So this weekend, I attended the inaugural Women in Travel Summit which Beth Santos, who founded Go Girl Travel Network started. I ended up getting my ticket super last minute on Thursday night (there were only 6 tickets left!), got all my stuff together, and drove into Chicago on Friday afternoon from South Bend, IN. I also luckily scored a last-minute room at the stunning Palmer House Hilton, where the summit was taking place. I checked in, got ready and made my way downstairs to the hotel’s lounge for a welcome party to meet these fierce women!
Once I got into the party, I met so many incredible ladies – some were attorneys, hotel designers, engineers, journalists and also just awesome women who loved to travel in general. People had come from all over the U.S. and all over the world to be there. There were people from the Canadian Arctic, Australia and one of the wonderful speakers, Jeannie Mark, even flew in from China! I excitedly was trying to chat with as many people as possible, exchanging cards and contact information, telling stories of our journeys and about our consuming love and obsession of all things travel. It felt so wonderful to be surrounded by women who just got me. They all came from diverse backgrounds, cultures and cities – but they all had that same longing and lust for travel that just never really goes away.
A couple of us went out for tacos and drinks in one of my favorite eclectic and funky neighborhoods of Chicago; Wicker Park. I wanted to try to show them as many different areas of Chicago as I could before they left, as some of them had never been there before, and we didn’t have tons of free time outside of the summit sessions and activities. Although I wasn’t born and raised in Chicago myself, I have been going there my whole life and used to work there, so I know the city like the back of my hand. A few of the girls joked that I could be a tour guide! Maybe one day, ladies! After a few hours out on Friday night, we went back to the hotel to rest up for the sessions, speakers, and activities to come!
Saturday morning was kicked off beautifully by a keynote speech from Jeannie Mark of Nomadic Chick. She talked about her life as a junior project manager and how she went from that life to traveling the world. She shared with us her challenges, experiences and uplifted and inspired all of us to push forward and be brave, no matter what. Her speech definitely made me tear up, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one! We all had breakfast together and then went off to our sessions. The great thing about this summit, was that all the sessions were broken down into three tracks: traveler, blogger and entrepreneur. People wanting to learn a little bit of each or just specifically one aspect of travel blogging could mix and match their sessions however they wanted. I really loved the way the schedule was constructed and I ended up mixing and matching all of them for a well-rounded takeaway from the summit. There were also a lot of companies and sponsors in the exhibit hall for us to visit to meet, inquire about partnerships and writing opportunities and simply learn more about the things they were doing in the travel world. I saw some companies I had heard of and some I never would have heard of had I not attended the summit, so this was a great experience!
We got a two hour break for lunch and to see the St. Patrick’s Day Parade as well as the Chicago River after it had been dyed green. It was really great the way the day was organized so we had time to do this. I must admit, I had never seen the river green or the St. Patty’s parade so I was just as excited as all the people from out of town! It was so fun, and although we ended up losing each other very quickly amongst the huge crowds, we all got to see it! After we came back from the St. Patty’s festivities, we did a live Twitter chat party for Go Girl Travel Network on Saturday afternoon where we answered questions every 10 minutes. This was a fun way to not only engage with other women at the summit that we might not have met yet, but also people who couldn’t make it to the summit or who just tuned in each time on Twitter to discuss travel experiences.
That evening after all the sessions, a big group of us went across the street for dinner and to hang out and talk more. It was so much fun and I was pleasantly surprised that we got a table for eight of us on St. Patty’s and on a Saturday no less! Awesome food but better company! We ate and then made our way to a party being thrown for us at Gallery Bar in the River North neighborhood in Chicago. We decided to grab two cabs in front of the hotel since there were so many of us, but we got lucky when a limo driver in front of the hotel asked us if we needed a ride. And, who is going to say no to a limo? Not us! We got a bunch of great photos out of this on our way to the party. That night consisted of lots more chatting with people I hadn’t met yet, continuing connections and conversations with the ones I had and dancing! After the party, a group of us walked down to Three Dots and a Dash for some tiki bar awesomeness, which was needed as it started to snow again! Three Dots made us forget about the frigid cold outside and we instantly felt like we were on some tropical island somewhere! Drinks, dancing and fun ensued and then we finally made it back to the hotel to get a few hours worth of sleep before the final day of the summit.
Sunday morning was hilarious as we all had definitely had way too much fun the night before. I was losing my voice but somehow made it down to breakfast super early with only 4 hours worth of sleep. Got some food in me and I was ready to go! We finished up sessions in the morning followed by a final keynote speech by the uber-inspiring Evelyn Hannon of Journey Woman. She spoke to us about her life prior to starting her website and traveling around the world, her struggles and heartaches, the differences in technology from when she started travel writing and the current landscape as well as how proud she was of how far women’s travel had come. She was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Innovators in 2001 for the work she has done. At 74 years old, (she looks 54!) she seems as though she has had 10 different lives! I cried listening to her, and I don’t think there was anyone who didn’t! I took so much away from her speech and it will stay with me forever.
I am passing the women in travel torch to competent and passionate women. – Evelyn Hannon
This was the perfect ending to an unforgettable weekend. I am so happy I was able to go to the inaugural WITS this year and I strongly encourage all women in travel to go next year when it’s in Boston! I formed so many friendships this weekend and I can’t imagine not having had the opportunity to meet these gorgeous and uplifting women! The energy was truly electric and contagious this weekend; positivity and tenacity emanated from each and every person I met. There are no words for how grateful I am for meeting and learning from these women. Just, wow!