On Finding My Tribe

Finding your tribe is a lot like falling in love. You don’t know you‘ve found it until you’re there, and it’s an incredible feeling.

I got into the travel industry by accident

After my first grown-up job proved to be a disastrous, exploitive rip-off I was jaded (gee, can you tell?) about employers so for the next couple of years I worked an incredibly diverse series of temporary assignments for a staffing agency. I had several offers of permanent jobs, but couldn’t bring myself to commit to any of them. Then in 1999 I was assigned to a travel company.

My first day in the travel industry was unbridled chaos. Everyone in the entire department I was to report to had called in sick unbeknownst to each other, and the guy who got roped into supervising me that day had just returned from vacation and didn’t have a clue what was going on either. We just answered phones in a blind panic all day and did our best.

Maybe it was finally having a use for my knowledge of the International Radio Alphabet that I taught myself when I was 11, or hearing people throw around city codes like namedroppers at a black tie affair that won me over. Whatever it was, I felt at home and worked my way up through the ranks for the next 10 years.

Then I discovered BookCrossing

BookCrossing Flasmob Dublin
BookCrossing flashmob in Dublin. You kinda had to be there to understand

No one realized it at the time, but the moment in July 2002 when someone sent me a link to BookCrossing.com altered the course of my life. At first I joined because the idea of tracking a book’s journey fascinated me, but after I attended the inaugural BookCrossing Convention in 2004, I experienced my first inkling of what it means to find your tribe. I arrived in St. Louis to find a gathering of people who were like me in a lot of ways, and I didn’t have to explain my enthusiasm for books.

BookCrossing became the catalyst for several trips and was the impetus behind the start of my travelling solo. I think that in every nerd’s life there comes a time when you want to go to a convention, and no one else can/wants to, so you just have to summon the courage to go by yourself. I went to the BookCrossing convention several times on my own, and once I started doing that it seemed natural to plan other solo trips, and so on and so on and so on.

Enter Travel Massive

Early in 2012 I made a groundbreaking discovery. After having written about travel for years and years, and having managed the FlightNetwork travel blog for a year at that point, I found that there was a whole community of other people who are nuts about travel and who are into blogging. This is going to sound dumb, but it had never occurred to me that there were organized groups who get together to discuss travel blogging.

My first Toronto Travel Massive was slightly intimidating. I arrived flustered because I’d taken several buses and a train to get there and technically I was crashing the party because I wasn’t on the guest list. I’d only decided to start A Nerd at Large the week prior, and had registered the domain and my Twitter handle the night before.

Toronto Travel Massive Movember
Toronto Travel Massive Movember shenanigans

It was cramped because that particular meeting was in the sponsor’s offices and classroom style seating for the presentation meant there was little room to move around. I sat there and eavesdropped on Karin and Kieran (who I had not met yet) for a minute or two and then I found the nerve to introduce myself to the similarly quiet person next to me, Jen from Loving the Ride, and soon we were gabbing about our travel plans as though we’d been friends for life. Two rows ahead was a man (who I later learned was Ken Kaminesky) in a dazzling and colourful western shirt adorned with gemstones on the collar that constantly competed for my attention during the sessions. There were several presentations, but the highlight of the evening was Mike Corey giving a talk about his approach to travel videos. I left the event bursting with creative energy. I was almost skipping down the street on the way to the train station.

And then there was TBEX

A few short weeks, and a trip to Ireland later, I was Googling “travel blog best practices” when I discovered that there was this travel blogging conference called TBEX happening in Colorado in 12 days’ time. Holy wow, not only were there meetups about travel blogging, but an entire conference devoted to it! I’m not normally good at asking for things for myself, but I was so jazzed about this that I brought it up with my boss. I fully expected him to say no, but to my astonishment he was enthusiastic about it and we made the arrangements for me to go.

Next thing I knew it I was exploring Denver with fellow bloggers, drinking beer for the first time, making new friends and nonsensical videos during the road rally up to Keystone, singing Folsom Prison Blues with Chris Christensen, having hamburgers made of chocolate at a ridiculously high altitude, and also learning a metric whackload about travel blogging.

Chocolate hamburgers at Keystone resort
Chocolate hamburgers. For reals.

Remember, until a couple of months before this I had been blogging in complete isolation. I’ve always been passionate about travel, and I know writing because that’s what I do, so I’d taught myself WordPress and blogged on my merry way.

TBEX was an incredible experience, both professionally and personally. I gained a bunch of pro tips from the sessions that gave me, and the blogs I managed, a huge leg up and allowed me to sound like I knew what I was talking about throughout the rest of the year. I also met so many cool people, many of whom I’m now honoured to count among my friends.

It was this tribe of travel fiends whose support gave me the courage to make the tough decision to leave my job and go out on my own. I honestly I don’t think I would have had the confidence to take such a huge risk, and do something that doesn’t make any sense to anyone who is not addicted to travel. It has been their feedback and encouragement that helped me realize that A Nerd at Large isn’t just a ludicrous folly, but a viable business opportunity.

The latest additions to my tribe

Anyone who knows me in real life has been well aware over the past year how excited I was that TBEX was coming to Toronto in 2013. I bought my ticket the day they went on sale and have been talking the ears off everyone who will listen ever since.

In a scenario eerily similar to the one described earlier, I was emailing with Andy who I met at TBEX last year when he mentioned BlogHouse. I’d seen that name floating around in connection to TBEX Europe in Spain last year but at the time I thought it was a bunch of bloggers who had cleverly decided to rent a house together during the conference. When I looked up what BlogHouse actually is, I was delighted to find that it’s a sort of boot camp for bloggers that immediately precedes the TBEX conference. A commenter on another post about BlogHouse described it as “Hogwarts for travel bloggers” which I think is the most perfect, geektastic way to characterize it. The thing was, there was only one day left to apply!

I immediately set to work writing up the application, which I think in hindsight might have been a very frantic, desperate-sounding plea. The reason I wanted to go to BlogHouse is that when you are self-taught you have no idea where you stand. I didn’t know how much I knew and what I still had left to learn. The thing with travel blogging is that you have to be adept at so many different disciplines. I might get some flak for saying this, but it is much more difficult than being a writer and by several orders of magnitude. Not only do you have to be a good writer, researcher, and interviewer, you also have to have a lot of technical knowledge, be a social media guru, videographer, photographer, trip planner, PR flack and several other areas of expertise to boot. BlogHouse presented the chance to pick the brains of some of the best in the business and I was all over that.

So I sent off my manic form and carried on, not really expecting that I would be selected to participate. A few weeks went by and then I got an email offering me a spot in the BlogHouse. Well I’ll be darned.

BlogHouse welcome

The Hogwarts analogy was brought to life even more by the fact that sponsor FlipKey arranged for the BlogHouse to take place in a castle! I’m local to Toronto and even I didn’t know that there’s an amazing 11-bedroom castle in the middle of the city that you can rent. The hilarious thing is that we were so focused on upping our blogging game that we kind of ignored the fact that were in such a remarkable building most of the time.

BlogHouse participants

The senior bloggers from Navigate Media Group took us under their collective wings and were tremendously generous with their knowledge. The entire group gelled immediately, and this harkens back to the whole tribe thing. Just like with BookCrossers, anytime I meet a travel blogger I know that there’s an excellent chance that we’re going to get along. We are predisposed to becoming good friends because we already have a lot in common and share certain values. When you meet someone from your tribe, no explanation is required for why you do the things you do and why you care about it so much. They just get it. With an intensive experience like BlogHouse, where we were together 24/7 for several days, that phenomenon is magnified and we soon became like family.


I want to introduce you to some of the cool people who are part of my tribe, but there is so much to say about them that I’m going to devote an entire post to it. Oh, and the big lesson I took from BlogHouse is that I know what I’m doing and I need to develop the confidence to trust my instincts and keep doing what I do well.

Have you found your tribe yet? What was that experience like?


    1. Agreed. No word of a lie, BookCrossers have elevated my faith in humanity and made me much less cynical than I once was. I still love the shock value when other people hear that I travel to other lands to meet “strangers” from the Internet.

      The real question is, how have we gone this long without a battle cry? We need to remedy this urgently. Though it’s difficult to imagine BookCrossers as warriors. The image that comes to mind is a batallion of BXers chasing down the opposing army and insisting that they accept free books 😛

  1. BookCrossers are my tribe. I didn’t even think about it until my sister pointed it out around the 2011 convention in DC. Come to think of it, the girlfriends I hang out with the most are all both BookCrossers and Markeroons.

    1. You guys are so lucky to have such a tightknit group in DC. I’m kicking myself that I forgot to mention Markeroni in the post, which is kind of an offshoot of BookCrossing to me, and definitely part of my tribe. I really must come down to visit you guys again. You made DC seem like Nerdvana and there’s so much left to cover.

  2. I think I found my tribe at TBEX for sure. It was so nice to meet so many bloggers and strengthen online friendships. I can’t talk to my friends about blogging that much, because they don’t really get it – but that’s OK, we just talk about other important subjects like vodka, Indian food, celebrity outfit choices and cute guys instead.

    Glad you had a great time at the BlogHouse! But sad we didn’t get to meet at TBEX 🙁

    1. Thanks Tom. Yes, it’s disappointing that we didn’t get to meet. It’s great that the community is growing, but I found the scale of TBEX this year terribly overwhelming and it was difficult to catch up with people and make the kind of connections I did in Colorado.

      Even though my friends and family are generally supportive, they don’t really get blogging and it’s fantastic to have people to talk shop with.

  3. Love that you wrote about this! It’s exactly how I felt the pre-tbex nights & at my 1st tbex this year in Toronto. Glad we met & and it has been great getting to know you. if you ever need a ride to travel massive, you know how to reach me! 🙂

    1. Thanks Andrea. I’m so glad you came to the conference and I was tickled to see you turn up at Travel Massive this month. You’re in the tribe now, my dear!

  4. Hi Steph, I loved reading this post! As the co-founder of Toronto Travel Massive, it’s wonderful to know that all the unpaid work that I’ve put towards developing the community is so beneficial, in such a deep and important way, to someone. It is very validating! Thank you.

    1. Thanks Mariellen, not only for the comment, but for being a pioneer, champion, and den mother of our blogging community. Blogger friends from other locales tell me all the time that I am very lucky to have such an active Travel Massive group nearby and I wholeheartedly agree!

  5. Wow! What an inspiring post! So glad to be a member of some of your sub-tribes.

    And so grateful that I got to meet you here and there!

    1. Pete, you’re not just some sub-tribe pleb. You’re an elder statesman in all of my tribes. You are a travel-addicted blogger, BookCrosser extraordinaire, mascot-wielding Markeroon, and full-fledged geek. Doesn’t get much more tribal than that. Looking forward to the next time our paths cross. (Keeping my fingers crossed for Melbourne next year, though it may take a miracle of some sort to finance the trip.)

  6. Love this post, I’m so glad you found your tribe. The Bloghouse sounded like an amazing experience. :).
    And I’m exactly the same after booking my TBEX tickets, talking the ear off anyone who will listen haha

    1. Thanks Brendon. I was bummed that you didn’t make it to Toronto so I’m glad to hear you have a concrete plan for going to TBEX Dublin this fall. If you’re interested in future BlogHouse dealios, give me a nudge on FB or Twitter and I’ll send you the link to where you can sign up for their mailing list.

  7. I collect tribes, I guess. There are lots of RVers with lots of money and discretion to go where they will, and I’m not one of them. So, my tribe is the RTR group I visit annually and I keep in touch with a small sub-tribe during the year, when we’re flung to all corners.

    I’m building a tribe up here in the campground job, too; it’s a small one, but anywhere I start to be known and can work closely with a small unit is comforting to me.

    I haven’t been able to attend a BX convention since Charleston, but the few BX encounters (like Discoverylover and Skyring in the California desert) I’ve had since then have been lovely, and I still feel as if I’m an outskirts member of, again, a sub-group of old-timers in that tribe.

    I guess you all know what I feel about the Markeroni tribe. 😉

    1. While we’re on the subject of tribes, I’ve always thought that the title The Chief Markeroon should come with a headdress.

  8. What a great topic! Being around your people is so important- and something I haven’t had enough of lately. Love this bit: “When you meet someone from your tribe, no explanation is required for why you do the things you do and why you care about it so much. They just get it.” Yes! That’s how I felt when I started living in community at the Omega Institute- so many fellow travelers and alternative thinkers 🙂
    Also, the BlogHouse looks like so much fun!

    1. Elaine, it was great to meet you too. They will probably do more BlogHouse events. You should check them out! Thanks for paying my blog a visit.

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