TravelCon 2018 was Summer Camp for Travel Bloggers

That summer camp feeling.

As my plane touched down in Austin for TravelCon 2018 I felt some basic butterflies – here I was walking in as a fresh face to the professional travel blogging industry, but also representing in my role as a leader from a scrappy-yet-established company that is well-connected but still a best-kept secret.

Now that I’ve landed back in my current hometown of Pittsburgh, I can tell you that I’ll be looking to attend TravelCon 2019 because it’s the new summer camp for travel bloggers. I left the event feeling united with a tribe of genuine go-getters who were welcoming, strategic, resolute and empowering.

This is a picture of my face.

This is my face. I’m Dale Vaughn, head of business development and partnerships at AirTreks.

Hosted by Nomadic Matt (his real name Matt Kepnes) – who is a top affiliate for us at AirTreks – this event brought together hundreds of the most authentic, influential travelers in the industry. If you want to start out as a blogger, if you want to grow your burgeoning following, if you want to monetize your powerful influence, if you want to change the world – this event has everything.

I sat in a great session with Julia Dimon and Carol Cain (@GirlGoneTravel) that really opened my eyes to the epic growth happening in the family travel space. Did you know that family travel is growing 27% faster than the larger industry – which is itself booming?

I heard the unique challenges that parents (and especially mothers) experience in balancing their identity as adults with a family.

“You’re so much more than a mom” – Carol Cain

I learned the importance of honing in on your unique focus or niche within a market that can feel saturated. Julia really shared the shine with some other great resources including the Family Travel Association, Family Traveler Magazine, Travel Babbo, Bucket List Family, and Explore Erin.

The keynotes were all great (I missed the first day, though I heard it was powerful).

I had the opportunity to hear Oneika Raymond share her compelling journey from teacher to travel and TV personality. She talks about the importance of authenticity and consistency within your brand to win influence and trust.

If you know me, you know I care about inclusion, and I have to share it was awesome to see a powerful woman of color in the keynote spotlight, and that she wasn’t just a token representative of her intersections (I am a white, masculine, cis, hetero, American male who wears cowboy boots regularly but who really gets weirded out in crowds of white people).

Annette Richmond (@fatgirlstraveling) hosted a standing-room only session about diversity in blogging that widened my perspective – especially when she said “we want to give you all of our money” if your brand is inclusive. I asked a vulnerable question about inclusion and tokenism and was greeted with open, supportive responses and offers to provide guidance. Later these courageous and admirable people shared that the TravelCon lineup’s diversity was the deciding factor in their attending (bravo Matt and team!).

Matt and his team set up a lot of conscious opportunity for us to network and connect. I’ve been to dozens of conferences and I’ve hosted several of my own. This is the feedback I’ve given and gotten in all of those cases: more time for connection please! At TravelCon this was astonishingly well-executed. Matt set up specific meetups at bars/restaurants all over town for Friday afternoon, so we got to rotate (I went to meet podcasters and had a great chat with Alexa Meisler, Aaron Schlein, Pelle Bo, and Chris Christensen). On Saturday there was a three hour speed networking session that allowed bloggers to meet each vendor in the media marketplace (and each other). And every night there was a party (well-attended) that had everyone mixing and mingling, solidifying those handshakes. I think we all ran out of business cards. Homerun, Matt.

The final keynote was Rolf Potts, author of Vagabonding, friend of BootsnAll, and really an inspiration to any travel writer. He’s walked the walk. I had the profound pleasure of sharing lunch that day with Rolf and we were joined by Travis Sherry (Extra Pack of Peanuts), his awesome wife Heather, and their rugrat Whittaker who was the youngest attendee at the conference.

Rolf has a fascinating mind. He’s a journalist and a traveler, so he can be inquisitive in both an incisive and a disarming way. I learned a bit about his podcast, his friendship with Tim Ferris and Sean Keener (the energetic and ever-friendly owner at AirTreks), and a cool project he has kicking around for 2019. On stage, he really holds court as an elder and inspiration. It’s been 20 years since he began travel writing, and we were treated to 20 bits of advice which he called a “suggestifesto” – paired with fun and absurd photos from his journeys.

Rolf wrapped up the show by addressing the deep unspoken fear among everyone in the room: the fear of failure.

“Failure at travel writing is the best kind of failure. If you fail at all the rest, congratulations, you’ve still traveled the world."

“Failure at travel writing is the best kind of failure. If you fail at all the rest, congratulations, you’ve still traveled the world.”

The 2019 TravelCon will be in Boston, end of June, and Matt has already secured Cheryl Strayed, Tony Wheeler, and Mark Manson. I’ll be attending because these are my people.