Thirdeyemom

Reflections on TBEX and the Lone Life of a Travel Blogger

The first weekend in June, I was one of 1,200 travel bloggers who packed my bags along with my tangled emotions, and headed to Toronto, Canada for the 3rd Annual TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) conference. I had no idea what to expect and it was my first time ever attending a travel blogging conference. I went to BlogHer last summer along with 5,000 other blogging hopefuls and felt misplaced as a travel blogger among so many mommy bloggers. When I heard about a TBEX, an event exclusively for travel bloggers, I was thrilled. It was my tribe and the place for me to be. I instantly signed up with high expectations of what I’d learn, who I’d meet and the connections I’d make. My journey as a travel blogger was awash with opportunities.

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Looking down from the CN Tower in Toronto during TBEX.

I returned from India five days before the start of TBEX feeling more alive and passionate than ever about the true heart and soul of travel blogging. I had just proved how you can use your blog as a source of social change and empowerment and I was ready to share my message with whoever I met at TBEX. I was on top of the world with inspiration, passion and a belief that finally the time had come.

That was where I was utterly wrong. Instead of being on cloud 9, I felt like some small wannabe travel blogger that didn’t have the numbers, the press trips or the flashy media kit screaming to impress.  All I had was what brought me to this point in the first place: My stories, my integrity and my voice.

I realized while listening to all the extremely helpful yet daunting sessions on SEO, marketing and social media, that the art of blogging was sounding to me more like the business of blogging. Instead of writing for the pure passion of sharing my love for travel, I was hearing the message over and over again of what you had to say and do to get noticed. Suddenly, a feeling of dread and anxiety swept over me. This wasn’t why I was writing. Not for the numbers, not for the SEO links that are not in any of my 800 posts, not to buy friends on social media. I thought I’d left all that corporate nonsense long ago when I quit my career in sales. At that moment, I had never felt so utterly lonely and deflated in my life as a travel blogger. I felt as thought all my dreams had suddenly burst.

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Life can be lonely sometimes as a travel blogger. Picture taken April 2013 in Paris.

When I started blogging in January 2010, my soul purpose was to have a voice. A voice to share with others my love and passion for traveling and experiencing other cultures.  A voice for sharing the heartbreaking stories and realities of the countries and cultures we, as a global citizen and tourist visit.  A voice that informed others about some of the not so pretty things that are happening around the planet. Poverty, Violence, Disease, Hunger, and lack of education, human rights, safe clean water and sanitation.

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Volunteering at a child care center in Honduras. January 2013.

My voice has grown rapidly and has become stronger each and every day. I feel so incredibly honored to be able to touch, inspire, impact and even change someone’s life through my blog.  Just recently I was invited to go on a social good blogging trip to India on behalf of Mom Bloggers for Social Good where we met with our partner NGOs and were able to see firsthand some of the amazing things people are doing to make the world a better place. For me, these trips are life-changing experiences that are unpaid yet no money could ever fulfill.

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Although I’ve traveled my whole life, this one trip to Nepal inspired me to start my blog and realize the importance of giving back. I raised $10,000 for building a reading center in Nepal after my visit realizing that to travel is a gift. When one receives a gift, one must return the favor.

As I packed my bags and headed to the Toronto airport completely exhausted after six weeks of intensive travel spanning three countries, I realized that all I wanted to do was go home. To be home with my family, the two young kids that bring me joy and my wonderful husband. And, to my surprise, I actually secretly wanted to give up. To quit spending countless hours on my blog, hours that are hard work and unpaid. Hours that could be spent with my kids or on myself. Hours that sometimes felt lacking of gratitude.

The last three weeks since TBEX have been a series of ups and downs. School is out meaning being a stay-at-home mom/travel blogger, my time is stretched. I’ve been pulled in so many directions and haven’t had much time to work on my blog. I’ve got posts gathering up in my head, photos that need to be worked on, comments to respond to, social media tips to integrate, tweets to read, people to follow, press kits to write, blog changes to make. The list goes on and on and is overwhelming.

I wonder why on earth I’m stressing myself out so much about my blog and what I’m not doing and could be doing better. I compare myself to the other successful travel bloggers who presented at TBEX and have thousands upon thousands of followers. I try to ignore all those unanswered follow-up emails I sent to the media contacts I met with who seemed interested in my blog yet never replied. Why am I doing this?  

Yet, then I get the comments on my blog that make all my insecurities and doubts disappear and remind myself what it is all about. Why I’m writing. Why I have a voice. Comments like this most recent one from a 26-year-old Indian woman who gave everything up in the business world to start Protsahan, a small NGO that works in the heart of Delhi’s slums to educate girls who are left behind and forgotten. Girls who have been raped, abused, tossed aside and ignored behind the hidden, crumbling walls of a Delhi slum.

Nicole, I just finished reading the blog you have written, by the time I finished it I had tears in my eyes. You are beautiful. Your words are beautiful. I thought I had grown strong enough to not cry anymore, but after going through your blog, my eyes got watery. Thank you for such a beautiful description. Thank you for a wonderful 1st person account of Protsahan. – Sonal Kapoor, Founder of Protsahan 

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The girls at Protsahan meditating before class. Delhi, India May 2013.

It is not the money, the fame, the sponsors or the number of followers to my blog that will bring me success. It is the one person I have impacted or inspired through sharing my story and experiences around the world. It is the one change I’ve made in someone’s life that makes all the difference and why I keep writing.

So next time I go to a blogging conference, I will have to remember those words of wisdom and never give up.

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47 comments

  1. Really well written. I have been blogging for nine months now, sharing my experiences and art as I travel. Working in comics I have often found the conventions daunting, and my themes, style, and lack of superheros too different for the mass market. I often feel a bit disenchanted by the experience, but inspired also by the creative energy. I think you hit the nail on the head with your feelings and its best to keep doing what you are doing. It might not fit into the mold of the “Professional” travel blogger, or get the media hits, but its true and thats what makes it great. Plus raising ten grand, thats just awesome!

    • Thanks so much for your comment! I really appreciate it! I instantly felt better after I wrote the post, like I got this annoying heavy weight off my shoulders. Now I’m back at it, doing what I’ve always done and maybe employing a few new techniques or skills but sticking to my own voice. If we all were the same and wrote the same way, how boring we would be! :)

  2. You put into words so well what I have often thought, Nicole. I’ve never been to a TBU event, but after the last one in Porto I read many of the bloggers who had been there. I had very recently been to Porto myself yet felt no answering passion for the place. It’s just another tick in a box.
    Anyone can feel the passion in your blogs, hon, and the fine intentions behind it all. Slow down a little, enjoy your family. The world will wait, Nicole, because you are worth it. :)

  3. Your blog is beautiful, your photography is beautiful, you are beautiful. Your passion translates here. I do think it important to give our souls a rest every now and then (and our bodies), to stop and reflect and see the beauty around us in our families; to stop and rest and just be.

    • Thanks Angeline for the beautiful words. You are right. Time to calm down and stop pushing myself so much. :) I already feel better just after writing the post! My parents are in town so we have had a very nice week together with the kids and enjoying summer.

  4. It’s challenging for the “me” to let go of wanting to be appreciated and validated. However, your passion carries a lot of wisdom! The wide open heart of unconditional Love is your gift! Those you touch through your blog, or through your travels, through Being is more than enough! shanti…..

    • Thank you so much Shanti for your words of wisdom. Sometimes it gets lonely over here at the other end of the computer, writing the blog. When I’m at these conferences the message gets so confused and sadly sometimes it makes you feel worthless. But as you’ve said, it is the people I impact that makes the difference not getting a paid piece. So I’ll just keep plugging along. I view this as a life-long journey which means of course there will be lots of ups and downs. Thanks so much for kind words!

  5. I’ve never been to a Bloggers Conference either – but I know this – you are doing a wonderful job, Nicole. I look forward to reading your posts. Don’t worry about the media contact – just keep on doing what we all know and love.

    You are doing a brilliant job, Nicole :)

  6. I also attended BlogHer 2012 and also felt a little lost in the mommy bloggers. With all the technical seminars, I too had similar feelings that I am so far behind and I will never catch up! Thanks for the reminder about the joy of the connections you make through blogging, even it’s just a few people!

    • Thanks so much for your comment! :) I feel so much more relaxed about it all now. Think I just had to get it all off my shoulders. :) Back to blogging, loving it and connecting with people. As for the others stuff, oh well!

  7. Thanks Nicole. I also attended BlogHer last summer and felt a little lost in all the mommy bloggers. Like your experience with the technical/business stuff, I felt like I was so behind and that I will never catch up! Due to a death in the family a few months ago, I have not be able to post as often as a like.
    But as you reminded me, that’s just not where I am right now. Sometimes when I am traveling, I have to remind myself to stop and enjoy the moment, and not just focus on taking pictures or taking notes. It’s about the journey as well!
    Sharon

    • Thanks Sharon for your comment! I’ve gotten so many from attendees and fellow bloggers that have felt the same way so it is nice to know I/we are not alone! We all need to keep writing as once the big ones succeed they can loose some of their authenticity and voice. We need many different voices in the community! You keep writing too! :) Thanks for stopping by.

  8. I have never been to a bloggers’ conference, but I did meet with a group of young bloggers who were obsessed with numbers, media and others stuff I couldn’t be bothered with. They made me feel insignificant and old, and yet, when I went home and looked at their blogs, I realized that they were dreadful, mostly boring and about themselves.
    I have no idea how to achieve great stats, couldn’t give a toss about social media connections and I am not really interested in learning. I write my blog because I like it and because of the many friends I have met along the way, including you.
    Keep up the good work…and avoid blogging conferences, as I will.

    • Thanks Debra for your words of wisdom! So true. I feel this way a lot in life about everything. Sometimes its hard to not be hard on yourself and compare. But then at the end of the day, you realize that many times the ones for flaunt aren’t as great as they make themselves out to be. You can never sell yourself short. Never lose sight of yourself. Thanks for reminding me of that! :)

  9. anotherjennifer

    The big conferences can be so overwhelming. When I teach blogging classes, I’ll note SEO and the business-type stuff. But I also note that I often ignore that stuff if it doesn’t fit with what I want to say. Authenticity goes a long way.You don’t have to have the big numbers to make an impact. You’ve shown that, Nicole!

    p.s. So glad that we’ll be rooming together at BlogHer!

    • Oh thanks Jennifer! I am sure we can continue this conversation in huge detail when we meet. I can’t wait to meet you. You’ve been such a wonderful supporter! :)

  10. Life is a constant trade-off. When we decide to do this, then we give up that. But balance and individual well being within life choices are hard to accomplish. You’ve found a personal passion. That’s a huge feat. You’re not only traveling through the physical world, but traveling through your own growth.

    • Thanks so much for the insightful words. This post I wrote has been like seeing a therapist! Its been wonderful how many comments like yours and words of wisdom have come my way and have reminded me why I write! Thank you. Yes life is a huge balancing act. I gave up my career to stay at home and raise my kids. Yet it has been the most rewarding aspect of my life. Now that they are getting older, I’m trying to grow myself hence the blog. Yet I get confusing messages about where I want to go with it. For now, I just keep plugging away and not worry or fret about the future of it. :)

  11. Amen. From beginning to end…amen. Do what is in your heart and be true to the things that matter…”your stories, your integrity and your voice.”

    • Thanks so much! I feel much better after writing that post. I’m enjoying the summer with the kids and squeezing in blogging when I can without the pressure. :)

  12. Nicole, I want to express my sincere appreciation for your honesty and courage, for it is not easy to be vulnerable and express one’s true feelings to the world. When you first mentioned going to the TBEX conference, I looked it up because I had never heard of a travel writer’s conference before. Thank you for your honest opinions. I understand completely and often feel the same way. I just like to write. It’s therapeutic for me and if I can give one follower a little better understanding of my passion for cultural immersion..then I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. Honestly, those statistics, SEOs, and marketing techniques give me a BIG headache. Simply, I want to congratulate you..to send you hugs…and thank you for your wonderful blog. And most importantly…to thank you for being YOU!!!

    • Thanks so much for the wonderful comment! :) It is so true that it is nerve-wracking to open yourself up so much in writing. You are vulnerable. Thankfully my wonderful readers like you have become such amazing supporters and friends. That is half the reason I continue writing! I had once started writing a novel and worked hard on it for a year but felt really lonely writing. There was no feedback, no community. Just me writing alone. The blogging world has opened up a whole new life for me and has been amazing. I’ve already met at least a dozen fellow bloggers in person and it has been amazing. Thanks so much for the kind words. They mean a lot. I have felt dramatically better after writing the post. I think all the pressure I was creating for myself after going to TBEX was bothering me. Yes, it would be so lovely to have a career as a writer yet do I really want to sacrifice my integrity and authentic voice on my blog by changing it so I can make money. No. Maybe someday I can find a way to earn money but I can not change who I am. Thanks for reminding me! :)

  13. Bless you, Nicole! I love your heart, your honesty, and courage. You are so much more than a travel blogger, my friend. You are a blogger who wants to (and will) make a difference in the world. You are a blogger who makes change happen. You will have a larger impact. You will change peoples lives, Nicole, not just write about a destination! Keep your head up! You are doing great things!
    Hugs,
    Kathy

    • Kathy,thanks so much! I needed all these reminders.I was feeling a little down about myself. Thanks so much! I can’t loose sight of my mission. It is a life-long journey and I know I’ll keep at it and make a difference! :) My blog will be a record of it and a voice….change will be made! :)

  14. I think, as you have said in this post, there are different reasons for wanting to blog. For you it’s about your voice and – from what I can tell – giving voice to others. Are you trying to make a living as a travel blogger? It seems not, in which case the numbers game is no where near as important as for someone who’s next trip (or rent payment) is dependent on how many followers he or she has on twitter or facebook. I think both kinds of blogging are absolutely valuable, but they necessarily require different attitudes and focuses from the writers.

    As others have said, your blog is wonderful so don’t try to change it!

    • Thanks so much for the response! Yes I’ve had some time to think about this and read through all the comments. You are indeed correct. There are two types yet I have also realized you can write for other travel sites and earn some money that way. Then I wouldn’t have to lose my authenticity on my blog. I honestly don’t like reading boring travel reviews. I like to read stories not what to see and do’s unless I am actually planning a trip. Anyway, thanks for the comment! :)

  15. Awesome post Nicole, and I SO relate to what you talk about! You are a really talented writer and photographer with an amazing passion for what you do with such professionalism! I really admire you and your work and can’t tell you how happy I am to have such a like minded friend!

  16. This is a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing. I attended TBEX as well and had mixed feelings. I haven’t written about it because I still don’t know how I feel. I met up with another blogger who attended in another city just the other day and it’s a common thread amongst newbie attendees. I am familiar with conventions and trade shows but never had attended one for blogging. I am new to blogging, about 7 months in. I am familiar with marketing and PR though because that’s my background.
    But we all start blogs because we have something to say or something to share. I think something like TBEX where we are thrown in with 1200+ other bloggers, some who are the most notorious in travel and others who haven’t even started. I started my blog as a place to share things I did on my RTW trip and current travel, as a resource for my friends and others. But I got caught up in the whole “oh my I don’t have a media kit, I don’t have this much traffic blah blah blah”. We have to step back and remind ourselves why we are doing this. For me it was my love and passion for travel and wanting to share and connect with other like minded people.
    Keep doing what you are doing, you are wonderful and inspiring.

    • Thanks so much for your wonderful comment! I feel so much better after writing this post! To get so many encouraging comments has reminded me why I write this blog in the first place! :) I would love to check out your blog so I will now head over and find your FB page. Thanks again and hope our paths cross again! :) Nicole

  17. Nicole, having had the pleasure of basking in your company, your energy and heart … let me be one of many that will tell you to never give up. Your words and your photography shed light wherever you go, and make the world a brighter place! Your beautiful soul touches so many, right there is your gift.
    SEO, numbers, and links are meaningless in the big picture that will unfold thanks to your integrity, your passion and your truth. You go girl xxx

  18. Stephanie Sheaffer

    Wonderfully stated.

    I’ve often found that conferences can be simultaneously inspiring and deflating. It’s so important to remember why we’re blogging in the first place and to realize that every person is on his/her own journey.

    • Thanks! I feel much better after writing this post as once I stepped away from it all and saw how much support I had, I knew it didn’t matter any more. I am heading off to BlogHer with all 5,000 others and am sure it will be similar but this time I’m better prepared!

  19. Oh Nicole, I finally got around to reading this post-TBEX post and I couldn’t agree with you more. My feelings mirror yours with frightening similarity, though I still have the odd day of frustration where I feel several steps behind the curve and get caught up in the whole numbers (whether it’s on Twitter, my blog, Instagram or wherever else) game and the dash to collect collaborators/sponsors. It’s on those days when I have to remind myself of why I started my blog in the place and why I continue despite in spite of the numbers and the pace at which they’re growing. Slow and steady is the kind of game I’ve chosen to embrace, which is perfectly acceptable and nothing to hang my head about.

    I am forever inspired by your experiences/travels, the way in which you see the world and the efforts you make in order to change it…no matter how small or large the final impact may be. With that said: to hell with the numbers game, just continue to focus on your end game. You’ll get to where you need/want/aim to be and hey…it’s all about the journey anyhow, isn’t it? ;-)

    • Oh thanks JoAnna! I’m really glad I got to finally meet you in person too! I look back now and wish I wasn’t so worn out and jetlagged at TBEX. I’m still glad I went but now looking back I remember why I’m here blogging and what I want to do with it going forward. The numbers game can become a hangup but I’m over it now. :)

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