Getting Schooled at Bloghouse Chicago

Bloghouse /blɑhaʊs/: compound noun. 1. A 4-day workshop where experts from Navigate Media Group teach novice bloggers how to turn traveling and writing into a career. 2. Where Jenny learns to Tweet effectively. 

BH Chicago group_result

They say ignorance is bliss, and there may be some truth to that. I’m a happier person not knowing where my burger meat came from. I don’t need to know why my middle-schooler had a hickey last Wednesday. If someone accidentally uses my toothbrush, just discreetly place it back and let’s get on with watching Game of Thrones.

Ignorance isn’t bliss, however, when it comes to travel blogging.

Trust me on this one.

For the past several months I’ve been wanting to take my writing to the next level. Although corralling angsty teenagers pays the bills for now, it’s not my life’s true calling (though helps for post ideas!). My real passions are languages, travel, and writing, which is why I created this blog in the first place. But how do I make it my future? I had no idea where to start.

Enter Bloghouse.

In March I applied to be taken in by some of the top travel writers in the industry, on a 4-day crash course on navigating the travel blogging business. I submitted my application with great enthusiasm and eagerness to learn, but also with an 18-person Twitter following and a domain name that still included “” I clicked ‘submit’ with much self-doubt, and then went out to teach a nine-year-old to say “sheet” of paper instead of “shit.” Following those dreams.

Lo and behold, the good folks at Navigate looked beyond numbers and saw my potential, because I received an acceptance email two weeks later saying I had been chosen “from a very large pool of applicants”—we’ll go with 50,000, but who’s to say ;)

Fast forward three months, and I’m in Chicago, learning from some of the most well-versed travel bloggers and more importantly, some of the genuinely best people I’ve come across during my travels. As an added bonus, it was nice to re-enter my home country to as beautiful a place as Chicago in June.

Working hard. Photo by Lisa Lubin.

Working hard. Photo by Lisa Lubin.

SEO /ˈɛˈˈoʊ/: n. An acronym meaning Search Engine Optimization, a way to make your site more visible with the almighty Google. See also: So Effing Overwhelmed.

Bloghouse had an ambitious schedule designed to challenge and inspire us, and both it did. We learned everything from WordPress tips to managing social media to pitching ourselves to brands and partners. All workshops were expertly thought-out: incredibly informative while perfectly relatable. I’m talking SEO strategy with cheese analogies (travel bloggers=foodies); social media Powerpoints with cat memes; even an hour devoted to “Facebook for Haters,” cuz aren’t we all? (Speaking of which, why not turn that hate into love by liking my page?) Some things went completely over my head—fellow attendees may have noticed that I took one too many bathroom breaks during the SEO talk—but overall I was completely inspired.

For four days it was like coming up for air, asking all my questions to real people instead of a Google search bar or those tedious online forums. What took me two months of fiddling with blog layouts, tech god Michael Tieso fixed for me in ten minutes (and subsequently subjected himself to my relentless questioning all weekend long). During one short coffee break, Ayngelina had me cooking up plans to write an e-book. Sherry took me aside for a one-on-one site audit, and having someone walk me step-by-step through what was working and what needed to change was an invaluable resource.

But the organizers weren’t the only ones with something to teach. Every other attendee at the conference had an inspiring story and some great tips to share. I feel so grateful to everyone who lent me a hand, be it with advice on photo editing tools and guest posting, or literally to pop off my Goose Island bottlecaps.

Winetap /ˈwaɪntæp/ 1. A barrel built into the wall of Villa d’Citta that freely dispenses wine. 2. A convenient way to forget for an evening that you showed up to Industry Night without business cards.

Besides working furiously on our sites for four days, we were also treated to a life of luxury. Thanks to Flipkey, all of us were put up at the incredible Villa d’Citta in Lincoln Park, rated one of the 10 best B&Bs in the country. (Don’t look so surprised, I just explained they had wine on tap!) I’ve dozed on airport floors, I’ve crashed in triple-bunk hostel beds, but I’ve NEVER slept on 600-thread-count sheets and a mattress made of imported clouds. At times I was torn—do I stay downstairs socializing by the winetap, or do I go upstairs and sleep on something I won’t feel again till my wedding day? Like I said, Bloghouse was overwhelming at times.

We had meals, snacks and drinks catered by fabulous local Lincoln Park restaurants; time to schmooze with industry representatives at the Vertigo Sky Lounge in downtown Chicago; an electric boat ride along the river; and my 9-month deprivation from Mexican food was finally satisfied at our last night’s dinner at Mercadito. All the tacos and margaritas you could ever wish for, thanks to the generosity of Gogo.


Industry Night at the Vertigo Sky Lounge.

Support network /səˈpɔʳˈnɛtwˌɹk/ phrasal noun. A community of people who encourage you, act as mentors, and mask their horror when you ask in earnest what’s wrong with uploading 5 MB photos.

When’s the last time you met 20 strangers and got along with every last one of them? There’s always the know-it-all, the incessant question-asker, or the one who can’t keep up (oh wait, guilty). But miraculously this was not the case at Bloghouse; our group of 20 gelled together seamlessly—though perhaps that’s not surprising, as we all share similar passions for world adventure, food, and Twitter jokes.

But seriously, meeting these established and growing bloggers was the best part of an overall unbeatable experience, and they not only inspired me to keep going (and breathe during that damn SEO talk!) but also taught me so much about my own blog, tools I could use, and where I want to take this. The connections I made and the talent I saw in all the other bloggers were the greatest aspect of Bloghouse for me, and the reason I continue writing and traveling comes down to all the amazing people I meet along the way.

chicago river

Cruising the Chicago river.

Take a look at who they all are, and get to know them through their own sites!

Navigate Media Team:

The Attendees—show these up-and-coming bloggers some love:

  • Francesca Mazurkiewicz – This woman is not only hilarious, but has a kick-ass attitude that you don’t have to give up your dreams of travel after having kids.
  • Anne Lowrey – My long lost twin, Anne is now based out of San Francisco and writes how you can fit travel into your life while still keeping a home base.
  • Ryan Zieman – Ryan’s also an English teacher in Spain, so hopefully I’ll see more of him in the coming year! He has some great posts about his time in Madrid and his travels thus far.
  • Brad Bernard – Brad has had some outrageous adventures—if you’re into the extreme, this is the guy to follow.
  • Susan Schwartz – Susan is based in London and writes for those who “savour the authentic, but also love luxury,” and who doesn’t? She’s also creating a Worst Bits Worldwide site, which promises to be hilarious.
  • Mindi & Daryl Hirsch – Mindi and Daryl make us all drool with the fabulous concoctions they’ve eaten and drunk worldwide–what a hard life.
  • Nick Huggins – Nick’s all but convinced me I need to move to Austin, where he’s now based. In addition to taking up work as my full-time unpaid mentor, he also travels during his time off, and is on a mission to try all 2,500+ craft breweries in the U.S.
  • Lindsay Buckley – Lindsay is based in New York (though hopefully San Francisco soon!) and is an incredible photographer, both for weddings and her own world travels. She also focuses on traveling on a budget.
  • Beth Williams – Beth taught English for two years in Hong Kong and is now transitioning into a full-time writer and travel blogger. So basically, Beth is who I want to be in a year :)
  • Amber Hoffman – Amber is a “recovering tax attorney” who left the corporate world and now teaches yoga and travels with her husband in tow. They are based in Bali. (She’s also a highly skilled boat captain on the Chicago river.)
  • Chanel Brown – Chanel is based in New York and on her completely rebranded site, she features great travel tips and—what I need to spend hours studying up on—how to rack up those free airline miles!
  • Kristin Francis – Kristin has one of the coolest travel blogging ideas around—what to keep with you after you’ve left. She searches the globe for the most unique souvenirs.
Let's do this!

Let’s do this!

So now that I’ve just promised you all there are big plans for this blog, why not follow the journey? Like my Facebook page (no haters here), tweet along with me, keep up with my (un)filtered life on Instagram, or better yet, sign up to receive posts by email

If you’re interested in attending future Bloghouses, you can get on the mailing list here.

Bloghouse Chicago was made possible because of the generous support of Gogo, Goose Island, Flipkey, and Megabus.

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  • Jenny,
    We’ll always have the late night paninis. And thank god we didn’t eat the breakfast pizza. So fun to meet you!!

    • Can you imagine Cathy’s face in the morning if we had dug into that pizza? I shudder to think. So great to meet you too!

  • Travel Addicts

    Welcome to the BlogHouse tribe! I was there last October. Look forward to seeing what the future holds for you.

  • This post is SO adorable! So great to meet you and glad we got to be roommates!

  • Looks like you had fun and that it was a great learning experience! I’ve always found these sorts of events are a great way to network. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • Trina

    Go Jenny!! Sounds like an awesome training and I think your blog is great. I LIKED it on Facebook and glad I did so I get some updates. Keep rocking :)

    • Jenny

      Thanks so much Trina!

  • Good job and great write up! Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Jenny

      Thanks for the kind words, Ed!

  • When I saw Cailin advertise the bloghouse in my HOMETOWN of all places, I was really keen on signing up (and Sherry Ott is one of my blog heroes!). Too bad it was impossible because of my job in Seville…! Sounds like a great jumpstart to a blogging career!

    • Jenny

      Thanks Cat, I’ve been following your blog since before I moved to Bilbao to be an auxiliar, so you too are a blogging inspiration!

  • Bravo! I loved meeting you and learning more about your journey. And I really LOVE this post. excellent opening by the way – you captured my attention. Plus – I really love what you are doing with the definitions and the words…hope you are able to keep this up as the glue that connects the writing and brand together no matter if you are teaching or doing something else. :) I can’t wait to see how you evolve and make a name for yourself…and tackle SEO eventually. I look forward to our paths crossing again in person!

    • Jenny

      Thanks Sherry, it was so great to meet you and especially learn from you one-on-one! It was your tips about writing and brand—and choosing that “one word” that you were were talking about—that led me to think of the idea for the definitions in each post, which I’m really excited to continue. (They’re fun to come up with, too :) Bloghouse was an invaluable experience and I so appreciate you all coming together to make it available to us newbies. Hope to see you again in the future, and also hope that your Peru trip is going well!

  • Bloghouse Chicago looks like it was an amazing experience you. I loved being at Bloghouse because of the learning and the support – it was great. Welcome to the Bloghouse family.

    • Jenny

      Thanks Alouise, good to be here :) The support is the biggest thing, I think—finally, so many people I can ask my SEO questions to!

  • As a BlogHouse alumni reading this post was like taking a step back in time. I’m so pleased you’re on the journey to your dream. Looking at your site, I’ve no doubt you’ll get there in no time!

    • Jenny

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Jo! Bloghouse was seriously the push I needed to get this thing rolling…

  • Wow, you got in with only 18 followers?You give me hope! :)
    I love your writing style, and will definitely be following your fuure adventures in Spain. Keep it up!
    (also, that wine tap looks like just about the best thing ever)

    • Jenny

      Hahah Nikita, I was as shocked as you :) But yes, there is hope!! Thanks so much for following the blog.

  • Great post Jenny! We were glad to have you!
    You some how missed the part about me teaching you some “basic” skills and info ;) haha

    • Jenny

      Thanks Cailin!! Yes, I conveniently *overlooked* the part where you literally had to explain to me things a toddler knows about Twitter. Oh that fateful day in the hostel lobby….

  • Aw, love this. I did Bloghouse in October last year and I came away feeling very similar to how you describe! Exciting times ahead and welcome to the family!

    I am jealous of the wine on tap and the boat ride though. Although we did have a drunk Irish man on the train in a thong… :)

    • Jenny

      Thanks Helen! I hope the good Bloghouse inspiration continues for me like it seems to have for you. And an Irishman in a thong….simultaneously would have killed to seen that, and gagged.

  • You, my friend, are absolutely hilarious. And an awesome writer and totes adorbs. So glad I met you and got to spend time with you at BlogHouse. Thanks for the shout-out; I do hope we get to hang out again soon!!

    • Jenny

      Thanks Francesca! I wish my own mom used the word “totes,” ughh you’ll have to school her in cool mom ways :). Hopefully our travels will let us cross paths again soon, you are too much fun!!

  • SO MUCH LOVE. I adore how you gave it a linguistic twist – way to stick to your brand! ;) And I just truly love your style, which is not something I say often about the bloggers I follow. Thanks for being so awesome – can’t wait til we cross paths again somewhere in this crazy world! :D

    • Jenny

      THANKS LINDSAY. I was just trying to make my post as catchy as yours….a tough feat to follow :) I thought of the definition idea after my one-on-one with Sherry at Bloghouse, and I’m so excited to continue with it!

  • Hey Jenny, great article and you truly do have a thing for wor(l)de. I love how you integrated them into this post. I know that you’lol have an amazing blogging career and I’m glad to have met you!

    • Jenny

      Thanks Chanel! So good to meet you there, and thanks for being both an awesome person and so incredibly helpful (hello, Canva!). Hope we get to see each other in the future!