I spent last weekend in the wilds of Woodinville, Washington’s Willows Lodge, attending the Travel & Words Spring 2011 travel writing conference. It was fabulous and exhausting and successful. I sold a few books, but more importantly I made a whole slew of new connections with Pacific Northwest visitors bureau folks, writers, editors, photographers, and travel industry pros. All these folks were interested, excited, and supportive of my efforts to bring the message of travel to people with chronic pain and hidden disabilities. Especially given that this was a straight-up travel writer’s con with a sustainability theme and no disability/accessibility spin at all, the amount of enthusiasm for my topic thrilled me.
So what made Travel and Words so pain-friendly?
1. Location, location, location!
The Willows Lodge has many fab features for travelers with pain. More on that in a hotel review post. Just the fact that the conference was set in a hotel helped–I had a shortish walk from the conference room to my bed when I needed to take a break and lie down.
2. Bringing in Visitors Bureaus as vendors.
Why does this matter? For me, it’s huge for a couple of reasons. The biggest is that I’m not independently wealthy, and thus I do need as much help in the form of comps and press trips as I can get if I’m going to keep on expanding the borders of this blog, my articles, and my books. Some pubs neither permit press-trip-based pieces nor pay expenses, and some conferences are Just Too Good(tm) for the press trip crowd. Yippee for them. But I need to pay my medical bills.
The other great thing about the visitor’s bureau folks is that I can talk to them about the needs of travelers with pain, and they can talk to me about the best parks, museums, hotels, and restaurants that fit those needs in their areas. They know all about their locales–who better to ask for the best destinations within a region?
3. Depth of expertise.
Less than two years ago, at a different travel writing conference, I asked to Well Known Online Travel Writers(tm) what they’d recommend I do to drive traffic to this site. I got two blank stares, followed by “Uh, um, just write good content and people will find it.” Seriously. In 2009. It took everything I had at the time to keep from rolling my eyes so hard that they’d stick backwards permanently.
At this con, I got down-to-earth practical advice about how to use Google Analytics, keywords in title bars, and Twitter to expand my readership. Hooray! Improvements to come in future weeks.
4. A realistic approach to sustainability.
Which included, right at the beginning of the conference, discussion about the inherent downsides and controversies that come from an all-green, all-the-time, no-further-thought approach to sustainable travel. As Scott Rains often says, Universal Design in tourism creates social sustainability. No one, nowhere can guarantee that she’ll be as able-bodied tomorrow as she is today. Every one of us can step out into the street and get hit by a garbage truck, thus finding ourselves suddenly in need of things like restroom grab-bars, sidewalk curb cuts, and hotel bedroom hoists.
Thank you, Travel and Words, for providing me with such a great and tolerant experience! I look forward to seeing you all again next year.