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Connecting Travelers in a Digital Age

I spent last weekend in New York at the second Travel Blog Exchange conference with colleagues Sean Keener and Katie Hammel, and since the trip was a whirlwind of activity (for more than just me) it’s been interesting to watch the recaps filter through the blogosphere over the last few days. It’s easy to say “what a great weekend, that was so much fun” – and it was. But in order to make sense of what the weekend was about, especially to a group of travel bloggers and writers, it’s taking a bit more time to process.

For me, the biggest part of TBEX – and, in fact, the reason for the formation of the group – is the people. I dearly love what I do, even if it means sitting in my house for days on end tapping away at a computer keyboard and not really interacting with anyone aside from my cats and my husband, and I also love that what I do has led me to meet so many incredible people. It’s things like TBEX that let me turn those virtual meetings into real-life meetings, and I can’t thank the organizers enough for that.

Not all travel bloggers are predisposed to craving human interaction, as blogging is a solitary art and travel is often about observation. I feel lucky, then, that so many of the people I’ve interacted with online have turned out to be gregarious folk who are as engaging in person as I hoped they’d be. Simply buying an around the world ticket doesn’t make someone interesting or outgoing, nor does it make them a travel blogger. So while TBEX certainly attracts a particular sub-set of the travel community, it’s one that seems to be growing.

A scan around the conference auditorium or the social get-togethers at any given moment offered an interesting mix of feedback. For one thing, we travel bloggers like our technology. There was many a bowed head in a darkened bar, faces glowing from their smartphone screens, as we updated Twitter or scouted out the next stop on an NYC tour. But for all the travel iPhone apps that we think are helpful or just plain cool, for many there’s nothing that replaces the quality of conversation you get when you meet someone face to face. If we were all so devoted to technology that we preferred chatting via @-replies, those bars would have been significantly quieter.

Using technology to facilitate interactions with real human beings, however, is something I think all of us at TBEX can get behind. Being able to talk online with others who shared a common interest in travel is why BootsnAll was founded back in 1998, and it’s why we were so excited to launch BootsnAll Travel Connect just last month. Reading a travel guide online can help you travel better, but there’s nothing like getting personal tips on the best out-of-the-way tapas from someone living in Madrid, or hearing about a festival or special event that happens to be going on in Santiago while you’re in town. And without technology, it would be much more challenging to have instant connections in destinations all over the world.

I’m very much looking forward to next year’s TBEX conference in Vancouver, BC, and I know I’m not alone in that – but the travel bloggers I met last weekend and who I regularly interact with online won’t wait until next year to connect again. We’re engaging every single day, both online and off, in front of our computers and in real life meet-ups. At least for me, the border between my online life and my offline life is getting more and more blurry – and I love it.

>> To read more about BootsnAll’s experience at TBEX this year, here’s our TBEX 2010 Wrap-Up and Photos, Lessons Every Travel Blogger Can Learn from TBEX, and a personal Ode to Some of the People I Met at TBEX 2010.

photo by Sarah Sloboda