A First-Timers Guide to TBEX

I went back and forth countless times before finally deciding that I wanted to attend my first TBEX conference.

TBEX lets you party here.

Before registering, I had a lot of questions, mostly things like: Would it be worth the time and travel expenses? Would it be relevant to me as a travel writer (not necessarily a blogger)? Was it worth all the hype?

I figured that if I had all these questions about attending my first TBEX, other people would too. So I wrote all my questions down, knowing that after the conference, I’d have all the answers myself and would be able to provide them to others to help them make a decision about whether to attend TBEX.

So if you’re contemplating attending your first TBEX and have questions like…

Should I go? Why should I go? What is it like? What do you do there? Is it worth it? 

…read on. All shall be revealed.

Things You’re Probably Wondering About TBEX

TBEX greeting in the Huntsville Airport!

What is it? Who attends?

TBEX, short for Travel Bloggers Exchange, is a place for travel bloggers and writers to mingle with travel industry professionals like tourism boards, PR firms, visitors’ bureaus, and hotels/destinations.

In other words, if you’re looking to make a career in the travel/tourism industry, attending TBEX would be appropriate for you.

How big of an event is it?

I’m really bad at estimating, but I do know that the event usually numbers in the several hundreds. I think I heard somewhere that 500-700 people attended TBEX North America 2017.

So, it’s a relatively big conference. I think that before I attended, I was worried that it would be some small lame conference where nobody really shows up, but I’m happy to report that that was not the case.

Where do you stay?

TBEX has hotels that partner with the event, which can be a great option, but don’t be afraid to stay somewhere off-property. I chose to go with a nearby hotel that had not joined TBEX as a host hotel, and I experienced top-notch service customized to me as an individual, rather than just another conference attendee (more on that below). Though I did hear there were mojitos and massages welcoming TBEX attendees to the main host hotel… You win some, you lose some.
Warm cookies welcomed me back to my room on the HHonors Floor every night.

Do I have to stay at the host hotel?

No! I will say that on rainy days (like we had in Huntsville), it certainly makes things easier when your hotel is attached to the conference center via skyway, but I stayed at a non-host hotel a few miles away and still had a great experience. However, if you don’t stay at the host hotel and don’t have a car, you should stay somewhere within Uber/Lyft distance.

What if the destination city doesn’t appeal to me?

I’ll be honest: the fact that TBEX North America 2017 was in Huntsville, Alabama–of all places–was one of the major reasons I was hesitant to go.

Alabama?! I thought. Who wants to go to ALABAMA for an international travel bloggers’ conference?

But boy, was I pleasantly surprised. The Huntsville Convention & Visitors Bureau did an incredible job acting as host city and planning elaborate parties in the city’s up-and-coming hotspots.

And to be completely honest: I saw little to nothing of Huntsville anyway. From early in the morning until late in the evening, I was tied up at the conference with no breaks. All I saw of Huntsville were the three parties I attended at cool local spots–and those were great, but I certainly didn’t get a comprehensive feel for Huntsville and all its hidden gems.

So, in short: The destination city should not make or break your decision. But, regardless of whether the city interests you, plan to stay an extra day or two (before or after the conference) so that you get a taste of why TBEX chose that particular place to bring hundreds of the travel industry’s leaders together. You can bet there’s a good reason, that there’s more to the city than meets the eye.

Just your average TBEX party venue…

What kind of opportunities came out of it?

The most tangible opportunities that came from attending my first TBEX were the FAM trips I took. These special trips are opportunities opened solely to TBEX attendees months before the conference, and you must apply and be accepted onto the trips.

I was invited on two back-to-back FAM trips beginning the day after the conference to Montgomery and then Selma, which led to the creation of these articles…

And these new friends!

Visiting Old Cahawba on the Selma FAM trip

In addition to the FAM trips, I have tons of partnership possibilities still in the works from the many sponsors I met at TBEX. To be continued…!

What’s the most important thing to know before you go?

Be prepared for long days and long nights. You’ll have to be “on” basically 24/7, until you finally rest your head on your pillow at night. This is an action-packed few days of working and networking like you mean it, so don’t plan for a leisurely vacation or a trip with ample free time.

Is it worth it?

Between FAM trip possibilities, networking connections made, lunch and dinner included on conference days, breakout sessions and keynote speeches by industry leaders, and all the random freebies around the conference…

For $150? (Or $97 if you don’t procrastinate?)

Um, yeah. SO worth it.

My First TBEX Experience

Welcome to TBEX North America 2017 in Huntsville!

TBEX Huntsville 2017 was jam-packed with lessons learned, nightly parties, and all kinds of travel blogging goodness.

There were pre-BEX and post-BEX tours (plus photo and writing workshops with experts) I didn’t take advantage of, but many other attendees raved to me about them, so you should probably plan to incorporate them. They are usually scheduled during the days leading up to the conference.

I arrived in time for the opening night party at A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard, which was a total blast. The Lumberyard is a really cool venue and TBEX had rented the entire place out and populated it with lots of different food and drink stations, making it easy to mix and mingle.

The first full day of the conference consisted of a first-timers session early in the morning (go!), followed by an opening keynote speech, two hours of breakout sessions (you’ll have about five to choose between each hour), and then lunch. After lunch came another series of breakout sessions,  a short coffee break, and then the speed networking sessions (more on those below–oops). A memorable night under a bona-fide Saturn V rocket at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center closed out this amazing kickoff day.

Day two of the conference was identical to the previous day, minus the morning first-timers session and plus a closing keynote between the speed networking sessions and the closing party. The closing party at Campus 805, a super-cool entertainment venue that had a past life as a middle school, was a great way to wrap things up.

Opening night party at A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard

Sessions I attended

To give you an idea of the kind of sessions offered at a TBEX conference, here’s a list of the breakout sessions I chose to attend at TBEX Huntsville:

People I met

As with most experiences, the people you meet make all the difference.

At my first TBEX, I had the chance to hear from Samantha Brown (famous for her years on the Travel Channel) and Destin Sandlin of YouTube’s wildly popular Smarter Every Day, and I got to chat with Don George, who quite literally wrote the book on travel writing.

As mentioned above, I also got to chat with the editors of Coastal Living and Lonely Planet and Dream of Travel Writing. Swoon.

Perhaps even more importantly, I met blogging buddies to take on the conference with! Here are the cool new friends I spent the most time with at the conference:

Blogging friends!

Making friends in the blogging sphere is invaluable–these are the people you’ll cheer on, ask for advice from, offer advice to, exchange favors with, vent your frustrations to, and more. TBEX is a great place to find them.

My best first TBEX advice

Meet people. The more people, the sooner, the better.

If you’re an introvert like me, nothing is more uncomfortable than walking into a room full of hundreds of people where you know not one. single. soul.

But the quicker you rip off the bandaid and just do it, the faster you’ll make travel conference buddies to pal around with for the next few days (like the ones I mentioned above!).

It will seem like everybody else is busy chatting and already knows someone there, and they might–but chances are, everyone’s just getting introduced, just like you are. Take a deep breath, walk up to a group of smiling strangers, and go for it.

Pro tip: Look for people who are around your same age, or people who look interesting. You’ll probably hit it off–or at least get some good stories out of them.

My #1 rookie mistake

Not preparing for the speed networking sessions. Like, at all. I showed up loaded down with conference freebies and armed only with a business card and an embarrassingly informal off-the-top-of-my-head introduction.

Others were smarter–my new friend at Milk & Cardamom did her research and came prepared with specific, relevant story pitches for two separate international tourism boards. She landed those trips on the spot–flights, accommodations, and tours all covered, and a contract in hand.

Do I plan to attend TBEX again in the future?

Yes. And finding so much value in an experience that you’d choose to go again is a sure sign of success–wouldn’t you agree?

I haven’t registered yet, but I have my eye on TBEX Killarney (Ireland) in October, and I’m tossing around the idea of visiting a far-flung destination I’ve never been to for next year’s conference

The 2018 conference promises to be one for the books–for the first time ever, TBEX will be held in Africa! More specifically, Zimbabwe. This choice has proven to be rather controversial (see here and here), and I’m still making up my own mind as well. But my husband loved Zimbabwe when he visited and I’d really like to return with him, so I’ll keep you posted…

Inside the Von Braun Center

Parting thoughts…

Have you been to TBEX? I’d love to hear about your experience! And feel free to comment below with any additional “first TBEX” wisdom you may have to share.

Are you considering attending your first TBEX? Let me know if there are any additional questions I can answer for you!

9 thoughts on “A First-Timers Guide to TBEX”

  1. Pam Wattenbarger says:

    This is a great post, Skye! I enjoyed meeting you on the FAM trip. I had many of the same questions as you did before going in and agree, on some destinations, I was totally unprepared when I met with them. I will be prepared for next year!

    1. Skye says:

      Hi Pam! It was so great touring Montgomery with you. 🙂 Can’t wait to see you again at future TBEX events!

  2. Kaleigh says:

    Such incredible insights, Skye! This is all great advice and all so true. I’m so glad we met and look forward to reading more from you!

    1. Skye says:

      Thanks Kaleigh! I loved meeting you and can’t wait to see where in the world we run into each other next! 🙂

  3. Juliann says:

    Wow! This is such a comprehensive guide! You’ve covered everything.in fact, while I was reading it, I was transported back to the conference.

    Like you, I’m an introvert, so did push myself to network and enjoy every minute until my head hit the pillow in my hotel room. I needed that downtime to absorb it all and make notes. I was sometimes as busy after the sessions as during. There was so much to capture and record.

    But I loved it. I’m re inspired and invigorated every time I go to one. This was my 3rd. I hope next year will be my 4th. And I hope to see you there again!

    1. Skye says:

      Thank you Julie!!! I worked hard on this, so I really appreciate your kind words.

      Getting to spend time with you in Montgomery was a true highlight of the entire TBEX experience. I totally understand what you’re saying–I think I’m STILL trying to digest, absorb, and act upon everything I learned!

      I definitely hope to see you again at future TBEX events. I wonder where next year’s North American conference will be!

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