Why follow a compass that's lost? The Lost Compass is for people who can't stop travelling, who always seek out the next destination. It's for those who'd rather take a backroad than the Interstate; who wonder what happens when you get off the beaten path and look up an odd nook or cranny. It's about finding the little gems, wherever they may be hidden. It is for those who embrace travel as an experience - not stopping just at a tourist trap, but finding a local cafe, bookstore, or dive bar to stop and talk to the people who make up the town. What happens when the compass' needle spins off you the beaten path? Keep reading to find out.

23 June 2012

AAR for TBEX at Keystone, CO

Being a member of the military, After-Action Reports (or AARs) are considered a vital tool for learning about experiences and accumulating those "lessons learned."  Consider this my AAR for the Travel Bloggers Exchange Conference (TBEX '12) at Keystone, CO, which happened last weekend and totally rocked my world. I bounced up to Keystone from Monument (a suburb of Colorado Springs) last weekend with my mom, who is my editor and frequent travel companion, to partake in an excellent road trip and an amazing conference in one of the more picturesque locations in a state that thrives on jaw-dropping scenery.  (I took over 250 pictures... in 3 days.  I'm currently deleting all but the best and then I'll post them up here so y'all can live vicariously.  Or just go to the resort.  Up to you!)

Keystone, CO, Hwy 6, Taken by Lynn Shallue of the Lost Compass
My first glimpse of Keystone

First things first... the conference.  I'm going to leave the actual, gorgeous area of Keystone, CO for it's own separate post.  Coming soon with less links and more pictures!!!  Until then, here's a picture of the white chocolate "spaghetti" with dark chocolate truffle "meatballs" that was waiting for us the first night.  The chefs and pastry chefs of Keystone Resort all tried to outdo each other in presentation and flavor of 20-30 different dishes at the Taste of Vail Resorts on Friday night.  Mom and I were groaning in pleasure, then pain, for the rest of the night.

White Chocolate Spaghetti, Taste of Vail Resorts, TBEX 12, Taken by Lynn Shallue of the Lost Compass
It only LOOKS like miniature dishes of spaghetti!!

TBEX is basically a conference for travel bloggers, tourism and convention bureaus, and different industries within the travel community (just take a look at the list of sponsors on the front page and you'll see what I mean).  Not only was this a chance for me to learn a lot about the industry I've decided to join, but I was able to meet some crazy awesome bloggers from all over the world.  There were other folks like me who are just starting out, a few who are able to support a full time travel schedule by blogging, and everyone in between.  I think I ended up with 30 pages of notes on everything from the technical side of this computerized diary to how to not violate laws I'd never heard of!  (Although really, if it's a conference about blogging, is it illegal to use paper and pen to take notes??  I think I was only one of five... the rest used their laptops!)  I seriously have a backlog of blogs I need to devour, STAT.  (Have you found Nerd's Eye ViewDivas and Dorks, or Pint Sized Pilot yet?  They're only a few of the great folks that I met at TBEX and I've been consuming their blogs since I returned.)

I went to panels hosted by all sorts of incredible people, including Jen Miner at The Vacation Gals, Ross Borden of Matador Network, and Matt Stabile from The Expeditioner.  (Check out his pictures until I can get more of mine loaded!!) The keynote speakers, C.C. ChapmanRand Fishkin, and Christopher Baker, all blew my mind and made my hand hurt from the note taking.  I love that each of them pounded in the idea that I, as a blogger, should speak authentically, should find my own voice, and never try to follow the crowd.  Since I've never been good at "Shut up and color," this message gave me strength and peace of mind that this is the right goal for me, the right venture.

I've seen a couple great wrap-ups of the conference already, particularly from Jen at The Vacation Gals, but wanted to throw out my own ideas of best and worst practices.


1)  The sheer, overwhelming amount of information and goodies provided by different speakers, panels, and attendees!  30 pages of notes, 10 pounds of swag and business cards and information from all sorts of providers, an opportunity to give away 50 of my OWN business cards to people who were genuinely interested in this blog...  I can't begin to even process everything I learned yet!  Speaking of swag, I got a free travel vest from Scottevest, which was worth the cost of the conference and gas by itself!  I can't wait to try it out once I'm no longer pregnant!!

2) The location.  Anyone who's been to the Rockies or Alps knows what I'm talking about.  Majestic peaks everywhere you look, warm days and desert-cool nights, and off-season quiet combined to make for an extremely relaxing location.

3) The networking opportunities - aside from the set events, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to talk to other bloggers, to some convention and visitor's bureaus, and all of these amazingly interesting people who all LOVE to travel!  Since we're expecting our first little one this fall, I definitely took the time to pick a few mommy minds concerning infants and traveling, good mommy-travel blogs, etc.  I was shocked to see some visitor bureaus that are close to me - like Loudoun County, VA - where I was able to chat with the ladies about some good wine trips.  I also won a six month membership to The International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association!  Considering we ALL know those are my three great loves, I knew that association had my name written all over it!  Now I get to try them out for free!


1)  The sheer, overwhelming amount of information!  Luckily, a few kind souls gave Mom and I some great advice about which would be the best workshops to attend, but this conference was definitely NOT geared toward a neophyte blogger!!  Everyone is wondering and learning more about SEO, monetization, etc...  I was interested in those, too, once I figured out what they heck they were saying!  Jen at Vacation Gals had a great suggestion about dividing workshops into explicit beginner and advanced tracks.  I would love to see that, as well.  Even better, I would love for there to be a couple sessions for those of us new to the community - the 101 for blogging basics if you want to be taken seriously - prior to the start of the conference.  For instance, what makes Wordpress so great?  I honestly have no idea, although I know a few other bloggers that rave about it.  Why should I use that rather than blogspot?  Or just a basic set up on my own website?  Also, and this is a drawback to any conference, there were times when 2 or 3 different workshops would have been beneficial and I had to make the best decision without a lot of information about what would be covered other than the workshop title.  Luckily, I learned lots at every single workshop, so I feel I made a good decision with the ones I attended.

2) The location - Keystone is phenomenal, but it IS in the mountains.  The village itself is at 9,000 feet; and the Taste of Vail was at 11,444 feet on top of a mountain!  A lot of low-lying, sea-level dwellers had a bad struggle with the altitude.  Since I was nearly seven months pregnant, the first night kicked my rear even though I'd spent over a week in Monument, acclimating myself to 7,000 feet.  I also grew up in CO and knew to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate; but I still got a bad headache before the first night was over.  Also, between the rich food the first night and the altitude change, the second night both Mom and I were too wiped out to head to the Expedia western shindig.  We ended up having a quiet night out by Keystone Lake, which included dinner at Pizza on the Plaza and watching some trout and ducks battle over fish food.  Part of me still regrets not going to the shindig, but it was either go to the shindig or attend the 0900 presentation on Sunday morning.

3) Saturday lunch - It was pretty much insane.  The conference organizers scheduled lunch to be 1 hour, 15 minutes long.  Since Keystone doesn't have many fast food options, we were limited to what the conference organizers provided.  Both Mom and I were really excited, since the Taste of Vail the night before had been SO incredible.  They apparently had more Keystone chefs serving us a low-cost lunch with either a brat, hot dog, burger, or chicken sandwich, a couple sides, and soda.  Sounded like a good plan to us, so we bought the tickets.  The lunch line ended up taking over 45 minutes!!  Did I mention that I'm pregnant?  Nearly 7 months pregnant?  I basically have the appetite of a 5 year old on speed - MUST have food NOW!!  Also, my little baby has managed to find all those walls I've built up through my adult life against impatience and waiting in line and knocked them FLAT down.  Luckily, the food, once we FINALLY got to it, was pretty good.  Keystone has a strong German accent to it, so I was not surprised to find a delicious brat and some redskin potato salad. By late in the day Saturday, they'd mentioned that the next day they'd have food set up in a few different places for those who wished to partake. However, for the next conference I would STRONGLY recommend either give us enough time to go out on our own, or better plan to accommodate every single person at the conference quickly.

Thanks for reading!!  I hope this helps those in the business, especially those who are weighing the trip to TBEX Europe in September, to make a decision to GO!  Don't let anything stop you!!!  (Well, okay, feel free to let either a delivery or a newborn stop you, like it's stopping me, but otherwise GO!)  I learned so much and grew so much in just a few days!!  (And no, not just in the gut... but I will leave you with a picture of "Hamburger" cupcakes)

Hamburger cupcakes, TBEX 12, Keystone, CO Taken by Lynn Shallue for the Lost Compass
Hamburgers... made of cake, frosting, fondant, raspberry sauce, and other deliciousness.  Yes, they tasted as ridiculously good as they looked.  Be jealous.  Or just go to TBEX next year!

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