Sitting alone on the bus, I wondered if I would be the only attendee to be shuttled down to the beach to catch the boat to the opening night party. The TBEX conference opening night party was being held that night, and there were boats scheduled to take attendees to the beachfront property where it was being hosted. Some were making their own way there. I opted for the shuttle.
I climbed the steps and looked down the aisle to discover that I was the only one on the bus. Granted, I had arrived a few minutes early, but I was both relieved and a bit mortified when I climbed in to find no one else aboard. On the plus side, I was able to catch my breath and relax. On the minus side, as the minutes ticked by I wondered if anyone else was actually taking the bus. Riding the shuttle to the meeting point alone was worse than riding it surrounded by strangers.
A few minutes later three other attendees got on, and asked me to join them. Little by little the bus filled up, and I spent the ride chatting up some bloggers and one presenter. I slowly relaxed, and my confidence level jumped. on the boat, I had a conversation with a lady who was terrified of the water, and an organizer who also happens to be gluten free.
The night progressed from there, and by the end of the evening I had only spent a few minutes without anyone to talk to, and that was mostly at the beginning when I was roaming around taking photos. Turned out that I wasn't the only start-up travel blogger attending the conference alone, and I was reminded that even when it seems like everyone knows each other, chances are that many actually don't. I connected with the same new friends again and again over the two days of the conference, and met new friends along the way.
I never used to consider myself an introvert, but as I watched people wander up to complete strangers with ease, it reminded me that I am in fact much more comfortable in small group settings or sitting at home with a book than I am with large gatherings where I don't know anyone. My husband and kids were staying at the hotel with me where the conference was being held, and I have to admit that I considered using time with them as an excuse to avoid some of the social aspects of the whole thing.
Luckily for me my husband knows me well and pushed me to take advantage of what TBEX had to offer. I'm a list-maker, and I like to tick off the boxes beside my to-dos, so I decided to make a list of everything I wanted to accomplish at the conference. It helped focus my energies on what I felt was important, and gave me the confidence to get out there and meet people every day.
A few of my goals included making at least two new friends to keep in touch with, connecting with five brands/sponsors and having at least one work-related project come out of it, attend at least one of the evening social sessions, adopt three new habits based on what I learned, and develop a strategy for the next six months to be ready to implement within a month of returning from the conference in Spain.
For those who thrive off these types of events, or who have been running a travel blog for a long time, my list may seem silly or not nearly ambitious enough, but for me it was perfect. I attended the opening party as well as the cocktail reception. I made some friends that I already have plans to see again. I have two work-related projects that have developed as a result of meeting with companies, and I am currently working on my new habits and 6 month plan.
TBEX was a success for me, not least of all because I made an effort to do what I feel most uncomfortable doing- networking. I prefer small gatherings, meeting people through introduction by a mutual acquaintance, and attending the sessions where I just get to sit back and listen. The rest doesn't come as naturally, but I know that it's important for me to develop that skill.
I know how to speak in public- I was a high school teacher for more than a decade. However, after being off on maternity leave and then quitting to move to Paris, I'm a bit out of practice. TBEX helped me get back into that groove, and now I'm taking steps to continue along that path of making connections in the travel and writing industries.
The best part was being in an environment with other travel fanatics. It was great to talk about my family's overseas move and extended travel and feel as though people understood where I was coming from! It was inspiring to hear the travel stories of others. I came away with so much inspiration for upcoming trips and for ways in which to turn this blog into so much more.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to take advantage of some of the trips that were sponsored around Barcelona and the Costa Brava due to my family's travel schedule, but I now know for next time to leave extra time for those excursions. I learned a lot, had a ton of fun, and brought back a lot of new ideas for the blog. Plus, I had a great time exploring Lloret de mar, the town where the conference was held. I'm already making plans to attend my next conference.
The long term goal? To eventually run a session as a speaker. Why not?