There is something about bringing a group of women together. Especially bringing a group of women together who love to travel. I first experienced this when I traveled to Bali in 2011 for a women's surf and yoga retreat. I knew that it would be fun, but I didn't anticipate the way I would bond with other women who have the same passion for travel as I do. I had an identical experience when I traveled to Morocco last year on a women's fitness retreat.
When I registered for the Women in Travel Summit (WITS), the first and only women's travel blogging conference, I didn't know what to expect. While I have been a freelance travel writer for several years, I'm relatively new to the blogging scene. I had never attended a blogging conference, and I expected to be surrounded by women who had been blogging for years. I definitely didn't anticipate any bonding moments. We were there to learn from travel industry experts and engage in networking.
That's not exactly what happened.
Don't get me wrong. I did take seminars taught by travel industry experts, and I learned a lot - even more than I expected. And I did engage in networking. But it was so much more than that. My first misconception was that I would be the only blogging novice. Most of the women I spoke with at WITS had either just started travel blogs or were looking for inspiration to start their own. My second - and more important - misconception was that there wouldn't be time or opportunity to get to know these women and bond with them over our common love for travel as I had experienced in the past.
WITS was held over St. Patrick's Day weekend at the historic Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, attracting over 150 women from as far away as Australia, China and the Canadian Arctic. The conference began with a welcome party on Friday night. Saturday morning kicked off with a breakfast and opening keynote speaker followed by a full day of sessions from which we could choose to attend such as "Finding a Job in the Travel Industry" and "How to Be a [Travel Blogging] Rockstar." On Saturday night we had another party and Sunday morning we were back for more sessions. WITS closed early afternoon on Sunday with a second keynote speaker.
In addition to the scheduled activities, we had several moments to just be women hanging out in Chicago. We walked through the throngs of people to see Chicago's St. Patrick's Day parade. We scoured the city for deep dish pizza. We got lost walking around. We took an impromptu limo ride to the WITS party on Saturday night. We went out dancing. We commiserated the next morning when we had only gotten four hours of sleep.
And in between all of that, we talked about our common passion: travel. We discussed how many states and countries we had each visited. Our favorite places. Our upcoming trips. We rapidly took (and then compared) notes during our WITS sessions. We talked about how we were going to incorporate what we had learned into our own blogs, businesses and travels. We connected over the shared experience of feeling like we were at a crossroads in our lives - wanting to get away from our corporate jobs to travel or to start travel-related businesses and blogs.
We sat through inspiring speeches together - the opening speech by Jeannie Mark (aka Nomadic Chick) and the closing speech by Evelyn Hannon (aka Journeywoman, the "Grandmother of Womens' Travel"). Evelyn's first solo trip to Europe 30 years ago paved the way for our own solo travels, and her travel writing starting 20 years ago paved the way for our own travel blogs. One sentence during Jeannie's speech spoke to me more than any other and easily sums up the entire purpose of my blog:
"Women deserve to star in their own epic adventure."
Even though we were all just sitting in a hotel ballroom listening to Jeannie and Evelyn, we were engaged in the experience together. Either Jeannie or Evelyn would say something that particularly resonated with this group of independent, oftentimes solo, female travelers, and we would look around at each other, smiling, nodding, even tearing up. This was a collective experience. The stories they told could have been our own lives they were speaking of, the similarities were so striking.
They were speaking my language. They were speaking the language of all of the women in that hotel ballroom. They were speaking the language of this sorority we've formed of all women travelers around the world.