I remember my first TBEX travel blogging conference well. I had never been to a blogging event before and was front row with a notebook and pen at every session, totally starstruck by all the successful creative bloggers in my midst. I left feeling inspired and heart-warmed by all the people I met who shared my insatiable desire to explore and to create.
Three years later, I was humbled to find myself hopping on a plane to Bangkok to speak at the first Asian edition of the conference, in a country that’s become a second home to me.
I had really only just settled back on Koh Tao — picked out an apartment, bought a bike and barely caught up with my friends — when I turned around and headed back towards the Thai capital. The six day extravaganza began with a speakers’ reception at Suan Pakkad Palace, and featured traditional Thai dances, a street food gallery and a welcome speech from Bangkok’s governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra. I was thrilled to reconnect with old friends, meet a few new ones, and kick off the conference.
As with every TBEX, there were simply too many parties, gatherings and overlapping events happening to even entertain the idea of trying to hit all of them. But as always, I made the Travel Massive party a priority and slipped out of the speaker’s reception early to head to Cloud47 sky bar with a few other defectors.
One of the fun bonuses about attending TBEX are the pre-BEX and post-BEX tours offered to attendees at no cost, designed to show off the host city to its new guests. Having been to Bangkok dozens of times I’d ticked most of the offered tours, sights and experiences off my list already, but couldn’t resist checking out one of the city’s top spas.
My morning at RarinJinda was the perfect way to destress from my public speaking jitters. And I now have a high-end massage alternative to recommend in Bangkok for when the $6 cheapies just won’t cut it.
That night, we gathered again for an elaborate opening reception at the conference location itself, the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center. I was thrilled to meet so many fellow bloggers, and was touched by how many mentioned they’d read my Thailand coverage in preparation for this very trip!
While there’s no shortage of information about this favorite Southeast Asian country on the interwebs, it has a very special place in my heart and I love helping people find their own perfect version of it.
The next morning, we got down to business. With two days of keynotes and six breakout sessions to chose between, I had a lot of tough calls to make. While I know many conference attendees — across every industry — often see events like this as more about mingling and networking than actually attending the sessions, I’ve always been one of those front-row, note-taking kind of girls.
That said, I found that speaking meant less time for listening! Of course one of my six breakouts was reserved for my own panel (and of course, the sessions I was most interested in attending ran simultaneously with my own!), while two other blocks were taken up my prepping with my co-speaker and chatting to conference organizers about various logistics.
goofing around with Diana and Leah, my roomie for the week
When the big moment came, I was a bundle of nerves. This was my third true public speaking effort — the first was a talk I gave at the Women Diver’s Hall of Fame luncheon at the Beneath The Sea diving convention in 2014 and the second was a panel I sat on for the PRSA Travel and Tourism Conference in 2015 — and I hadn’t been thrilled with my performance at the last two.
I was super relieved not to be onstage alone — my friend and colleague Katie Hammel and I were co-speaking about both the blogger and brand sides of a successful business relationship. We’d prepared a detailed presentation including case studies of brands I’ve partnered with in the past giving all the dirty details — how I landed the job, how much I got paid, and what the results were. I hate talks that dodge the hard facts, so we were determined to give as many of them as possible.
And you know what? It went great. Our turnout could have been better, but we were going up against some pretty fantastic fellow speakers, so I didn’t take it personally (but why is it easier to speak to a full room than an empty one, anyway?!) I stumbled over my words once or twice but recovered fairly well, and Katie and I actually had fun bouncing off each other during our presentation. And at the end, I was overwhelmed by the great feedback we received from the audience members who came up to say hi. What an exhilarating feeling to face your fears! It’s been a relief to see that public speaking is indeed something that gets progressively easier over time.
The three other sessions I managed to attend included a Pinterest seminar by Natalie Discala, a sales talk by my friend Lee Abbamonte, and discussion on multiple income streams by Tim Leffel. I also attended the keynotes by Anton Diaz of Our Awesome Planet (who proudly announced the next TBEX Asia in his home city of Manila!) and Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads.
Jodi in particular brought down the house — her closing keynote on storytelling left me bubbling over with inspiration!
The final night of the conference brought one more event — an outdoor carnival-inspired back at Asiatique. This Disney-eque entertainment center has been on my Bangkok wishlist for some time now, so I was thrilled by this particular party location, and can’t wait to return in the future to check out some of the restaurants in the area and take a spin on the Mekhong wheel.
The highlight of the evening? A fireworks show set off from a barge in the river right in front of us!
But last call on the party didn’t quite mean last call on the night. We always laugh in Koh Tao that once you’ve lived there, you never travel Southeast Asia alone again, a maxim that proves itself true for me over and over again — I’ve ran into Koh Tao friends riding motorbikes in Bali, sitting down at a movie theater in Bangkok, and walking down the street in Chiang Mai.
So it was absolutely no surprise to me when four of my closest friends in Koh Tao happened to be in Bangkok for three completely separate reasons that evening. Never ones to pass up a moment together, we met up to toast to our various weekend victories and plot our returns to our favorite little island. We bounced around the city but eventually ended up at WTF Bar, a Bangkok institution that had eluded me over several attempts to get through the oft-closed doors. Wonderful Thai Friendship (what did you think it stood for?) was well worth the wait to visit, and I highly recommend it to all art and cocktail lovers who visit this fine city.
After several years of scheduling conflicts and priority juggling, I loved plugging back into the TBEX scene. It felt great to connect with old friends and meet new ones, some of whom left me blushing with their kind words about my work (and darn if getting appreciated by your peers isn’t the greatest feeling in the world). I was grateful for the opportunity to flex my public speaking skills and appreciative of the time to reflect on where my business is headed and to narrow my focus to get there. Most of all, I was inspired by the ideas, trials and triumphs of my fellow entrepreneurs.
I have come so far and have so far still to go on this particular blogging journey. What a wild ride to be on! Here’s hoping I can continue riding the wave all the way to TBEX Asia ’16 in the Philippines.
Do you geek out over conferences and conventions in your field like I do? Confess in the comments!