TBEX Dublin travel blogger conference.
It was a sign. I wasn’t supposed to go to Ireland. I wasn’t supposed to go to TBEX – the travel blogging conference I had been holding a ticket for for months. I was supposed to turn around and stay home and stay far away from traveling to a part of the world I couldn’t afford to travel to in the first place.
I had reluctantly boarded the plane to Dublin, Ireland that afternoon and, when it took off, right on schedule, I thought, “this is it, I’m actually still doing this.” I was actually still doing this. Half an hour later, though, the pilot came on the intercom to say we were returning to Chicago to check on a potential engine problem. Half an hour after that we landed back at O’Hare and, a few minutes later, he announced that they had to cancel the flight.
As I stood, crying, nearly at the end of the long line of frustrated travelers that wound down the corridor of O’Hare, I secretly prayed that the ticket agent would tell me that they couldn’t reschedule me, so I could just beg for a refund.
I didn’t want to take this trip.
And the world was telling that it was a bad idea.
I’d booked the flight, and the conference ticket, because a guy I really liked invited me to come to London to see him. To stay with him. We’d met in Vietnam over a year before and, after I left the next day, he asked me to come back and stay with him there. I really liked him but, at the time, I was only six months into my journey and needed to keep going on my own path. So I didn’t turn back, a decision I always somewhat regretted. We tried to meet up a few more times in a few different places — Thailand, Australia — but it never worked out. So, when he recently settled in London to work and asked me to come visit him, to come stay with him, I said yes.
I thought, for once, someone liked me as much as I liked him.
I wanted to go after it. I was ready.
I designed the whole trip to go and see him. I would start in Dublin for the conference, visit a couple of other friends throughout England, and then go meet him. And maybe never leave. And it was all going to be a magical happily ever after.
And then he made it clear that all he wanted was to have sex with me.
Because, of course, that’s what every guy wants.
Because, of course, I read more into it than I should have, let my daydreams get the best of me.
And so I no longer wanted to see him. And I no longer wanted to go to England or Ireland. The trip was pointless, expensive. I wanted to stay home and curl up in bed and cry. I had originally planned to go home after Colombia, after more than two years on the road, find a job, finish my travels. Be done. For now, at least. I tacked on this extra trip to Europe for him. All I now wanted was to stay behind, to re-start my life back in Chicago.
But I had already booked the non-refundable flight.
After three hours of waiting in line I finally made it to the counter. The woman simply took my passport, told me to come back for the same flight the next day, and handed me a voucher for a free night at the Holiday Inn and some meal coupons.
I considered asking for the refund, but I am terrible with any sort of conflict. I quite like to avoid it. So I took the vouchers and slept in the most comfortable bed I could ever remember sleeping in and took the hottest shower I could ever remember taking and stuffed myself with $50 worth of food at the Bar Louie just because I could.
The next day I was still, kind of, hoping the airline would tell me that they overbooked and give me a refund. But I received my boarding pass and boarded my new flight without a hitch.
It’s not that I didn’t want to go to TBEX. I actually really did. The last one I went to, two years ago in Vancouver, was amazingly fun, and inspiring. I was looking forward to seeing old friends and to meeting new people that I only knew online, maybe getting some fresh ideas for my blog.
But sometimes, amongst bloggers, I just feel out of place.
I mean, I’m not even a travel blogger. I travel. I have a blog. But I blog about what I ate for breakfast and who I slept with where and whatever the hell else I feel like. I have no focus. I have no business plan. I just like to get my thoughts down on digital paper. And, generally, I am fine with that.
I joked around that I should just write on a piece of paper “My mom reads my blog” and call it a press kit. Because, really, my mom reads my blog (even though I’ve told her not to because, really, I write a lot about sex and boys and who wants their mom reading that). (Hi mom.) And, really, that’s it. I have no stats of note to share. And I feel out of place around people who actually do this as a business. Like no one takes me seriously.
I started blogging in 2006 after my ex boyfriend told me I had no life and I wanted to prove to him that I did. But then I realized that I actually had to get a life in order to prove to him that I had one. And so I started doing shit. And then writing about it.
And, here I am.
Most of the bloggers at the conference started their blogs in hopes of making money. I just wanted a boy to fall back in love with me.
I finally arrived in Dublin 24 hours after I was supposed to, immediately made my way to my hostel, and fell asleep.
I woke up, groggy and jet lagged, some hours later, and dragged myself to the common area of the hostel to see if maybe I’d run into someone I knew. Luckily I was alerted me via Twitter that a girl named Beth was in the restaurant and soon after meeting her, I ran into Chris and Stephen. Of the three, Chris was the only one I knew beforehand, and then, only online. But he was one of the people I was most excited to meet in real life. Though I’d followed him for a while on Twitter, he didn’t start following me until he happened upon my antics in Bocas del Toro (where I’d slept with two guys and had another after me…) in July. We became fast friends.
He immediately told me that he expected me to make some very bad decisions at TBEX. And then he begged me to go to the guy’s place if I did, because I was sleeping on the bunk above him in the hostel.
I promised I’d try on both accounts. Though, really, I was terrified that Val in real life would be a disappointment. But, after that moment, #BadDecisions (yes that is HASHTAG bad decisions) became my running theme, my running joke, over everything I did or said over the course of the conference.
Over the next few days the three of us became good friends. We drank together at so many of the numerous parties and after parties: a Travel Massive event at O’Neill’s Pub, an opening night extravaganza at the Guinness Storehouse (where I totally learned to pour a perfect pint), Expedia’s swank Get Wilde party (where I drank my way through the cocktail menu and created my own dance floor), and a ridiculous night of cheap cocktails at The Church.
And we danced all night. And had crazy moments celebrating Amanda’s birthday or accidentally telling the guy behind me in line that I was going to make him my bad decision for the night or trying to convince Nick that I was amazing in bed without actually having to prove it to him.
Every night was a night that I never wanted to end. And I wanted to spend all my time talking to everyone. And everyone in the room felt like my oldest friend in the world.
I felt more at home in this city I’d never been to before than I did when I last returned to Chicago.
And then there was the conference itself.
Over two days there were keynotes, networking events, and seven different timeslots in which I could choose between different speakers on different topics on blogging, ranging from working with brands to to being humorous to managing workflow.
I concentrated, mostly, on the sessions that focused on content: Using Social Media to Tell Good Stories with Mike Sowden, Hook ’em With Humor with Leif Pettersen, Tips for Creating Content that Engages and Expands Your Audience with Don George.
I came out of each one inspired, my brain ticking with ideas of what I want from my blog. How to make it better.
This space is constantly changing. I mean, if you go back in time you’ll just be bombarded with embarrassingly bad posts about who I wanted to win on American Idol. And I only recently, after 7 years, gave my blog a name. I finally feel like I’m in a place where I can do…something…with it.
I started this blog to make a guy fall in love with me. But now, maybe, I want more from it. Or, at least something different. Because I no longer want that boy to fall in love with me. Because I , kind of, want everyone to fall in love with me.
I know I need a “niche,” I guess (although I think we came up with a good one with #BadDecisions…though that just means I continually have to make bad decisions…). I know I have to make my content relevant for my readers who aren’t my mom and not just my neurosis. I know I have to stop rambling on for over 2,000 words like I’m doing here. Or sharing 70 photos in one post. I know, I know, I know.
And, trust me, I have a whole lot of ideas. And, after TBEX, I was so inspired to start putting them into place.
But here, most importantly, one thing struck me: I was going home. I was going back to Chicago. Finding an apartment. Finding a job. As I’ve said before this is not a travel blog. So I thoroughly intended to write about my life at home, about the quest for the perfect teal couch, about what I made for breakfast.
But, right now, that’s not what I want to write about.
I want to continue to write about my life around the world.
Maybe, just maybe, I would like to be one of those travel bloggers I was hanging out with.
Everything in Dublin, at TBEX, was pointing to one truth: I can’t go home.
I decided, one of those after part nights on the dance floor, that I would cancel the ticket I have home from London and stay in Europe for the Christmas season: visiting markets throughout Germany and Austria and Hungary (spending Christmas in Europe is #137 on my life list after all) and then head to Brazil in February to meet up with a friend. (Note: Though I will keep traveling, I have to retract that plan for reasons I will share in a later post.)
It was slowly coming to me that going to TBEX was, in fact, the worst decision I could have made.
Maybe I should have just stayed home.
My sister, the one with a house a husband and two kids, has told me numerous times to keep traveling as long as I can. My financial panther has recently told me he doesn’t care what I do with my savings account as long as I don’t touch my retirement account.
And yet I keep listening to this voice in my head that I need to go back home with so and so amount in the bank. That I need to go home and find a job and work on getting freelance work so that maybe, in the future, I can do this all again.
But fuck that voice. Because, truthfully, I still have enough money in the bank to travel for another two years if I am good about it. And, truthfully, I have the skills in website editing and email marketing and all that good stuff that I could find work from anywhere.
If I focus. If I push myself. If I have the confidence.
I just need to know that it’s possible.
And spending a week in Ireland with a bunch of crazy drunk like-minded people made me realize that yes, it is. And for everyone’s support, inspiration, and drunken antics, I thank and love you.
So, maybe it’s time to get a little more confidence in myself, in what I’m doing. Maybe it’s time to stop saying “I’m not really a travel blogger.” Maybe it’s time to start making some of the best bad decisions I’ve ever made…