Last weekend I did one of the scariest things in my life, entirely on my own volition I might add. Wonder what adventure I gotten myself in? Well, I went to my first ever travel content creator event, BorderLess Live in London, to learn how to improve the content of my cultural travel blog Done That Been There. Considering it was its first edition, I didn’t have much to go on except that it was going to be “part conference, part festival”. At least according to the organisers WTM London (World Travel Market) and Traverse. What I got out of it in reality? Part coaching, part self-confidence boost, part inspiration, part new friends. Read on and find out how networking event BorderLess Live changed my mind set and helped me towards finding my unique, inner superhero voice.
I first heard about Traverse last year when I was selected to be part of their photography exhibition in a prestigious London gallery. I liked the people, their energy and dynamic approach, so when I bought my ticket for BorderLess months ago, it felt like such a great idea. But as the date fast approached, I wasn’t that sure about it all anymore.
Why the hell did I buy a ticket for a networking event?
If there’s one thing that I suck at, it’s talking about my work and my skills, especially to strangers. Hubby always gets frustrated with me when we meet someone and they ask me the very basic question “So, what do you?” because my standard answer is: *cough* *sigh* *turn gaze to the floor* while I mumble “Oh, I’m an editor/writer and blogger”. Yeah, way to go. That will really intrigue people and want to get to know you better!
The last time I did something similar, I ended up with a husband
This wasn’t the first time my initial enthusiasm for joining an event resulted in nervous sleepless nights and sweaty armpits. 10 years ago I thought it would be fun to work at the first edition of the International Film Festival Breda as the guest service coordinator. Imagine being super shy yet in some way ending up on the red carpet with renowned Dutch photographer and film maker Anton Corbijn, befriending one of the biggest Icelandic film directors, and of course joking around with a respected British electronic music composer slash your future husband.
Although I also had to deal with a few horrible, arrogant people, overall I had such a great time meeting all those interesting creatives and fellow film aficionados. I even ended up working with the festival three more times. Each time feeling just as nervous as the first time by the way.
“Just be yourself” But what if people won’t like me?
When I was a student at Utrecht University, the Netherlands, I tried finding a flat in town. Utrecht is a popular student city and rooms are extremely hard to get by. But occasionally you can visit a kijkavond (literally: look evening) which is basically an audition with your possible future roomies.
I went to such an event once. It was horrible. Everybody was doing their best to stand out in this highly competitive situation. All trying to make the best jokes, being the loudest and most wacky fun person in the room. I hated it and did what I usually do in such situations: keep my mouth firmly shut and wonder if anyone would notice if I’d go hide behind the sofa. I spent the following years commuting from my home to Utrecht by bus and train. And I was perfectly happy with it.
My biggest fear was that BorderLess Live was going to be like the grown-up version of the kijkavond. With all these adventurous travel bloggers and Instagrammers being the loudest in the room while everybody wanted to be friends with these ‘cool kids’. “Just be yourself” I was told over and over again beforehand by friends. But what if people wouldn’t like me? Who on earth would be interested in someone who writes schoolbooks, occasionally gets some travel writing gigs and rather seeks out art and culture whilst travelling than going on adrenalin-pumping adventures?
It is true, remain authentic and you will find your tribe
It turned out lots of people were interested in me. Not for the bullshit I had to sell them about how great I am, the amount of followers I have on Instagram or the brands I’ve worked with. Just for the person I am. And they were actually impressed with my work as a schoolbook author, London tour guide and travel copy writer. It might sound like I’m bragging right now, but it’s quite the opposite actually. I’ve only just realised that I should be damn proud of the work I do and the person I am. I know friends and family have been saying this for years, but isn’t this part of their job?!
And in turn I was equally impressed with their career and life decisions, even though they kind of pooh-poohed on it themselves. I guess it’s easier to recognise other people’s successes rather than your own worth.
It’s funny how I thought I’d be just learning more about how to create engaging travel content, but I got so much more out of this networking event. It has given me such an incredible confidence boost, I truly think this ticket has been the best investment in my personal wellbeing in years! Being among fellow bloggers and creators also meant I didn’t have to mumble in shame that I’m a blogger. We were all equals who don’t only take this very seriously, but treat our creative platforms as our businesses and not some hobby you might give up in a year’s time because it’s such hard work and doesn’t make you into an online superstar overnight.
Why I was so nervous? Because my image of typical travel content creators was entirely inaccurate
I guess I expected an entirely difference audience. I think you know the type I mean. It’s pretty much everybody’s stereotypical image of ‘influencers’. But over the weekend, I realised those who are in the industry pure for ‘Insta fame’ would never invest time and money in attending a conference. Instead, I found myself among similar souls who once started blogging, vlogging, photographing etc out of their genuine love for travelling. All keen to immerse themselves in new cultures, explore beautiful new destinations and eager to share their observations and experiences with others.
Forget about writing for numbers, write for your 11-year old self
This was some of the best advice I got from Erick Prince (Minority Nomad) during his talk at BorderLess Live. I recently got so wrapped up in all the ‘writing tricks to get noticed by Google’ that I lost sight of my desired audience. And even worse, I lost all interest in writing altogether because of it.
One of the main goals of any blogger is of course to be included in the top listings on Google and other search engines. There are simple tricks for this and the most effective one is SEO writing. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation which basically means repeating certain key words (the obvious Google search words) in your article in predefined areas.
This may sound easy, but it often results in something very mechanical and soul-destroying. I have dozens of half-finished travel articles I started writing because I was initially so excited to share certain experiences with others, but then lost all enthusiasm as I progressed and my personality got more diluted and more generic, imitating those popular Google articles about ’10 Things to Do in…’. I find such articles very useful when I’m planning a trip, but they’re purely informative and they often lack a unique and personal voice. They don’t resonate with me on a personal level and give me no reason to return to this person’s website. But I kept attempting to write like this, because well, I thought all successful blogs did it and I wanted to be part of the game.
I’d rather want to write articles that have value for my 11-year old self. I want to inspire and move this girl, to make her laugh, but most of all, to make her proud.
But Erick’s talk made me realise that’s actually not who I am at all. He gave us the great advice to picture your ideal audience as your 11-year old self. And he’s so right about this because deep in my heart I’m not interested in writing anonymous articles for a bunch of unidentified readers just for the sake of high visitor numbers. I’d rather want to write articles that have value for my 11-year old self. I want to inspire and move this girl, to make her laugh, but most of all, to make her proud. If I wouldn’t be able to achieve that, I couldn’t possibly consider myself as a convincing and authentic writer. So thank you Erick for this beautiful image and effective reminder.
But how do you tell your stories so they also appeal to others?
I guess this is the main question for any writer, not just for bloggers. Alice from Teacake Travels helped me on my way during her engaging presentation that was actually a crash course in writing. I took the slightly provocative quote in the title from Alice who in turn based it on this Virginia Woolf quote:
Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.” – Virginia Woolf
It basically means: don’t become a sell-out. Alice’s fairly simple yet effective key to success is to remain authentic, honest and inspirational. Because no one is you and that is your super power.
This was coincidentally similar to Erick’s message and what so many other speakers kept reiterating over those two days. It was so reassuring to hear them all say the same. Because not only did they imply that in fact everybody has a story to tell that’s worth sharing with the world, but that this story only has value if we tell the truth. And now I have been provided with the right tools, I can’t wait to tell you my truth. I hope you will join my 11-year old self and find inspiration from my personal stories and (mis)adventures on my travel blog Done That Been There!
Have you ever pushed yourself to do things outside of your comfort zone? How did it work out for you? Share your experience in a comment below!
Thanks, Zarina xx