Where we’re at: I’m recapping my travels in 2019, including this trip to Portland, Maine in May for the Women in Travel Summit. Use alex35 to get 35% off at their next one!
I have to admit, I did a double take when the invitation arrived in my inbox.
Sit on a keynote panel? At the Women In Travel Summit, a respected, progressive event in the travel industry? Dang. At first I thought, who, me? But I pushed my imposter syndrome aside and accepted with gratitude the invitation to the 2019 summit in Portland, Maine.
It wasn’t my first trip to the quirky East Coast city. I first visited Portland during a sunny summer trip to Maine for a wedding, to which I brought my mom as my date. We’d only passed through briefly, and had vowed to return. It was bittersweet to do so without her, to an event I know she would have been so proud to see me shine at.
I arrived in Portland the day before the conference, eager to join one of the pre-conference tours generously arranged by the host city. Portland is so cool, and I couldn’t wait to explore! But the five hour drive from Albany, New York had wiped me out, and so I fueled up at the Maine Juice Co. and hunkered down in my hotel room to prepare for the conference instead.
As the Women in Travel Summit is all about lifting up other women, I asked if could have a ticket for my incredible right hand woman Sam, who blogs at There She Goes Again. Anything that goes right here on Alex in Wanderland is basically thanks to her — and thus, thanks to Rachel, who recommended her to me — and so it was a tragedy that we had yet to meet in person beforehand.
Sam and I met for the first time at Mount Desert Ice Cream, one of my many, many ice cream stops in Maine.
We strolled over together to the Wanderful Happy Hour at DiMillo’s On The Water, where I continued my binge of local (blueberry flavored, if possible) delicacies with a Blueberry Cidah. So good, so Maine!
The party took full advantage of Portland’s charming harbor views. Here, we finally connected with our homegirls Angie and Rae of Angie and Rae Away.
Angie and I love speaking together, and were so thrilled when we realized we were getting to spend a whole weekend in each other’s pockets.
The next morning kicked off day one of the conference, and I was impressed from the get-go.
As a speaker, one of my perks was being able to advertise mentor one-on-one meetings. I optimistically opened up three sessions, and was thrilled when all three were snapped right up!
photos courtesy of WITS
I also truly enjoyed the opportunity to try mentoring, which left me with exciting ideas and connected me to some talented women. I had awesome sessions with Everywhereish Dylan, who writes gorgeous content on her blog (seriously, I’m referencing it for my next trip to Mexico) and Mel Had Tea who is legit a tea sommelier and blogger (and how freaking cool is that) and a third woman who writes awesome family cruising content.
Spending three hours straight turning my brain inside out and spilling its contents made me realize dang, I have a lot to share. It was here that I hatched the idea to write an ebook about all that I’ve learned at Wander Women Retreats, which I’m actually speaking on at TravelCon in New Orleans this year.
If you want to join me at TravelCon, by the way, use the code “SPEAKER50” for $50 off.
photos courtesy of WITS
And then, I grabbed my notebook and was off to soak up as much new knowledge and ideas as I could! I loved that the WITS schedule featured a diverse schedule of sessions focusing not just on monetizing travel blogs but on travel itself as well as other creative ways to fund your dreams, like publishing amazon books, freelancing, and more.
That afternoon, I attended an inspiring opening session and a talk on money, budgeting and business — a topic I just needed a little kick-in-the-bum refresher on since letting my accounting get totally off-track after moving back to Albany and taking on a new caretaking role.
That evening kicked off with speaker reception, where my lobster earrings were a huge hit — and where I gifted Angie a similarly underwater-themed accessory for all her Shark Week viewing social needs. What can I say? Gifting is my love language.
Later, we all made our way over to The Grace, which I was beyond thrilled was the site of one of the WITS Opening Party. The converted church, now a fashionable bar, restaurant, and event space, was high on my list to visit in Portland — two birds, one stone, endless questions about the origins of that creepy idiom.
Seriously, how incredible is this place? It was great to run into friends from the travel industry near and far — one of my favorite reasons for putting conferences on my calendar. (Though let’s face it, I’m a conference nerd, so it’s a long list.)
I woke up the next morning buzzing with nerves — our morning keynote was the first thing on the docket! The panel — on if influencer marketing is a bad word — got juicy and real, and that’s just the way I like it.
Moderated by New York Times 52 Places Traveler Jada Yuan, and made up of me, my blogging home slice Angie Orth of Angie Away, and OG travel writer Carol Cain of Girl Gone Travel, our crew took the stage to a full house.
Our keynote panel dove deep on an incredible variety of topics in such a short time span — the negative perception of the word influencer, how women can ask for what they deserve as leaders in the travel industry, the ethics of monetization and maintaining authenticity while building a brand, the biggest mistakes we made in building our businesses, how can we age in this industry and plan for the long term, and mostly, how do we use our influence for good, how to we empower other women, how do we create a more inclusive travel space?
I’m very grateful to my co-speakers for bringing the fire while I mostly used my time onstage to talk about what TV shows I watch. I mean, JK, we all rocked it… but let’s just say Ellen Pompeo came up a lot when I had the microphone.
I actually had my very first moment of mid-session raucous applause while speaking at a conference, and let me tell you, the sound of several sets of two hands slapping together can be truly magical. Here’s what inspired the ovation, and it came straight from the heart:
I’m actually really sick of having this conversation, which has become so prevalent, about if influencer is a bad word.
I’m sick of this word being used as an insult, so often hurled at women, especially hurled at young women who have had the audacity to build successful businesses for themselves.
I’m sick of apologizing for the fact that I’ve become a successful entrepreneur, one with the flexibility to support my family through a difficult time and with the ability to promote my passions for sustainability, and one that gives something valuable and tangible to their community on a regular basis.
The truth is every single person in this room has influence, and the conversation that I’m interested in having is how we can use it for good.
On a high from the morning, I made my way to two more talks: one on podcasting (where I vowed to start my own diving podcast — hold me to it!) and one on publishing books on Amazon (where I vowed to get the Wanderland Guide to Koh Tao up there — hold me to that, too!)
That afternoon, I treated myself to the ultimate speaker reward — an afternoon at Soakology. Actually, it was another bittersweet moment of the trip, as it was a place my mom and I had discovered on our trip and tried to go together. My travels, now and forever, seem full of reminders of her.
She would have loved it. I enjoyed a zen tea in the lobby before heading back to a private area for my foot bath and massage in a big copper and basin . It’s such a well-executed concept — you pick from a menu of themed soaks with tempting add-ons like arm, head and neck massages and nibble or sip on treats from the healthy cafe. If I was a Portland local, I’d be asking for a punch card.
After, Angie and I celebrated with some one-on-one girl time at UNION Restaurant. It’s inside The Press Hotel, the most adorable literary themed-boutique hotel, my first stop if I’m ever lucky enough to return to Portland a third time.
And if I do, I’ll have plenty to keep me busy that I didn’t get to this time: I’d love to try the local Historic Workouts tours, take a seal watching cruise, visit the Portland Museum of Art, go on a SUP adventure with Portland Paddle, and visit the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, the largest in New England. Kinda sounds like it’s time to start planning, no?
But back to Angie. Gosh, I adore my time with this girl. Our friendship is such a blessing to me, and while it transcends the travel industry by a long shot, it really is a life raft in the sometimes lonely sea of entrepreneurship to have someone you can talk to like we do.
photos courtesy of WITS
In conclusion, it was an honor to be a part of the Women In Travel Summit. I left feeling a huge spark of inspiration on so many levels, and not just the head rush of public speaking.
The organizers of the Women In Travel Summit really walk the walk with making WITS an inclusive and diverse conference, which is a breath of fresh air. I loved the sustainable initiatives, like water refill stations instead of plastic bottles and digital conference scheduling apps rather than printed versions. The food was fantastic, the communication was top-notch, and it was over all a wonderfully well planned and executed event.
Also I just loved the community vibe, the conversations, and that people actually talked about travel and not just money — it felt refreshing and like the old days of travel blogging.
The next WITS is in Kansas City May 1-3, 2020. I’m not sure yet if my schedule will allow me to be there but I know that anyone’s who does is in for a treat.
Nab a ticket to WITS for 35% off using the code “alex35.”
Have you ever been to or heard of WITS? Would you attend?