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Besalú: Welcome to the BlogHouse

Besalu

“Hi Liz, I’m pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into the Travel Blog Villa.”

It was an ordinary Monday night in August when my inbox pinged with this email. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! As my mouth fell open in dumb shock, reality soon set in and I jumped off the couch and did a little dance of joy around my hot, stuffy apartment in Logroño, Spain.

A few weeks before I had applied to participate in the Blog House, a new collaborative effort set up by some of the most successful bloggers in the travel industry. The deal was several up and coming bloggers (me included) would go and spend a few days with them in a villa in the little village of Besalú, Spain (an hour from Girona), and learn all we could about the industry, improving our content, and everything from WordPress to photo editing to social media, all in a relaxed, casual environment. At the end of the trip, we’d all travel down to Girona together to put our newly acquired skills into practice at TBEX, a big travel blogging conference.

I was really nervous getting on the bus to Besalú from Girona. Apart from twitter, I had rarely interacted with other bloggers, especially face-to-face. For the past 2 years, blogging had been something very personal to me, a creative outlet, a way to continue writing and sharing stories after college. I had put my heart and soul into my blog and I was about to have it openly scrutinized for the first time by some of the best in the business. It was like taking my baby to its first doctor’s appointment. Of course I was nervous!

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But it was what I needed. Over the past year my goals and dreams changed. I realized I wanted to pursue travel writing and blogging as a career. But how to go about it? I had no idea. There is only so much you can google.

When the possibility of attending the Blog House, combined with the TBEX in Girona, Spain and TBU in Porto, Portugal in September, and all happening right on my back door, it didn’t take me long to yell out, “yes please, of course I’m going!” This was my chance to learn all about travel blogging. It seemed like fate.

Luckily, I heard English on the bus and made my way back to sit with Flora, Jen, Erin and Brett, all newbies too. As we got to know each other, my nerves began to fade and I realized how cool it was to interact with people exactly like me! In a slightly absurd way, it felt like we were all on the proverbial yellow school bus traveling on the way to the Blog Academy for our first day of lessons.

We spent our days holed up in probably the biggest, most luxurious house in the Costa Brava, and possibly all of Spain. My whole apartment in Spain could have fit in my bedroom there with room to spare. Through Charming Villas Catalonia, we stayed at the palatial Casa Marcial, a beautiful piece of property on the edge of town, with more rooms and staircases than I could count, a stunning kitchen and a seemingly endless supply of red wine. Scattered throughout the property are remains of various medieval and early modern buildings dating back a thousand years. There were tons of hidden rooms with sofas and conference desks for us to scamper off to and discuss things like building a brand and engaging with your audience. My kind of work environment.

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Our backyard

We would meet in big groups, break down in small sessions based on our needs and interests, as well as have plenty of one-on-one time with the pros.

“Wait a second, you still use Blogger?!” began my first conversation with Michael Hudson of Go, See, Write.

“No. Yes. Crap.” I mumbled. I secretly liked Blogger.

“We are going to fix that.” Alrighty then! Within minutes I had rough draft of what my new and improved self-hosted site would look like (still rough, sorry guys! I’m working on it!), several big key tips of how to maximize social media, as well as encouragement for starting my own ebook and phone app. I was elated.

Before we left Besalú for Girona, the tech god Michael Tieso from Art of Backpacking helped me have my new site up and running quickly (I originally used Bluehost as my host provider: setting up was super easy!). Without his help and encouragement I probably would have dragged my feet for another year about making the switch. After an hour session, I had about 20 new tabs open on my browser of new sites and programs I was itching to try out.

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Why do I always shut my eyes in important photos?!

“I’m going to do a quick session on iphoneography in the garden in 5.” Said Kate of Adventurous Kate.  With her I learned how to take amazing pictures with my iphone, and how to use them to my advantage on my social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter. Kate was wonderful with helping me build confidence to pitch and work with PR’s and tourism boards so I was comfortable by the time I arrived at TBEX.

Cailin of Travel Yourself inspired me to think outside the box and try out making videos for my blog, not to mention helping me take better food photos.

And Steph of Twenty-Something Travel took me under her wing as a mentor and gave me amazing advice about working in freelance and how to improve my writing. With her I developed a tentative 6 month plan of ideas and goals to work on with my blog, and recognizing what I need to improve on.

Getting to work with these seasoned bloggers individually, ask all the questions that have been on our minds, getting advice and tips that would normally have taken years of trial and error made for a truly unforgettable experience. Not to mention working with a good group of newer bloggers just like me. Everyone brought something different to the table and through casual conversation, impromptu sessions and loads and loads of questions, we learned a ton from each other.

We didn’t spend all of our time with our heads bent over our laptops furiously taking notes, or snapping a million photos with our smartphones. We had some time to enjoy all the amazing things Besalú had to offer. It made the perfect backdrop for the Blog House. A cute medieval village tucked away in northern Cataluña, it’s not surprising so few people know about it.

Our first afternoon we made time to go downtown and check out a local artist Kel Domenech’s gallery before heading back to the villa to cook dinner with chef Lee Pennington. In addition to learning important skills like SEO and WordPress Optimization, I learned to clean and stuff squid and cook paella.

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We had a traditional sprawling Catalán breakfast overlooking the gorgeous stone bridge at Ribera Bistro as well as typical long, several course late-night dinner with great conversation at Restaurant Pont Vell. Every night we all sat out on the patio in the garden under the stars drinking red wine, dancing and chatting til dawn. I’ll save us all the embarrassment and not mention the songs. We must have slept about 3 hours every night.

So what did I take away from such a singular experience? Besides several kilos gained in sampling the best Catalán cuisine and far too much vino tinto, I found encouragement, confidence and support from 14 amazing new friends and the belief that I can take this little blog of mine so much further than I ever dreamed when I started (shudder) a Blogspot account 2 years ago. Not to mention I finally learned what all those fancy acronyms meant! Before Besalu, I honestly didn’t know if I had what it took to make it and I wasn’t even sure how to go about it. The Blog House was the push I needed to really believe I could turn my travel blogging into a career.

So a big thanks to all the pros for being so open and welcoming, and so, so patient and helpful with all of us! What an amazing opportunity it was for us! And of course a huge thanks to my fellow up and comers, Flora from Flora the Explorer, Victoria from Bridges and Balloons, Cole from Four Jandals, Emma from Emma’s Travel Tales, Ed from The Polar Route, Naomi from Anywhere but Home, Jen from Jdomb’s Travels and Erin and Brett from No Checked Bags and Our Tasty Travels. You guys rock and you are so inspiring! I can’t wait to see where we all are in a year, hopefully at a Blog House reunion!

Are you a blogger? Given the chance, would you participate in something like the Blog House?  
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55 Responses to Besalú: Welcome to the BlogHouse

  1. Jessica Wray October 17, 2012 at 4:15 am #

    Omg, yes I would have loved to! I have been stalking just about all the attendee’s bloghouse reviews like a nerd! haha. Kinda makes me feel like I was there when I read them….but then I look up and I’m still at my desk in Korea *sigh* 😉

    • Liz October 18, 2012 at 12:49 am #

      thats so cute 🙂 It was amazing! they will have more I think so you should apply for another if you get the chance, take a vacation from korea 😀

      • Jessica Wray October 19, 2012 at 7:25 am #

        Hehe, yes I’d love a vacation from Korea (and to apply 🙂 ). I’ll get a big one in four months when I finish my contract and go travel. Maybe I’ll teach in Spain next, I really don’t know!

  2. Hayley October 17, 2012 at 4:44 am #

    I would love the opportunity to participate in a blog house! Oh the things I could learn. It sounds like you had an amazing time x

    • Liz October 18, 2012 at 12:50 am #

      I learned so much! It was so great, I’m majorly bummed it’s over 🙁

  3. Elizabeth October 17, 2012 at 6:31 am #

    Seriously, so jealous! Sounds like an amazing experience that will be invaluable as you move forward, beyond jealous. What a great opportunity, congrats! The blogger comment sure made me cringe, I still have it and don’t know what I am doing with web design, your so lucky to have gotten help. Your website looks great, excited to follow your journey! Cheers 🙂

    • Liz October 18, 2012 at 12:51 am #

      I was so lucky with the help and advice. It was so inspiring! being around such amazing, motivated people couldn’t help but encourage you to follow your dreams and believe in yourself. I miss blogger haha. I have to start from scratch with my new site and it’s taken loads of trial and error. thank goodness for the magical michael tieso!

  4. Cat of Sunshine and Siestas October 17, 2012 at 6:49 am #

    I remember your blogger confession from TBU!

    Since we had met a lot of these people before yuo went, I think you were not only deserving, but also a bit lucky to get in there! I wish I had the guts to just quit my job and start blogging full-time. After this master’s is over…it’s on.

    • Liz October 18, 2012 at 12:52 am #

      I am not there yet, but almost! I’ve given myself a timeline thanks to all these guys! I was so lucky! but it’s like what they keep telling us, you never know til you try and I almost didn’t submit an application for the blog house. good thing I did 😀

  5. Joy October 17, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    Looks like an amazing time! I would definitely love to do something like that.

    • Liz October 18, 2012 at 12:52 am #

      they’ll have more I think! It was so great!

  6. Jennifer October 17, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Great post, Liz! And kudos to cleaning and stuffing the squids. That was my favorite dish!

    Your new site is looking really good! I’m looking forward to following along and seeing you succeed.

    • Liz October 18, 2012 at 12:53 am #

      thanks jen! I’ve got a ways to go, but I’m working on it! that squid was majorly gross but at least I’ve done it once, haha. never again! Good luck and I can’t wait to read about everyone’s adventures this year. Your Germany castle pictures rocked!

  7. Flora October 17, 2012 at 9:46 am #

    Ahh the school bus to Blog Academy! It’s crazy how quickly we all gelled 🙂

    Fantastic post, Liz, you really brought back the memories for me – and I loved your honesty about not feeling good enough to be there (at first!). It’s wonderful how much of a push this experience gave us all.

    Some really epic photos in here too. Congrats!

    • Liz October 18, 2012 at 12:54 am #

      ROOMIE!!! We gelled so well! I miss you guys! reunion please???

  8. Trevor Huxham October 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    It was really great to read about this experience, Liz! I’m excited to see where you’re going to take this blog in the future. 🙂

    (By the way…I secretly like Blogger, too 😛 )

    • Liz October 18, 2012 at 12:54 am #

      😀 shhhh our secret!

  9. Emma Gray October 17, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    Great post, Liz! Some awesome pictures too! So much fun meeting you at Blog House, and your idea of a reunion in a year is sheer genius. Let’s grab a map, pick a place and all meet somewhere 😉

    • Liz October 18, 2012 at 12:55 am #

      sounds like a plan!

  10. Victoria | Bridges and Balloons October 17, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    I’m loving all these posts on the blog house. Brings back lovely memories. I think we all felt pretty nervous beforehand. It’s great how inspired we all feel now. Beautiful photos too. 🙂

    • Liz October 18, 2012 at 12:56 am #

      Thanks victoria 🙂 I miss it already too!

  11. Ed October 18, 2012 at 2:45 am #

    Hey Liz! These photos are awesome, I really like that black and white you did of the church… so moody and the seagull is a nice touch! Great post as always.

    It was great to meet you and I can’t wait to read more of your posts!

    • Liz October 21, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

      Thanks Ed! It was so lovely to meet you too! I can’t wait to see more of your amazing photos and posts 🙂

      I will see the aurora borealis there one day!

  12. Nicole October 18, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    I think anyone who is a blogger is suuuuper jealous of you, right now, and would have LOVED to do this.

    I’m also still on blogspot.

    – avoids eye contact –

    I haven’t even organised my own domain name yet.

    – hides –

    In the process of doing so though.

    – comes out of hiding –

    I’ve been reading more and more stories and blog posts about Spain and while I have always wanted to go there, the urge is now greater than ever.

    I’m jealous – very, very jealous. What an amazing opportunity.

    • Liz October 21, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

      It was such an amazing opportunity! I wouldn’t trade anything for that experience. Now that I’m self-hosting, I am starting to get the hang of it. It’s taking forever though, so give yourself some time when you switch!

      I really hope you make it out to spain one day! It’s an amazing place that I love so much. shoot me an email when you do 🙂

  13. Cassandra October 21, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Blogging conferences weren’t even been on my radar until this year, but now that I’ve seen some of my fav bloggers taking part, it makes me want to sign up, too!

    It’s so cool that you now have more determination and ganas to make full-time blogging a reality. What a great idea to set goals for a 6-month period–poquito a poco 🙂

    PS. This goes without saying, but I am super jealous of your time in Besalú! From exploring the pueblo to having cooking classes to networking like a fiend and learning tips of the trade, this was one life-changing trip.

    • Liz October 21, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

      It was so life changing! I learned so much there! Definitely try to come to some of the conferences. They are really fun, and everyone is so interesting and cool! you’ll meet really amazing people and get to hang out with people just like you!

      Besalú was so awesome! I want to go back one day and just hang out in the area for like a week, don’t suppose I’ll get the 20 room villa again tho 😛

  14. Lauren @ roamingtheworld November 11, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    I would love an opportunity like Blog House. I’ve been wanting to take my blog to the next level but like you, I’ve been overwhelmed, unsure and how to proceed, despite there been tons of info on the web.

    Congrats to you for applying, being accepted and making lots of goals.

    Very excited for you!

    • Liz November 12, 2012 at 3:38 am #

      there will be more of them! Keep your blog eyes peeled, it was a once in a lifetime experience!

  15. Camila Maria January 3, 2013 at 7:21 am #

    That would be so cool to attend something like Blog House…how did you find out about it? and yea…I’m still on blogspot as well. gah!!!!

    That little town is now on my To Visit List…next time I’m in Spain!

  16. Aiketa January 20, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

    Hi Liz,

    I’m a first time reader of your blog. I come through “¡Hola Yessica!” link on her blog. I am from Girona, and I wanted to read what your experiences in my area were and what you have written about. So this is why I came to this blog post.

    How cool it must have been to be able to participate in this event. And even cooler with the beautiful surroundings you had. Besalú is a really beautiful village.

    I would like to mention a little “mistake” that you made. You said: “We spent our days holed up in probably the biggest, most luxurious house in the Costa Brava, and possibly all of Spain.”

    And Besalú, is not in the Costa Brava. It’s in the Garrotxa county which is part of the “Pirineu de Girona”. Here’s a link that explains the counties that are part of Costa Brava and the ones part of the Pirineu de Girona.

    http://en.costabrava.org/categories/subcategory.aspx?t=regions-and-towns&com=QwBhAHQAZQBnAG8AcgB5AEkARABcADIANwAzAFwA

    I noticed this because since I’m from here, I got confused when I read Costa Brava because I thought I had missed something and that you weren’t staying in Besalú. Probably someone who is not from here, won’t get confused.

    I’m saying that in my most friendly way. I hope I expressed myself well enough.

    Saludos des de Barcelona.

  17. Chanel @ La Viajera Morena July 13, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    This sounds like an amazing learning and networking experience. I would definitely participate in The Blog House if given the chance, it seems like such an AMAZING opportunity. 😀

  18. Ani Mendez April 25, 2014 at 8:15 am #

    Liz, no entendí lo que es bloghouse, no hay un link hacia alguna página.

  19. Marie-France (a.k.a. BigTravelNut) June 24, 2014 at 9:32 am #

    Hi Liz! That sounds like an amazing opportunity. I’m going to TBEX Athens this fall (my first blogger conference) but hadn’t heard about the BlogHouse. I guess it’s still a bit early… Do you have any tips to increase one’s chances of getting in?

    Nice food pics BTW!

  20. Sharon August 11, 2014 at 10:18 am #

    Blogging advice, photography tips, vino tinto, great food and creative people who share your passion for travel….IN SPAIN? Is there somebody who WOULDN’T want to do that? That sounds amazing! Great post!

  21. Apartment barcelona February 3, 2015 at 4:40 am #

    Really amazing! Besalu is a wonderfull place in Catalonia.
    How was your paella? I know it is not easy the first time you cook it!

  22. Tara choo June 16, 2015 at 12:47 am #

    Liz! Congrats! Leading a traveling lifestyle is like a dream for every travelers on the earth! I like the part where you mentioned that you hide your blog earlier because it is kinda personal and privacy. I have the same thought and till now I am still hiding mine. Your post indeed inspiring!

  23. angelo July 29, 2015 at 9:50 pm #

    i am writing,blogging but i dont know how to monetize it. i would love to do what you’re doing no matter how hard it is.

  24. Atrez November 30, 2015 at 3:45 am #

    As a new Travel Blogger,1 month old to be exact tho ive been travelling alot the past years,I learnt something new today.BLOGHOUSE…..Cool stuff.

    Regards,
    Atrez (Singapore)

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