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…
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.
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.
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 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!
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?