2019 December Featured Journalist of the Month:Therese Iknoian
Friday, December 13, 2019 08:11 PM

 Therese Iknoian:

Trained as a news journalist, I first spent a decade as a daily newspaper journalist also earning a Pulitzer Prize as a member of the news team at the San Jose Mercury News. Ah, but the independent life called and I launched a freelance writing career, writing articles and authoring several books (and getting my masters in exercise physiology). All the while trotting the globe on news-gathering and reporting trips, that age-old light bulb finally went on with a thunk of my palm against my thick head: Travel! Why arent I writing about travel since everybody always wants to hear my tips and stories?

My writing focus finally turned to travel with the launch of HI Travel Tales with my husband, Michael Hodgson. Today, I combine writing with photography an art I honed as a college student when photos were still developed in a dark room.

Fluent in German, I also run a translation business (ThereseTranslates), working primarily with outdoor and sports companies. A bit of a French speaker, too, I love to learn some of the language wherever I go in the quest for cross-cultural communication.

As a writer, I have authored non-fiction books, including two editions of Fitness Walking, as well as Tai Chi For Dummies and Mind-Body Fitness for Dummies. I have also written for Fitness, Health, Backpacker, Womens Day, Mens Health, Parenting, and Shape, to mention a few, and was the Ask the Coach columnist for Trail Runner from 2003 to 2010.

My mantra on travel exploration stems from my father: Ive been kicked out of better places than this.


1. What got you in to travel writing?

I’ve been a writer basically all my life – even started our junior high school newspaper and then won a national writing award in high school as editor of my school paper. Although I balked at being a journalism major (for the life of me now I can’t figure out why), that’s where I ended up. Spent a number of years doing daily newspaper reporting, then freelancing and books (in the fitness/sports genre), and then ran an outdoor/fitness trade news business with my husband, Michael Hodgson. Once that was sold, it came down to, what now? Travel has always been a part of my life, and people were always asking for advice on where to go and what to do, so combining my love of and experience as a writer and photographer with a passion for travel seemed natural!


2. What’s the most challenging part of being a travel journalist for you?

I love to travel, and I love to share what I see and learn. Sometimes it’s hard to travel for fun and not think, oh, this would be a great story and then start taking notes. It’s especially difficult for me to put down the camera since I just love travel/street photography. Sometimes you have to just put it all away and watch and enjoy life.


3. What is one thing [equipment or personal item] you can’t go without on the road?

Aside from all that electronic and photographic gear, I’m a bit old-fashioned in that I love having a notebook and pen handy. In addition, we have a huge family of little stuffed friends who have names and attitudes and take turns traveling with us, posing for photos and doing their best to be international ambassadors.


4. What’s your most unusual and/or memorable travel experience?

Oh, so many over the years!! Here’s one: Going for a run on a dirt road in the jungle in Mexico many years ago (with Michael) when a big black pickup truck with tinted windows slows down beside us. The window slowly rolls down and a large muscular man with dark sunglasses and a big black moustache says, “My boss would like to see you, follow me.” He pulls ahead and a gate opens on a side road. We think, “Oh sh—, drug lords, we are dead.” But don’t have a choice since if they have mal-intent, running away wouldn’t do us much good either.


We run down the road and see a large home still partly under construction sprawling up the hillside among the trees and creeks. Turns out the boss is a well-to-do Mexican man building a gorgeous environmental home in the jungle that blends with and incorporates its surroundings – and he just wanted to show it off! We get a grand personal tour, and then he tells us to go enjoy ourselves on his property and private beach! Long story short: Things are not always what you might think!


5. How did you learn about NATJA, and why did you join?

As the HITravelTales.com business grew, the need for increased networking with others was clear. NATJA was a clear choice as a great, friendly, welcoming association. And I’ve met some marvelous folks through it!


6. What is the best piece of advice you could give to a rookie travel journalist?

Get the writing (and photography) part down, and don’t just “become” a travel journalist because you want to travel. Travel is just a small part of the business to be honest. Sure, it’s the really fun part, but before the travel comes all the networking and research, after that comes all the writing, and in between it all comes all the ongoing business development and nurturing of contacts. What will set you apart as a travel writer is great, insightful, creative writing with eye-catching photography that is processed well. And you must be a people person with insatiable curiosity.