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.

HI Youth Hostel Boston
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)

Author: Mel Hattie

Hi, I’m Mel, blogger and tea sommelier at Mel Had Tea. I love to explore, learn, and meet new people. Nothing inspires me more than reading, traveling the world, talking to strangers, and drinking tea.

What do you think?