One of the most magical experiences, ever.

by Mathilda de Villiers

About a month ago, I packed my bags and set off to Bowen Island for a conference, hosted by some of the leading content creators in the travel industry. I first heard about it and TripLit through Emmett Sparling’s Instagram stories. It was close to my home in Vancouver, Canada. I was intrigued, so I decided that it was something I wanted to attend in order to further my career and to meet those in the industry that have inspired me for so many years. I applied for a bursary and when I didn’t receive one I made peace with the fact that I possibly wasn’t going to be able to be there. A few days later, however, I received an email that inevitably changed the course of my future for good. Tiffanee Scorer, co-founder of TripLit, asked me whether I could do an exchange. She offered me an extra bursary if I could write a few articles for news publications because of my background in journalism. I was back on board and I immediately agreed.

It was a sunny afternoon when I arrived at the lodge on the peaceful island located near the city. I was greeted with an unexpected electric energy and was surrounded by friendly faces who had literally just travelled from all over the world to be there. The first day was used to settle in and meet the other participants and leaders. Over 50 people came together from 14 different countries. I don’t think that anyone there had any idea what was about to happen next. The collection of strangers being welcomed by TripLit and Bowen Island Lodge would leave there with a long-lasting, deep-rooted community just days later.

Five days of workshops and activities turned into one of the most powerful environments I have ever experienced, where creatives shared their stories, talents and witnessed each other thrive in their own personal growth. I had previously interviewed Emmett (@emmett_sparling) and Tiffanee for an article I wrote prior to the conference, so I already knew a bit about his journey. Meeting him and Tiffanee in person, however, instilled a sense of awe in me and I knew that I was in exactly the place that I needed to be. Something in me started switching on and I knew that for the next few days I would be witnessing and experiencing something remarkable.

While Emmett was travelling and working around the world, he reached a point in his career where he asked himself how he and his network of content creator friends could use their influence on social media to generate and promote positive influence alongside creating high quality content. He began asking his community what their thoughts were. The response strengthened his feelings towards creating an online environment dedicated to a bigger sense of purpose. Co-founded by Tiffanee and Emmett, TripLit was born, with the purpose of inspiring positive change in the world by becoming actively involved in purpose-driven projects and charities. TripLit will not only specialize in creating high-quality content for brands and clients, but also design learning, networking and mentoring opportunities for creatives. TripLit is growing a highly engaged, global community of content creators who want to make a meaningful difference.

Hearing Emmett and the rest of the leaders talk about focusing on the purpose behind their work instead of purely focusing on how fast their following was growing, was nothing short of inspiring. Behind the phone and behind the incredible content that millions around the world look up to, each leader is a real and genuine human dedicated to making the world around them a better place. I had never been around such authentic, well-known creatives before. It made me realize that finding my own purpose and direction with my own work was all that mattered at the beginning. The rest would follow.

Emmett was joined by Chelsea Yamase (@chelseakauai), Renee and Matthew Hahnel (@reneeroaming and @matthewhahnel), who together combined their unique qualities and talents to teach and run workshops throughout the five days on Bowen. Not only did the leaders teach us incredible skills, but they spent time with us outside of those workshops and built relationships with many of the participants.

Three evenings hosted world-class presentations by internationally known, influential and inspiring leaders. Timothy Sykes, Amir Zakeri and Justin Kalani Burbage from Karmagawa and Save The Reef presented their highly successful documentary ’50 Minutes To Save The World’ about the dire state of the world’s coral reefs. This movie really pulled on my heartstrings as my home, Cape Town, was featured. It also opened up my eyes to so many things I wasn’t aware of even though I grew up around and practically in the ocean. It spreads an important message and is told in an impactful way. It was a privilege to meet and talk to the people who made that happen.

Sam Kolder (@samkolder) spent an engaging evening sharing personal insights into his life, stories behind his career and his latest video. “I don’t do much public speaking but it was definitely a comfortable environment to talk [in] and a really cool group of people. [It] felt very welcoming,” Sam said. His latest film, ‘Hey Tim’, caught a lot of traction around the world and he spoke in depth about it on Bowen, which was a truly special moment.

He was vulnerable in sharing his story about a personal loss and how he turned that pain into inspiration that eventually got him to a place where he now tells the impactful stories that he is most passionate about through his awe-inspiring films. He remains a huge inspiration to me and for many others who are in the creative world.

Kalen Emsley, co-founder and head of marketing for tentree, gave valuable insider tips and techniques for successfully working with brands. Personally, it was a true inspiration to listen to Kalen as I have been following tentree’s journey since before I moved to Vancouver three years ago. His passion for what he does came through in a captivating way when he spoke about the values of his company.

Two of the people I was really excited to meet were Sam and Chelsea. I had been following them for a few years already and Sam’s work has always stood out to me. It was inspirational to sit and talk with him and learn about how he works. He told me that he does some of his best work in times of extreme isolation. “I want to spend time learning about myself and learning about what I like artistically. Not from other sources but from inside,” he added.

On day two, Chelsea and I sat down on the grass together, talking for about forty minutes about her story and how she was experiencing the conference. It was a pleasure spending that time with her, one of the most authentic human beings I have ever met. Originally from Kauai, she has been a free diver for roughly seven years and started to gain traction on Instagram by posting diving content when the platform was still in its infancy. Today, she has over 800k followers, engaged in her message of adventure, sustainability and authenticity.

The conference was her first experience teaching at and attending one. “I think there’s a reason that these types of conferences are so popular because there is a real aspect of community building, [even] if it’s just making small connections,” she said. Through experiences in her own life, she said, she sees a lot of value in people coming together in that way because no one truly knows what may come out of it.

I had not been as familiar with Renee and Matt’s work prior to the conference, but after meeting them I instantly found comfort in being around them. They are exactly who they portray to be and their insights on business, relationships and life in general was soaked up by everyone who listened to them. “You really just have to put the effort in and the time to find out who you are and find some sort of unique way to tell that story,” Matt said.

Both of them made an effort each day to spend time with those around them, giving them their undivided attention and being attentive to what people were asking. “More and more it’s not about how many instagram followers you [have]. People want realness, they want real stories and they want high quality,” Renee said.

Matt recognized how many talented people there were attending the conference. “Hopefully some of what they learn here will help just push them that little bit more than they need to get that start or just get over that little hump they might feel they’re at,” Matt added.

After everything that we were given access to at the conference: the delicious food; the leaders; workshops and activities, there was one thing that was clear from the beginning. None of it could have happened without the incredible driving force behind it all, the team who made it a reality. Caitlin Frost, a renowned coach who facilitates international workshops, worked alongside Tiffanee and Emmett to help them bring their ideas to life long before and during the event to make it into the massive success it was. It became evident that they had put a lot of hours into making their own passion and vision into one of the most remarkable events I have ever attended.

Sharon Davis and Christina Labarca, owners of Giving Well, opened up with the first presentation of the first day, sharing their knowledge and insights on what it means to be a true philanthropist. Galen Scorer spoke in depth about his successful career as a filmmaker and art director, and gave valuable information on effective storytelling.

Benjamin Prescott (@itsbigben) and Brendon Purdy came through for a day to lead activity-driven photography workshops alongside the other leaders. I was put into Ben’s workshop in the morning, where we headed out to a lake and he showed us some of his techniques for shooting. His energy is contagious and it was hard not to have a great time learning from him. In the afternoon I attended Matt’s editing workshop where he led us through techniques, which was highly valuable to me as it was the area in my own work that I really wanted to improve on.

Many of the attendees stepped out of their comfort zones and traveled across oceans to a new country in order to further their own creative skills or just to meet a new community of like-minded individuals. Alicia Scott, 20 years old, flew from Australia by herself, embarking on her first big overseas trip.

“Sometimes you just have to take a chance and step out of your comfort zone,” she said. She returned home with a new sense of purpose and a strong set of goals. She valued the community that she was able to build on Bowen Island and said that she knows she will see those friends again in the future.

Deanne Ziadie, originally from Jamaica, currently lives in Florida. She came to the conference not knowing exactly what to expect. She had found out about it through Chelsea’s Instagram and taken the chance to immerse herself in a new space on the West Coast. Back home, she helps brands build and find their presence creatively and through marketing, in order to reach the audience that they want. When she works on projects, however, she said that she embodies the other person’s purpose and tends to put her own “to sleep” for some time.

“I never really allowed the artistic expression that I have inside to come out. After [Sam’s] talk and after speaking to several people I discovered that, yes, it’s OK to be an artist,” she said. While talking to Deanne, I could see such a powerful energy starting to glow within her. The time on the island clearly changed her perspective and gave her a fresh vision going forward.

On the final evening, we all enjoyed a beautifully cooked meal together outside on the patio of the lodge. Many stood and expressed gratitude towards everyone there. In Emmett’s words, it was a privilege to be around such a “switched on” group of people and he said the conference exceeded his own expectations. Today, he’s planning trips with some of us with whom he has made friends. I saw those friendships between him and others flourish and it was a beautiful thing to witness.

Isaiah English, a local music producer from Vancouver, made the dance floor come alive after dinner, getting everyone involved in connecting with one another on yet another level – through music.

The global community that was built during the conference, as well as the relationships that extended into our lives afterwards, are both aspects that made it that much more special. There was a unique atmosphere that happened with this group of like-minded individuals who came together and all shared similar passions, feeding off of one another’s positive energy. It elevated the experience of everyone who attended and the dates are already set for next year’s event.

I have never walked away from a conference with such a tangible change within me. The hype and the motivation that was built during that time stayed activated well into life back in Vancouver.

One month later and I have already reached a true dream goal and within that I am grateful to be a part of a company whose values line up with mine. I get to do the work I am most passionate about in a way that I have always dreamed of doing. I am also now surrounded by a solid network of creatives and driven people, something I didn’t even realize that I was missing. My life has switched gears and those five days will be forever etched into my memory as it was a true turning point in my life.