At the recent Tbex Asia Manila conference, attendees were asked to name how many of the conferences they had attended. I guessed at 6 – struggling to remember.
I feel like my first TBEX conference was recent – I can recall it so clearly and recall exactly how I felt. Shy and overwhelmed and a little bit out of it. I was not sure what to expect when I headed to Keystone Colorad0, tagging along last minute with my friend Nadia from Childmode.
Nadia was already an accomplished family travel blogger and while I had done a fair amount of travel writing, my contacts and pitches were thin. I watched and learned as I made the rounds with her, meeting with brands during the well organized speed-dating sessions.
A couple of years later, I was to revisit TBEX after my start-up company, Hashtracking, became a sponsor for the events. What followed was a series of 7 (not 6) amazing conferences. To date I have been to TBEX in:
and now, for #7, The Philippines.
Every event has been uniquely wonderful, but this recent one stands out for the heartfelt warm welcome we received from the Department of Tourism, generous mentors and local bloggers like Anton Diaz of Our Awesome Planet, participating brands and student volunteers. Everyone really pulled out the stops and made us more than welcome. From the moment we were greeted (at 4:30 am!) at the airport, they treated us like beloved relatives, come home for a long awaited visit.
For me this was not only my first trip to the Philippines, but also my first trip to Asia. Somewhat shocking for a seasoned traveler like myself! I’ve had a number of opportunities to travel to Asia but until now, nothing that seemed to work out.
Since I have many Filipino family members, I had heard a great deal about the country but I still found it hard to picture myself there, and I was unsure about what I would find on the other end of my PAL flight. I worried about a lot of things, not least of which was whether I would be able to find food that I could eat, given my food allergies and celiac.
This turned out to be the very least of my worries.
If there is one thing they know how to do in the Philippines… it is food. And not just their own food.
Every variety of Asian food, American food, French food, Mexican food, Indian, German food, Peruvian food… Nowhere that I have ever been has offered a greater variety of authentic ethnic cuisines, prepared from fresh, fresh ingredients.
At our host hotel, the Sofitel in Manila, I attended a breakfast buffet the likes of which would put any Vegas buffet you’ve ever attended, to shame. Don’t believe me? Check out my Facebook Live video of the Sofitel Buffet.
During the conference we were treated to a Boodle Fight/Feast – a traditional soldier’s meal of meats and rice eaten off banana leaves with your hands. It was named Boodle Fight because you had to fight to grab the food first!
We also celebrated Oktoberfest in Manila with bratwurst and sausages and an extended buffet with satay and curries, as we were serenaded by an excellent cover band.
It was a fabulous cultural mash up, and so much fun.
Best of all though was the camaraderie and earnest learning that was shared and experienced at #TBEXPh. Even my young sons, who accompanied us to the conference, picked up some travel blogging tips and tricks while sitting in on a few sessions.
I’ve always found this community to be one that is warm, welcoming, inclusive and intelligent, and once again I was not disappointed. It was wonderful to see and meet the students who were attending and volunteering, and see their eyes light up as they spoke about travel and their beautiful country.
The second way that the Philippines surprised me, was the sheer beauty of the countryside, even in a week wracked by two successive Typhoons.
Side note: Filipinos are remarkably chill about incoming typhoons.
Back here in the US there would be a line out the door to the market and general panic. Our hosts brought eggs to the church and prayed for our safety and it seemed to work. We all made it through without incident.
My sister in law has frequently spoken of the challenges of her native country, poverty and a lack of infrastructure in some areas that make things like navigating traffic, a trial. I was prepared not to plan any short outings in Manila and braced for some of the poverty I would encounter. What I was not expecting was the pristine perfection of clear blue waters, the lush tropical variety of plants, the impossibly white shell strewn beaches.
Nothing prepared me for the eyeful.
Most of all however, I was touched by the people I met and the warm welcome received at TBEX Asia Manila, my 7th, TBEX event.
It won’t be soon forgotten!
I’ll have more to share in the weeks to come about the locations we visited and the things we saw while traveling in the Philippines. I was most especially thrilled to have visited Boracay Island which Travel and Leisure just named the #1 Island in the world. Having seen it first hand, I totally get it, but Boracay is just one of many beautiful Islands you can visit in the Philippines. Now that I’ve had a taste, and have been reading about fellow attendee’s travels, my travel wish list has grown exponentially!