On Thursday, I left my “65-degrees and sunny” home in Houston to hop across the country to New York City for the 10th anniversary of the New York Times Travel Show. This opportunity was very special to me because it was my very first step into the world of travel conferences, taking My career beyond the screen of my computer and the keys of my keyboard. Not really knowing what to expect, I booked my tickets early and took a day off of school, going blindly into something I hoped would help me improve this site. I arrived at New York City’s JFK airport with three goals in mind: to meet people, to gain new insights on blogging, and to learn.
Waking up at 6:00 AM on Friday for the first day of the conference reaffirmed both my excitement and my anxiety. The streets of New York were not yet crowded as I made my way to the Javits Center, and as I walked, the wind whipped at my face, tiny snow flurries stinging my cheeks. I thought to myself, “What am I doing here? Am I crazy?” It was a moment of half-disbelief and nervousness-induced panic. But, as the glowing, orange sunrise made its way over the tops of buildings, I remembered my threefold mission and smiled. The Javits Center was within sight, and I was ready to come face-to-face with the lessons that this trip had in store for me.
The Travel Media seminars were fantastic, spanning topics from social media to state department announcements. Some of my favorite speakers were Sree Sreenivasan, head Social Media expert at Columbia, and Grant Martin, Editor-in-Chief of Gadling, who both spoke about ways to gain and engage readers. I also learned a lot from the afternoon social media session, which focused on creating viral posts to engage readers. Through the talks, it was funny to see all of the travel writers on phones, iPads, and computers, sending out live Tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagrams from the scene. I felt a strong sense of community amongst the lit electronic screens and listening ears.
I ate lunch with Charu Suri of Butterfly Diary, who explained to me a little bit about her life and her story as a travel and lifestyle writer. As she gave me tip after tip of fantastic advice about running a blog, I realized just how inspiring meeting other bloggers is. Her insights were essentially the spark that lit the flame of inspiration throughout my entire weekend. I knew I was on a mission to be just like her one day.
After the show, a bunch of travel bloggers and people in the industry met up at a nearby bar, Landsdowne Road. Organized by Matt Stabile of The Expeditioner, there was an awesome turnout, the room inundated with creative minds and vivacious conversationalists. Clutching my grapefruit juice in my hands, I nervously approached the other bloggers, feeling like a fish out of water. However, once I started talking to Robert Schrader of Leave Your Daily Hell, his bubbly nature and welcoming words put me at ease. Once again, I felt that sense of strong community and trust that these people had for each other and now, for me. As I became more comfortable approaching the other bloggers, I heard a lot of crazy stories and gained a lot of awesome inspiration. These people really knew what they were talking about, and I couldn’t help but grin throughout the night about the prospect of being like them one day.
Later that night, my hostel roommate and I went out to dinner at the Metro Diner, uptown near our hostel. It was a great break from the mix of emotions I’d felt throughout the day. I slept like a baby that night, pretty much falling right asleep once I laid down in my bed.
The next day the show was open to the general public. Perusing the booths in the morning proved to be a fun but exhausting activity. I also picked up a lot of coffee table reading materials. Before coming to NYC, I had this sort of warped idea of talking to tourism boards and having them fawn over me because I am a travel writer. Of course, that’s not the case at all, and after attending the conference yesterday, I dropped that vision and decided to just enjoy myself. Dancers, music, food, animals and decorations were scattered throughout the center, an awesome representation of not only the tourism industry at large, but a scrapbook of snippets of the world. It was a worldly sight to see. I also got to meet a lemur.
I also listened to some of the day 2 seminars, namely the Frommers’ panel on 2013 travel trends and the Travel Bloggers Panel, featuring renowned bloggers and writers such as “Nomadic” Matt Kepnes (the first travel blog I ever followed, and the guy who gave me my Europe trip), Don George (from National Geographic Traveler), and Liz Borod Wright (founder of Travelogged). Admittedly, I was kind of starstruck, being around people with such prestige and influence in the travel world, but I soon came to realize that they’re just normal human beings, and are very easy to talk to.
Later that night, after visiting some flea markets and taking a stroll through SoHo, I went to my last activity of the weekend: the Restless Legs travel writer meetup at Lolita’s. As I walked down the stairs to a tiny, crowded basement, my heart pounded as I looked around for familiar faces. Only seeing about a handful, I felt intimidated once again, but as I listened to renowned writers Colleen Kinder and Don George read some of their favorite pieces, I remembered we were all gathered in this place because of a shared love of creating, writing, photographing, adventuring, and of course, travel. Again this reassurance put me at ease. Throughout the night I found myself having exciting and surprisingly laid-back conversations with people I once saw as celebrities, such as Matt and Don, as well as renowned people I hadn’t heard of before, like Rolf Potts, author of Vagabonding. I was at home with these people who, just 48 hours ago, I would have considered to be out of my league.
So, what did I actually learn from all of this? First of all, I learned that it’s a long, steady road, and that patience is critical in achieving success as a blogger. Content is key, because without good content, there is no substance or reason for readers to return to you. Make connections with anyone and everyone. Thank people who help you as well as readers who support you. Post regularly. Tweet even more regularly. Know your audience. Don’t be afraid to be inspired, but remember your niche and move forward within that. Fall in love with words, pictures, and places. Keep it personal, but relatable. Know your voice and resiliently stand by it.
More importantly, though, I learned that people go into this travel writing career, not because they want to be rich or famous, but because they truly, truly love it. They see travel as something to be shared and something to be taught. And, consequently, we are all in this together.
My biggest boosts of confidence and encouragement came from my interactions with the dozens of other bloggers I met. Almost every single one was incredulous when I told them that I was nineteen, a full-time college student, and that I came to NYC from Texas in order to, well, meet them. They were shocked when I told them I wasn’t even old enough to order a beer, book a hotel, or rent a car. But then the surprised looks and dropped jaws turned into messages of encouragement, enthusiasm and support radiating from their every word. Some exclaimed, “I hadn’t even stepped a foot out of this country at that age!” Others reminisced about what they were like when they, too, were in college. Many people told me, with smiles peeking onto the sides of their mouths, that they see a spark in me that gives them high hopes that I will go far one day. To this I had no response, other than profuse “thank-yous” and hugs all around. I took their words to heart, and this invisible locket of inspiration will forever remain within me. I left the gathering feeling no longer like the “newbie blogger” I introduced myself as, but rather a part of the travel blogging community that is forever learning, expanding, and evolving. From my interactions with these inspiring people, I learned more than I did at any seminar I attended.
And now, sitting on my airplane headed back down to sunny Houston, one thought remains in my mind: You’ve come a long way, Kay, but you’ve got a long road ahead. And after the inspiration and encouragement I’ve gathered throughout this weekend, as well as the dozens of new friends I have made, I am ready to begin this journey, one step at a time.