I’ve been home for a week and I am still buzzing with excitement. Almost from the moment I arrived in Costa Brava for the TBEX travel blogger conference I felt an energy in the air that I couldn’t quite define. I have been to travel conferences where people are cynical and snooty and seem to be all about the business of blogging and not the reason behind it. But this was different.

Maybe it was because it was in Costa Brava. The region has had a negative reputation in the UK in recent years, where it was known for being a quick, cheap, party destination, and the town of Lloret de Mar, where the conference was held, was/is one of the center points for this debauchery. A walk toward the seaside from the hotel was marred with huge discos promising foam parties, bumper cars, and karaoke. But once at the seaside, you can take the coastal path at either end of the beach to take you immediately to stunning views of the crystal clear Mediterranean waters over the natural rocky coastline. The town is reinventing itself as a charming seaside destination, with a food truck festival on the main square on weekend nights, a stunning Maritime Museum, and easy access to water-based activities and to other towns in the region. The tourist board for the Costa Brava region, as well as many of its towns and smaller regions, came together to showcase the beauties of the area to the nearly 800 bloggers in attendance.

Or maybe it was because there were so many new bloggers there. I met lots of people who had never been to such a conference and were looking forward to learning how to make their travel blogs better and maybe more profitable.

The conference itself was well-organized, thoughtfully presented, and inspiring. And sometimes in unconventional ways.
On Saturday, I walked outside for a bit of fresh air and came across the delightful Tara Barnes, from Hippie Hits the Road. I introduced myself, as I had done hundreds of times already, and asked her how she was doing. “This is The. Best. Day. of my Life,” she replied. Well, that was certainly an opener. I asked her why, and she told me that it was because after attending many of the TBEX sessions, she realized that she didn’t have to follow anyone else’s path to blog success. She could invent her own way. “I’ve never followed the rules in any other part of my life, so why should I start now?”

Great point.

And one I sometimes forget when I attend these conferences. I tend to get distracted by the new and shiny technologies, and ways to boost traffic and pageviews and ad conversions and affiliate sales, when none of those really has anything to do with why I blog.

I had a revelation one day last year when I realized that my goal every day should be to inspire people to travel, get outside their comfort zone, and open their eyes to other cultures, as a pathway to peace and cultural understanding. Yes, really. I wrote it down. I told a friend. And then I forgot all about it.

My friend asked me about it recently and I was terribly embarrassed that I had failed to make any progress toward that lofty goal.

At TBEX Costa Brava, everyone I met seemed to have a similar mission. The reason most of us travel is not just to relax and luxuriate in fancy spas, or drink fancy cocktails on a rooftop by the sea, although those things are nice perks. Most of the travel bloggers I have met really want to spread the gospel of cultural experience. Learning about other cultures from the inside.
So let’s talk about the bloggers, then.

It was great meeting so many family travel bloggers whose work I have followed (or whose work I certainly WILL follow): Cacinda Maloney from Points and Travel, Shoba George from Just Go Places, Rachel Heller,  Monika from Mum on the BrinkRuth Johnston from Exploramum, Reeta Laaksonen from House of Anais, Katja Presnal from Skimbaco and Denise Miltenburg from Follow My Footprints. And it was wonderful seeing Bethany from Flashpacker Family (though I missed seeing her family who was in fact there with her!), and Tawanna from Mom’s Guide to Travel. Love you women!

And let’s not forget the men! Though he’s not strictly a family travel blogger, I enjoyed meeting Nathaniel Boyle’s family at TBEX. His Daily Travel Podcast is a must for people who love travel. Travel Babbo‘s Eric Stoen gave great conversation and pro tips.

I was happy I wasn’t the only family travel blogger there without her family. Sometimes people ask me whether my kids miss me when I’m gone. Sometimes there’s a little accusation in their voice when they ask me. Yes, of course, they miss me. But they also know that I’m working toward a goal and with a passion, and I want to show them that they can live the life they dream of, just like their mom. Ideally, most of my travel would include them. This year, it hasn’t worked out that way, but we did have an entire year of travel together not too long ago that we will never forget. And we will have more in the future.

Actually, last time I was in Costa Brava for TBEX in Girona, I did bring my daughters with me, and they helped me, using their pre-teen charm and social media skills, make a partnership with Eurail.com for our trip through Europe, which Rick Kruize reminded me when I saw him at this TBEX.

I was disappointed that there weren’t more Belgians at TBEX this time, since our Belgium with Kids blog is performing so well these days and we are looking for new partners. But I did meet Elliot Moscowitz from The Global Lens, a nice American photographer living in Brussels.

But where the Belgians were absent, the Italians were out in force. I started my TBEX week with a bus ride with the lovely Loredana from Walks of Italy (is there anything cuter than an Italian speaking English with an Irish accent?), then met the unforgettable Giulio, representing several luxury hotels in Rome and Lausanne, at the opening party and tried to introduce him to every family and luxury travel blogger I could find. You’re welcome. 🙂 Later I met Enzo Ferrari (the man with the name) from Inguaribile Viaggiatore (Incurable Traveler), and on the last day I met Nicholas (the man with the mustache) from the Emilia Romagna region’s tourist board. I was happy to practice my Italian a little bit, and thrilled to discover that my Baltimore neighbor Tawanna also speaks Italian and wants to practice. All of these things are helping to move Italy to the top of my must-go list.

I really enjoyed representing Passports with Purpose at their speed networking table when their board members weren’t able to attend. Tawanna and I and Amanda Williams from A Dangerous Business met with lots of bloggers to tell them about this terrific travel blogger fundraiser taking place in November. I’m looking forward to participating again this year. And excited to be raising money for Worldreader this year, to bring digital readers to libraries in Western Kenya so students have access to books in English and Swahili.

And speaking of books and Italy… I picked up David Farley’s book An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town to read on the plane, knowing that he would be offering a workshop during the conference. It was a fantastic read, and only fed my desire to go spend some quality time in Italy. And as luck would have it, I ran into David on the way to the opening party and got to spend some quality time with him, though I was embarrassed that I hadn’t finished the book yet. And then I was was embarrassed to lose him at lunch the next day among the buffet tables after we walked in together. Maybe he will let me buy him lunch in New York sometime to make up for it.

The post-TBEX trips organized by the Costa Brava tourist board were amazing, too. Even signing up at the very last minute I got onto two terrific trips with wonderful people that I will write about separately.

There was just so much good at this conference! But you might have noticed that I haven’t really talked about the conference itself. It was, as usual, full of great new information, charismatic speakers, and inspiration. For me though, especially this year, it was all about connecting with these people, my people, and our shared passion for inspiring others to travel.