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What’s a Bloghouse?

You may have heard me talk about this thing called Bloghouse.

What might not have been immediately clear is what exactly it is, or what happens at one.

What Is It?

It’s an intimate weekend workshop for upcoming travel bloggers hosted by travel blogging veterans. It’s meant to help you reach the next rung on the travel blogging ladder, boost your progress, and help you build a sustainable career.

How Did I Apply?

Stephanie Yoder from Twenty-Something Travel told me about the open applications for this Bloghouse when I met her at the WITS in Boston last March. I thought it sounded pretty cool so I tidied up some of my work and then sent them off the link to my blog.  A few weeks later I heard back that I was in. Voila!

Then I did a little happy dance in my living room and booked my plane tickets to Milwaukee.

What Happened Over the Weekend?

We drank the kool-aid.

During the weekend we participated in talks on writing, web design and management, income strategizing, photography, editing, branding, pitching, and working with travel boards.

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We also asked our mentors absolutely anything we wanted, and I think they were very candid, honest and open with us in sharing their anecdotes.

Each person has a personal audit, where you sit down with a mentor and have a 1:1 review of your website. There’s also an optional 1:1 tech audit, where you can ask any WordPress, hosting, or other technical questions.

There was also a lot of eating delicious food together, and exploring our host city.

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We were treated to several organized networking sessions between local tourism organizations and ourselves over (more) delicious food at fantastic locales. One was in the presidential suite of the Potawatomi Hotel, and another at the urban bar, The Rumpus Room.

Here’s a few shots of the presidential suite that you can rent at Potawatomi. Bartender not included.

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I had a great time talking with tourism reps and learning what I could offer them, and what they could offer me in return. It was nice to hear what they look for in a blogger. Now knowing what they’re looking for, I’ll be able to craft better pitches.

Would I Do It Again?

Yes.  And I would encourage anyone who thinks they have a future in travel writing to apply. Not only for the practical and pragmatic advice you’ll receive, but also to meet people from all over the world who are as serious about travel blogging as you are. It’s fun! You take pictures of your food together!

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Don’t just take my word for it though; every blogger present that weekend is writing a recap and if you Google “Bloghouse Milwaukee” I’m sure you’ll come across a few. I’m also listing my cohort’s names and websites below, so be sure to check them out!

Unfortunately, there’s no Bloghouse ‘Grad School’ or Bloghouse 2.0 that I can go back to again someday because I would. One of the best ways to become great in your field is to surround yourself with other amazing people, and I definitely felt the love over the weekend.

They did give each of us a free membership to Travel Blog Success, which has ongoing education and workshops around travel blogging.

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We were a group of wifi-locating, travel punning, food loving, frequent-stop-photographing, cellphone-in-hand, connected women (and two dudes – thumbs up to Barry and Mike).

The good humour of my fellow Bloghousers also helped us all to get through several delayed flights, and there was a lot of laughing to be had in general.

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Since quitting my job at the law firm I’ve been asked a lot how I’m going to make my money while traveling the world, taking photos and writing. It was nice to be around other people with similar objectives, where I was given a break from feeling the need to explain all my motivations.

As you’ll see from a lot of the changes I’ve made to my blog, the weekend obviously really inspired me. The mentors do a great job of identifying each Bloghouse attendee’s unique strengths and specialties, and help them to amplify their voice.

I think my feelings about Bloghouse Milwaukee are well summed-up on this license plate I found upon exiting the Rumpus Room:

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I’m Interested! When Is The Next One?

The next Bloghouse hasn’t yet been announced, but I’d watch their website and join their mailing list if you’re interested.

There is a vetting process and a limited number of spots, so if you do apply, make sure you’re showing your best content and make sure your website is in good shape before hitting submit.

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Our hard-working mentors for this session were (as seen Left to Right in the picture above):

My fellow Bloghouse attendees were:

I had never been to the American Midwest and really knew nothing about Milwaukee (“Mil-Where?”) before I went; so if you’re in the same boat now, be sure to check out my post, You Don’t Know What You’re Missing in Milwaukee.

As well, if you have any questions about my Bloghouse experience, or in general, feel free to ask in the comments below!

U.S.A.

You Don’t Know What You’re Missing in Milwaukee

“Milwaukee?” One of my friends asked, after I told her I’d be doing a travel blogger workshop there in June.

She investigated on the Bloghouse website. “Didn’t they have one in Spain? Ireland? Now… Milwaukee? Why?”

Indeed. Milwaukee was always suffixed by a question mark after I told people about my travel plans.  For someone who usually buys plane tickets to hard to pronounce places, Milwaukee made people quirk their heads and struggle hard to remember where exactly in the states could be found said city.

So, what IS there to do in Milwaukee?

I’m glad you asked. Now that I know a hell of a lot more, let me tell you!

EAT ALL THE CHEESE

Some of the locals would groan when they asked me what I had seen of their city, and cheese was one of the first things I mentioned. “We’re more than that!” they would say. And they are! But the cheese culture is still amazing, and as someone of proud Dutch ancestry, I can’t say no to cheese.

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One of the best places we went for cheese was the Wisconsin Cheese Mart, with Milwaukee Food and City Tours.

They offered us numerous great sample platters – Specialty grilled cheese! Beautiful cheese cuts! Deep fried fresh cheese curds!

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My personal favourite was the Beer Cheese Coffee Stout, soaked in beer from the famed Milwaukee Lakefront Brewery. You can see the guy cutting it in the next picture.

Milwaukee_Mel_Hattie-3I also had a great beer here called O-Gii, that was (of course) infused with local Rishi Tea! I was also happy to learn that there’s a Godzilla-esque creature on the label.

Now that you’ve eaten all the cheese, it’s time to:

EAT ALL THE MEATS

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Brats, brats, brats! Milwaukee is famous for its delicious German sausage. In fact, it’s the large population of German diaspora that make up a lot of Milwaukee’s gastronomical heritage.

The Wisconsin Cheese Mart mentioned above also has great meats. However, just around the corner is also the famous Mader’s Restaurant, which also provides some of the best German meat fare in the city. You can also find great sausage to bring home and cook yourself at most of the markets around the city.

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DRINK ALL THE BEER

Those Germans, at it again.

Pabst, Schlitz, Miller, and Blatz are the brewing giants that kicked off beer history in the region. All four were founded around 1850. No one can point to exactly what made these four companies all so successful, but savvy industrial business leaders, proximity to Chicago, and timeliness certainly played a part.

In the devastation that followed the Chicago Fire of 1871, for example, Schlitz enjoyed a 100% jump in sales, as they would frequently ship beer to the devastated city using the waterways. This led them to begin using the slogan, “The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous”.

There are also some great more modern up-and-coming brewers in the region. One that we visited was the Lakefront Brewery. They pride themselves on humorous tours, and indeed our beer-filled tour was led by an excellent and silly fellow who looked like a young Che Guevara. They also do a traditional Milwaukee fish fry every Friday, complete with a Polka band.Milwaukee_Mel_Hattie-7

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I can’t tell you how excited I was when I learned that Polka is still a thing here.

Hint: VERY.

You can also combine all three of the above-mentioned (cheese, meats, and beer) at any number of the great gastro-pubs around the city, such as the Rumpus Room, where we were treated to lots of apps, and where I took the featured image on this post.

Guess what? They’re not bacon wrapped scallops, they’re bacon wrapped water chestnuts. A surprisingly healthy twist on what I thought was a familiar dish.

SEE ALL THE HARLEYS

Well, maybe not all of them, but touring the Harley Davidson museum sure gave me new insight into the bikes’ American history, including its surprising connection to Japanese culture, and its role in World War II.

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These two bikes above are the WLA Harleys whose production saved the company from going bankrupt during the second world war.

I was happy to see some videos of women riding Harleys in the war too. Going through the wartime archival material at the museum, it seems like Harley encouraged women to ride their bikes as well. They even have section dedicated to female trailblazers.

Seeing the connections to Harley Davidson around the world was really interesting. There was even a surprising connection to Japan that pulled at my heart, which will feature in an upcoming post.

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Insignia from Harley Davidson Riders Clubs Around the World

VISIT THE PUBLIC MARKET

I’m a big fan of local markets. Even in my own city of Halifax, I’m always heading down to the market for good food and to check out what the local artisans are doing. It’s usually a great cross-section of a city’s culture.

This place was great. Most vendors on the indoors are permanently installed, while those on the outdoors pack up shop at the end of the day. Most of the foodstuff was in the permanent installations inside, and the outdoor vendors were more material goods and artisan work.

I found one vendor, Cival, who offered almost exclusively teal and copper jewelry. Two of my favourite materials. I bought a wrap bracelet and had a nice chat with her. They also have an Etsy shop, if you like the style.

I had a great deep-fried sushi roll at Thai-namite, and a bubble tea. Our group’s favorite was the salmon spinach bacon sandwich from the locally famous St. Paul Fish Company.

CHECK OUT THE MILWAUKEE ART MUSEUM

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The museum itself is a work of art and architecture. The contemporary design was completed in 2001, and the museum actually has wings (officially called the Burke Brise Soleil Sunscreen) with a 217-foot wingspan that open at 10am, and close at 5pm (in accordance with the museum’s schedule). They also ‘flap’ at noon.

See my photo post exploring the museum here.

There’s the Veteran’s Park and Veteran’s memorial just to the north of the museum as well, which is a lovely green space. My tip would be to grab breakfast or lunch  and then head to Juneau Park (the smaller park just across the road and up the stairs from the museum) to watch the wings open. You have a perfect vantage point from there, and a great spot to picnic at the same time.

If you’ve only got a day or two in the city, I’d recommend all the above. From a Canadian perspective, I think a lot of Maritimers and Quebecers would really enjoy it here. It’s got a lot of things that we (myself included) stereotypically enjoy (beer, cheese curds, fun accents).

In what could have been a really interesting story, I almost ended up spending the night in a room with one of the musicians in town for Polish Fest after our plane was cancelled (with no explanation) the night we were supposed to leave.

The Air Canada counter attendant observed our jovial conversation, and almost booked us in the same room. I mean, he was a pretty great guy. He was also almost old enough to be my grandfather.

Also, while waiting to be given hotel vouchers from the Air Canada agent, I made this note to myself in Evernote, “Plane is cancelled… POLISH FEST!?”, as I thought we might have time to jump in a car and make it to the last polka set before the festival ended.  Alas, by the time we were given hotel vouchers and had our new flights sorted, the last performance was finishing up, so we didn’t make it back in time.  Next time.

Milwaukee, you were really good. You weren’t on any of my bucket lists, but I’m glad I visited you. I totally would have overlooked you otherwise, and you were a pleasant surprise with a great atmosphere and plenty of history.  Thanks for the great time; I hope I can stop in here again when I’m driving across the country later this summer.

As a Bloghouse attendee, I received a complimentary stay at the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, free entrance and tour of the Harley Davidson Museum,  free tour with Milwaukee Food Tours, a gift card for the Milwaukee Public Market, free dinner and beverages from The Rumpus Room courtesy of The Bartolotta Restaurants, plus some tasty samples from Classy Girl Cupcakes and  O&H Danish Bakery.

Many thanks to all the other companies who helped sponsored our stay and made us feel welcome, including FlipKey Vacation Rentals, Visit Milwaukee, Travel Wisconsin.

I also received some fantastic free travel underwear from ExOfficio that saved my butt (literally) when I was waylaid in Milwaukee for an extra day, so extra thanks to them!

Hopefully you know a little bit more about Milwaukee now. If there’s anything else you’re wondering, feel free to ask!

If you would like to read more about what Bloghouse was for me, you can check out my Bloghouse review here.

 

 

Destinations U.S.A.

At the Women in Travel Summit in Boston

The bequeathing of a birthday cupcake to GoGirl founder and WITS organizer, Beth Santos.

The bequeathing of a birthday cupcake to GoGirl founder and WITS organizer, Beth Santos. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

I wasn’t sure what I was in for when I travelled to Boston a couple of weeks ago to attend the Women in Travel Summit. What I ended up finding was a lot of awesome women who loved to travel and are some of the coolest people I have ever met.

It was cathartic to hang out with other people who have a pathological urge to photograph their food before eating it. Like sharing a pre-meal prayer, we’d all take out our smart phones and DSLRs to snap a few shots before diving in.

Even if the great workshop sessions hadn’t existed, the weekend would’ve still been worthwhile just to get the chance to hang out and network with everyone who came.  We’re all travellers and bloggers who commute through the internet to work every day, and having us all in the same room together was like seeing a herd of unicorns.

The conference was completely sold out with 300 attendees, and there were women with blogs that had names like Camera and Carry On, Stories My Suitcase Could Tell, CleverDeverWherever, Crooked Flight, Annie Anywhere, The Gorgeous Ingredient, Adventurous Kate, Twenty-Something TravelTravelin’ Chicks, Map Maiden, and so many more. I saw pretty much every wanderlust pun and thesaurus suggestion for travel re-worked into 100+ cool brands for amazing and creative people. There were also women who hadn’t started blogs, but were seasoned travellers with lots of good stories to tell.

I usually travel with non-bloggers and non-photographers, so it was exciting to be sharing so many idiosyncrasies with those around me.

Let me know if some of this sounds like you: you’re detail-oriented, travel really slowly because you take 1,000 pictures along the way, maybe speak a few languages, write down everything you see, and have a weird story about how you ran out of water while climbing a mountain in Korea, and are fascinated by culture and regional history… ME TOO!

I had so many moments like this with people at the conference. “You like this too? Holy shit, that’s awesome!”

It was also fun to get an inside look at the industry I never knew much about: there was travel blogger gossip, partnerships, rivalries, and lots of tips from the veterans to newbies like myself.  I never realized how big yet small the travel blogging community was. I was just in my little corner of the internet, blogging cat photos and South Korean barbecue, then suddenly it was like: “Boom! Here are 20 women who change countries three times a month and have their business shit together.” It was pretty overwhelming, but in a good way.

I also applied for and received a ticket to the FAM tour of Johnny Appleseed Country happening the day before the conference started. I had heard about FAM trips (short for ‘familiarization’), but didn’t really get what they were about, and thought it’d be a good chance to investigate. I’ll have posts forthcoming on what we saw, but in a nutshell: it was a super organized, very pleasant way to explore the region.

Although I met a lot of other awesome people at the conference, spending more time with the other bloggers on the FAM trip with just the five of us means we got to know each other a bit better than some of the other conference attendees. If WITS offers a FAM trip in Irvine, California next year, I’d definitely recommend jumping on it!

The Fam Trip Crew at the photobooth during the Mixer at WeWork. (left to right: Gabi Logan, Me, Katie MacLeod of Stories My Suitcase Could Tell, the beautiful SanTara Cassamajor of The Gorgeous Ingredient, and Eileen Cotter of Pure Wander and Crooked Flight.

The Fam Trip Crew at the photobooth during the Mixer at WeWork. (left to right: Gabi Logan, Me, Katie MacLeod of Stories My Suitcase Could Tell, the beautiful SanTara Cassamajor of The Gorgeous Ingredient, and Eileen Cotter of Pure Wander and Crooked Flight.

After the FAM trip had ended, we debriefed with some huge sandwiches and delicious desserts at Flour, a local bakeshop on the trendy Farnsworth Street.

The conference opened up Friday afternoon with the charming “Networking Without Pants” session hosted by Nicolle Merrill, which really helped set the tone for the conference in terms of joining forces and making friends with other travel bloggers (and travel reps! Such as Vy (pronounced “V”) Spear from Contiki, and Lauren Shannon from Odigo).

Afterwards, a group of seven of us headed over to the delicious Pho Pasteur right across the street from HI Boston for pho, fresh spring rolls and bonding time. The place was extremely busy, but we only had to wait for about ten minutes for seats. Once we sat down our waiter brought a free pot of tea to start the meal, and then delicious pho and fresh spring rolls that I’m still dreaming about. God, those spring rolls were good.

Saturday morning opened with keynote speaker Dina Yuen (a.k.a. Asian Fusion Girl) who told us her crazy origin story (she made a ton of money through a copyright lawsuit in her early 20s, lost it all to an evil boyfriend, found herself while non-profiting in the slums of India, then rose from the ashes to become a super blogger) and encouraged us to go out into the world and seek healing with her twist on Hippocrates, “Let travel be thy medicine and medicine be thy travel”.

There were three streams of breakout sessions: blogger, entrepreneur and traveller. I found myself mostly attending the entrepreneur classes because I’m at a point now where I’m like, “How do I make this work as a business?” But also went to a couple in the blogger/traveller arenas as well.

My first talk was Amy Segreti’s “Get Shit Done and Still Go to Yoga: Holistic Productivity for Entrepreneurs and Independent Creatives”; then came bold and honest Catrice Jackson’s “How to Turn Individuality into Visibility and Bankability in Life, On the Job and In Business”; Leah Moschella’s tip-full “Travel and Career: Translating Travel Experience into Tangible Career Outcomes and Gaining Future Travel Opportunities”; and a press trip panel with veteran travel bloggers Erin Gifford, Voyage Vixens, and Solo Mom Takes Flight creator Sarah Pittard, moderated by Adventurous Kate.

The Press Trip Panel. Left to right: Sarah Pittard, Erin Gifford, Voyage Vixens (Lindsay Taub and Lanee Neil), Kate McCulley.

The press trip panel was interesting, especially given my new insight into the world of FAM trips. Some good takeaways: ask for the schedule/itinerary in advance, and if you don’t like something, ask to change the schedule or make your own. Also: it’s easier than you think.

The concept of getting things for free, or even having paid press trips brought to mind all the ethical quandaries I had learned to watch out for in my journalism training: don’t take money, don’t accept free things. If it’s free, it’s a bribe. I’m still trying to figure out where exactly my brand of blogging lies, and how journalism ethics form a part of that. I’ll be looking for advice on how to navigate this at-times-foggy arena from my professors at King’s this fall when I begin my masters.

The second night of the conference saw me laughing and drinking with conference friends over a very tasty New England Lobster Roll (I had to compare to Halifax’s. For research purposes.) and nachos at a place called Good Life before venturing across the street to J.J. Folley’s (a boisterous Irish pub/café) to join the other women at the great mixer hosted by Travel Massive.

I liked JJ’s a lot. It was a small pub (that somehow fit all these women) with a tiny window at the end of the bar cut into the wall that you could order your beer from. I was nearly falling asleep at this point, and one pint put me pretty much to bed, so I cut the night short around 11pm and headed back to the hostel.

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The communal kitchen on the second floor at HI Boston. Funky furniture, a good wifi connection, and a decent continental breakfast. Everything the body needs.

I stayed at the HI Boston Hostel which was only a couple blocks down from the Revere Hotel where the conference was held. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to justify the cost of hotel rooms. I’m much more of a <$30/night person.  Hostels can be hit or miss, but HI Boston did not disappoint. It was beautifully designed, clean, warm, and I never had to wait for a shower once, even with my floor at near-full capacity. The lockers beside the beds were big, and I had really nice, quiet roommates (they can make or break a hostel stay).

I skipped the conference breakfast on Sunday – all they offered was a fruit and muffin-heavy continental, and I required protein and real coffee – I got a breakfast sandwich, greek yogurt with honey and a large latté instead. I continued my conference trek, fully fuelled.

At 10am there was a panel on volunteer travel feat. Adedana Ashebir (Skyping in from Nairobi), Delia Harrington, Kathryn Pisco of Unearth the World, Natalie Jesionka of Shatter the Looking Glass (who is fluent in Thai and now working on a documentary I can’t wait to see), and Allison Fleece of Whoa Travel. They did a lot to bring class and some clarity to the murky ethical and political issues surrounding volunteer travel. Things like corporate transparency, the question of ‘who are you really doing it for?’ and much more. I would feel safe and reassured travelling with any of these women, and I hope I cross paths with them again down the road.

Next up, “Protect Yourself: What’s Yours Is Yours (If Legally It’s Yours)” by Jess Ainlay brought home some straight business and legal advice, using examples such as “Humans of New York vs. DKNY” and “Turner Barr vs Adecco”, as well as her own personal story about the fallout from breaking up from her business partner/girlfriend years after they had started “Globetrotter Girls”.  These stories didn’t all have happy endings, and they served a great examples of why you should start thinking about legal aspects early on in your blogging career to avoid disaster down the road.

Next, I got a bit sidetracked with some serious seafood lunch at Legal Crossings, and because of the time it took us to get our food we actually missed most of Stephanie Yoder of 20-Something Travel’s talk about “Surviving the Long Game: Building a Blog and a Career That Will Last” which is too bad because I had looked forward to hearing her talk, but coming in at the end and listening to all the Q&As did make me reflect on just how nascent this whole travel blogging industry really is. I mean, the girl giving longtime career advice is barely 30 years old. The conference is only in its second year.

Going to WITS made me feel like I was getting in on the ground floor of something. It made me look around and think about what I could give to all these plane-hopping comrades, most of whom are within a ten-year demographic of myself. I’m planning to put together a presentation pitch for next year’s WITS in Irvine, California. Maybe it’ll be accepted (in which case, free attendance, woohoo!) and maybe it won’t be. The point is that WITS made me excited to do it, and it made me excited about travelling and writing and blogging and making friends all over the world. And that’s what it’s really about, right? The joy.

Thanks again for everyone I met for making WITS such a memorable experience. I look forward to seeing you out there on the road!

Selfie during the mega huge group photo at Women in Travel Summit, Boston. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Selfie during the mega huge group photo at Women in Travel Summit, Boston. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)