mags on the Move, and Danielle from Adventure Editorial. There were a few companies there that night as well, and I had the chance to chat with a guy who worked for an airline company that was promoting direct flights to Paris from the States.

Travel Massive party - TBEX Florida
With Dave from Travel Blog Success

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a fun but exhausting night of networking and drinking Ketel One cocktails – the sponsor for the night. The music was loud for a networking event so we had to raise our voices to be heard, but other than that I thought it was well organized and a good first opportunity for meeting other conference attendees.

Pre-Bex Tour

The next morning was my pre-BEX tour, an afternoon with Atlantic Coast Kayak Company. We spent a relaxing morning kayaking down Middle River in Fort Lauderdale, spotting a manatee at one point, and finishing with fresh coconut water before heading back to the bus.

Atlantic Coast Kayaking Company - Fort Lauderdale

During the tour, I met Lauren from Justin Plus Lauren, Jessi from Outbound Adventurer, Mandy and Jon from Mandy Power Travel, and Joe from Without A Path, who was my kayak partner.

Pre-Conference Party

That night was another networking party at the Museum of Discovery and Science. I had never been to an event at a museum before, but I actually really enjoyed the experience. I didn’t get to see as much of the museum as I would’ve liked since I felt anti-social spending too much time at the exhibits, but I made some new friends and ran into ones I had met that day or the night before.

Museum of Discovery and Science - Fort Lauderdale

I was even able to touch another alligator and learn what a Horseshoe crab looks and feels like (spoiler alert – it’s funky).

The Actual Conference

Then there was the actual conference which flew by in the span of two days. The opening keynote speaker was Carol Cain from Girl Gone Travel. I loved how well she could move the audience from a laugh out loud moment to an emotional anecdote of proving the naysayers wrong when no one else believes in you.

Fort Lauderdale Convention Center

A standard day at the conference would start out with an introduction by a keynote speaker, a coffee/tea break, two back to back breakout sessions, lunch, another breakout session, and a finale of speed networking with companies and tourism boards after that. There’s no doubt that it was an exhausting two days, but it felt good to be out there networking, socializing, and even learning a few new skills to improve my blog.

Coffee Break at TBEX - Fort Lauderdale

There was one other party after the first day of the conference and that one was my favorite. Located at a swanky hotel in Hollywood, the event was in a huge ballroom with Mardi Gras dancers and the best food I tried out of the whole conference. This night of networking felt way more laid-back compared to the other parties. I guess people could see the finish line by that point.

Hello Sunny - Fort Lauderdale, Florida

The closing keynote was made by Don George, one of the originals in the travel writing business. He read a few excepts from his recent book and tied them into anecdotes, moving everyone in the room with his eloquent and honest way of writing. It was the perfect ending to an exceptional conference, the first one of my career.

What was great about TBEX was the variety of backgrounds and goals from the fellow attendees. There were people who had been blogging for years, others who had just started, and even some that didn’t have a blog yet but wanted to find out more about the industry. There were also quite a few non-bloggers in the form of photographers, freelance writers, and even a few journalists.

TBEX Conference - North America

Shoutouts to Bobbi from 1Fungrl Travels, my favorite Finnish bloggers, Ulla from 50 State Puzzle and Sanna from Siveltimellä-blogi, Tessa Cruz from Viajera Filipina, Brian and Amanda from Eat Work Travel,  Thom and Jana from Tauspotting, Annita from Travel Bags with Annita & Friends, Marissa from Little Things Travel, Tara from Pint Size Pilot, Valerie from Valerie & Valise and Kristin from Living in Color Print. It was so great to meet and get to know all of you! Definitely let me know if you’re ever in the Portland!

What I Learned From TBEX & What I Could Do Better:

Before/During the Conference

  • Make T-shirts – Me and maybe one other person were the only ones who made t-shirts for this TBEX, and I can’t tell you how many compliments I received on my design from bloggers & companies alike. I actually got the idea from reading The Fairytale Traveler’s write-up about TBEX a few years back, but it was such a great tip. Make t-shirts! It shows your personality and that you’re serious about your brand, and very few people will be walking around wearing a personalized brand like you.

The Atlas Heart Brand

  • Join the TBEX Facebook group – I had no idea about the Facebook group for TBEX Fort Lauderdale, but apparently it had been active for months before the conference. It would’ve been a great way to find other bloggers to room with beforehand, and a way to keep up with what was happening during the actual conference. Luckily, I was hanging out with a couple of girls who were part of the Facebook group, so I found out a lot of info from them. TBEX is not the most organized of conferences for communication. Little important points, such as when we were meant to check-in, general information about the sessions, or a reminder about the parties, were lacking. This Facebook group was especially pertinent for that reason.
  • Use Blogger Bridge – Blogger Bridge is a way to set-up speed networking appointments with companies and also a way to see who else is attending the conference. I only requested about 7 or 8 meetings with companies, and I received a good response from them because I messaged them directly via Blogger Bridge explaining why I wanted to meet.. Make sure to also keep checking back right before the conference and during, because there were a ton of last minute companies and tourism boards that were added on that I had no idea about until I saw their booths. Which brings me to my next point…
  • Be proactive about meeting with companies – Miss a session you don’t mind missing or talk to companies during the lunch break, especially on the first day when no one has thought to do that yet. It’s a pretty open conference, so if a company is at their booth, regardless if it’s during a networking session, it’s fair game to approach them. I added onto my initial meetings I made through Blogger Bridge with these informal ones. My friend Bobbi, who missed a session or two was able to talk to every single company she wanted to because no other bloggers were out in the networking room when she was. It depends on what your goal is for the conference, but if networking is high up there, think about being proactive with meeting companies in a different way.
  • Go to the sessions – With that said, I wouldn’t say miss all of your sessions just to focus on networking. I actually met representatives from other companies during the sessions I went to who didn’t have a booth set-up. The sessions themselves were hit or miss with the material that was discussed. There were no descriptions provided about each session, just titles, which led to some really misleading sessions. However, I did have a few really great ones that taught me something new about the industry.
  • Sit at a different table every day at lunch – Think back to your high school days when you were trying to find a seat at a table or recognize a friendly face during lunch. It kind of felt like that when I walked into the banquet hall for the first lunch break. You soon realize; however, that this isn’t high school, and most everyone is actually really welcoming to get to know you. I generally looked for one person I knew (from my pre-BEX tour or previous party), who was sitting with a group of people I didn’t know. I switched it up both days to make sure I met a greater variety of people.
  • Go to all the parties and networking events – This one is so important because the networking events outside the conference are the best time to make new friends. People were friendly during the conference, but it’s a different mentality when we’re all in business casual vs. cocktail attire sipping on a beer and enjoying the atmosphere. This is especially the case for the parties and tours prior to the conference, when everyone is fresh for meeting new people and open to making friends.
  • Time Management – Time management is something I learned the hard way. I knew I would be pushing it by only getting to Fort Lauderdale the night of the first party and leaving first thing the morning after the conference, but I also wanted to maximize my time in Florida. I’m glad I saw Miami, but I definitely could’ve used those extra few days to get everything together. I spent so much time trying to print out last minute media kits at FedEx (because I accidentally forgot my business cards), finding new shoes (because my other ones randomly broke), and a variety of other errands I didn’t realize I had to do right before the conference. Expect everything to go wrong and give yourself the time to fix it. Also, because I minimized my free time so much, I missed out on lunch dates with new friends and late-night dinner escapades because of last minute errands or issues that came up.
  • My biggest faux pas – As you may have seen in the last point, I FORGOT my business cards! I felt like such a dummy when I was standing in the Houston airport about to get on my second flight. The sudden realization hit me that the one thing I forgot at home was my brand spanking new (and expensive) business cards. Luckily, my t-shirts came in handy for people to remember my brand, and I made sure to make a point of following up with everyone who gave me their business cards. But still, don’t make this mistake! Triple check that you remembered your business cards before you leave the house.
  • Don’t splurge on a hotel unless you can afford it – It’s tempting to want to splurge on one of the sponsored hotels, but unless you can actually afford it, don’t worry so much about being left out if you’re not staying at the hotel of the conference. Even with discounted prices, all of the sponsored hotels were over $100/night which is way out of my price range right now. I found a hotel much closer to the beach and only a 5 minute bus ride or Uber from the conference. I also had some great times with my new friends, Bobbie, Danielle, and Maggie, who had the same idea and were staying at the hotel next door to me. Do your research and don’t feel like you have to splurge if you don’t have the means right now.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to strangers – I’ve already mentioned this multiple times, but everyone was so friendly at the conference. You already have one thing in common by attending a travel-related event, use that to get to know someone and ask them about what they do/write for/favorite place to travel/you name it.
  • Enjoy it – Don’t get too caught up in being so “professional” that you don’t enjoy the positive atmosphere that these types of events bring. Enjoy it. It’s really not as overwhelming as you may think it will be.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

After the Conference

  • Organize your business cards – There are multiple ways (and phone apps) to do this, but it’s important to make a mental note of who you talked to so you can follow up.
  • Connect with everyone you met on social media – I went through my hefty stack of business cards, and followed everyone I talked to long enough to get a card from. It helps to bring a sharpie with you to write down a note or two on each card to remember a personal aspect about each person. I actually did this as a note on my phone and it worked beautifully. I also made sure to reference the TBEX hashtags that were used at the Fort Lauderdale conference, and followed everyone who used them on Twitter.
  • Email companies/tourism boards a follow-up message – Let them know how lovely it was to meet them. If you didn’t get to meet with a sought after company, message them about how much you would love to work with them in the future even though you missed out on meeting them this time around.
  • Email/message the influencers who gave a keynote speech or who inspired you in some way – This one is optional but it never hurts to send a quick message to the person who gave that killer speech or session, letting them know how much you enjoyed their talk. This goes for any inspirational fellow bloggers as well that stood out to you in any way. Opening communication in a sincere way is the best way to network in my book.
  • Relax, take in everything you learned, and write about it. 

What to bring

Business cards, mini media kits (just a few to reference or hand out to companies), t-shirts, notebook/organizer for sessions, business casual attire for the conference, fun & classy cocktail attire for the parties, your elevator pitch, confidence.

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Hopefully this can help some of you who are going to a TBEX conference for the first time or just want to know more about it. Maybe you were just here to learn about Florida! Either way, if you found this post helpful, I would love if you shared it, pinned it, or let me know how you liked it in the comments below. Happy travel networking!

Thank you to TBEX & The Great Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau for hosting such a great event!

My First TBEX and Misadventures in Florida

Feel free to pin this image for future reference by clicking on the top right hand corner.

Have you been to a TBEX or a travel conference before? What do you think of Southern Florida? What should I see next time I’m in town?

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Just as a side note, if you’re serious about travel blogging, interested in going to these types of conferences and networking in the industry, you should really think about joining Travel Blog Success. It’s a travel blogging course & community that I’ve been a part of for over a year now.

If you looked at where my blog & social media were a year ago compared to today, you would see how much I’ve learned from the course, the Facebook group, and the people who have made it into a successful full-time career. I’ve made strides with this blog, turned it into a business, and even transferred it to my full-time job. A lot of that progress has to do with getting involved with TBS and understanding this ever expanding industry.

AND as a bonus, they’re offering their biggest sale of the year if you sign up this Black Friday! It’s an investment in your future as a travel blogger, but it’s one that I haven’t once regretted. The community alone and the advice I’ve received from fellow bloggers is enough to make it well worth the cost.

Travel Blog Success Black Friday Sale

Note: I receive a small commission if you sign up for the course through the links on this post, but rest assured, it’s at no extra cost to you! And I really appreciate any help to bring the cost down of running this blog. 🙂

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Mimi McFadden
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Mimi McFadden

Travel Writer/Blogger at The Atlas Heart
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.
Mimi McFadden
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