SPB3We’ve established that I managed to get myself to St Pete Beach and back on my own, but what was I doing there?

For the past 4 years or so I’ve visited some genuinely lovely towns and some even lovelier university campuses on the conference circuit.  All very much UK based though – I don’t work in a role that offers any international travel, and I’m ok with that.

However, one of the yearly conferences I attend (the incredibly valuable SROC) offers two bursaries to attend the American SACRAO, which in 2017 would be held in Florida.  As a recent Florida convert, I thought I’d try my luck again with the bursary and what do you know – I won!

From the start, I was under no illusion that this was a holiday.  The conference schedule was pretty full on – Pivot table training on Sunday afternoon, 8 am starts, and over 100 seminars to choose from on a huge variety of topics.  Just figuring out what I wanted to attend was pretty much a full time job – I had project management software set up just to manage my schedule to start with (fortunately, SACRAO uses the Guidebook App which is dream).  All this plus a presidential reception (special treatment for us Brits) and a beach party.

Admittedly, I may have just undermined my “this was hard work” by mentioning the beach party.SPB4There were three of us from the UK, and we bonded really quickly.  We all work for different institutions and in different areas, so whilst there were a couple of sessions that we all went to, most of the time we chose different things and compared notes afterwards.

One fun thing about being one of three British people was that as soon as we started chatting, Americans would flock to us.  We.  Were.  Popular.  I don’t mean to boast, but everyone wanted to talk to us, find out about how things work in our sector, where we lived, our TV shows.  I even offered to job swap with a hilarious guy from Georgia (still thinking about taking him up on that for reals).  We felt like the centre of attention, and to be honest, it’s going to be really hard to attend our next conference just as ‘normal’ attendees.

And I loved the Americans just as much as they loved us.  Every person I spoke to was friendly, every presenter was amazing.  I came out of each seminar wanting to work in their sector because it was all so inspiring, including:

  • A Wonder Woman themed open discussion on how to be more confident at work (WONDER WOMAN!)
  • An LGBTQ student panel which made me want to hug everyone that spoke. What an astonishing group of students.
  • A seminar on communication styles where we all did a quiz and I apparently am very similar to Einstein.  I’ll accept that
  • Many other nerdy things that I LOVED because I am a nerd

Although the US University system is different to ours, there was still lots to learn, and plenty to take back to my job.  I always love finding a new way to manage or a new way to process, and there were so many opportunities to do this.  Comparing notes with my American counterparts was fascinating, and I like to think some of them learnt a lot about our system from me as well.

We visited exhibitors who graciously spoke to us (and gave us free stuff) even though they knew we wouldn’t be able to buy their products.  We attended the SACRAO town hall meeting where we found out about the huge level of organisation that goes into running the conference each year.

And yes, there was a beach party but how could there not be.  The sun set as we networked, and I had one of my favourite moments of the event.  Earlier in the day, I was scrolling through Facebook  when I noticed a friend who I haven’t seen for 10 years had posted a photo of his Mother receiving an award.  An award which I had witnessed in person a couple of hours beforehand.  Of all the places I could meet a friend’s Mum, I would never imagined it would be at an American work conference.  It was so lovely to meet her, and a really fun coincidence!

I’ve only been back at work a couple of weeks, but it feels like SACRAO has had such a positive impact on me already.  I wish I could do this every year – 2018 is in Nashville and I want to go so badly!  I’ve already told people that I want to retire and just do the conference circuit.  Sadly, I think I’m many years away from that.

It’s one of those experiences which I don’t think I’ll forget any time soon.  Plus I fulfilled a lifelong ambition – my very first S’more!  And it was absolutely delicious.  SPB5

A shyness that is criminally vulgar

SPB2AKA this introvert’s guide to solo travel.

I had such a  good time on my trip to Florida and New York, a fact that surprises me.  I thought my social anxiety would be a barrier and put me on edge all the time, but being without anyone I knew actually helped in a way.

My trip started with a 9 hour flight, and it was easy to be alone for that.  Headphones on, films playing.  Virgin Atlantic doesn’t have a lot of choice if you’re up to date with recent releases, so I had an iPad full of TV shows as a back up.  My main gripe was the lack of space in standard economy – when travelling with Husband, he always pays for extra leg room for us both as he’s a giant but who knew how cramped economy actually is!

NYC_2017_2My stopover was in Detroit, and I did experience a bit of fuss getting through immigration.  I’ve done American immigration many times before, but wasn’t prepared for them to ask me why there was a Green Card on my file (no idea whatsoever – something has gone wrong somewhere!) and then start questioning me about why I was on my own.  I did succumb to a bit of panic at that point.  Fortunately, after a bit of questioning, I was let through and could spend an hour and half wandering around the airport.  I had a coffee, got a bit of a manicure at the Be Relax spa, and stretched my legs before the next flight.

A flight that I wasn’t actually booked on.  I’ve asked Expedia to look into what happened as I very nearly didn’t get on the plane – it was only because one of the other passengers didn’t turn up that I was given a seat.  It was almost better that I was alone as I didn’t need to worry about keeping Husband chilled out.  I figured that considering I’d paid for a flight, they’d have to get me to Tampa so ultimately it wasn’t worth worrying about.

I’ve done conferences alone on many occasions, and I’ve tended to keep myself to myself, sneaking back for some room service, or out into town for a bit of shopping.  I wanted to do this conference differently, and it was definitely easier because of the Americans.  As soon as anyone heard me or the other two Brits talk, they instantly gravitated towards us and I met so many fun people that it was impossible to be introverted.  I even stayed until the very end of the party which I never do.

I remember saying to one of the other attendees that I didn’t recognise the American version of me – I got used to sitting down in a seminar, just talking to the person next to me, and not worrying about whether they thought I was odd.  Of course I was odd – I was from an entirely different country!  I just had to make sure I had space for a few restorative niches for my own sanity – there is only so much chit-chat I can take sometimes.

Outside of the conference, I walked on the beach, I sat by the pool – no one stared and pointed because I was on my own.  I was in my own little world and so relaxed.

My final three days were spent in New York which is an amazing city to visit alone.  I have been there twice with Husband – if this was my first trip I would have done things very differently but I didn’t feel like I had to do any of the touristy things because I’ve done them.  I had my own schedule – I’d wake up naturally, watch Good Day New York (mainly because of the inimitable Greg Kelly), stop at one of the many Starbucks for some coffee, and then just wander around.

I’ll blog seperately about where I wandered (or more specifically, where I shopped), but I didn’t mind being alone at all.  A lot of the advice I got before going away was “just chat to random strangers!” but being an introvert, this wasn’t always what I wanted to do.  Fortunately as an introvert, I don’t mind my own company.  In fact, I positively love it.  Yes, I did miss having Husband with me and I was very chatty on Hangouts with him as there was so much I wanted to share but I had the freedom to spend an hour in Sephora without feeling bad.

NYC_2017_3Once I’d mastered solo travel, there was only one hurdle left – eating alone.  Starbucks and Lenwich were easy, but despite reading loads about how New York is the best place for dining-for-one, it still felt really difficult.  I avoided it for a couple of days (those Lenwich lunches were really filling) but on my final morning, I armed myself with my Kindle, took a deep breath, and went to Friedmans.  I sat down and immediately saw two other people dining on their own.  I really had nothing to worry about, and ended up with a plate of the most amazing eggs.

I don’t know whether I’ll get the opportunity for solo travel again, but I know that I won’t need to worry if I do.

Can’t remember the last time I saw an international business man with an untucked shirt

SPB_1You guys, I’ve finally travelled internationally for work.

I’ve been to a lot of conferences over the years, but whilst colleagues in Recruitment get to leave the UK, all of mine have been squarely in country.  But not this time.  This time, I got on a big plane, then a much smaller plane (that technically I wasn’t booked on – I’ll explain later) and eventually, after 14 hours of travel, I ended up on a beach.  The beautiful St Pete Beach to be more precise, where I would spend 4 days learning from Americans.

I loved it.  I loved it so much that I almost cried when I had to go home.

I’m still sorting through my photos and thoughts from the trip, but I thought I’d blog about it in a bit more detail as it might be something colleagues in my sector would enjoy reading (equally, it might not be, but blogging in detail about my trips is what I do) .

Oh, and on the way home from the conference, I got to stay here.  I thought I’d blog about that as well 🙂