From Tea to TBEX

Travel Tweetup in Toronto

Janice, Evelyn, Mariellen and Nora meet in 2009

From humble beginnings, travel blogging in Toronto is now exploding!

With just days to go before the Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) rolls into Toronto, I wrote this post all about how I started Breathedreamgo, co-founded the Toronto Travel Massive and watched travel blogging grow, evolve and now, with TBEX coming, explode!

It was the summer of 09, the summer of change. This was when it was becoming clear to me that my future as a freelance writer, and my dreams of becoming a travel writer, were in jeopardy. Magazines were shrinking, newspapers closing, writer’s fees dropping, contracts becoming untenable.

I went to the annual Canadian authors and publisher’s conference, MagNet, in June 2009 with hope in my heart. However, the atmosphere was gloomy, turning to downright nasty at the end of the second day when a newspaper editor said they would were no longer paying writers for the essay that appears daily on the back page. Everyone else was still getting paid, from the editor to the printer, to the illustrator to the delivery person. Everyone but the writer.

That was it. The final nail. I cried myself to sleep that night, feeling like I was watching my dreams die. The next morning, I dragged myself into the shower, though I didn’t want to return to the conference. Somehow the water revived me, and I suddenly thought, “screw it, I’ll do it myself. I’ll start my OWN online publication!”

It seemed clear to me that one of the only ways for a writer to make it in this day and age would be to make a name for themselves online; to become their own brand; to stake out an area of expertise. That was my first epiphany.

One epiphany led to another

And then the name Breathe Dream Go just dropped into my mind. I honestly didn’t think of it, it just landed there, like manna from heaven, and I turned it over, realizing it was perfect. I jumped out of the shower and, naked and wet, went straight to my computer to Google it. It was completely unique. Nothing turned up.

Before I was dry, I had bought the domain and secured the name on every platform I could think of. And then over the course of that summer I worked hard to bring my vision to fruition. One of the first people I contacted was Evelyn “Journeywoman” Hannon, who graciously gave me an afternoon of her time to talk about possibilities for a travel site. And in August 2009, I put out a call for a travel tweet-up, which I think was a first for Toronto (see top photo).

We met at the Red Tea Box on Queen St. W. on a sunny afternoon: Evelyn “Journeywoman” Hannon, Janice “SoloTraveler” Waugh, Nora “HoboNora” Dunn and me (see top photo). All afternoon the tea flowed and so did the talk. I felt hope return, and excitement about this brave new world of travel blogging. On August 23, 2009, I launched Breathedreamgo.com.

Toronto Travel Massive ThePlanetD Solotraveler

Deb, Jeannie, Dave, Janice, me and Carol at first Toronto Travel Massive meetup

Over the next few months, I called a few more travel tweetups, and then the following summer, had the biggest turnout ever. In July 2010, about 15 people gathered on a summer patio, on King St. W. Some people I knew, like Dave and Deb of ThePlanetD and Lucy Izon of Canada Cool; and some were new to me, like Wandering Carol Perehudoff and Jeannie Mark of NomadicChick.

I was introducing everyone, and Alicia Taggio was to my left. Alicia had just returned from Australia where she went to a Travel Tribe meetup. Seconds after telling the group that, we both said, at the exact same moment, “We should start a Travel Tribe here!” And we did.

The first Toronto Travel Tribe was held in August 2010, on the Crocodile Rock patio, to coincide with G Adventures Wednesday night “hump day” get together. Even more people came out to this one, including  “the Katies” from Intrepid Travel, Lauren and Todd of Globetrooper, Mike Corey, Marcello of Wandering Trader and Nomadic Matt Kepnes, who was in town to meet with G Adventures.

Toronto Travel Massive

Me and Alicia at our Social Media Week Toronto event.

After that rockin’ launch, we really started to roll. There has always been so much excitement, momentum and support behind us, that all the hard work we put into creating regular meetups seemed easy. Over time, we settled on having a meetup the last Thursday of every month, and we constantly tried to get different companies involved and find different venues. We also sometimes offered learning opportunities, such as a workshop on making videos. And we created a Facebook page and a website.

The idea was always to bring people who worked in online together in real time — but we always wanted to ensure there was a little something extra to keep people interested and engaged. And we have always been motivated by advocating for travel bloggers and encouraging partnerships between the travel industry and bloggers.

Meanwhile, the original Travel Tribe founder, Ian Cumming of Australia, was actively growing “the Tribe,” and new chapters were opening in New York, San Francisco, London and other cities around the globe. After about a year of growth, though, we had to change the name for legal reasons, and so Travel Massive — and Toronto Travel Massive — was born.

At about the time of our second anniversary, Alicia and I realized we needed help. We had always worked really well together, very naturally — people would be surprised to discover, I think, how little we actually discuss things. We always agree on just about everything, and we each bring different skills and a different generational perspective to the table. But we were overstretched, and I was getting ready to leave for India for many months. Thank goodness Cristina “The Travolution” joined us in September 2012. She is awesome!

Toronto Travel Massive

Toronto Travel Massive meetup at the Evergreen Brickworks, July 2012

Now we are approaching our third anniversary, and there are more than 30 chapters of Travel Massive around the globe. In fact, last fall I co-founded the Delhi Travel Massive.

So, you can imagine how excited we were when we found out that TBEX was coming to Toronto. I jumped on the registration site the moment it was announced — I saw it on Twitter — and bought the very first ticket sold. Which is kinda poetic.

We’re also extremely excited about hosting the official “pre-BEX” party on Thursday night, May 30, at the Irish Embassy — a great big pub on Yonge St., housed in Toronto’s first bank building, from 7 pm to closing.

It has been my privilege to be part of the digital travel revolution here in Toronto for the past three years, as it’s grown from tea for four people to a huge conference of over 1,000. It’s been a great ride … and it feels like it’s only just beginning …

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18 Responses to From Tea to TBEX

  1. Carol Perehudoff May 24, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    Wow, I’m part of history! Great post Mariellen. If only I wasn’t wearing combat Christmas colours in that photo.
    Carol Perehudoff recently posted..Behind closed doors – William Perehudoff in MontrealMy Profile

  2. Forest Parks May 24, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    Such an awesome journey and I wish I could be at the conference right now! Sadly I am in the wrong country! Any travel meetups you know of in Liverpool, UK? I am here for a few months.
    Forest Parks recently posted..You Look Like Lionel RichieMy Profile

  3. Shalu Sharma May 24, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    Very fascinating account of how you started your blog. Your blog is very authoritative one and is a good resource. I have heard about the TBEX in Toronto.
    Shalu Sharma recently posted..A place to eat in Amritsar – Shiraz’s Orchid RestaurantMy Profile

  4. Doreen Pendgracs May 24, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

    You make me wish I hadn’t cancelled my ticket to TBEX-TO. I had 2 conferences that wkend and was so torn, not knowing which to attend. I’m sure the TWUC conf in Ottawa will be excellent, but part of me will be with you in TO. I hope you will come to the opening reception of MagNet that PWAC-TO is organizing so that we can meet up there.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted..five reasons to visit GimliMy Profile

  5. Prasad Np May 25, 2013 at 3:36 am #

    The stuff dreams are made of, in the end I guess all the hard work pays and it all seems worthwhile. Very inspirational as well as practical that it is a tough journey and there is a lot of hard work that needs to be done before success comes your way. Thanks.
    Prasad Np recently posted..Birla Science Museum & Planetarium HyderabadMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward May 27, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

      Prasad, I never tried to be a success before launching Breathedreamgo, I never threw my heart and soul into a creative endeavour before. I have learned a lot, about life, myself, and what it takes to succeed. Some combination of hard work, timing and luck …. still trying to learn that one ….
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Hyper-local photo essay: Cherry Blossoms in High Park, TorontoMy Profile

  6. Teresa May 25, 2013 at 9:34 am #

    Just read this and had so many “YES” moments! I had the same Aha moment when my own website name came to me—TT’s Trippin’—(and I promptly bought the domain and made it my name on every other social media tool out there). I wrote a post a few days ago about going to Toronto to meet up with my tribe (after a conversation with my daughter where she told me (a la Oprah) that I had found my tribe! I came up with a name I like to call all my other female travel addicts–Soul Sisters. I have said that I want to start a club, a “Soul Sister Society” (kind of like a sorority since I never went away to college). I guess I don’t have to start my own, I can just ask to be pledged into this one! All of you inspire me so much and I can NOT wait to get to Toronto and meet you ALL!!!! THANKS for ALL you do 🙂

  7. Andrea Rees May 25, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    That’s a fantastic history and thank you all for creating such a great group in Toronto. I look forward to attending my 1st TBEX as well as the pre-BEX/Travel Massive party.

  8. Andi May 25, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    This is what happens when you follow your heart!!! Congrats on your success!
    Andi recently posted..Ask Andi Anything + Giveaway (Part 3)My Profile

  9. Alicia May 28, 2013 at 8:31 am #

    So happy I was able to be part of your journey 🙂
    Meeting you has definitely changed my life for the better. Thanks for all the great memories.
    I look forward to sharing many more with you.

  10. Tim H June 1, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    This is great. I’ve recently started noticing/following travel blogs more so the photos here are a little surreal. TBEX is like the travel blogger version of the Avengers; seeing so many of the big names in one photo is fun!
    Tim H recently posted..Calgary Slam Poetry: Judge and be JudgedMy Profile

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