Stepping Outside of My Comfort Zone at TBEX

For those who don’t know, TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) is a travel blogging conference that takes place each year in North America, Europe and Asia.  It just so happens that the first-ever TBEX Asia took place this month in Bangkok.  So back in June, when I found out I’d be moving to Cambodia, one of the first thoughts to cross my mind was that I should totally go to TBEX.  I mean, why not?  I’ve had my blog for well over a year and Bangkok is a quick 60-minute flight from Phnom Penh.  So, three long months ago I pulled out my credit card and purchased a ticket to TBEX Asia, my very first travel blogging conference.

And that’s when the panic set in…

Big, scary Bangkok.

My immediate thought was that there was no way I was going to be able to go through with it.  There were so many things about attending this conference that made me feel highly uncomfortable and anxious — traveling solo, befriending strangers, networking with and pitching companies.  After I booked that ticket, it’s amazing how quickly and to what extent self-doubt and fear washed over me.

In the coming months the thought of canceling my trip to Bangkok crossed my mind on more occasions than I’d like to admit.  And I spent countless hours fretting about silly things like what I was going to wear and how I wouldn’t know anyone and how I’d have to travel all alone.

The more I started envisioning what the TBEX experience would actually be like the more nervous I got.  And soon all I could think about was how awkward and scary the experience would be for an introvert like me.  (Seriously guys, it’s really fun being an anxious over thinker…really.).

When it came to TBEX, I honestly had no idea what to expect.  I wasn’t sure if my blog was too small or if anyone would talk to me or if I was too old to be doing this (I’m 33 in case you’re wondering).  While I was excited to attend the conference and enthusiastic about the opportunities and connections it might bring, all of that giddiness was overshadowed twentyfold by nerves.

While I love traveling and being social and meeting new people, I’m not necessarily the most outgoing of people.  It definitely depends on the situation, but I knew for a fact that the TBEX situation was going to lie way outside of my comfort zone.

It probably doesn’t help that being a freelance writer means that I spend most of my days alone, cooped up in my apartment, staring at my laptop.  I don’t actually mind this, but some days I have the distinct feeling that my social skills are dwindling away.  At this point, I’m much better at typing away and interacting online than awkwardly inserting myself into conversations with total strangers, something you pretty much have to do at TBEX if you want to meet anybody.

All I could think is that I wasn’t going to be able to go through with it.  That I would be that girl who wasn’t talking to anybody, the one who runs back to the safety of her hotel room, the one who squanders the entire opportunity.  All I could think was that this whole TBEX thing was one big mistake.

But it turns out it wasn’t!

I was lucky enough to have met a fellow travel blogger here in Phnom Penh – Jen from over at Two Can Travel.  I guess I’m persuasive become somehow I inspired her to not only purchase a ticket to TBEX but to room with me during the conference.

Why am I holding my beer like that? (Photo courtesy of Jen at Two Can Travel)

Regardless of having one familiar face, I was still a nervous wreck during the days leading up to TBEX.  I arrived in Bangkok a few days early in order to attend a pre-conference party hosted by Travel Massive and a vegetarian Thai cooking course (and yes, it was awesome…full post coming soon!).  I spent my first day in Bangkok meandering around the city by myself, panicking about how awkward this party was going to be.  What would I wear?  Who would I talk to?  What is my blog niche?

I’m not gonna lie, the party was pretty awkward.  But as I came to learn, that’s just sort of the nature of TBEX.  It’s awkward until it isn’t…and even then the whole thing is still awkward.  That night I met a few people.  I spotted some bigger bloggers who I’ve followed for years but I was way too shy to introduce myself to.  I had a good time but I couldn’t help but think that I was blowing it.  And I went to bed that night thinking that this was going to be a long week that would be full of uncomfortable encounters.

The next morning I was scheduled to attend a Thai cooking class, basically a tour that’s arranged as part of the conference.  Okay, I thought, this will be a great opportunity to meet some of my fellow travel bloggers; at least this will force me to be social.

But, because I’m me, I somehow I managed to pick the least popular tour.  Turns out being a vegetarian just isn’t that hip after all.  Who knew?  There was literally only one other blogger on my tour…but it turns out one person was all I needed.

I spent the next six hours cooking up a storm and concocting delicious Thai dishes with the intelligent and talented Andrea from Wandering iPhone.  We might have been the only two bloggers on the tour but we had a blast cooking up veg food, cracking jokes and talking about blogging, freelancing and photography.

vegetarian tom kha soup
I’m a damn good cook if I do say so myself.

What’s more is that knowing one more person made it infinitely less intimidating to attend that night’s opening party.  And, honestly, after that cooking class my nerves sort of melted away.

At that night’s party I learned that awkwardly inserting myself into an ongoing conversation isn’t actually that difficult or scary.  Don’t get me wrong…it is super weird.  But everybody was doing it and, from my experience, everybody was really nice.  Plus I’m one hundred percent certain that everyone felt equally as awkward as me, which put me so much more at ease.

I quickly found out that all those bloggers I’d been scared to talk to the first night were not intimidating at all.  Literally, I think the people that gathered at TBEX Asia were the nicest people on earth.  Rachel from Hippie in Heels?  Nicest person ever.  Alex from Alex in Wanderland?  So sweet she graciously invited me and a few other bloggers to sit at her table at lunch.  Jodi from Legal Nomads?  Just stuck out her hand and introduced herself to me without prompting.  Mind.  Blown.  (I tried to play it cool but I’m sure they all knew I was geeking out a lot just a little!)

Another funny thing that I didn’t expect, at all, is that people actually knew my blog.  It shouldn’t be a surprise.  I published my first blog post in March 2014 and have been plugging away on this here site ever since.  But still, I couldn’t believe how many people actively read it!  I suppose attending a conference based in Southeast Asia (my niche?) helped in this area but I was still kind of shocked.

I actually met people! (Photo courtesy of Two Can Travel)

I also couldn’t believe how many other bloggers I knew.  I feel like all of the bloggers that grace my inbox each week were gathered at TBEX.  Every time I turned around I met another person I’d either been following or emailing with for months and even years.  Richelle from Adventures Around Asia, Chantae from Chantae Was Here, Alana from Paper Planes, Alexa from She Tells Travel Tales, Jules and Christine from Don’t Forget to Move.  There were so many great bloggers there and it was so surreal to finally meet these people in person.

And one of the coolest things was finally meeting Leah from La Mochilera Diaries.  Leah and I bonded over our obsession with Colombia and arepas when I was traveling around the country last summer.  That was back when my blog was just a couple months old and we’ve been in contact ever since.  So meeting face to face after all this time was so cool!

Photo courtesy of La Mochilera Diaries

But that’s the thing about TBEX.  The things that I was the most nervous about — that fear of not being able to meet people or being super socially awkward or not fitting in — didn’t actually matter.  Because at TBEX I was surrounded by my people.  It didn’t matter how well dressed I was or how old I was or how outgoing I was because at our core we were all the same — we were all travel and writing obsessed people.

So now that I’ve done it, it turns out that TBEX isn’t so bad after all.  And as someone who tends to be on the introverted side, that’s saying a lot.  Now that I look back I realize how ridiculous it was that I was so nervous.  But that’s just my nature.  It’s something I can’t really help.  In the end I’m so glad that I forced myself to step so far outside of my comfort zone because the people I met last week were hands down my favorite thing about TBEX!

Have you ever been to TBEX?  What was your experience like?

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

33 thoughts on “Stepping Outside of My Comfort Zone at TBEX

  1. I had so many of the same feelings! I’ve never been to a conference of any kind, and I was terrified of just walking up and talking to people I’d never met before. Luckily, I knew a few people through Twitter, which made the experience a bit easier. Definitely a good chance to step out of my comfort zone.

    Glad to know I wasn’t the only one shaking in my boots that first day 🙂
    Nathan Anderson recently posted…Five Things to Do in Bohol

    1. Really? I thought I was the only one who was super nervous! I was so terrified to walk up to total strangers too, but in the end it got so much easier. And I agree, knowing a few people from blogs and social media was really cool. Uh yeah, you weren’t alone. I was a nervous wreck at the Travel Massive party 😉 But I think I improved as the weekend went on. Too bad we didn’t meet until the very end!

  2. So glad I wasn’t the only one who was this anxious and nervous. It was my first TBEX too, and I think we went through the same things. Wish we met during the conference, Justine! It was just all too overwhelming. At one point, I almost forgot to have lunch – me forgetting to eat doesn’t happen that often. Lol! Anyways, it turned out fine – like you said. Meeting so many like-minded people was awesome. And weren’t the sessions inspiring? Glad you enjoyed the experience 🙂
    Nita recently posted…Inspiring Travel Quotes

    1. I’m so sad we didn’t meet Nita! We could have been nervous together 😉 I’m starting to realize that there were A LOT of people there I didn’t meet. It really was overwhelming. Haha, that’s hilarious you almost forgot to eat. And yes, some of the sessions were great. Jodi’s speech at the end was absolutely amazing.

    1. It’s so funny to hear that I’m not the only one who gets really nervous about stuff like this. To be honest, I’m kind of shocked that I actually went to TBEX. I honestly did come really close to canceling. But now that I’ve attended I feel like if I can do it then anyone can. Seriously! Everyone was so nice and even some of the bigger bloggers were nervous about meeting people. It’s definitely a little overwhelming and weird at first but once you realize that everyone else is equally as nervous and that it’s perfectly acceptable to insert yourself in a conversation, it gets easier. Give Stockholm a shot Kiara!

    1. I hear the Costa Brava TBEX was amazing (and very different than the Bangkok one). It sounds like you had a positive experience too! The anticipation was brutal for me, but once the conference started it was not at all as intimidating as I’d expected. I am definitely glad I went through with it 🙂

  3. Ahh this was great. As you know, I am going through the same thing in anticipation of TBEX North America next week. I hope it turns out as well as yours! Oh and I definitely would have picked the veggie cooking course too! I’m on a craft beer brewery tour for my prebex- something tells me this will NOT be the least popular tour haha! 🙂
    Joella recently posted…A Million Prayer Flags in Kāngdìng

    1. I think you’re going to be just fine Joella! Seriously if I can do this, you can do it 🙂 I can’t wait to hear about your experience. Haha yes, I imagine a brewery tour will be much more popular that a veggie cooking course. I am so glad I took the course though. I made tom kha soup last night and it was divine 🙂

    1. Hi Velyz. It was really cool to meet all of these other Asia-based bloggers. I was especially excited to meet some Indonesian bloggers, since Indonesia holds such a strong place in my heart!

  4. It was SO awesome finally meeting you! And again, I’m so sorry for the stink eye I gave you the first night, lol. I was squinting to find your nametag, because for some reason that seemed like an easier way to identify you than your face? Haha who knows. I hope you got some good stuff from the conference and will consider going to another one in the future. Something tells me Manila’s gonna be a blast! And I hope we get another change to hang out…feels like we need a do-over! 🙂
    Leah recently posted…Pinterest for Travel Bloggers: An In-Depth Guide to Help You Drive Traffic Like a BOSS

    1. It was so great meeting you too Leah!! Haha, sure you were squinting to find my nametag. I think I would consider going to another TBEX. And considering how much I love the Philippines I would love to attend the Manila one…but we’ll see if I’m still in this corner of the world next year. I’m sure our paths will cross at some point and we’ll totally have a do-over. And it will definitely include drinks 🙂

    1. Ha, yeah Leah just started snapping without telling me! She’s kind of an expert at covertly and randomly snapping 😉 Ah, I wish you could have been at this TBEX, Edna. It would have been so fun to meet in person. Perhaps you’ll go to the Manila one next year!!

  5. I love this post Justine!

    I’m usually quite a confident but I went to TBEX in Spain for the first time, this year and was extremely nervous about it. I started my blog in late 2013 and I hadn’t met any bloggers until halfway in 2014! I live in Germany you see and I write in English so German bloggers don’t really identify with me and everyone else is just “passing through!”

    However, I’m an active member of Travel Massive and by the summer of 2014, I had met both Adventurous Kate and Kash in real life. Kate sent me an Email to meet up! By spring 2015, I had met Keith, Melvin and Kash again and some other bloggers and by the time I got to Costa Brava, I shakingly put out my hand to Jodi, Wandering Earl & Nomadic Matt. I think they thought I was stalking them LOL!

    My only regret was that I didn’t stay longer. I didn’t know about the pre and post tours and the FB page until pretty late, so only booked the weekend!
    Victoria@ The British Berliner recently posted…The British Berliner is 2 years old. Let’s whip out the the daisy cocktail and have some strawberries & cream!

    1. I’m so surprised to hear that you were nervous about TBEX because you seem so outgoing. But I suppose TBEX is a little bit intimidating for all first-timers. Now that I’ve been and met so many fellow bloggers I would love to go again. I hope you and I cross paths at TBEX one of these days 🙂

    1. I’m so glad you were at TBEX and that we got to meet! You are one of the bloggers I’ve been following the longest so it was especially cool for me 🙂 Haha, yeah I was really nervous! But I think everyone was a little nervous. And I feel the same way…it did go by too quickly. I was so sad when it was over!

  6. I’ve never been to TBEX because even though I blog mostly about travel/expat life, I don’t count myself as a “travel blogger”. I always love reading about other people’s experience of it though.

    I definitely feel like a lot of people feel the same as you – Nervous and a bit overwhelmed at first. I’m the same in most big social situations where I don’t know anyone.

    So glad you ended up enjoying though. 🙂
    Ceri recently posted…My Decision to Leave Korea & Move to Another Country

    1. There were actually bloggers from every level at TBEX. I don’t know if I consider myself a travel blogger either because this site isn’t actually a money-maker for me (though I would love it to be) . But it was still great to hang out with my people! And it was a great experience for me 🙂

  7. I loved reading about your experience at TBEX! I was far too nervous to even consider attending since I’m more of an errant-thoughts-documenter than an actual blogger– I would have felt incredibly out of place– but your post was so reassuring. I’ll have to give it a shot next year because the chance to meet all of my blogging heroes (you included!) sounds too good an opportunity to miss.
    Ashley recently posted…There’s something about Pai

    1. There were all sorts of bloggers at TBEX. And there were so many people there who hadn’t even started a blog yet, so you seriously wouldn’t have felt uncomfortable Ashley! You should definitely go for it next year. Hands down the best part of attending was meeting so many of my favorite bloggers. Me…a blogging hero?! Ha, think that’s a first for me 😉

    1. Ha, I know how you feel. I feel like I’ve been so behind on reading a lot of my favorite travel blogs since attending TBEX! It’s so cool that we got to meet in person!!!

  8. That is a good tip particularly to those new to the blogosphere.
    Short but very precise info… Thanks for sharing this one.

    A must read article!
    Friv recently posted…Friv

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