It’s been a few weeks now that I am back from San Francisco. I’m behind in posting as I’ve been distracted in sending Lulu for the first time to school (!!!), and as a result preparing for some life changes this Fall. I did not want to be remiss however, and not report back about the Book Passage Travel Writers’ and Photographers’ Conference I attended last month.
I had been to several travel conferences last year, some tourism-related, others blogger-related, but most were festivals for people who have a general passion for travel. It’s always interesting to see who attends these things, and I go with an open mind– but usually it’s easy to get lost. Most have hundreds of people, if not thousands. I visit a number of booths, make connections, exchange cards, meet people in the industry as well as random people who love to travel, and I send out various tweets about it throughout the day(s). And then I go home and eventually the event gets forgotten until the next one rolls around.
I had read about the Book Passage bookstore in Marin County and their annual Travel Writers’ & Photographers’ Conference sometime last year, and kept it in mind. By the springtime of this year, I decided to attend. I’m so glad I did. It was so decidedly different from any other.
First off, it is specifically a writers’ and photographers’ conference, so there is that. Not an industry show, not a we-love-travel-here-are-ideas-of-where-to-go-next show, not a bloggers-look-how-you-can-get-sponsors-and-increased-SEO show. The conference was also smaller than most– there must have been around 80 who attended. It was similar to the writing workshops I attend at home in NYC, stretched over three days, but all about travel writing, with an incredible faculty (read about them here), and spent alongside strangers with whom we shared our personal travel stories. That sharing alone breeds a certain bond and intimacy, and the energy was consistently of the nurturing, inspiring, and communal kind. One of the speakers called the 3-day event “summer camp for travel writers.”
The overall warmth could be because it was in California and most attendees were from the Bay Area. I was one of a handful of people who came from the East Coast, there weren’t many. But most likely the difference in atmosphere could be attributed to seasoned travel writer Don George, the chairman of the event– a positive, enthusiastic, kind, and happy person himself– but also to the venue. Book Passage is a dream book store, one you don’t find in many cities any longer. Not only do they encourage a love for reading and of browsing through their gorgeous shelves, they clearly have also built a loyal community with their presence in the Bay Area. For readers and writers alike.
The highlight of my time there however was to hear Georgia Hesse speak. At 81, she is revered in the industry, as the first ever travel editor for the San Francisco Examiner as well as for the San Fran Chronicle. She was the first keynote speaker, and had story after story to tell about her experiences on the road, her life as a reporter, finding that unparalleled moment in her travels and seizing it to make it an unforgettable piece of writing. I sat listening, wondering if I could ever live to tell even half of the stories she described to her captivated audience. It was one entertaining tale of exoticism and danger, then dramatic escape, after another. I wish I had recorded it.
One evening a friend of mine and I cornered Georgia over several glasses of wine and encouraged her to regale us with more of her adventures. I first met Julie, a travel blogger from Arkansas, at TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) in Toronto last year. We sat leaning in towards Georgia, with hearts full of wanderlust and a thirst for story, as if seated around a campfire. The whole trip out west was well worth those hours spent in the company of this trailblazing writer.
From what I understand, Georgia does not have children. If you have read my blog from its beginnings, you will know this is something I have struggled with: living a life of adventure through travel, with a child in tow. What I can do with Lulu does not compete with the sort of adventure one can do on his or her own. But I’ve made the best of the past four years with an infant, then a toddler. Not many children can say they’ve visited 4 out of 7 continents by the time they were three years old…
…although I would have loved for her to be able to claim she’s seen all seven! We did come awfully close to Antarctica…
All this is to say that our time traveling the world may be slowing down, especially as Lulu has officially started school full-time. But you never know what the future holds. Traveling, and seeing other countries, other cultures, will always be the thing that I love to do the most. But hearing Georgia’s and all the speakers’ stories at the conference, I felt I had so many more experiences to live, so much more adventure to seek.
Maybe I will have to wait until Lulu comes of a certain independent age. That will be when our true travel adventures will begin– and maybe then she and I will be able to return to Book Passage and inspire other writers, by telling our own stories of two lives well-lived.