Where we’re at: I’m recapping my summer of 2019, including this trip to Boston in June.
I realize for some this is a difficult time to read about travel. I am writing often about our current global crisis — the impact it’s having on me personally, on the world of travel, and on the world at large — regularly on my social media channels, covering topics like wellness-focused practices, and giving away generously to charities helping those in need.
However, my blog audience has spoken and they have overwhelmingly requested a break from COV-tent (content about, well, you know…), and a place where they can mentally escape right now. So, I will continue to post from my past travels to inspire those who wish to daydream about the day it is safe to travel again. Wishing all of you love and peace in this time of reflection.
Gosh, remember conferences?
While gatherings of the hundreds and thousands of professionals in the same industry to discuss work face-to-face in attire other than sweatpants and in a setting other than Zoom may feel like a memory from a distant lifetime, I for one can’t wait till the day when I can slap on a badge and attend what I call “blogger sleepaway camp” once again.
And I’ll have my chance — for those that didn’t hear the news, the 2020 edition of the incredible industry summit TravelCon in New Orleans was rescheduled for September 18-20. I’m thrilled to say I’ll still be there, taking the stage to discuss my experiences running Wander Women Retreats. I was honored to speak at the first TravelCon in Austin, Texas, and can’t wait to be back sharing everything I’ve learned.
But today, I’m looking back at the second TravelCon, held in Boston in 2019.
I so lucked out with TravelCon 2019. I’d just returned from my biggest trip of the year and returned to Albany, so getting on a plane again was out of the question. But with my family heading to Martha’s Vineyard for July 4th, me hopping off for a few days in Boston en route was workable.
It was in many ways an emotional conference for me personally, but I’m so glad I went. I learned, I connected with blogging friends new and old, and I took what I hope were several healing steps in a heartbreaking year.
It all kicked off at the VIP Speaker’s Reception, which I scored an invite to as a past speaker in 2018.
I was bed-hopping in Boston between staying with my friends Erica Virvo of The Nomadic Network and then Silvia Lawrence of Heart my Backpack at the host hotel, The Westin Copley Place, and it was amazing to give them both huge hugs, along with all the other many friends that I so rarely get to see live and in person. And Boston Harbor ain’t a bad backdrop for a party, eh?
The next day, the conference itself kicked off.
Now, those of you who have been reading my blog long enough know that I’m a total conference nerd, and I’m normally front row at every session with a notebook in hand, ready to get my geek on.
This time, not so much. I only attended a handful of sessions over three days, and it’s quite out of character for me. However, I can look back and see I was in a major funk. As the one year anniversary of caretaking approached, dreaming big about business felt futile. Add in many ways I was still reeling from Rachel’s recent death, and a lot of the weekend for me was about spending time with others who also knew and loved her, and reflecting on her impact on the industry that we shared.
The sessions I did attend were:
• Selling Tours: Going Global, Staying Local with Derek Baron and Jessica Festa: I’ll be leading 2020’s talk on tours, so of course I was eager to see how 2019’s went down (it was packed, and the speakers took questions after for nearly an hour — no pressure!)
• Building a Community on Instagram with Brian Baldrati, Renee Hahnel, and Jess Dales: I love writing for and posting to Instagram but I think I’m pretty bad at it — my engagement is terrible and I never seem to take the steps I need to change that.
• The Hierarchy of Hustle with Gloria Atanmo: I spoke with Gloria on a panel in 2019, so I was proud to see her take the stage solo.
• Keynotes with Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet, Kiersten Rich, blonde behind the Blonde Abroad, and Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild: As a lifetime Lonely Planet fan, I just love Tony and his wife Maureen’s story and think they are the ultimate adventurers! So I loved hearing from them. Kiersten is an icon in travel blogging and who doesn’t want to hear how to create a million dollar brand? And of course, Cheryl just speaks right to the heart — my biggest regret of the conference is not skipping a session to line up and meet her.
And of course, there were tons of happy hours and after-parties, which are a great place to connect with old friends and be introduced to new ones. In an industry where connections are everything (well, I guess that’s kind of every industry, no?) that’s super valuable.
I got closer to Jess of Trip Whisperer, who invited me to visit her in Lebanon — where we are now running a retreat together as a result.
I woke up early one morning for what Kristin of Be My Travel Muse and I joked is now our annual spin and juice date, taking a class at Turnstyle and strolling to a cute cafe after.
I realized not one but two of my upcoming retreat guests were at the conference, and got to introduce the two — a brief little preview to our time together in Egypt.
I had way more dinners, drinks, lunches, breakfasts, and heartfelt hallway hugs with friends than ever.
And Rachel was everywhere, in my mind. Everywhere I went, at this conference for the industry that sparked our five year friendship, there was something that made me think of her, or a story I just had to tell her, or a Nutella milkshake that damn, I knew she would just love.
The last time I saw Rachel was at a conference where we spoke together on the topic of outsourcing. And here, on the final day of TravelCon, I stood up with her other close friend Silvia to read excerpts from some of her blog posts, and talk about her legacy.
I’m grateful to Kiersten and to Matt for giving us the space to pay tribute to Rachel, and to share her words. I think it was the right thing to do.
There are so many inspiring travel conferences out there right now, it would be hard to pick just one (lucky I haven’t had to.) I love TBEX for the nostalgia, I love WITS for being so progressive, and I love TravelCon for majorly leveling up in the travel conference game and showing the industry that influencers can and should be taken seriously.
While at TravelCon I also, to my own surprise, explored a bit of Boston.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of the city. My dad lived here for many years, and then my sister, and my family passes through frequently going to or from Martha’s Vineyard. So I know it pretty well, and what can I say, we’ve just never majorly vibed — outside my affection for the aforementioned Boloco nutella shakes and a few epic yoga teachers and classes I love.
But I ended up on a few adventures regardless.
The first was actually one of my own suggestion. Silvia and I headed over one morning to The Mapparium at the Mary Baker Eddy Library after I’d caught sight of it somewhere, and immediately been shocked I’d never seen it before. We’d soon figure out why. But first, a small world moment, when I ran into a friend from Albany that I hadn’t seen since high school on the street. Ain’t that wild.
We entered, payed our $6 ticket fee, and marveled at our luck for stumbling on such a hidden gem attraction. The three-story stained-glass globe that guests stand in side of is a replica of the world as its lines were drawn in 1935, an exhibit that once sat in the lobby of the Christian Science Publishing Society building. A tour is the only way to view the Mapparium, and they take place seven days a week, running every 20 minutes and lasting 20 minutes.
When we entered, we were warned no photography was allowed during the tour, and I was relieved — we could simply enjoy the show, then snap photos on our way out. As the lights dimmed and an audio and light presentation highlighted the beautiful work and all the ways the world has changed since its inception, I actually nearly shed a tear, my eyes flitting to so many of my favorite corners of the planet we were somehow standing in the middle of.
However, our reverie was somewhat broken when the lights snapped on and we were herded out abruptly. When Silvia and I inquired if we could just take a quick photo, the docent seemed giddy to inform us, we felt pretty haughtily, that photography was strictly banned. When we politely asked why, she looked at us like we were complete idiots. “Copyright!” she insisted, as if that explained everything.
It’s too bad — it kind of left a sour taste in our mouths about the whole thing. I don’t know, maybe it’s kind of sad to admit but it irks me to visit places I can’t take photos of. If we had been given a few moments to take pictures of the magical place at the end of the tour, I would have happily paid three times as much for my ticket. I hope they reconsider their rules.
But I guess if you’re not a total camera-obsessed psycho, it might be nice for you regardless! (Just kidding. I think any travel or history buff would find this incredible. But I still hope they reconsider their photography rules, or at least have a word with that docent.)
Next up, another spontaneous find. The Boston Public Library finally found a way to liven up libraries: with booze! Just kidding, guys, libraries are like, totally a blast sober too. Ahem. Moving on.
The Map Room Tea Lounge is a tea-inspired bar and lounge that draws inspiration from the literature within the building’s hallowed halls. And somehow, after scarfing down overpriced salads in Copley Square, me and a few gals found ourselves there, trading a session for a few sips. It was a good trade.
I’m all about a great cocktail bar, and even moreso about a good theme. And thus, this bar would shoot straight to the top of my list of recommendations for any traveler heading to Boston.
Finally, on my final day in Boston, I spontaneously joined my OG blogging BFF Kristin of Camels and Chocolate and our friend Kaitie, who was at TravelCon representing New Orleans (and is one of the girls who came to my inaugural Red Sea Retreat!) on a little aerial adventure.
Kristin had extra tickets to Skywalk Boston, seven-hundred feet above street level. From the top, we could spot all the city’s landmarks — Hancock Tower, Fenway Park, Boston Common, the Charles River, Harvard, and allegedly, anything else within a hundred miles. Entry is normally $21, so I was not mad that Kristin had us covered.
It was a beautiful spot to catch a Boston sunset.
That evening, we rallied for the final night’s festivities. TravelCon had rented out the the top floor of a multi-story nightclub, the likes of which I actually did not know existed in Boston, which we had to ourselves for a few hours before it was flooded with 21-year old birthday parties and we fled to a more intimate, sophisticated setting.
And by “a more intimate, sophisticated setting” I obviously mean “the first Korean karaoke lounge that showed up on Google Maps.” After a brief upset over the fact that they did not have as robust a Dolly Parton catalogue as I had hoped for, we settled in, spent an obscene amount of multiple bottles of overpriced champagne, and sang the night away.
I might have thrown up in hot yoga the next morning. (In my defense, it was not advertised as a hot class.)
I left Boston grateful for the warmth of this travel community and the loving friendships I have forged here, for seeing a beautiful city through the fresh eyes of others who are seeing it for the first time, for hugs and catchups and much needed giggles, and for the platform that gatherings like this create for us to get up and talk in a public way about loss and love — because it all comes back to love.
And with that, I was back to reality, and off for a week on Martha’s Vineyard with my family.
Next year, TravelCon will be rocking through New Orleans and I can’t wait to be a part of it all again. Sitting in the halls of Boston, I started an ebook (a business focused one, if you can believe it!) that I set myself the goal to have launched and on the market by the time I’m in New Orleans.
So thank you, TravelCon, for all that you do to mentor and elevate the travel blogging industry. Thank you for the inspiration. And thank you for the healing.
See you in September, my travel industry friends <3
Another great post
Now THAT’S what I call a travel conference with a difference. Haw! Haw!
I’ll be coming at ya from NOLA this September!
Globe Trekker, Lonely Planet – The OG’s of travel broadcasters. Amazing!!!
Haha. I really was taken aback by this. Top sitcom material here. Love this, Alex –
“…which we had to ourselves for a few hours before it was flooded with 21-year old birthday parties and we fled to a more intimate, sophisticated setting”.
Haha, thanks for reading Julia 🙂
Love seeing a behind the scenes look at TravelCon! I was looking at tickets this year, but would like to get another year of blogging under my belt before attending. Also don’t feel bad about the hot yoga class. Happens to us all every once in a while. Any tips for someone going to TravelCon that doesn’t know anyone?
Hey Anna! I’d definitely sign up for the free tours they are now offering with TravelCon and also go to the breakout parties for solo travel, adventure travel, etc. They are all smaller groups and awesome ways to make new friends 🙂 Plus, join the Facebook group ahead of time and introduce yourself!