Where we’re at: I’m covering my road trip in the American South in April and May of 2022, including speaking at Travelcon in Memphis.
The rumors are true. After three incredible conferences and one industry-disrupting global pandemic, TravelCon has closed its doors.
For me, it’s an emotional goodbye. TravelCon was run by two close friends of mine, and I’ve been aboard since the beginning — I spoke on a panel at the very first TravelCon in Austin in 2018, attended TravelCon in Boston in 2019, and took the big stage in the main hall this year at TravelCon in Memphis 2022.
So while I’m sad to say goodbye — and have some suggestions on where we go next, at the end of this post — I want to write this to share my experiences and learnings at this year’s event, and to pay tribute to a great idea that elevated our community for five years.
Memphis was my last stop on a three state, three city road trip that started in Mobile, Alabama, meandered up to Tupelo, Mississippi, and ended here in Memphis, Tennessee. Thankfully, Katie of Traveling Spud and I had decided to stick around a few days post-conference to explore, knowing we wouldn’t have time to do The Home of Blues justice while immersed in a conference.
As soon as we touched down, I rushed off to the speaker reception at Beck & Call, a rooftop with perfect fresh-arrival views over the Mississippi River across to Arkansas. The sunset was stunning, as was the warm rush of hugs with old friends and colleagues, many of whom I hadn’t seen since COVID suspended in-person industry events.
After, I met back up with Katie and some travel blog besties like Kristin Luna of Camels and Chocolate, Angie Orth of Angie Away, and Jade Broadus of Vagabond3 for dinner at The Gray Canary. With Kristin being somewhat of a Memphis aficionado, I was happy to take her lead as tour guide.
The next morning we rolled into the conference center bright and early for day one! From the moment I put on my grown up conference clothes, threw that speaker badge around my neck, glued my travel tea mug to my hand (great for reducing event waste!) and strode into a room of hundreds of people buzzing over travel, I couldn’t get over how much I had missed in-person industry events like these.
I was thrilled to be speaking nice and early in the schedule so I could relax and enjoy after — I was literally in the number one session spot. But first; the opening keynote by Pauline Frommer of the famed Frommer guidebook series fame. If you get the chance to hear this woman speak, do it! She’s often at New York travel events open to the public. Her travel “state of the union” was memorable and touching, and I found myself tearing up at touching anecdotes, gasping at facts I wasn’t aware of, and laughing with delight when Pauline confessed she too became a fan of House of Yes — a Brooklyn venue I love — while writing Frommer’s New York’s nightlife update.
And then it was time for my own talk, How To Grow Your Business With Small Group Tours. I was taking the stage with my friend Derek of Wandering Earl, which was a pretty wild honor considering I had been sitting front row in his 2018 version of this talk, notebook in hand, eager to launch Wander Women Retreats — and now here I was, speaking alongside him about the success of it!
I started speaking at conferences back in 2015, but this felt like a milestone. We were in the keynote session room, and as I got up on that big stage and took the microphone, I felt confident in the knowledge I had to share with our audience. I did all the things I always wish speakers do — showed real numbers, provided actionable insights, and was just absolutely hilarious, of course.
I also soft-launched a one-on-one consulting product for bloggers hoping to start their own tours and retreats, and it has been amazing to connect with so many who took me up on the special show offer since! This is a booming business, and I love learning the ins and outs of other people’s businesses. If you’d be interested in a wider release, let me know.
The afternoon keynote was another highlight. I’m a longtime fan of Pico Ayer’s poetic travel writing, and loved being taken on a journey by his inspiring, meandering talk.
That night, it was time to celebrate at the conference opening party on Beale Street — The Bourbon Street of Memphis. We took a street car down, which I loved, but ran late and missed the TravelCon parade down the street, which I didn’t. Oh well!
We immediately loved the vibe and energy of Beale Street, one of those amazing come-as-you-are, unpretentious centers of music, neon, and good times.
Our fearless host Matt of Nomadic Matt had rented one of the bars — and we got to toast to his ambitious work in creating this conference there.
So, Angie and I have yet to meet a karaoke stage we could walk away from. In this case, it was for once location appropriate — as I learned that Black Velvet, my go-to karaoke song, is actually about Memphis, Tennessee!
Once we learned that, legally, we were required to perform it as a passionate duet. Can’t think of a better night closer than that!
One of my favorite parts of TravelCon? Introducing two of my besties! I knew Katie and Angie would hit it off and they did — and I had the best time hanging with them.
As you’ll see in this post, I had some major delinquency issues documenting the conference itself — but not the after parties, ha! I absolutely loved the fun music and jovial vibe of Beale Street, and am so glad we got to experience a night out there as part of the weekend.
The next day, we may have paid for our debauchery. Still, I proudly attended many sessions!
I was on a friend-talk crashing binge. The previous day, I’d sat in while Alle Pierce of Alle Abroad discussed being fearless on camera, and now attended as Valerie Wilson of Trusted Travel Girl discussed working with luxury brands and Kristin and Angie discussed pitching do’s and don’ts.
Once again, the keynotes were a huge highlight. Nicole Walters, who I was previously unfamiliar with gave an inspiring opening talk on creativity, while I totally fan-girled in the front row while Katalina Mayorga of El Camino Travel gave a talk about starting membership programs — something I may explore in the future for Wander Women Retreats! The best part of conferences? I got to speak with her personally, and was so delighted that meeting one of my industry heros was even more rewarding than I could have imagined.
That evening, we continued with our no-naps lifestyle (crazy really, when you consider how much Katie and I love naps) and went hard on the party hopping.
TravelCon features some really cool niche travel meetups, and we opted for the solo female travel one hosted by Seeker at Loflin Yard. This spot was one of my fave discoveries of the conference — a beautiful outdoor space with a mini waterfall, frosé, and an expansive view of the Southern sunset. Plus, Katie and Jess and I got to have a little Wander Women Lebanon reunion. Yes please!
After a million smiles and introductions, we poured ourselves into a cab to head to the Adthrive Happy Hour at BarWire. It was a bopping party! I planned to make some new business connections, but in classic conference style ended up catching up with besties instead. When I realized I’d missed most of the beautiful passed plates making the rounds of the room, I jumped at the chance to join one of the old school travel blogger crews next door at Gus’s Fried Chicken. I so vividly remember my first travel conference and feeling so out of my element — at TBEX Colorado! — so it’s wild to be a regular speaker and one of the veterans now.
Maybe it was the company; maybe it was the bottle of Vueve on the menu alongside fried chicken and mac n’ cheese — this was my favorite meal of the trip. (And those are definitely tax write-offs, right?)
The third day of the conference had arrived, and like each of the days, any coherent thoughts or conversations I had were fueled by my morning stop at Comeback Coffee, one of very few options within walking distance of the conference center.
I loved this space, and this menu — don’t sleep on their weekend bites from Kinfolk Memphis!
I attended sessions on building a team, one of my big focuses this year, and taxes, one of my pain points every year.
And before I could work the lyrics of Walking in Memphis into one more conversation, it was time for the TravelCon Closing Party at Carolina Watershed! This venue was so fun, with an industrial feel, creative cocktails and space for an amazing live local band. If you’re headed to Memphis, I’d totally make this part of an outdoor bar crawl with nearby Loflin Yard.
So wow — this was the end of TravelCon. It’s hard to say goodbye to something great, but also a good feeling to know something went out on a high note. Naturally, once the announcement was made, there was a lot of conversation about where we go next.
For me, the answer was a clear one — I found myself over and over again throughout the weekend singing the praises of the Women In Travel Summit. I was honored to be on a keynote panel at their 2019 event in Portland, Maine, and was just blown away by the quality of the event. Well produced, inspiring, and truly aligned in values, the Women In Travel summit walks the talk in sustainability, diversity, and dignity for women all over the world in all aspects of the travel industry. I made great connections, learned a lot and even hired another speaker!
And just like my girl Hillary famously said in 1995 that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights,” women’s conferences are human conferences and human conferences are… whatever, you get my point. All are welcome at WITS.
I’m hoping to be at their next summit in Puerto Rico in 2023. If you would like $125 off your ticket, use the code ALEX125 or click here!
TravelCon, thank you for the memories, the connections, the karaoke, and the inspiration! You gave a lot of people a lot to be proud of.
Has your industry re-started in-person events? How did it feel?
Many thanks to TravelCon for hosting me in Memphis and for being a great leader in the travel industry for five incredible years.