How to get started as a professional (paid) speaker

Sheila Scarborough speaks at ICTT India 2013 in Kovalam Kerala
Speaking at an international travel technology conference in Kerala, India in 2013. I had just finished threading a microphone wire through my top in front of a room full of mostly men – be ready for anything as a speaker.

Although I’ve been a speaker on social media for tourism for years, I vividly remember getting started and the things that made me scratch my head.

When someone asked in a LinkedIn Group about becoming a pro speaker, this is the advice that I shared….

What Do You Speak About?

First I had to decide what sort of expertise I had that would translate into a 45 – 60 minute presentation. Sounds obvious, but it helps to start out with a few sample presentation titles, brief descriptions for them, and maybe some draft slide decks.

You have to be able to answer the question, “What do you speak about?” and then send the conference organizer a session title, description, bio, and head shot photo. Be prepared.

For example, I currently focus on social media for a specific industry, but when I started out I was doing more general social media how-to workshops (LinkedIn was and still is a favorite topic.) One of my early talks in 2008 was about better travel blogging, another was the impact of social media on small business.

Sample title for a business breakfast club: “Follow the Bouncing Blog Post: How the Web 2.0 World Communicates.” Sounds kinda quaint today, doesn’t it?

WHY Are You Speaking? What’s the Goal?

You also need to think through what you want your speaking to do for you personally and/or for your business.

Do you want people to hire you or buy your book because they were inspired by one of your presentations? The direct linkage can be tough to make, since no one likes hearing someone sell from the stage.

Speaking helps your visibility and your credibility, but it’s probably not going to be an immediate sales machine unless you sell weight-loss solutions or other “magic answers” to people’s problems.

It’s a long game to build awareness and reputation. I remember a line of enthusiastic people getting one of my business cards after an early presentation, and I naively assumed that they’d all be emailing me the next day to hire me or buy our Tourism Currents online course in social media.


People get back home after a conference and they get busy with their regular lives, so you must have a process for follow-up and landing the actual business.

Building Experience

Just like a writer or artist, you need a portfolio, so start out building experience and getting testimonials from speaking to small local groups….probably for free at first, but if someone asks what you charge, better have thought through some price points!

I was caught flat-footed when someone first asked me my keynote speech rate; I had to call a more experienced friend to see what she charged. Here’s a helpful Forbes piece on speaker fees.

Build experience and credibility with smaller meetings, but be bold and pitch larger events, too, about about 9 – 12 months out from the event date. My first two big ones were SXSW Interactive and BlogHer, which have a standardized speaker proposal process.

Go to event websites and look for “Call for Speakers” sorts of links. Get in early with a fantastic, compelling pitch.

Speaker Page and Sales Info

Make sure you have photos and video from those gigs, because you also need to start populating a Speaker Page on your website with examples of past work, sample video, sample slide deck(s) plus testimonials, upcoming gigs, pricing arrangements, and contact information.

Here is my own Speaker page.

Get some video made as soon as you can; people need to be able to see you in action. You can post a full presentation plus maybe a clip or two that’s a short highlight from one of your sessions.

Tip: If there’s an event that wants you to speak, and it fits your goals, but they have a very limited budget, ask about waiving your speaker fee in exchange for professional video of your presentation. If they have a videographer onsite anyway, it’s a simple way to get good footage.

Some speakers also create a “one-sheet” sales handout to summarize their speaker offerings and explain why a meeting organizer might want to hire them.

Women – Get On the Podium!

It bothers me that so many conference marketing materials feature a sea of male faces as presenters.

Too many women don’t assert themselves and confidently ask to be in the speaker lineup, and that’s why so many lineups are full of guys who do ask. Do not wait to be anointed from on high because it’s not going to happen. That’s the classic problem of women being “good girls” and waiting patiently to be recognized for their expertise.

Your success depends on YOU, not someone else’s agenda or timeline.

If you find out about a great event but discover that you’ve missed the proposal deadline, dig around to find a contact and ask to be considered anyway. Maybe they still have openings, or you might be able to fill in for someone who drops out.

Get advice, ideas, and encouragement from Denise Graveline’s blog, The Eloquent Woman.

For further reading, Hubspot’s INBOUND conference just published an excellent how-to post about landing speaking gigs. Check for a local Toastmasters in your area for more practice, and don’t miss the National Speakers Association #NSAchat on Twitter every Tuesday night.

Do you have questions about becoming a speaker, or advice to give others? Fire away in the comments below!

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What is SXSW Interactive?

Cover of SXSWi 2007 print conference guide (photo by Sheila Scarborough)
The cover of my SXSWi 2007 print conference guide; the first time I attended the event (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

It is that time of year here in central Texas.

Time for “South by.”


South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

“The thing that ate the month of March.”

There are three parts to the SXSW festival – Interactive, Film, and Music. Many only know about the well-publicized Music portion (which is indeed a huge deal) but in fact the Interactive/technology part of the event draws the most attendees – 30,000+ in 2014, with the same number or more expected this year in 2015.

Some think of it as a social media conference or even a marketing conference, but for me it is much more about intersections….the Venn diagrams of our lives. It’s a giant discussion about the web of technology, digital, mobile, social communications, and business (especially entrepreneurship,) plus media, government, and how technology matters in “life stuff,” like sports, food, fashion, and parenting.

The event has quite a rep as one big boozy party – “Spring Break for Nerds” – but those of us who did college already usually leave that part to the amateurs.

Local Austin American-Statesman technology reporter Omar Gallaga has a SXSWi definition that I really like in his article “What’s changing and not changing at this year’s SXSW Interactive.” He calls Interactive “the annual festival celebrating innovation, ideas and dilemmas of the tech age….”

If that sounds like a sprawling mess, well, that’s why I like it. It is about life, and life is messy.

But here’s why I never miss it….it is the one event that shows you right now what people will be doing three to five years in the future.

In 2007, I went to my first #SXSWi. I’d just moved to the Austin area, and I’d started a family travel blog when I retired from the Navy in early 2006. In between incomprehensible geek terms in the event’s online marketing material, I saw the words “digital creative” and “blogger.”

“Hey, that’s me!” I thought. “I don’t know about any of this other technology-related chatter, but I’ve been blogging for at least a year, so I’m not totally clueless.”

I’ll never forget Kathy Sierra‘s 2007 opening keynote – she made a joke about Python and Ruby (computer programming languages) that had the whole room laughing, and I did not understand a word of it. Uh, oh. Had I spent about $300 to be completely lost for five days? (Note: Interactive passes are now more like $800-$1300, so I got in when it was a bargain.)

As it turned out, my money was well spent if I wanted to see the future and think about human connections and communications every spring, with hundreds of the smartest people on Earth all thrown together in one place.

Eventually I ended up on the SXSWi Advisory Board (now called the Programming Committee,) which means that every summer, my Board colleagues and I read through hundreds of panel proposals for the next spring’s conference. I’m a tough sell; recommending the ones that are really unique and interesting, and giving a picky thumbs down recommendation to many, many others that in my view are just social media marketing presentations overlaid with a veneer of techie verbiage to make them sound good.

Every year, there are snarky tweets, blog posts, and media articles saying that SXSWi is done, over, run its course, jumped the shark. People tweet that it’s too expensive, it’s impossible to get a place to stay (the Austin downtown hotel situation IS appalling but they’re furiously building more lodging,) the “panels all suck,” blah, blah, blah.

Methinks thou doth protest too much. You KNOW that this is where the action is.

There is no other event that will mix you in with so many smart, creative, interesting people from around the world doing extraordinary things. If you show up to such a gargantuan gathering without a plan, you will doubtless miss a huge part of the value unless you’re very good at on-the-fly networking. If you show up only to party, then rock on, but the rest of us have higher aspirations.

SXSWi is my personal and professional Super Bowl, and I’m honored to walk in every year, pick up my badge, and dive into five days of mind-blowing presentations and discussions.

I haven’t tried daily blogging from the conference for quite awhile, but I may give it a shot again this year….a short summary post of what’s top of mind as each day concludes. Let’s see how it turns out!

(Update – well, that didn’t happen, although I did a lot of live tweeting, but I’m working on follow-up posts for both Tourism Currents and the Perceptive Travel Blog, and I’ll post links to them here.)

Update:   On the Perceptive Travel Blog  –  Favorite travel apps discovered at SXSW

On Tourism Currents  –   Trends in tourism: a 2015 mid-year update  –  also includes insights from NMX (New Media Expo)

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Travel media resources to share with your customers

Magazine rack; so many choices! (photo courtesy Cathy Stanley-Erickson on Flickr CC)
Magazine rack; so many choices for content! (photo courtesy Cathy Stanley-Erickson on Flickr CC)

While putting together a presentation for the ETC (Educational Travel Community) conference in Boston, I was asked by the organizers to create a list of 15 travel-related resource sites that tour operators, tour suppliers, alumni group travel organizers, and others could monitor for current items of interest, and then share with their email and social media audiences.

Useful content that you share is content that YOU don’t have to create. It’s a time-saver and it’s also helpful for your customers or guests for those days when you don’t have original blog posts, photos, audio, or video.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of blogs and sites, and it’s a very mainstream version of my favorites, but here’s what I suggested:

** Wendy Perrin’s Travel Tips. Wendy’s been a consumer travel expert for years, first with Condé Nast Traveler and now with TripAdvisor.

** Practical Travel Gear – reviews and info on great gear for families plus business and adventure travel.

** Seat 2B – straightforward business travel tips from Joe Brancatelli.

** From National Geographic Travelerthe Intelligent Travel Blog. One of my long-time favorites.

** From USA Today Travel – 10 Best. Sometimes, a listicle will do just fine.

** Travel photography from Gary Arndt – Everything Everywhere. He’s also a “Wanderer in Residence” for the G Adventures tour company.

** The Amateur Traveler podcast; one of longest-running travel podcasts, with Chris Christensen.

** Baby Boomer travel expert Donna Hull – My Itchy Travel Feet.

** Unique, award-winning travel stories: Perceptive Travel and the Perceptive Travel Blog (I co-founded the blog in March 2007 and still write for it. We won the SATW Lowell Thomas Gold Award last year, and the webzine won NATJA’s top award this year.)

** From the UK – the Guardian travel section.

** Travel alone and don’t feel weird, with Solo Traveler.

** The U.S. State Department’s official blog – DipNote.

** Travel, airline, and hotel industry news – Skift.

** Travel technology news and analysis – Tnooz.

** Living and working in other countries – Transitions Abroad.

Then, as a bonus, I gave them….

Five Things to Do Now to Help With Content

1. Get the Travel & Hospitality SmartBrief emailed to you.

2. Get a dashboard like Hootsuite or TweetDeck to help manage social media.

3. Use Buffer to schedule content sharing for when you can’t be online, or to schedule overnight to reach international audiences in faraway time zones.

4. Post historic photos on Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #TBT – Throwback Thursday.

5. Share photos related to a theme every Friday on Twitter’s #FriFotos.

Over to You

What are some of your favorite resources for travel-related information and news? Let us know in the comments….

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What does success look like?

You have the same 24 hours as Beyonce mug by Sweaty Wisdom on Etsy (photo by Sheila Scarborough)
You have the same 24 hours as Beyonce mug by Sweaty Wisdom on Etsy (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

If success here at the start of a new year means “Email Inbox Zero,” or a blog and email newsletter editorial calendar already completed, or all unfiled piles of paper gone from my house, or a nice set of year-long personal and professional goals taped to the bathroom mirror….well, then I am going back to bed.

Visualizing who you want to be and what you want your ideal life to look like is a great way to stay focused on life’s journey.

It’s similar to athletes who visualize winning an important race or an Olympic gold medal; as they roll out of bed for the daily grind on the track and in the weight room, they SEE themselves succeeding. They can see that the work they are doing is not random – it is building toward a specific, visualized goal.

Knowing what success is “supposed” to look like is also fairly simple if you are in the standard 9-to-5 work world. There are promotions and positions that you aspire to attain someday. You get there, you’ve succeeded. Boom. The End.

But what does success look like for a solo or small-team entrepreneur, like what I do with Tourism Currents?

You have some clients, you get some more, you help clients be successful, you make more money, clients are happy and they bring you more clients, your team gets bigger, maybe you offer some new products and services….then what?

You are acquired by a bigger company? You go public and have a splashy IPO? You become an agency and broaden your offerings?

In my own situation, trying to visualize any of those does not – at least right now – help me to “roll out of bed for the daily grind on the track and in the weight room.”

I’m working on a book about the middle-aged woman’s entrepreneurial journey, and it needs a chapter on thinking about what success looks like when there isn’t an easy standard example.

Like everything else with being self-employed and running one’s own business, I’m going to have to figure this one out for myself, and be open to changing it as circumstances change.

How about you?

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Travel Post Friday: Church of Country Music takes a close-up

Close-up of one of the former church windows at Ryman Auditorium Nashville (photo by Sheila Scarborough)
Close-up at night, looking outside from one of the former church windows at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

This is one of the windows in the “Church of Country Music,” the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

It is the winter home of the Grand Ole Opry music show, and many would say that the Ryman is its spiritual home, too.

My full post about taking in an Opry performance at the Ryman is on the Perceptive Travel Blog, but I had so much fun playing with my phone’s Macro/close-up setting on this photo that I thought I’d share it here (it was originally posted to my Instagram account.)

So many eyes have looked through the rippled glass of those windows. So much musical history on the stage behind them.

Find magic in the small details….

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What do the best destination marketers have in common?

Nebraska state tourism conference 2014 hashtag
Social media tools like hashtags are available to anyone. (2014 Nebraska state tourism conference hashtag, photo by Sheila Scarborough)

When it comes to social media excellence, the best tourism marketers and DMOs (Destination Marketing Organizations) do certain things that are not necessarily driven by their size or budget.

Destinations like Pure Michigan, Experience Columbus (Ohio,) Visit Philadelphia, Travel Oregon, etc. all have a few things in common….

**  A very complete strategic plan that they don’t shove in a drawer, but actually use.

**  Specific marketing goals and a way to measure whether they’re getting there or not.

**  Lots of patience and a willingness to take the long view.

**  Community support and local involvement.

**  They do not launch on a social media channel unless they have thought it all the way through, and they kick butt wherever they are, never tolerating mediocrity. They know that it is better to not have an active account on a channel at all if they can’t do it right.

All of the above attributes are available to any town, attraction or hotel, even those with tiny budgets running a one-person operation.

Being small and having a small budget is a circumstance, but it isn’t an excuse.

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What am I doing here? Why I write.

Sheila Scarborough at BlogHer 2007 (courtesy Elizabeth from Table4Five at Flickr CC)
Taking notes at BlogHer 2007 conference (courtesy Elizabeth from Table4Five at Flickr CC)

A fun blog theme/blog tour request came in from a friend in Australia – a reminder of blogging’s younger days before people started turning off comments and worrying quite so much about where they showed up in Facebook’s News Feed.

Des Walsh, a business coach and LinkedIn expert, tagged me as someone he’d like to hear from on the topic of writing, specifically why I write, so here are some quick thoughts to fold into the theme that was originally started by Susan Foster.

1)  I’ve always been a writer, probably because I’ve always been a reader.

Even as a young person I’d write stories, and even experimented with a sort of graphic novel (I distinctly remember drawing lots of hoop-skirted women during a Jane Eyre phase.)

My parents and teachers encouraged me, and only lightly edited my voice….first person suits me, like that’s any surprise, right? 🙂

2)  I wrote a lot even in the Navy. During my seagoing career, there were always reports to write, official message traffic, performance reviews, award citations, instruction manuals.

Performance reviews and award citations were always fun to write for top performers; I could make the words sing and people usually didn’t expect recognition, so that made it even more gratifying. One Commanding Officer used to ask me to edit this or that write-up with my “Golden Pen.” I still do something similar today – LinkedIn recommendations!

It was much more painful to write about people who were not doing so well, but that happened, too.

I even tackled the impact of the web and technology on Navy culture in 2001, for the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings professional magazine – there are a lot of parallels to social media’s disruptive effect today on every industry.

3)  I write like I speak. If you hear my voice coming through my written words, it’s because there’s not much difference between the two.

When I write travel articles I have a terrible time taking my voice out of the story. I don’t try very hard to do so, I confess. My travel writer friend Pam Mandel has thoughts about first person singular, too.

4)  I love blogging because I say what I want to say, the way I want to say it. It’s that simple.

Here’s my very first blog post – I blogged on the BootsnAll travel network for almost 5 years, until I simply ran out of gas writing about family travel.

5)  I’m working on a book about entrepreneurship and social communications for women over 40. I’m procrastinating horribly because it isn’t perfect. This is very “me” as well.

I’d love to hear about why YOU write (or shoot photos or video or whatever you do that brings joy.)

Do tell, down in the comments….

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Best times to post on social media

Time is fleeting (courtesy Stephan Geyer on Flickr CC)
Time is fleeting (courtesy Stephan Geyer on Flickr CC)

(Part of my “Better Online Content” series of posts: quick tips on creating more effective content that takes advantage of the social web’s unique publishing environment.)

There are a lot of blog posts and articles telling people about the “best” times to post content on social networks for maximum response, shares, click-throughs, or whatever it is that you are measuring to decide that your social communications are successful.

What I do not see nearly often enough is this caveat – a lot of the suggested posting times are in U.S. Eastern Standard/Daylight Time.

There are 3 problems with this:

1.  The big blue twirling planet that we’re all riding on, barreling through space, does not run on a single time zone on the U.S. eastern coast. Dare I say that many U.S. people tend to forget this, especially if they don’t travel east or west to other continents very much.

2.  The internet …. where you are trying to connect with your perfect visitor or hotel guest …. does not run on a single time zone on the U.S. eastern coast.

3.  The viewing and sharing habits of YOUR followers on Facebook, Twitter, etc. are different from those of other brands’ followers, as are the times that they are most active online.

For example, check your own Facebook Page Insights data to see what sort of posts your followers respond to the most (Overview – Engagement) and when they are online (look under Posts – When Your Fans Are Online.) That data should be the primary driver for how you craft content for Facebook – not everyone’s updates have to include a photo to do well, by the way – and when you post it.

For Twitter, you can run your profile through a tool like Followerwonk to see when your followers are active, although there’s something to be said for not shouting when it’s already noisy.

Note: all this applies to most “best times to send email” advice, too, unless your email list subscribers all reside in one place.

What are some of the best times that you’ve found to be on social media for your brand? Did your own follower/subscriber data surprise you? Let us know down in the comments.

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Social media for tour operators

Stepping out to look at bighorns with SunDog Tours near Jasper Alberta Canada (photo by Sheila Scarborough)
Stepping out to look at bighorns with SunDog Tours near Jasper, Alberta, Canada (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

(Update March 2015 – we expanded on this topic in our latest Tourism Currents newsletter and blog post, Social Media Marketing for Group Tour Operators.)

Some of the best advice we’ve gotten from the SOBCon business conference was to think about the response email that is automatically sent when someone signs up for our Tourism Currents newsletter.

Rather than the default “Thanks, you’re all set,” we were encouraged to think about crafting a more personal message, so we edited ours on MailChimp and added an invitation for new subscribers to tell us a bit about themselves.

What’s cool is that sometimes, they DO hit Reply and talk to us, and we learn what’s on our prospective customer’s mind.

We’re starting to pick up more subscribers who are group tour operators, so I thought I’d share what we sent back recently to a new tour operator based in the eastern U.S. who is just starting to think about a marketing strategy that includes social media.

Here is our advice about getting started….

“Think through your market(s) and where they are online; that’s where you will need to be.

Take a look at how other tour operators are marketing on Facebook, to start. For ideas see these:

**  USTOA (U.S. Tour Operators Association) Facebook Page (lots of photos)

**  Go Collette (they are very responsive to comments)

**  G Adventures (which tends to draw a young, adventurous crowd)

Keep in mind that Facebook has made it much harder for brand Pages to get organic (unpaid) visibility, so once you are up and running on the platform, you’ll need to budget a little money for some carefully targeted sponsored posts and to attract new followers. Start with making sure that your personal Facebook network, partner businesses, and previous customers know about your Page – their Likes don’t cost you anything.

You can also consider selling tour tickets directly from a tab on your Facebook Page; check with your current ticketing provider to see if they already have a setup, or look into one like Eventbrite.

For your own professional development and networking, you may also want to find helpful social outlets like a tour operator Group on LinkedIn; this NTA (National Tour Association) LinkedIn Group seems pretty active.

Part of your marketing process – the fun part, we think! – will be to share the comments and photos from the people who take your tours. Make it easy for tour guests to post before, during, and after your tour and make sure (with mentions by tour guides plus signage) that they know how to tag your company when they upload.

WiFi on your coaches may become a necessity for this to work unless your destinations/routes have decent smartphone data rates, or several stops have WiFi. This is especially important for international guests; they want to avoid roaming charges in the U.S. so they often will not post on social media unless they can use WiFi.

Obviously, connect with the CVBs, DMOs, Chambers of Commerce, and other tourism organizations in your target markets; many are quite social-savvy and can help you (I included links to Discover Lehigh Valley and Visit Bucks County as examples within her region.)

What other ideas would you have for a tour operator who wants to increase sales with social media marketing? Please share your thoughts down in the Comments.

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Travel Post Friday: the closer to the ocean, the better. For the ions, you know.

Ocean view from the San Luis Resort and Conference Center Galveston Texas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)
Ocean view from the San Luis Resort and Conference Center Galveston Texas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

If I can walk out onto a balcony, hear waves crashing and smell that salty smell, I’m a happy hotel/house guest.

Really, what else would you expect from a formerly seagoing Navy woman?

My husband Chris Fancher told me when we were dating (in the seaside town of Newport, Rhode Island) that “negative ions” from the sea act as a mood-booster. Since I was always in a good mood around him and we were often near the beach, it must be true, right?

During a recent trip to do some social media training on Galveston Island on the Texas Gulf Coast, I woke up to this view at the San Luis Resort and Conference Center. A basic oceanside hut on a beach somewhere would make me happy, too, but since it was late winter it was enough to sit on the balcony at the San Luis, wave at pelicans flying by and feel myself relax.

Combined with eating plenty of seafood – I liked Nick’s right on the seawall – it was a great chemistry experiment with the ions.

Tip: apparently you can get the same negative ions near a waterfall or even a shower, so don’t despair if you’re a long way from the ocean.

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