If you know me at all or have been reading this blog longer than a day, you know I’m a huge advocate of self-improvement. In October, I attended TBEX Ireland (The Travel Blog Exchange) in Killarney. This was a very spontaneous and last minute decision for me.
I was in the middle of choosing my last destination in route to return to North America to visit my family for the holidays while getting some much-needed recuperation time. As I was making plans to travel from Taiwan to South Korea, some friends who had attended past TBEX conferences convinced me that it was the right move for me. It was a difficult decision because there would be a lot of extra travel expenses for me and would completely change my timeline.
In short, I’m so glad I decided to attend the largest international travel media conference in the world. TBEX was such an amazing experience that it left my filled with knowledge, amazing professional connections, and lasting personal friendships as well as a game plan to take my blog to the next level. I loved it so much so that I decided to write this review!
How did I get here?
After traveling the world full-time for over a year with my Amazon Business, I decided to share my passion for online business and world travel with friends and family. I’ve been blogging for a little over 7 months now and honestly, starting a blog was never something I’d ever even considered. I initially wanted a way to connect with everyone I knew back in the states.
As I fell in love with traveling, business and my new lifestyle as a Digital Nomad, my passion for blogging grew. To my surprise, I was getting a lot more readers then I thought would be possible as a new blogger. People I’d never even met before we’re thanking me for inspiring them and asking tons of questions.
In late September, I decided that it’s time to take my blog more seriously and made the decision to learn how to develop it and, potentially, make an income. Enter TBEX!
Arriving in Killarney, Ireland
I touched down in Ireland on a Friday morning about 4 days before the official start of TBEX’s second conference in the country. It took me over 36 hours to arrive at the Gleneagle Hotel in Killarney by way of plane, bus, train, and even partially by foot due to a miscommunication with the shuttle driver. Due to the length of travel and the 8 hour time difference between Taipei and Killarney, to say I was exhausted would be an understatement. I grabbed some food from one of the restaurants located in the lobby and got some much-needed rest.
Included with TBEX is a choice to attend a tour before or after the event. There were also optional workshops that you can attend and learn from industry professionals. Being that this was my first blogger conference, I opted to take the workshops and learn as much as I could.
The first workshop I attended was called First Steps to Travel Blogging and was instructed by Heather Cowper. Even though I knew the basics of blogging, I taught myself with zero knowledge of what I was doing and wanted to fill in the gaps. The workshop was fun, informative and gave me the first opportunity among many to network with other content creators in the travel industry. Heather even gave us an opportunity for a 1-on-1 review of our blogs later in the conference. I found it very beneficial to learn from someone who has years of experience.
I also attended a Travel Writing workshop prior to the start of the conference. It was instructed by Manchan Magan and Yvonne Gordon. Both of whom are world renowned travel writers and authors from Ireland. The fact that we got to learn from the best of the best in the industry was such a huge selling point for me. I’ve never really considered myself a great writer and I really got a lot out of this.
Opening Night Party
The opening night party was at the very beautiful and scenic Killarney Race Course where we got to see the racehorses. There were so many local brands and vendors giving away free food, drinks and even some custom made chocolate.
After perusing the vendors and getting to know more about the local companies we had dinner and drinks upstairs at the restaurant where we got to mingle with the owners of some of the best travel blogs all in one place.
Following dinner, the entertainment started. We had multiple opportunities throughout the night to see the Celtic Steps Show that showcases the traditional Irish music and dancing. It was a great way to start off learning the culture of Ireland and get a taste of what the country had to offer.
As soon as we departed from the last showing of Celtic Steps, there was even more entertainment provided outside in the form of drummers playing in unison accompanied by a few fire performers around them. It was definitely a fun-filled night with no shortage of entertainment.
Before I take you through my TBEX experience, it’s important to note that you have different options throughout the conference. My experience can vary greatly from someone else’s depending on which route they decided to go from all of the options. Here is a map & schedule for reference:
TBEX Conference: Day 1 (Wednesday)
TBEX is an event that spans over a total of 6 days. The real knowledge, however, gets dropped during the actual conference. During the conference, there are multiple keynote speeches, breakout sessions, and panels that provide in-depth learning opportunities from veteran travel bloggers. I’ll walk you through which events I choose and why and take you through my experience during the event. (See schedule for reference)
TBEX First Timers Session
Since this was my first time at a TBEX Conference, I had to attend the First Timers Session where Jan Peterson, one of the TBEX Staff, explained the format of the event. We were told how everything works and how to make the most out of the event. After attending the workshops, I was already impressed but I liked that they were so organized that they had a session just to keep us informed and to explain the Do’s and Don’ts.
This was the official start of the conference. Gary Arndt, a staple in the travel blogging industry, gave his speech on the laws of travel blogging. For most of you, you’re probably thinking, “so what!” I’ll put it in relative terms. It would be like going to a film festival and listening to Steven Spielberg spill the beans on how to be a successful movie producer. It was very motivating and definitely helped set the tone for the rest of the events for the day. It’s always good to go into a learning experience with a feeling of inspiration.
Stand out from the crowd, give people a reason to engage with you by being different.
Panel on Creative Earning Ideas
After a 20-minute coffee break, we started our first of three breakout sessions for the day. Each time slot for these educational breakout sessions had 5 different options from which to choose. I chose the Panel for Creative Earning Ideas. This fit one of my 3 main goals for coming to TBEX Ireland:
- Generating more traffic
- Learning monetization techniques
The panel consisted of Gary Arndt, Jarryd Salem of NOMADasaurus.com, and Justin Carmack, an expert diver and scuba blogger. These 3 prominent figures in the travel industry shared the ins and outs of how they make money in the industry. The questions that were asked from the audience opened up some very interesting conversations and even caused some debate amongst the panelists. I left this discussion with some general ideas on what’s possible and where I can take my business in the future. I was able to refine this a bit more throughout the conference.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, come up with some long-term goals and break them down into smaller, more manageable achievements.
Organize and Lead Your Own Tours for Profit Around The World
20 minutes and one coffee break later, the second session began. I was torn on this one because there were 3 different ones I would’ve liked to attend. After finally making a decision, I headed over to Ralph Velasco’s discussion on taking people on organized tours around the world.
This wasn’t something I thought of initially but a lot of bloggers are doing this nowadays and I thought it would be something new I can learn about. Ralph was an interesting guy. He’s a restaurateur turned foodie and photographer who had led over 170 tours. His ability to tell a story through his photos & experiences was incredible.
Ralph went into great detail on how to learn this skill of organizing and leading tours. This includes communicating with tour operators, scouting locations, pricing, and planning & promotion. This is definitely something I’ll be doing in the not too distant future.
Always be planning ahead and communicating. This is something that requires a lot of work for everything to go smoothly. It gave me a newfound respect for those who are conducting these tours on their websites.
We had a couple of options for Lunch. I chose the Pan-seared Sea Bass, which came with vegetables, dessert & coffee. The fact that TBEX goes all out for everything is certainly a plus. I was definitely full at the end of it which also made me sleepy. The jet lag didn’t help either but I powered through and made it to the next breakout session.
Monetizing Social Media
My last breakout session of the day was about monetizing social media. The talk was given by Nathan Sado and Sean Boyle and covered all major platforms of social media. They informed us of the do’s and don’t and gave some strategies for building a brand and social media presence. We were also given data & statistics for average compensation and how to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace.
Create a unique and special connection with your audience to drive engagement. Quality over quantity: It’s not always about the numbers.
There were two events I attended after the first day of the conference. One was a party hosted by Travel Massive, a worldwide network of meetings & events for the travel industry. This was held at a neighboring hotel where they were having a paper airplane throwing contest and giving away money. The food, drinks & networking made for an awesome time!
The second event I went to was held by Weekend Wanderlust, a travel blog support group run together by a few of the bloggers I had met two nights before. It was held at a Lord of the Rings themed bar called The Shire.
The bar was awesome, all of the drinks were named after a character in the movie. They even had a few guys in costume for entertainment purposes. I pulled a fast one by wearing one of the masks and scaring the crap out of Gollum. I also found out one of the bartenders used to work at an Irish pub right across from my old place on Miami Beach. It was an entertaining night of music, drinks, dancing, and great conversation.
TBEX Conference: Day 2 (Thursday)
Since I woke up early, I was pumped to get the day started after having such an incredible experience up to this point. I went downstairs and grabbed some breakfast & coffee, two things I would need to survive the day. I was still tired and adjusting to the time change but was equally as excited. As they announced that the keynote speech was about to begin, we all shuffled into the auditorium.
The keynote was given by Ciaran Blumenfeld, CEO & Founder of Hashtracking. Her speech was more technical in nature but definitely left me inspired and got my creative juices flowing. It opened my eyes to some mistakes I had been making as well.
Know how to make proper use of hashtags and their effectiveness or lack thereof. Some people blindly use what they think works without measuring the results.
Creative Ways to Build Your Affiliates
The next info session I attended was hosted by Samantha Wei and Yeison Kim from Mytanfeet.com and Denisa Kostolanyiova from Get Your Guide. This session was so action packed with knowledge beginning with Denisa talking about the history of affiliate marketing and Yeison & Samantha’s super creative ways to make their own affiliate partnerships and how they use the power of video to promote everything. I had quite a few pages of notes at the end of it.
You don’t necessarily have to go the same route as everyone else. Think outside the box and get creative to find unique opportunities and make yourself stand out.
How to Increase Your Traffic Today With SEO
One of my main objectives for coming to The TBEX Conference was to increase my blog traffic. The next session I attended was completely in line with that interest. The session on SEO was hosted by Gemma Armit of Two Scots Abroad and Laura Lynch of Savored Journeys. Their combined knowledge of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) was incredibly helpful.
They gave us techniques on how to properly optimize our content and send the right signals to Google both on and off the page. They even explained all the technical aspects that either helped or hurt our results as well as answered any questions posed on the subject all in under an hour. Laura and Gemma made something that sounds difficult and scary at first seem so simple. They also teach the art of increasing web traffic on their site Make Traffic Happen which has become an incredibly useful resource for me.
Don’t just publish and pray and expect to get results. Use a strategy that’s proven to work and adjust it by monitoring its efficiency.
After two equally powerful and interactive breakout sessions that left me with pages and pages of notes, I was glad to grab some food and socialize with the other content creators that were in attendance. They again gave us two options for lunch along with a side, choice of coffee or tea and a dessert.
My favorite part of any business conference is being able to socialize and learn from other people that have similar goals as you. It really gives you a sense of euphoria to be around people who actually understand you and speak the same language, and I’m not talking about English. It really gave me an opportunity to geek out on the business of blogging which was still new to me.
Video Content Essentials
The very last breakout session of the entire blogging conference was a difficult choice. There were only 4 options as opposed to the usual 5 we had been getting. Also, every single one of them was given by speakers I wanted to hear from on topics that I had an interest in.
Seeing as how I had heard consistently throughout the conference that video content is an absolute MUST, I decided to hear what Mike Shubic from Mike’s Road Trip had to say.
If you’re not using video to promote your content, you’re at a disadvantage to those who are. Take steps to educate yourself on how to use this form of media.
Closing Keynote Speech
I really wasn’t sure who the closing keynote speaker was prior to TBEX, but it was quite a way to end the conference on a high note. This speech was given by Ireland’s own Mike O’Shea. Mike is an adventurer who has crossed the icecaps of Patagonia and Kilimanjaro. He’s also a safety specialist and consultant who has worked with Red Bull and most recently on the set of Star Wars 7 alongside J.J. Abrams.
In addition to all that, Mike is a philanthropist who has worked with multiple causes internationally. He was definitely one of the most fascinating people I’ve heard from and his ability to inspire people from his epic stories of adventure was quite an experience. At this point, I was ready to head to the closing night party hosted by Wild Atlantic Way.
Pushing the limits of what is possible only exists in one’s mind. There is really no ceiling as to what you can achieve so set your goals high and don’t restrict your potential.
Closing Night Party
The closing night party was held in a pub called J.M. Reidy’s in Downtown Killarney Village. It looks small from the outside, but it consisted of several different rooms each with its own bar, a different atmosphere, and a distinct form of musical entertainment.
They gave us two free drinks and it was finally time to relax and socialize with the over 600 other people that were in attendance. There was literally something for everyone. They even had a table filled with free candy specially made for the conference for all to sample. It really felt more like a huge holiday celebration amongst friends and family than a closing party at a business conference.
Pre-BEX and Post-BEX Included Tours
Included with your ticket to the TBEX Conference is a tour of your choice from the given options. The tours are given on the two days prior the conference (Pre-BEX Tours) or two days after the conference (Post-BEX Tours). Since I opted to take the workshops prior to the conference, I went on one of the Post-BEX tours.
The one I chose was called the coast and castle tour which took place the Saturday following the conference. It gave us the opportunity to see the fishing village of Howth as we took a boat tour along the coast as well as a trip to Malahide Castle where we were given our own personal tour. I won’t go into too much detail because I will talk about my experience in Dublin in a future post. Needless to say, it was pretty scenic and I enjoyed everything that Ireland and it’s rich and historical culture had to offer.
Other Aspects of TBEX Ireland
There are a few other things about The TBEX Conference that I think are worth mentioning. I touch on them in the following sections.
One of the staples of TBEX Ireland was the fact that there were so many opportunities to Network. Not just with each other but also with all of the quality brands and sponsors that were at the event.
This allowed us to build lasting personal friendships as well as create professional relationships with other content creators as well as brands and destinations that we could build on in the future. Obviously, it would be difficult to connect with everyone that was in attendance, but I left with over 100 contacts that I didn’t have prior to the event.
From firsthand experience, I know how difficult it is to organize an event, especially one of this size. The thing to understand is not everything will always go according to plan and sometimes you just have to work with what you’ve got.
That being said, I think the staff at TBEX did a tremendous job as far as timeliness, organization and they certainly more than met my expectations The Conference Director, Shane Dallas, even went from room to room making sure everything was running smoothly.
The Host Company: Fáilte Ireland
I would really be remiss if I didn’t mention the host company, Fáilte Ireland. They did such a fantastic job at coordinating everything that I really can’t say enough about them.
I couldn’t believe how accommodating they actually were. If we needed something, they would bend over backward to make sure we got it and I really appreciated that. Not only that but they were such hospitable, friendly and all around amazing people.
What I’ve Accomplished Since TBEX
So what was the result of going to TBEX Ireland? I’ve really been knocking things off of my to-do list and setting new goals. The following are a few things I have accomplished since the event.
After getting a taste of what SEO was all about and how to implement it, I dug into it a little further. Aside from Make Traffic Happen, I also educated myself by reading other SEO sites such as Backlinko and Moz. I’m now able to rank on the first page of Google for most of my target keywords and was able to almost double my traffic.
Social Media Management
I’ve always had an interest in social media marketing. In fact, it was my major in college and I have practiced it for many years in my businesses. After learning the different ways other bloggers make income at TBEX, I’ve been able to pick up a few freelance clients managing their social media.
I have also joined several platforms that connect bloggers with brands that I learned about at TBEX. This allows me to create content via blog posts and social media for an income.
Built a Network of Bloggers & Influencers
Before TBEX, I was unaware how easy it was to connect with other bloggers and influencers online. After meeting all the amazing people in the Travel Blog industry, it’s so easy to turn to each other for guidance.
I used to scour the internet for answers by going down every rabbit hole to find a seemly impossible solution. Now, if I get stuck, I just tap into my network in these situations instead. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. It only makes sense to leverage each other’s abilities so that we may all grow together.
After tackling some of my goals this year, I have a lot I want to accomplish in 2018 which include:
- Incorporating Youtube videos into my blog posts
- Learning and implementing affiliate marketing
- Writing an ebook
- Launching my first course
- Learning how to work with brands & Destinations effectively and building a few key relationships
- Conducting my first international tour (Who doesn’t like to travel!?)
- Taking on a few more freelance gigs and/or consulting clients
- Attending TBEX in the Czech Republic in July
So should you attend a TBEX event?
If educating yourself while exploring a new destination with a community of positive, like-minded people from a variety of worldwide cultures and having the time of your life sounds terrible than I would say no! If it sounds right up your alley, you love developing yourself and enjoy self-improvement, it’s certainly worth the investment. It was for me.
Now I’d like to turn it over to you!
So that was my experience at my first blogger conference, Have you been to an industry-related conference? Which one? What was your favorite part about it?
Let me know by leaving a quick comment below right now!