…Getting Real at BlogHouse Chicago

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19:02 CEST Friday, March 14th  – What’s BlogHouse?

I hit the send button. My application to BlogHouse Chicago 2014 was flying through cyberspace and then the waiting game began. On my early morning commute a few weeks earlier I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I came across a tweet from a travel blogger whom I’ve idolized for quite some time. Curiously clicking, I learned that BlogHouse was a small travel blogger conference organized and hosted by the experts at Navigate Media Group.

This could hardly be called a conference, as I soon found out, during the intimate and intensive 4 days and 3 nights I shared with about a dozen fellow travel bloggers. We were all eager to gain knowledge about every aspect of the industry including photography and media, web design and optimization, social media, writing, networking, and the nitty-gritty of the blogging business.

Short coffee break between sessions.

Short coffee break between sessions


17:29 CEST Sunday, March 23rd  – I’m in…now what?

Just about a week later I received an email with the subject “Welcome to the Chicago BlogHouse!” Sitting in my tiny bedroom in Madrid, Spain I starting jumping up and down shouting for joy. I’m sure my Spanish roommate thought I had won the lottery – at least that’s how I felt! After a mini fiesta for one, I read over the email three times while second-guessing that they had actually picked me to fill one of the few spots…really…they want me?

Now I had 72 hours to rework my life in order to accept my acceptance (aka get my boss’s blessing to leave Madrid a month early and change my pre-booked flight home). I definitely lucked out because of all the cities in the world BlogHouse 2014 happened to be in Chicago where I had lived for four years and is just a short commuter train ride from my hometown- What are the odds?

¡Hasta Luego Madrid!

¡Hasta Luego Madrid!

14:05 CDT Thursday, June 5th – Houston, we’ve landed.

Ready. Set. Go! In just 3 days I wrapped up all my work obligations in Madrid, packed up my life (and almost everything I accumulated over 10 months), said “adios”  to amazing friends, flew over 4,000 miles back to Chicago, and unpacked/repacked for BlogHouse. After a quick 24-hour jaunt back home, I was walking down Halsted Street to the palatial Villa D’ Citta in the gorgeous Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Fun fact – I went to college at DePaul University just a year earlier in the same neighborhood of million dollar mansions dreaming of living in one someday. Well I guess this was a taste of the ‘good life’ for four days at least. This was quite a surreal experience similar to walking into a blogger edition of The Real World. I was ushered to the Al Capone themed ‘man cave’ on the lower level equipped with a throne fit for a king, in-the-wall fireplace, bar, and of course a big screen TV with sound system – not that we had much time for movies and popcorn.

The Al Capone themed 'Man Cave'

The Al Capone ‘Man Cave’

When the warm, generous, and incredibly hospitable staff at Villa D’ Citta is not busy catering to a full house of travel bloggers, they are accommodating the needs of guests at this lovely boutique mansion that’s ranked the #1 bed and breakfast in Chicago according to TripAdvisor. Thanks Flip Key for the sweet digs.

Original blue prints of the villa

Original blue prints of the villa

18:37 CDT Saturday, June 7th – Open up the wine tap!

Shortly after arriving, the welcome reception was the first chance to meet and chat with all the participants and brilliant travel blogging experts. With glasses of wine and refreshing Goose Island brews in hand, everyone began to mix and mingle. Every detail of BlogHouse was meticulously planned and executed by the crew from Navigate Media Group:

I am beyond grateful for this opportunity to learn from the personal experiences of these professionals who have navigated the oftentimes rough waters that is travel blogging. Each of these special people has impacted me (and this blog) immensely. From a major blog site overhaul, including rebranding and technical behind the scenes work, photo/video tips and tricks, and so much more, BlogHouse would not be a transformative experience without them.

15:15 CDT Sunday, June 8th – A world away from the ‘Loop.’

Downtown Chicago is typically called the loop by locals due to the elevated train tracks that encircle the skyscrapers of the city’s center. Honking taxi horns, crowds of tourists, and the hustle and bustle of a large city are not to be found in picturesque Lincoln Park. I was lucky enough to take a relaxing stroll through my old stomping ground while snapping pix after a Photography 101 lesson.

Flowers blooming in Lincoln Park, Chicago

Flowers blooming in Lincoln Park, Chicago

This is honestly one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city, boasting a free zoo, quiet tree-lined residential streets, the lakefront, delicious eats, and many parks. During the BlogHouse, one of my favorite Lincoln Park eateries Café-Ba-Ba-Reeba catered a Spanish feast fit for a king. A taste of Spain stateside was a nice touch after enjoying Spanish cuisine for almost a year in Madrid.

Spanish Feast from Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba

Spanish Feast from Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba

20:10 CDT Monday, June 9th – After hours, things heat up!

Although at the end of each day my brain felt like an over absorbed sponge, it was not about to end without some fun. In case you didn’t know, travel bloggers tend to have the ‘work hard, play hard’ attitude. So how do you entertain world travelers who (it seems like) have tasted and seen it all?

I assure you that evening events like a VIP industry night at Vertigo Sky Lounge, a pleasant boat ride on the Chicago River via Chicago Electric Boats, and a saucy Mexican dinner at Mercadito restaurant without any shortage of libations thanks to Gogo, seemed to do the trick.

Chicago Electric Boats Ride on the Chicago River

Captain Amber, Jenny, me, and Chanel enjoying the Chicago Electric Boat Ride on the Chicago River

12:00 CDT Tuesday, June 10th – Meet the Class of 2014!          

Like all good things (amazing blogger experiences included), BlogHouse came to an end. Although there wasn’t a confessional to spill your guts, people making out in the hot tub (there actually was a hot tub!), out of control fights, or a camera crew, this is probably the closest I’ll get to being on a reality TV show and I’m perfectly content with that.

In all seriousness though, life after ‘graduating’ BlogHouse is similar to life after college. Sure I learned more than I ever could have imagined from the best in their field, now I also have a network of supportive people who face similar trials and tribulations. I don’t mean ‘network’ in the sense of LinkedIn connections whom I may never meet with again. I’m talking about a group of friends to continue conversations, ask new questions, and share self-doubts with. Meet my fellow BlogHouse 2014 alumni and give them a round of applause by checking out their craft.

The BlogHouse Chicago Class of 2014

The BlogHouse Chicago Class of 2014 & the ‘Experts’ – Photo Courtesy of Lisa Lubin

One final thank you to Navigate Media Group, FlipKey, Megabus, Gogo, and all the in-kind donations that made BlogHouse Chicago a success!


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7 Responses to …Getting Real at BlogHouse Chicago

  1. Jenny @ A Thing For Wor(l)ds July 8, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

    So great to meet you, Ryan! Your new blog looks great and I’m excited to follow along on your next Madrileño adventures.

  2. Ryan July 8, 2014 at 11:36 pm #

    Jenny, thank you! It was so nice meeting you too. I hope that I can visit you in Barcelona next year. There’s still a lot I want to do to the blog, but I feel like I have a good start.

  3. Chanel | Cultural Xplorer July 9, 2014 at 9:02 pm #

    It was awesome meeting you and spending time with you on our awesome boat (boat buddies for life!) I love the site redesign and I can’t wait to read all about your adventures! 😀

    • Ryan July 16, 2014 at 7:52 pm #

      Chanel, thank you! I’ve already made a lot of changes to the site, but I’m still making tweaks everyday. So much work, yet so worth it. Safe travels 🙂

  4. Beth July 12, 2014 at 3:02 am #

    I’m glad you were able to return home for BlogHouse! We need to have more Chicago blogger meet ups when everyone is around 🙂

    • Ryan July 16, 2014 at 7:47 pm #

      Beth, I absolutely agree! It was nice to feel at home and to share our amazing city with all the other bloggers. Let me know about that blogger meet and how I can help. Are you traveling any time soon?


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