Thoughts on TBEX Toronto

by Brenna Holeman


A Slightly Awkward Photo of Caroline, Jackie, Julie, Matt, and I 

I’ve taken my time writing this post – TBEX was over two weeks ago now, and I’ve already read quite a few other articles about what people felt about their time at one of the most popular conferences for travel bloggers and travel professionals.

First and foremost, I would like to be clear: I had a great time at TBEX. I met some wonderful people and I learnt a lot. What I learnt, however, is not necessarily what the conference perhaps intended me to learn.

I saw some great speakers in those two days of workshops, breakout sessions, and keynote speeches; Trey Ratcliff, Mike Sowden, Pam Mandel, Leif Pettersen, Dave and Deb, and Ross Borden from Matador Network all spring to mind. I liked hearing these people speak not only because I liked what they were saying, but because they seemed to genuinely care about the art and creativity of blogging and writing. As for all of the talk of monetization and SEO and sponsored trips, however…

Technically, I am an experienced blogger. I have been blogging for ten years now, and had this blog for over three. I am, however, completely inexperienced when it comes to monetizing my blog, pitching myself to DMOs (Destination Marketing Organization, don’t worry, I didn’t know what that meant either), or even networking. What I realized that weekend at TBEX, though, is that I don’t want to be experienced at that stuff. I don’t want advertising. I don’t want sponsored posts. I don’t want free trips.

I know, I know. I may be shooting myself in the foot for future employment opportunities, but I know that I’m currently not comfortable writing sponsored content on this blog (but I don’t judge people who are). Don’t get me wrong – I would love to write for other travel companies, publications, and websites, and TBEX did teach me about the right way to pitch to an editor. Originally, though, I started This Battered Suitcase purely as a way for me to record my thoughts and my photos, and I knew that at times it would be just another online journal of some naval-gazing twenty-something obsessed with travel. And it’s grown, definitely. I don’t have the numbers on Twitter or Facebook, but, as some of the speakers at TBEX would be delighted to hear, I do have a nice amount of readers every month. And when I say a nice amount, I actually mean I’m happy with the amount of readers I have. On the first day of the conference, I heard somebody say, “Well let’s be honest; we all got into blogging to make money.” I couldn’t disagree with that statement more. Not ONCE did I think about making money off this blog, and the only reason it is on my radar now is because I get so many emails from companies asking me to advertise for them. It’s hard to explain why I wouldn’t want the extra money, especially to my family and friends, but, at this point, I don’t think it would suit my style of travelling or suit my style of blogging. I totally understand why those sessions were held at TBEX, but they weren’t for me, and I should have only attended content-based sessions. Maybe one day I’ll find a match in a company or DMO, but for now I’m content with what I’m doing.

As for the networking aspect of TBEX, I found it a bit overwhelming. Where the parties and social events were supposed to be for mingling, I didn’t actually meet that many people. I preferred it this way, however, as the people I did meet, I made great connections with. I met some incredible other bloggers: Jackie from Jackie Travels, Caroline from Caroline in the City, Julie and Matt from The Travelling Munschkin, Tom from Waegook Tom, and so many more. I also met a ton of the Matador Network crew, who were all incredibly witty and wise, not to mention fun (go ahead and call me a brown-noser, but I enjoyed every conversation I had with people from their team. They also threw the best parties of the weekend). In the end, I only really felt in my element at the smaller events, where everyone seemed really open and eager to talk (like the infamous Matador party at the Loose Moose). Otherwise, I simply felt that there wasn’t enough time to talk to people; I barely got past the introduction phase with a lot of people with whom I would have loved more time.

In conclusion, my time at TBEX was…confusing, but fun. I enjoyed most of the speakers and I loved meeting other writers and photographers. Overall, however, the conference was a bit too big for my liking. I felt a bit lost in the shuffle, and that there was a tad too much focus on the corporate side of things. By Sunday night, I just felt exhausted, and not as inspired as I wanted to be. I don’t want to sound entirely negative; as I stated earlier, I had a good time at the conference. I also think that I am to blame – I could have made a point to talk to even more people, to steer the conversations away from blogging and back onto what we all love (travel, duh), and to attend only content-based sessions that focus on writing and photography, since that’s what I’m interested in. I’m still considering attending TBEX in Dublin later this year, but only because I’d like to meet some more European bloggers (as I’ll be living in London by then). I also know that I will be much more considerate in choosing which sessions to attend.

I hate to flog a dead horse here (seriously, I am not applying for a job at Matador), but my favourite event of the entire week was Matador Network’s Talk and Rock Toronto, held on the Wednesday night before TBEX. There were only about 60 of us there, and editors Josh Johnson and David Miller talked about storytelling and travel journalism. The presentations were heartfelt, there was room for an open forum and participation from the audience, and there was plenty of chatting and getting to know one another afterward. It was great, and I left there smiling, my mind buzzing with ideas.

Which brings me back to what I said earlier about learning a lot at TBEX: what I learnt, perhaps, is what kind of blogger I’d like to be. I love to write about travelling, to share my own personal stories, and to post photos I’ve taken of the world. I don’t often write destination-specific advice posts because, frankly, there are thousands of other blogs that do that, and I don’t think you read this blog for those types of articles. I write because it’s fun, because I like it, because I want to and need to. Maybe I don’t have a lot of clout (or Klout, ugh) in this industry, but that’s never going to stop me from doing what I love.

Proof that I really did have fun…especially with Tom!

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Jay June 18, 2013 - 4:58 am

Great, honest post Brenna.

And I hear you on the not wanting free trips, sponsored posts, etc. etc.

This Battered Suitcase June 19, 2013 - 3:13 am

Thank you, Jay! I just don’t even know where to begin with that stuff, and so far it doesn’t appeal…

Jackie DesForges June 18, 2013 - 5:14 am

I think we were pretty good at this whole travel blogging conference thing. Particularly the parts that involved dancing.

This Battered Suitcase June 19, 2013 - 3:15 am

If the conference was called, “Drink Too Much Wine and Share Secret Jokes and Dance To Songs We Hate But Will Dance To Anyway”…we would have been named CEOs.

Mikeachim June 18, 2013 - 3:48 pm

Thanks for attending my session, Brenna. 🙂 (This is Mike Sowden of Fevered Mutterings + the storytelling talk at TBEX).

First, this:

>>”What I realized that weekend at TBEX, though, is that I don’t want to be experienced at that stuff. I don’t want advertising. I don’t want sponsored posts. I don’t want free trips.”

I believe this is a very good thing to decide and to feel. Not because all those things are always bad – I don’t believe they are, it’s more complicated than that – but because you’re deciding what you want from this blogging lark. Deciding what you want for yourself is 90% of the battle towards getting the blog you want. I truly believe this. All of the folk at TBEX and the other conferences, all the speakers and sponsors and organisers – all they have to offer is advice. There are no rules on what constitutes a “proper” travel blog. There is only what you want, and you finding your own way to do it (hopefully with they help of all the advice-giving people).

And for the record, re. monetization? There are a lot of us who make money from our blogs indirectly, and I’m one of them. I’m a freelance copywriter and editor, I sell stories and I’m starting to teach people how to tell theirs. I’ve been on the odd press trip, I’ve dabbled in advertising, and I haven’t run sponsored posts, and since none of these things make sense for the way I’m now piecing together a business, I’m not going to be doing them to make money. There are quite a few other travel bloggers piecing things together in their own ways, some with a sustainable income in mind, others just because they burn to create shiny, meaningful things and express themselves. There’s a lot of (successful) diversity out there!

If there’s anything I could ever help with, please don’t hesitate to ping me an email at: [email protected]

Cheers! M

This Battered Suitcase June 19, 2013 - 3:40 am

Hi Mike! Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post and leave a comment.

I really loved your session – it was so informative but also funny and relatable. I left with tons of notes and a real feeling of inspiration; I hope you will be at TBEX Dublin, as I’d love to hear you speak again. I especially liked your concept of “SEO for human brains”…THAT is SEO that I can understand! I will definitely be reviewing my notes for help with future articles and blog posts.

I’m really happy to read that you support my opinions of TBEX; I hope I didn’t come off as negative or pretentious, but it was just an eye-opening experience for me and the direction I’d like to take my blog. As I said in the post above, I would love to do more freelance work; I’ve written for a few companies and websites but I would really like to do more. I think the way you’re monetizing (making money from your blog indirectly) is a model I’d like to follow, and feels more natural to me. It’s so encouraging to hear that there are many ways to be successful through blogging – TBEX discouraged me a bit, as there was so much stress on sponsored trips and not much on any other way of earning an income through writing/blogging.

Anyway, thank you so much for taking the time to write. I will definitely email you soon – I’m starting a Master’s in Creative (Non-Fiction) Writing in London in September, and feel like I need all the help I can get!


Ali Henry June 18, 2013 - 9:35 pm

I’m proud of you darling for knowing exactly who you are, what you love and sticking to your path in life. Keep doing what you do, you’re amazing at it! xxx

This Battered Suitcase June 19, 2013 - 3:15 am

Thank you so much, Ali, it means so much to me for you to say that! xx

liveletlive June 19, 2013 - 3:02 am

Thanks for sharing!

I really respect the reason you blog.
A lot of the popular blogs run together for me because they all have similar professional bland content, about similar places and attractions.
but your blog is personal, with stories and life lessons you learned, and other great things that make me feel like i know you just a bit.
It has a genuine voice and feeling that many others lose , if they ever had those thing, when they monetize of have a goal to start for just money.

If you ever monetized, I dont think it’d change your blog at all, though. You’re just way to real. 🙂

This Battered Suitcase June 19, 2013 - 3:17 am

Wow, thank you so much. I do struggle a lot with the monetization thing because, well, I’d like to have more money, ha ha. I’m so glad to hear that you would still continue to read if I changed my mind, and that you like reading my blog and feel that you know who I am because of it. Thanks again for your supportive comment!

kay* June 19, 2013 - 3:13 am

i’m so glad you finally posted your take on tbex. i love your blog the way it is but if you ever do change your mind (which you’re totally allowed to do!) i’d still love your blog. you’ve established a voice that is definitively your own and unique in the world of travel blogs…and i don’t see anything changing that.

This Battered Suitcase June 19, 2013 - 3:20 am

Aw, thank you Kisha. I know that I might change my mind one day, but, as we talked about in Toronto, I’m just not into any of the sponsored stuff/advertising at the moment. I’m so happy to hear that you like what I’m doing – as you know, I love your blog, so it is such a compliment coming from you! xo

'Lara June 19, 2013 - 6:42 pm

I love your honesty on the whole monetizing blog issue. I, like you did not start blogging for money, shoot I still do not see myself making money from my personal blog. I feel it restricts the person you are.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on the conference.

This Battered Suitcase June 20, 2013 - 4:43 am

Thank you so much! To each their own, right? I love that blogs can be so diverse, that we can choose whatever direction we’d like to take them in.

Caroline in the City June 20, 2013 - 3:51 am

You’re lovely. Let’s catch up in London one day soon.

This Battered Suitcase June 20, 2013 - 4:40 am

Yes! You are welcome to stay with me any time.

Melissa Marie June 20, 2013 - 5:56 pm

LOVE you for being true to yourself and your blogging style!

I also enjoy some very “top 10 things to do in __________” type of blogs, but the color and creative-writing aspect make yours (and others like it) my very favorites. I totally respect people who can take something like travel blogging and turn it into a financially sustainable career, but it has to be a bit frustrating to see conferences like that skew so heavily in that direction – as if no one could imagine not wanting every hobby/personal interest to be marketed to the nth degree.

I have to say though, I cannot imagine that this blog has not acted as a fantastic portfolio for you in pursuing creative writing gigs or entrance into the program you’re in now. If nothing else it’s a wonderful journal of past memories from which to draw from in making new content for school or a publication. I’m impressed – keep up the good work!

This Battered Suitcase June 21, 2013 - 5:31 am

Thank you so much, Melissa! I’m so happy that you are enjoying my blog and like what I’m doing so far. I still might change my mind – I have done the occasional sponsored link and I still might in the future – but I know it will probably never be a career for me (at least not my personal blog). You’re totally right, though, I view it as a journal and/or portfolio of the stuff I’ve done. And yes, some of the pieces made it into my Master’s application!

Thanks again, and keep commenting!

Nicky September 15, 2013 - 2:23 am

Great post, I know exactly what you saying because I’ve experienced it myself following a couple of the conferences I attended this year.

The organisers have become blinded by their greed and decided it’s all about money, brands, sponsors and freebies with little or no regard to the quality of content or speakers. It’s all about how many sponsorships they can bag and nothing about what we, their delegates get out of it.

Its a joke that they are passing them off as professional conferences when in reality they’ve become nothing more than expensive drunke, swag fuelled weekends away.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like a drunken weekend away with friends BUT don’t package it up as something it isn’t. They are lying to us and to their sponsors.

As you are in London, you might be interested in this?

How to Save Money to Travel the World - This Battered Suitcase November 15, 2013 - 2:51 am

[…] where I stayed with my friend Mark for two months. I also visited Italy and Israel. I then flew to Toronto for TBEX, and eventually back to Winnipeg to spend the rest of summer working at the same firm and preparing […]

How to Start a Blog 2/5 (blogging conference recaps and notes) July 28, 2017 - 8:33 pm

[…] Thoughts on TBEX Toronto // by Brennna Holeman Turning Readers into a Thriving Community // Jodi Ettenburg […]


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