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Traveling to the Beaches Moms 2016 Social Media on the Sand Conference solo, or…
Why I ran away to Jamaica without my family and don’t feel bad about it.
5 Things I learned to do while traveling solo
I am a small blogger. My numbers aren’t horrible, but in a business where big numbers mean bigger pay, small can be hard. I really like the term Micro-Influencer, because even though I am small in the blogoshpere, I still have influence. My interactions are real and authentic and many of my followers listen to me and follow my advice or in turn give me advice on situations (THANK YOU FOR THAT!!!). And while I don’t mind being a micro-influencer for now, I don’t want to stay there. I want to grow and have bigger reach and in order to do that I need to learn strategies and techniques while networking with other influencers.
With that in mind, imagine my surprise and joy at being invited to a premiere blogging conference hosted in a gorgeous Caribbean setting. Of course I said yes! Sadly though, my kids aren’t little and my husband travels consistently for business, meaning that while I could say ‘yes!’ I could only do that for myself. Between his travel and my children’s semi-adulting: college, high school, etc., attending the conference meant I was doing it alone.
I became a #BeachesMom!
The Beaches Social Media on the Sand conference is an amazing event hosted by BSM Media and Beaches Resorts with an array of amazing sponsors like HP, Hasbro, Giggle and more. This was the 3rd year for the conference, and this year it was being held in gorgeous Negril, Jamaica at Beaches Negril!
I was going to another country, alone! So, first things first,
1. I researched and prepped.
Of course, most people consider Jamaica a safe place to travel, and it is (for the most part), but as someone who rarely drives to downtown Atlanta alone (those days of commuting to a Peachtree Street law firm are long past), traveling to another country alone did have me taking a few extra pauses in my preparations and has given me some real life learning to pass on to you.
I made extra copies of all my important documents and put them into every bag or piece of luggage that went along with me.
No, a photocopy of my passport wouldn’t do me a ton of good if I lost my original, but having it would be better than not. I also split up where I kept my passport and my passport card. When I renewed last time, I spent extra money to get the card. It has been useful already and I am glad I have both forms of I.D.
Speaking of where I keep my passport, I repurposed an adorable Ipsy bag earlier this year into my travel document bag. It is handy, I can grab it quickly and even keep it in the pocket of my Sparkle Skirt when traveling. I keep my Passport, a small change purse with a little cash, secondary credit card, and business cards in the bag and it works perfectly. The bag is big enough to hold the entire family’s passports, too, so when we do travel together, Mom has it under control (just as it should be!).
2. I packed lighter.
Believe it or not, I packed way less than usual, even though I did seem to have just as much luggage as I would for a long trip to Walt Disney World. With the amount of stuff I returned home with though, packing lighter but still carrying multiple pieces of luggage was smart.
One reason for packing lighter was due to the fact that when you travel alone, you are the one responsible for all your belongings. No husband to help schlep the camera or computer bag across the airport, through security and beyond. No kids to help split up the items among each person’s luggage or carry-on, and no one but you trying to get your items in and out of the carry-on bin. (When you are built like a Hobbit, this can be an issue!)
I left my DSLR and all the extra gear behind. Did I miss it? Uh, yeah, that thing is like an extension of my body! Did it ruin my trip? Not hardly. I used my phone’s camera exclusively and feel pretty happy about some of the shots I got. Remember, the best camera to get an amazing photograph is the camera you are using.
Next time I will leave behind the laptop. I didn’t need it, or use it, the way I thought I would. It took up space, added weight and was almost useless for this type of conference. But, and this is a big BUT…depending on the conference you are going to, you may need or want it. For this conference, desk space was limited so you would need to use it in your lap during sessions. For the conference I attended a few months before this one, desk space was plentiful and not having my laptop would have been detrimental. As I am new to conference going, I have had instances of both needing it and not needing it. It is a personal decision on whether to take it, so decide according to YOU and your use.
3. I was careful in my geo-tagging.
Of course going to a conference called Social Media on the Sand means that it is a given you will be sharing thoughts, pictures and locations on your social media accounts while it is going on. I checked in to the airports, locations at the resort and out in Jamaica but I made sure that my check-ins were broad and ambiguous. I didn’t check in my room number, the lounge-chair I was in on the beach, the terminal at the airport or any other location that could have someone find me with just a few steps. I didn’t hide that I was solo other than Walter, but I also didn’t make it easy for someone to find me, or get me away from the crowd.
I skipped venturing far off resort property, except with the group for a planned excursion, and kept my proximity close to the resort all other times. I ran the beach early in the morning, traveling far along the beautiful 7-mile beach of Negril, but I stuck to areas where I could see and be seen.
4. I took extra caution with my health.
Most people don’t realize I live with an auto-immune disease. Even many of my close friends and family forget that I have Lupus, because I don’t share a lot about it and I am a ‘push through’ type of person. Unless you really know me, you don’t know I have a kidney implant, take medicine to control a seizure disorder and stay on blood thinners to prevent clotting issues along with other life-important medications. You wouldn’t know that besides living with Lupus, I am a cancer survivor and my immune system is whack. Because the strangers I am traveling among wouldn’t know those things, it is up to me to protect myself even more.
Traveling solo while having medical challenges CAN BE DONE, but you must remain vigilant about your health. For me, that meant staying as healthy as possible before the trip even began; eating smart, staying hydrated, and keeping my exercise levels up. During the trip it meant smart food choices, increased germ patrol protocol and rest when I needed it. It also meant playing things a little safer. Would I have liked to parasail? Yes, of course! Was parasailing when you had no emergency contact along with you smart? No, of course not. So, parasailing in Jamaica can wait for when the family is along with me, which is fine with me because I plan for us to also hit a few more things that I played it safe from this trip, like zip-lining and scuba-diving.
Of course, all those safety precautions aside, always make sure you wear your medical alert bracelet or other medical ID and have a medical alert card with your info and emergency contacts listed with you at all times. If you end up needing medical care, you want the medical team to know what they are dealing with when it comes to your health.
5. I left myself open to whatever may happen.
Since I was alone, I was a free agent. I could eat when and where I wanted to. I could join new friends for dinner or stick to ‘me time’ and dine alone. I swam when I felt like it, slept when I forced myself to and had a trip around what I wanted to do in my free time. I randomly joined different groups of attendees; on the beach, at the bar, on the dance floor. I made so many wonderful new connections and fantastic new friends. We networked, talked shop, and enjoyed each other’s company until I flitted along like a butterfly to the next sweet bush. Introvert me, being a social butterfly…in person and not online! It was such a wonderful way to get fired up for the work of blogging and social media. Being around successful people make you want to be successful. I appreciate every one of the knowledgeable people I connected with and know that their sharing of knowledge with me will result in my sharing it with someone else. Our own Butterfly Effect, the Social Butterfly Effect, begun at Beaches Negril in Jamaica.
One night, after all our planned events were over for the evening and me finding myself still too keyed up to turn in, I star gazed with a group of locals on the beach. I shared the Google Sky Map app with them, they were astonished! I had a great time just hanging out, chatting about the cosmos and the problems our countries faced and all other things people talk about. Jamaican people are warm and inviting and can talk all night but also know when to just be quiet and chill. Watching the Orionid meteor shower with Jamaicans on the beach in Negril will be one of my most treasured memories of all time. The funny thing about that encounter though is that if I had been with my family, or even if I had made more solid dinner reservations with other attendees that night instead of eating on my own, I wouldn’t have had that moment. Being a free agent paid off and letting things unfold as they may was well worth it. I gained new friends, new insights into the social media world and a new perspective on so many things.
I set a goal for myself to attend at least two conferences this past year and I am so proud of myself for achieving that goal! Even though this past year has been one of the most challenging years of my entire life, I am so glad I went on this trip and experienced this conference with these people. The most important thing I learned was that I could let the downturns in life get in the way of my dreams and goals, or I can push through them and still dream big, make plans and reach goals; no matter what life throws my way! I always believe things work out as they should and attending this conference concreted that belief for me. (And honestly, all I have to say to that is, “Thank you, God!”)
I am a writer. I have gone through things in order to have a story. Now it is time to get back to writing and this conference helped me get there. There’ll be more to that in one of the next Beaches installments (See? This conference has given me plenty to write about!) when I discuss the conference itself and answer some questions many first-time conference goers want to know, and of course there’ll be a review of the resort, too! But before all that, one last post of what I learned on a deeper level during this conference. So much! We’re gonna get deep on that one! There is lots to come, so stay tuned!