The first weekend in June, I was one of 1,200 travel bloggers who packed my bags along with my tangled emotions, and headed to Toronto, Canada for the 3rd Annual TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) conference. I had no idea what to expect and it was my first time ever attending a travel blogging conference. I went to BlogHer last summer along with 5,000 other blogging hopefuls and felt misplaced as a travel blogger among so many mommy bloggers. When I heard about a TBEX, an event exclusively for travel bloggers, I was thrilled. It was my tribe and the place for me to be. I instantly signed up with high expectations of what I'd learn, who I'd meet and the connections I'd make. My journey as a travel blogger was awash with opportunities.
I returned from India five days before the start of TBEX feeling more alive and passionate than ever about the true heart and soul of travel blogging. I had just proved how you can use your blog as a source of social change and empowerment and I was ready to share my message with whoever I met at TBEX. I was on top of the world with inspiration, passion and a belief that finally the time had come.
That was where I was utterly wrong. Instead of being on cloud nine, I felt like some small wannabe travel blogger that didn't have the numbers, the press trips or the flashy media kit screaming to impress. All I had was what brought me to this point in the first place: My stories, my integrity and my voice.
I realized while listening to all the extremely helpful yet daunting sessions on SEO, marketing and social media, that the art of blogging was sounding to me more like the business of blogging. Instead of writing for the pure passion of sharing my love for travel, I was hearing the message over and over again of what you had to say and do to get noticed. Suddenly, a feeling of dread and anxiety swept over me. This wasn't why I was writing. Not for the numbers, not for the SEO links that are not in any of my 800 posts, not to buy friends on social media. I thought I'd left all that corporate nonsense long ago when I quit my career in sales. At that moment, I had never felt so utterly lonely and deflated in my life as a travel blogger. I felt as thought all my dreams had suddenly burst.
When I started blogging in January 2010, my soul purpose was to have a voice. A voice to share with others my love and passion for traveling and experiencing other cultures. A voice for sharing the heartbreaking stories and realities of the countries and cultures we, as a global citizen and tourist visit. A voice that informed others about some of the not so pretty things that are happening around the planet. Poverty, Violence, Disease, Hunger, and lack of education, human rights, safe clean water and sanitation.
My voice has grown rapidly and has become stronger each and every day. I feel so incredibly honored to be able to touch, inspire, impact and even change someone's life through my blog. Just recently I was invited to go on a social good blogging trip to India on behalf of Mom Bloggers for Social Good where we met with our partner NGOs and were able to see firsthand some of the amazing things people are doing to make the world a better place. For me, these trips are life-changing experiences that are unpaid yet no money could ever fulfill.
As I packed my bags and headed to the Toronto airport completely exhausted after six weeks of intensive travel spanning three countries, I realized that all I wanted to do was go home. To be home with my family, the two young kids that bring me joy and my wonderful husband. And, to my surprise, I actually secretly wanted to give up. To quit spending countless hours on my blog, hours that are hard work and unpaid. Hours that could be spent with my kids or on myself. Hours that sometimes felt lacking of gratitude.
The last three weeks since TBEX have been a series of ups and downs. School is out meaning being a stay-at-home mom/travel blogger, my time is stretched. I've been pulled in so many directions and haven't had much time to work on my blog. I've got posts gathering up in my head, photos that need to be worked on, comments to respond to, social media tips to integrate, tweets to read, people to follow, press kits to write, blog changes to make. The list goes on and on and is overwhelming.
I wonder why on earth I'm stressing myself out so much about my blog and what I'm not doing and could be doing better. I compare myself to the other successful travel bloggers who presented at TBEX and have thousands upon thousands of followers. I try to ignore all those unanswered follow-up emails I sent to the media contacts I met with who seemed interested in my blog yet never replied. Why am I doing this?
Yet, then I get the comments on my blog that make all my insecurities and doubts disappear and remind myself what it is all about. Why I'm writing. Why I have a voice. Comments like this most recent one from a 26-year-old Indian woman who gave everything up in the business world to start Protsahan, a small NGO that works in the heart of Delhi's slums to educate girls who are left behind and forgotten. Girls who have been raped, abused, tossed aside and ignored behind the hidden, crumbling walls of a Delhi slum.
Nicole, I just finished reading the blog you have written, by the time I finished it I had tears in my eyes. You are beautiful. Your words are beautiful. I thought I had grown strong enough to not cry anymore, but after going through your blog, my eyes got watery. Thank you for such a beautiful description. Thank you for a wonderful 1st person account of Protsahan. - Sonal Kapoor, Founder of Protsahan
It is not the money, the fame, the sponsors or the number of followers to my blog that will bring me success. It is the one person I have impacted or inspired through sharing my story and experiences around the world. It is the one change I've made in someone's life that makes all the difference and why I keep writing.
So next time I go to a blogging conference, I will have to remember those words of wisdom and never give up.
All photos taken by author at visit to Protsahan.