Where we’re at: I’m recapping my brief travels in the fall of 2018.
Last September, I basically took a huge sharpie to my calendar and crossed out the month, writing “weddings and conferences!!!” across the whole of it. With speaking gigs at both TBEX and TravelCon and the weddings of two very close family friends — not to mention my second Wander Women Retreat, in Martha’s Vineyard — the month was completely packed from the get-go.
And I was heartened to kick it off in Corning, New York.
Those stars on my badge indicate this was my fourth TBEX conference. I first attended back in 2012 in Keystone, Colorado (still my most magical TBEX ever, I think), continued in Toronto in 2013, was totally tickled to be asked to speak at the first ever TBEX Asia in Bangkok in 2015, and then was very honored to be asked to speak again at TBEX North America in ’18, in my home state backyard of The Finger Lakes.
That said, this is not going to be your standard conference recap post. In May, I lost my dear friend and the blogging community lost a true inspiration in Rachel Jones of Hippie in Heels. Rachel was one of my co-speakers at this event, and we were so thrilled to share this time. Needless to say, this will be an emotional post as I look back on one of our last trips together — to a destination that, even more poignantly, we were meant to return to together the week I learned of her passing.
The mid-week conference was based in Corning, New York, a destination I know and love. I’d planned to spend the weekend prior in Rochester, visiting my older sister Margaret, but given the extenuating circumstances, I was in trip shortening mode all over the place. Still, I couldn’t come so close and not see her — so I drove up one night before the conference began.
And while apparently the only photos I took were some very unpublishable selfies with her amazing dog and this iPhone picture of the incredible veggie egg skillet I had at a diner around the corner from her house the next morning, it was a wonderful stopover. I’m sad that I haven’t been able to spend more time with my two older half-sisters this year, considering how close we now are geographically, but I have really felt and deeply appreciated their emotional support from afar.
The next day I hit the road and made it to Corning in time for the speaker’s reception at Heron Hill Winery. In typical TBEX fashion, it was a beautiful event that gave the speakers an opportunity to network, while being introduced to the best of the host destination.
In my case, I knew the wine scene of the Finger Lakes well (though I do need to hit the local Wine Museum on my next trip!) But this event also introduced me to the area’s distilleries, craft breweries, and even cideries — all part of the Southern Finger Lakes Beverage Trail. Yet another reason to come back. This may have been where Rachel and I first concocted our return trip.
It was so great to see so many of my favorite faces and connect with so many old friends. It also felt refreshingly normal — it was such a surreal time full of so much change and uncertainty, to do something as familiar feeling as this was a breath of fresh air.
Another thing TBEX does a great job of is arranging pre-BEX day trips that really further acquaint you with the destination. Having been to the area before, I had visited a lot of the top billing attractions — yet there was still so much to see and do.
However, my choice was easy the moment I saw Goat Yoga on the list of options. Be still my heart! I quickly roped Rachel and our friends Angie and Rachel into joining us, and we were off to the farm.
We were quickly charmed by the ZiegenVine Homestead, which boasted idyllic views of the nearby valley, a family of friendly goats, and regular goat yoga classes, this one held exclusively for us.
I’ve been to goat yoga before, but I love how unique every class is. My favorite part of this one? The owners so cutely handled the fact that, um, goats use the bathroom often — and sometimes, that ends up being on your mat. So they were ready to rock with cleaning supplies, and made it into a game — first one to get goat sprinkles on their mat won themselves some of the handmade goat soap that they sell on the farm!
As usual, the class was a mix of yoga poses, giggles, photos, and enjoying the beautiful outdoors.
I was so happy having all my favorite girls around me to experience this fun Finger Lakes moment. Rachel had been very concerned the class would be above her skill level and I had to reassure her many times it was going to be beginner friendly for sure! Every time I looked over, however, she was making hysterical faces at me — and I was cracking up.
Of course, I couldn’t help but bust out a few badass yogi moves when the class was over. Show off, I know.
I love about goat yoga what I love about all yoga that doesn’t take itself too seriously — it’s a great way to get people outside, get them moving, and perhaps introduce them to something that they might have found intimidating or unapproachable in the past.
After the class, we enjoyed home brewed tea and a presentation from Healing Spirits Herb Farm. I really enjoyed hearing from owner Matthias about how the plants grown right here in Upstate New York can be used to benefit the mind and body.
We have so much to learn from the natural world.
I absolutely loved this afternoon in the Finger Lakes, learning about some of the area’s unique and hands-on farm experiences.
Back in Corning, the girls and I were keen to keep the healthy vibes flowing — and so we stopped for lunch at Tossed in downtown. I’d definitely be a regular here if I were a local!
After an afternoon of catching up on work, we made our way to the official conference opening party at Watkins Glen International, apparently one of the most sought after auto-racetracks in the world. The party was spread across the track, so that different bars, food stations, and entertainment were set up in the various decks, clubs and suites.
My favorite part of the night, other than toasting with my girls? An apple tasting of New York State apples in the cute little “Farmer’s Market” they’d set up.
And then, it was down to business.
I skipped the opening keynote in order to prepare for my session, but arrived for the first breakout panels, for which I chose to attend Sustainable Travel and Making a Positive Impact on the World. I’m always drawn to the conservation panels at these events, though this one was more about personal impact than our actions as bloggers, which I would love to see addressed in the future.
Then, onto our talk!
I’ve become so much more comfortable with public speaking over the years, but it can always be a little nerve-racking — which is why I was so grateful to have Angie and Rachel alongside me! Angie and I pitched this panel together after dreaming it up long ago, and as Rachel and I became closer and closer business confidants, I knew that she would round out the panel perfectly — so we asked her to join us.
Our topic? The Power of Outsourcing for the Business of Blogging, and why, how and where of outsourcing tasks in order to grow your business can free up more time for high-value tasks. I was super proud that even going up against some rockstar competing panels, we had a packed room. We each brought a unique perspective, with Angie talking about hiring a full time employee, I discussing using a management company in the past, and Rachel talking about having a high-level assistant with a lot of autonomy over her business.
Honestly, adjusting back into my work life without Rachel has been staggering. We grew so close in the last year of her life (which is just so shocking, still, to type — who could ever imagine it would be?), and rarely did a day pass by that we didn’t touch base on business, love, travel, our dogs, our families, or the big milestones coming up in our lives (we were both turning thirty, and Rachel was getting married). I miss our conversations dearly and only recently have I stopped picking up my phone to tell her something.
We sometimes joked we were work wives. I guess now that makes me a work widow.
But, back to happier times.
After a fun food truck lunch and some speed networking (in which Rachel and I pitched several co-campaigns we’d planned out to some of our dream destinations!), I made it to one more breakout session. I’d ambitiously selected Advanced Email Marketing and Building Sales Funnels, which I think I need to learn but honestly was a tad over my beginner email marketing head.
By the end of the day, I was ready to celebrate. I love getting my speaking obligations over on the first day of a conference, so you can relax and enjoy after! It was a free night to explore Corning, and my little conference crew and I headed straight over to a DK Eyewitness party at The Rockwell Museum. I’ve previously visited this bright and colorful little spot, which features art all about the American Experience, and is the only Smithsonian affiliate in upstate New York. I’m so glad this trip involved another stroll through it — especially since it also included wine and cheese boards!
After, we snuck away for dinner with Rob of Two Travel Dads at The Cellar, one of the many options in Corning’s cute Gaffer District, full of adorable boutiques, restaurants, and a notable number of beauty salons (seriously, Corning must be a well groomed bunch).
The next day, it was back to the Corning Museum of Glass for another long and inspiration-filled day at the conference.
I made it just in time for the opening keynote from a both a Booking.com executive and OG travel bloggers Dave and Deb from The Planet D. During the day, between speed dating meetings and catch up with friends, I made it to the following three breakout sessions:
• Five Things to Know About Facebook Today by Eden Rudin. I do try to stay engaged with my Facebook page, and would love to be savvier about it. There were a lot of good ideas here!
• What Media Buyers are Looking for When Developing and Implementing Influencer Marketing Campaigns by Ted Rooke. This one was kind of fun — a look from the industry side at what media buyers are looking for when they develop influencer campaigns turned into a bit of a scandal when the audience didn’t love something the presenter said about guaranteeing page views.
• Hastag Paydirt by Ciaran Blumenfeld. This was about how AI is using hashtags across various social media platforms. It’s something I don’t feel like I know much about and would like to be a bit savvier regarding!
Finally, the closing keynote. I was particularly inspired by Mickela Mallozzi’s story of perseverance in getting her Emmy-award winning travel show to fruition. Talk about perseverance.
I was so happy that the conference’s closing party was taking place right at the Corning Museum of Glass, since despite running around there for a few days, I’d barely been able to really soak it in. Of course, I visited the museum extensively on a previous visit, but it’s one that you could never really check off completely.
This truly is a destination museum worth traveling for, and one I’m still eager to come back and experience a third time. Corning has become such a epicenter for the “fire arts,” a term I learned on this trip — as someone who loves the opportunity to try anything artistic hands on, I can’t wait to try more of the area’s workshops and classes.
Rachel and I strolled the galleries and had a serious heart to heart about everything that was going on with my mom before crying and hugging it out and heading back to the winding down party. At which point we kicked off my favorite kind of after party — a bottle of the local wine from our welcome bag, a bunch of bloggers in the host hotel hot tub, and plenty of laughs about the days behind us to go around.
It’s very bittersweet to write this post, and look back and reflect on this precious time I shared with a dear friend I never could have dreamed I’d lose so soon. But I’m so, so grateful for these precious memories. I got the shattering call about her passing just days before I was meant to hop in the car and meet her back in Corning, one of the many we’d planned together and had on the calendar for the year ahead.
This place will forever remind me of her, now. A beautiful place for a beautiful soul.
I’ve written a bit about Rachel here and there, when I feel able to form coherent thoughts. I still struggle to make sense of it all. I wonder if that will ever go away. Mostly though, I just miss her, and I know that never will.
This one’s for you, my sweet friend.