Where we’re at: I’m recapping my brief travels in the fall of 2018.
As my plane touched down in Texas, I internally cheered. I’d just made it one step closer to my goal of someday visiting all nifty fifty — the Lone Star State was #23.
And who doesn’t want to visit Austin, what with all the staying weird they do?
The honor of speaking at the inaugural edition of TravelCon was the why behind my trip. Again, like with TBEX, my plans to arrive early and explore the area were largely scrapped as I cut my travel to the essentials to be home for my mom’s cancer treatments, but with my schedule on lockdown for the foreseeable future, I was more motivated than ever to make the most of the time I did have.
So from yoga classes to fried chicken to manicures, I sought out all the things that make me smile… with a uniquely Texan flare.
I kicked off my stay in Austin at the Aloft, which was cute as a button, as the brand always is. Getting out of the house and into the real world, I immediately realized I was not looking conference cute, and looked for a local salon to set me straight.
After an afternoon at the super chic Milk + Honey I walked out marveling at how much a manicure and pedicure could make me feel like myself again, but sadly I can’t recommend it as it was very expensive and really didn’t last — I was chipped before I boarded my return flight (and ain’t that a metaphor).
I ended the night exactly how I needed to: with a candlelight vinyasa class at Wanderlust Austin, a truly stunning yoga studio and one I’d be a regular at if I were a local. And, just so I didn’t veer too far into sainthood (ha) I stuffed my face with pizza in my hotel bed for dinner.
The next day, after a morning of deeply appreciated, peaceful work time, I was eager to make the most of my final hours before the VIP Speaker reception really fired things up that evening. I set off for lunch at Lucy’s in Burnet, which I’d heard had some of the best fried chicken around — no way was this girl heading south of the Mason Dixon and not eating a biscuit.
I wandered around Burnet, scooping out the area’s several vintage and resale shops and trying to walk off the homemade banana pudding I’d impulse ordered.
Finally, I made my way to a buti yoga class at Bready and Body Yoga (which has since relocated) — buti is one of those movement practices I always look for when I’m in a new city. It feels so good in my body! If there’s not one near you, you can always check out their online streaming classes to get a feel for the vibe, too.
Back in downtown, it was time to move over to the conference hotel — the JW Marriott. One of my major conference regrets is that I never got the chance to hang by the rooftop pool here (which sounds like one of several dozen reasons to go back, if you ask me.)
Instead, I took what was more or less my last hour of free time and got a massage right at the hotel spa — a major indulgence but one I had never been more grateful for. I hadn’t yet really properly figured out how to transfer my mom in and out of her wheelchair at this point, and my back was begging to be reset by a professional. It was glorious.
The speaker’s reception was held on a rooftop downtown, and wow did it feel like a class reunion! Matt really did crush it with a rockstar lineup for his inaugural year — I was very honored to be among them.
It was amazing to meet up with so many old friends and as usual, connect with one or two new people in person that I’d previously only known online. I was still gabbing away when the party was over! When they dragged me away, I headed out with my blogging besties Kristin and Angie for a low key dinner at Austin Fareground Food Hall.
My co-speaker Kristin and I (another Kristin!) made a pact to get up for a shockingly early spin class the next morning at SoulCycle followed by açaí bowls at Blenders & Bowls, and I was super glad we did. I love finding I have a true connection with someone in the blogging world.
Again I have to give such major kudos to TravelCon. This was the toughest conference I’ve ever been to in terms of narrowing down what sessions I wanted to attend. I am always a full stop conference nerd, attending literally every session — though I do bring my laptop and tend to sit in the back in case it turns out it’s over simplified or over my head or just not as relevant as I expected.
However, the first breakout session was an easy call for me on what panel to attend — I made a beeline for How to Monetize Your Business with Tours by Wandering Earl. He was really one of the pioneers in the influencers leading tours space — and having freshly launched Wander Women Retreats at the time, I was eager to learn from someone so very knowledgeable. I got a ton out of this session — and I wasn’t the only one. It was a packed house!
Next up, I hit Time Management with Chris Oldfield, who works for Matt. Having been a friend of Matt for many years — and having had him try to assist me with the crisis that is my own personal time management skills many times — I had heard a lot of this before, but it’s always great to get a refresher.
After an insanely lush lunch right at the host hotel, I was off to cheer on my girls! My blogging besties Kristin Luna and Angie Orth led a packed house panel on How to Create A Brand Ambassador Program that I found myself nodding along with the whole time (unsurprising, considering both these ladies have hired me for projects in the past!) I rounded out the day with the Local Initiatives in Sustainable Travel panel.
That night, I had dinner with my old friends at Travel Manitoba at Second Bar and Kitchen, conveniently located across the street from our hotel. I absolutely adored my campaign to their province back in 2016, and it was so cool to get all of their content creators since together around one table. I loved comparing notes on our various trips and getting to connect for the first time with some fellow creatives who’s work I so admire, like Brenna of This Battered Suitcase and Nadine of Hey Nadine. (And while I know so many of my posts have a heaviness to them now, I admit that it tugs at my heart strings to write this paragraph, since Rachel and I had pitched a girl’s trip to Manitoba that I discussed with them around this very dinner table, and that we’ll never get the chance to take, now.)
Actually, since laughter is so healing, funny story that Rachel truly loved — everyone always talks about how awkward they can be at conferences and I am no exception. I got in the elevator with Nadine earlier and, having never met her before, cheerily said, “Hey, Nadine!” because I feel like I know her… from the internet. Face palm. Luckily I was saved by complete mortification by her casually replying, “hey Alex!” since apparently I live on her internet too. Phew.
After dinner, I headed to the opening party at The Belmont before retreating back to Halcyon for open-flame s’mores (please, bars of the world, take note.) The parties at TravelCon were so fun, and reminded me of the early days of travel blogging.
The next morning, I was back to conferencing bright and early! I happily hustled down for Oneika Raymond of Oneika The Traveller’s keynote before listening in on Kiersten Rich of The Blonde Abroad‘s packed room for How To Build a Six Figure Brand.
I was glad I was so engrossed in the morning’s sessions, because it kept my mind off my nerves for my own panel! I was super honored to be speaking with Kristin Addis of Be My Travel Muse and Glo of The Blog Abroad about How To Market to a Solo Female Audience. I marveled at our standing room only session and was proud of the diverse but unified backgrounds, stories, and messages we brought to the table for those who attended.
We discussed our journeys as bloggers, our various wins and winces in our attempts to diversify our income, and where we think the industry is headed next. We spilled secrets, shared numbers, and pretty much shed tears! It was heartfelt — and the post-panel hugs with the audience were the best part.
After our panel I rushed out to a lunch hosted by Mediavine, my display ad partner here on Alex in Wanderland, who I really appreciated getting to connect with face to face.
Then, it was time to go! The conference was only half over — and I hate doing things halfway — but I had a very important wedding to attend in Long Island the next day. So I tore myself away with the promise that I’d be there for the entirety of every TravelCon I could in the future.
TravelCon was special — I loved getting to reconnect with so many dear friends and finally put hugs to a name with so many others in the travel industry. I learned a lot and I hope that I too passed on some wisdom in my presentation with my incredible co-speakers.
Frankly, I had some anxiety about attending both TBEX and TravelCon this month. Had I not been speaking at them, I might have backed out. My life had changed so much so quickly and I agonized over how to answer the inevitable “how’s your mom?” questions from people who knew what was up and “what’s your next big adventure?” from those who didn’t.
There were some difficult emotional moments but overall they were outweighed by the love I felt from my travel industry community. I have been really humbled over the past year by my peers who have reached out, offered help or kindness, or just let me know they were thinking about me in this time of great uncertainty. I absorb every ray of sunshine sent my way.
Did I do Austin justice? No. A lot of how I spent my time was dictated more by conference or convenience than what my dream trip to Austin would look like. Still, I look forward to exploring more of Texas someday, but this was a pretty great peek at my 23rd state.
More importantly, it might have been just a quick couple of days, but you know what? They made me feel like me. In fact, it was in my hotel room in Austin that I finally broke out of my two months blogging hiatus with a blog post. It felt great. And I’ve been trying to keep things rolling, when and where my life allows, ever since. Cause I love you guys.
Now, since I’m so behind on blogging, the second TravelCon has actually already come and gone! (It was held earlier in the year, in 2019.) I’ll get to that at some point too, ha. In the meantime, brace yourself for New Orleans in May of 2020. I’ll be there.
See you at the next TravelCon!