TBEX 2012 in Keystone, Colorado

I attended my very first TBEX, Travel Blogger Exchange, last year in Vancouver.  During the conference, I attended a writing workshop where we were assigned homework for the next day.  We were instructed to write a short piece, no more than 500 words, on our journey to TBEX2011.   Here’s what I wrote:

The rising sun awakens me each day.  Even if my eyelids are heavy, they are forced open by the harsh morning light.  I blink several times and my eyes wander to that one paint scab on the ceiling, a patch of yellow exposed in a sea of white.  “I really need to repaint this room.  Maybe that shade of blue that reminds me of the waters of Bermuda,” I think to myself.  I push aside the thought and swing my legs off the bed.  Other things take precedent.  Phone calls, emails, reports, projects.  My mind churns out the ticker tape of today’s to-do list at work and I know I will execute these tasks with perfunctory efficiency.  I can do this in my sleep.

Today, I am not at home and the light here in Vancouver is different.  Perhaps it is a function of the time of day.  The afternoon sun casts a warm yellow glow on me as I sit by these windows that are triple my height.  It easy to feel connected to the world outside the Convention Centre.  There is a Holland America cruise ship docked next door.  From here, I see housekeeping staff cleaning the exterior balconies in preparation for the next cycle of passengers.   I am reminded me that boats are not meant to be tethered.  They are meant to sail.

Rick Calver, CEO of BlogWorld

On year later, in June, I landed in Denver, Colorado to attend TBEX2012.  Traveling from sea level to approximately 11,400 feet above sea level in less than 24 hours proved incredibly difficult.  I suffered from severe altitude sickness (symptoms included: pounding headaches, loss of appetite, nausea, throwing up, lack of sleep) during the entire conference.  It was difficult to focus, learn, and network when I was not on top of my game. Despite this disappointing setback, TBEX 2012 served as a useful benchmark to look back on what I accomplished within the past year.  It was also great to catch up with old travel friends and make new ones.

Me with Scott Jordan, CEO & Founder of Scottevest. Thank you so much for my complimentary red Scottevest! I love it!

With fellow petite friend, Jodi Ettenberg (Legal Nomads)

With Matt Kepnes (Nomadic Matt). I love that he’s happy to see me!

My roommates at TBEX: Irene Lau (@i_on_food_drink) & James Clark (NomadicNotes).

TBEX2011 confirmed what my heart had been telling me for some time: take the leap of faith, leave my office job, and start the path to self-employment. Three months after Vancouver, I followed through with my decision and went to LA to become certified as a Bikram yoga teacher. In the 9 months since I left the comfort of a steady paycheck and amazing benefits, I sometimes get discouraged and berate myself for not being 10 steps ahead of where I currently am. Am I not organized, disciplined, creative, or good enough? James Clark of Nomadic Notes reminded me that this feeling is normal among self-employed people no matter how long they have worked for themselves. “Do you know how many people do what you did?” he asked. “Many people spend their entire lives dreaming and talking about pursuing their passions but almost all of them never do it. The step you took was the biggest and hardest one.” When I catch myself being too hard on me, I remember his sage advice.  Thank you James.

It’s been more than a year that I’ve actively blogged under ActionJoJo, focusing on my three main interests:  1) the NYC borough of Queens, the most diverse county in the United States and my home; 2) my travels; and 3) Bikram yoga.  Despite these broad topics, I still need to work on branding ActionJoJo.  Chris Gray Faust (@CAroundTheWorld) and Janice Waugh (@solotraveler) offered excellent advice in their session “The Branding of You”.  They suggested to examine the interests and talents that make you unique.  Check.  Then, identify your primary niche and focus on it to eventually be considered an expert in your field.  Hmmm, must make a decision on what my primary niche is.  Develop trust between you, your readers, and sponsors.  Working on it by sticking to a regular blog post schedule.  Market your brand and benefit from it.  Needs work.  Set goals and create a strategy to achieve said goals.  Needs work. 

The picture below inspires me to work through these issues.  It was a joy to see fellow travel friends wear t-shirts with my logo on it at TBEX this year!

Gary Arndt of Everything Everywhere (r) fulfilled his promise last year to wear my t-shirt to this year’s TBEX! James Clark (l) got a t-shirt too for being a great friend.

The path ahead has yet to be defined yet I am excited to come up with creative answers to who ActionJoJo is and what my website strives to be for the world at large.  At the very least, I hope people come to know ActionJoJo as someone willing to try new experiences.  Despite the altitude sickness, I couldn’t give up the opportunity to ride a mechanical bull for the first time at the Expedia-sponsored, cowboy-themed BBQ dinner.  As I climbed onto the machine, a young boy helped me by giving me an important tip: engage the inner thighs and never stop squeezing them together.  I was encouraged!  As a yoga student, I know how to engage these muscles!  I am proud that I managed to stay on that bull for 31 seconds as it spun and bucked.

Photo courtesy of Irene Lau

I suppose riding a mechanical bull is a metaphor for my life right now:  get on a ride you want to try, utilize rarely used muscles to make them strong, and get back on or try something else if I get thrown off.  For now, I’m going to stay on this ride despite the bucking and spinning.  I’m going to learn to flex new muscles, grip tight when I’m about to fall off yet know when to let go when the time is right.  My goal?  Smile during this whole process and enjoy the ride.

Photo Courtesy of James Clark

Sunday Signs & Symbols: Denver International Airport

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This weekend I am in Keystone, Colorado for a conference called TBEX, Travel Blogger Exchange. When I attended TBEX last year in Vancouver, it helped solidify my decision to take a leap of faith, leave my job, and follow my dream.

This year’s TBEX location had me flying into Denver International Airport. I’ve seen airports offer a lot of amentities but this option is something new to me.

In your travels, what unique things have you seen in airports? Leave a comment below!

My Top 5 Highlights of TBEX 2011

I attended my first travel blogger conference in Vancouver, Canada last weekend. The Travel Blogger Exchange (TBEX) held its third annual North American conference, TBEX’11.

© Kirsten Alana Photography / Galavanting

As a first time attendee, my goals were simple: network like mad, learn a thing or two, and experience a little bit of the host city. Not only did I accomplish all of those goals but I did so with 5 hours of sleep a night, coming home late from a networking event and getting up early to strategize and prep for my day. Here are my top five highlights from the conference (really wishing I attended that non-narrative writing workshop as I write this):

#5: Face Time with Members of the Travel Community
Despite the power of social media, the best way to connect with a person is, well, in person. It took a 3,000 mile plane ride to meet fellow New Yorkers Leslie Kohen (@leslietravel), Annemarie Dooling (@TravelingAnna), Kelley Ferro (@kelleyferro), Brian Peters (@brianepeters), Aaron Shapiro (@adventurousness), and Rosina Shiliwala (@rosina_s).

I finally put faces to Traveler’s Night-In (#TNI) friends Erin Halvey (@ehalvey), Janice Waugh (@solotraveler), Jade and Bob (@Vagabond3Live), and Catherine Sweeney (@TravelingWithS). We regularly came together on Twitter at 1530 hrs ET on Thursdays to talk travel.

Trailblazer Evelyn Hannon (@Journeywoman), the intrepid Vogel family who biked from Alaska to Argentina (@FamilyOnBikes), and visionary Tracey Friley (@OneBrownGirl) whose Passport Parties provide young American girls with their very first passport, all inspired me.

I shook hands with John DiScala…err…Johnny Jet (@JohnnyJet), Benny Lewis (@irishpolyglot), JD Andrews (@earthXplorer), Mike Barish (@mikebarish), Jodi Ettenburg (@legalnomads), Beth Whitman (@Wanderluster), Sean Keener (@SEKeener) and Jessica Spiegel (@italylogue) of Bootsnall.com,  all bright stars in the travel blogging firmament.

I had meaningful conversations with Melanie Waldman (@travelswithtwo), JoAnna Haugen (@joanna_haugen), Crai Bower (@craisbower), and Elyse Mailhot (@ctccct) who shared their tips on work-family/life balance. I thank them for their generous advice.

(l-r) Me, Leslie (@leslietravel), Tina (@crozul), James (@nomadicnotes)

Oh, and I also discovered that I had fans! James Clark (@nomadicnotes) was the first to spot me at the kick-off event at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Besides travel, we discussed our mutual admiration for Fountains of Wayne. Later, I met Tina Rozul (@crozul) of Go2it.com, Lauren Nicholl (@WanderLoz) and Anis Salvesen (@anis_salvesen) of Tripping.com, and Shana Zheng of Triptrotting.com. Thank you all for your encouragement and making me feel validated!

Before arriving at TBEX, I made a list of the people I wanted to meet. I managed to meet all but two on that list. As I talked to people at the conference, I discovered more people I wanted to meet.  I knew it would be impossible to chat with everyone but I am certain opportunities to cross paths in the future will present themselves.

#4: Narrative Writing Workshop with Pam Mandel (@nerdseyeview), Don George (@don_george), and Andrew Evans (@WheresAndrew)
I had homework. Homework! Yes, I know I was supposed to learn a thing or two but these folks assigned homework and wanted me to turn it around in 24 hours. Where was I, graduate school? Of course, I reverted back to my usual MO when such assignments are due:  CRAM. An hour before the thesis story deadline, I went into seclusion in a conference center corner to write my 200-600 word narrative on how I got to TBEX. Under pressure, I managed to bang out a 215-word piece that I kinda felt good about considering the circumstances. We broke up into groups in the second session and Pam was my leader. I felt my face get hot and winced inside as I waited for the criticism. I got some good feedback from the group, which made me realize the things I needed to do when I got home:  write more regularly, find people to read my work and provide constructive feedback, and develop a thicker skin. Within the short span of an hour, I was astounded that homework assignments were now self-imposed.

Pam leads our group. Photo courtesy of Tina Rozul (@crozul).

#3: Getting shushed because I was a loud New Yorker and member of Robert Reid’s “Live Research Crew”

I was grateful to Robert (@reidontravel) for choosing me as one of a three-member crew to help drive his point home on the importance of research. It gave me the chance to not only work with Robert, Kymri Wilt (@kymri) and Matt Gibson (@xpatmatt) but also to present to the large crowd of attendees. I tried to improve a weakly written blog post on Niagara Falls by finding new angles on the story and attempted to get a quote through phone calls. Clearly people weren’t listening to Robert when he introduced us at the beginning of his presentation. Or maybe you couldn’t hear him because I was apparently speaking very loud on the phone. Attendees shushed me for my perceived rudeness! I was just doing my job as a jourblist, a new term coined by Robert. Um, can someone explain to me exactly what a jourblist is since I was too busy talking during his presentation? Oh wait, I should’ve done my research before asking that question.

(l-r) Robert, Matt, Kymri, and me. © Raul P of hummingbird604.com

What an opportunity! © Kirsten Alana Photography / Galavanting

#2: Favorite mascot and celebrity @Banff_Squirrel got star struck meeting me!

The feeling was totally mutual!  Usually, I can maintain my New York City cool but my excitement at meeting this famous furry little creature got the best of me.  I couldn’t help but let out a shrill scream…like a total fool.

@Banff_Squirrel Tweets Our First-Time Meeting

And my #1 highlight of TBEX?

Gary Arndt (@EverywhereTrip) said he would wear my ActionJoJo t-shirt to TBEX next year! Witnesses included Jodi Ettenberg (@legalnomads), James Clark (@nomadicnotes), and Shannon O’Donnell (@shannonRTW) so that I won’t let him forget it. I was so excited that I almost ran him over with my hug. Thanks for the vote of confidence Gary! I’ll be sure to have a few t-shirts ready for you before we arrive in Keystone, Colorado next year!

I wonder if Gary is thinking, "What did I get myself into?"

I echo Pam Mandel’s recent reflections on TBEX.  My ultimate goal for TBEX was to meet people and get my name out there.  I planted a ton of seeds that I hope will bear fruit in time.  I’ve still got a lot of learning to do as a writer and videographer and yes, a blogger.  I’m determined to work hard and with patience, determination, and focus, I hope to realize my personal and professional goals.

A special shout out and high five to Kim Mance (@KimMance), Joey Hernandez (@joeybear85), and Courtney McGann (@courtneyisneato) for the herculean task of putting together TBEX’11! Thanks also to our host city of Vancouver (@ctccct, @myvancouver and @tourismbc) for showing us a good time!

©KirstenAlanaPhotography/Galavanting