Chumming the waters (and Andrew McCarthy)

Twitter finally paid off.

Last week I followed a link in a random tweet by some random person – I can’t even remember who – and arrived at the site of the Boston Globe Travel Show. It would happen in 4 days, I read, and there would be an “industry” day before the public show. Within minutes I had registered (as “press”) and was ready to meet some fellow travel industry peeps.

There are many reasons why the suburbs (where I’ve been sequestered lo these many months) are a painful, awful place to live (if you don’t have kids in school). The biggest is that you are cut off from other people. Certainly from interesting other people.

Even more important, I was starting to feel like the only “travel person” in the world who was not posting pics from Guatemala or New Zealand or space . Twitter et al is great to follow, discover and connect with people. But the continuing need for humans to connect face-to-face with like-minded people is proven by the steady stream of conferences, trade shows and meetups that sell out on a regular basis. I needed some of that.

The first half of the “industry-only” day consisted of networking meetings. By about 4 I was almost out of business cards.

Among the dozens of people I met were Brian Bigda and his dad, who just started bicycletourfinder.com. It’s a (you guessed it) bicycle tour aggregator. They’re looking for destination pieces that set the scene and give context for their tours.

Continuing the bike theme, I also met Norman Patry, owner of SummerFeet.net, which arranges bike tours in Maine, Canada, Italy and a few other places. A former unhappy financial services guy, Norman quit to start SummerFeet, he says, after a series of stern “conversations with my ceiling.”

Getting away from bikes (which still kinda freak me out), I had a great chat with Dan Hopkins of GrassTrack Safaris, which runs low-budget camping safaris in Bostwana. He started the company, he says, “because I like camping in the bush.” His first such experience was in high school, when his aunt paid his way to go on safari with none other than Charles Darwin’s grandson. I imagine such an experience would, you know, be inspiring.

For the second half of the day, they let us loose on the exhibitors – representatives of the tourism boards of countries around the world, as well as a number of tour operators.

My quest was to “chum the waters,” as they say in shark diving. I specifically asked to be put on every single PR list.

As I made the rounds, pressing my business card into every outstretched hand, everyone in the exhibition hall magically consented to rebrand the much-maligned “press trip” as a “fam trip” – so-called “familiarization trips” (arranged and paid for by tourism boards with support from local tourism businesses) that are strictly taboo for those aspiring to ever write for the NY Times Travel Section but without which any travel writer, great or small, cannot afford to do her job.

My far-and-away favorite from this portion was Mario Aguirre from the Honduras Tourism Board. I loved Honduras during my too-brief trip there (despite the hospital stay and stitches) and to which I’ve always wanted to return.

I left that first day exhausted, carrying about 287 kilos of schwag, a giant stack of business cards and an equally giant stack of ideas.

The second day – the first day open to the public – was less interesting for me. With such a crush of people booking cruises and filling out entry forms for free trips, it was hard to have conversations or do business. So I did what any sane person would do. I entered every single trip-giveaway sweepstakes, ate a delicious pork sandwich at the International Culinary Stage, and blathered nonsense (after pressing my card into his hand) at actor, director and wonderfully thoughtful, prizewinning travel writer Andrew McCarthy, who says, “If Americans traveled more, they’d be less fearful.”

Here here!

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