TBEX Huntsville was this year’s North America travel blogger conference. I had no idea what to expect… to be honest, I was skeptical of going to a small town in Alabama that I had never heard of.
But Huntsville surprised me. It had a diversity I was not expecting — engineers and research fueled by NASA’s famous Marshall Space Flight Center co-mingling in an artistic hub. Even my Uber driver was a retired police officer from London in the UK. How strange is that?
It also felt like the entire town had gone out of its way to make us feel welcome for the TBEX convention, even though they had a massive graduation and cinco de mayo festival going on at the same time.
One of my highlights from the trip was staying in an Airbnb hosted by a local musician, and having a down to earth talk about how others perceive us and what effect this has on our internal mental chatter. There is something so uplifting about a genuine conversation that leaves you feeling like maybe this world isn’t as crazy and disconnected as it seems.
So I felt a bit reserved going to a convention where I knew nobody, but I started with small writing workshop, let by the famous travel writer Don George, and soon realized that travel bloggers love travel and sharing stories, and, well… tend to be interesting and engaging. This makes sense: when you start exploring, the world is a pretty amazing place, and travel bloggers are driven not just to explore it but also to share their delight.
The workshop was great: it made me recognize that I need to clearly understand my purpose, and cut out anything irrelevant. It gave me a new perspective on talking to locals, and writing using all of my senses.
The rest of the conference highlighted diversity of how we travel and share stories. From wheelchair travelers, to solo travelers, to hip homeschool moms that travel blog… there were people of all ages, and who had blogging from 1 day to over 10 years. There was this lady Jill, who had been a female ship captain for 30 years and spoke to me about the difficulties being the very rare female captain in a male dominated industry, forced into retirement by rules meant for greater protection at sea. Fascinating!
I loved the keynote by Bruce Poon Tip of G Adventures. If ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”, then G Adventures is a company which embodies that principle. They have very creative travel excursions which have a social impact. Bruce Poon Tip spoke of a program in India to teach Women English, and help them obtain their chauffeur’s license — and then his company uses them as drivers for their tours. They go even further to train local street kids as tour guides, so that the money from their trips is going directly to underdeveloped communities which don’t have access to the jobs created by tourism.
This is transformative.
I spoke to a fellow traveler at TBEX who had been on one of their trips… and said she was inspired to have a cooking class in Asia and to know that it was taught by women who had been rescued from sexual abuse. Her trip was helping them craft another lifestyle, but it was also giving her an opportunity to relate to people directly.
I liked G Adventure’s mission, and also their Pledge to Travel Better:
We the undersigned, pledge to Travel Better. We commit to making smarter choices when we’re traveling, to more positively affect our planet and her people. We believe in the power of travel to be the greatest source of economic transformation the world has ever seen. We will promote this belief for the collective good of the communities we visit and for the planet at large. We pledge to Travel Better today for the benefit of those who after us tomorrow.
Overall, the conference forced me to examine how I describe this blog. By the end of the weekend I realized the need to change the blog’s name from Aurai Online to the People Helping People Podcast, so that it is clear that this blog is about social change and the power of transformation when we connect with each other globally to share our culture and ideas. There is so much good stuff happening in the world, and I want to be part of it. I want you to be a part of it.
Thank you Huntsville for hosting our TBEX convention. And thank you to my fellow bloggers and sponsors who made me feel so welcome. To all the new friends that I met, I hope we meet again, and happy travels!
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