Getting to Know Award-Winning Travel Writer Ilona Kauremszky

Photo Credit: Stephen Smith/mycompasstv

Photo Credit: Stephen Smith/mycompasstv

Ilona Kauremszky is an award-winning travel writer and a prolific contributor to many publications. She regularly pens stories for trade and consumer publications, interviewing key industry players while traveling to far-flung places in pursuit of new stories.  Ilona joins us this week on TravelWriting2.com to talk about her career, her You Tube channel mycompasstv, and more.

Give us the back story. What did you study in college and how did that end up leading to a career in travel writing?

Ever since I was a little girl, I became hooked on flipping pages in a newspaper and the idea of reading was very appealing to me. When asked at that time what I wanted to be, I used to say “a typewriter lady.” Even during my grade school years, creating stories was a fun hobby. During summer vacations dad used to pile us into our station wagon for his famous family road trips. We camped in the neatest spots and toured many areas across North America.  I’d come home wondering about other far flung places which gave me a good reason to hop on my bike and hit the local library to find books. I devoted one summer to learn about Ancient Egypt and King Tut who was having a huge American revival of Tut-mania in 1976.

So yes come time for university,  it was devoted to journalism and political science.

A career in travel writing kind of came full circle for me. I was actually living in Florence, working on a documentary film, a Canadian-Italian co-production. I was working in the film industry at the time in a totally different capacity. But my insatiable curiosity and love of writing got the better of me.  When I returned home, I gave it a shot, and sent some travel stories on spec to a bunch of newspapers. When I sold my first travel story I knew that by hook or by crook I would somehow make a career in travel writing work for me.

Photo credit: Stephen Smith/mycompasstv

Photo credit: Stephen Smith/mycompasstv

You’ve written for some publications over a very long period, including the Toronto Sun. What do you credit your success to in getting hired and hired again—including after there’s been a change in editors?

The media business is a fickle business with rapid changes all the time. But I find if you make yourself available, initiate and inject some of your personality into your pitches and offer ideas you feel will work with the publication’s readership then you are a step ahead of other writers. I am reliable, dependable and can write feature stories ASAP when needed. Many times, the biggest complaint I hear from editors is how writers don’t understand their publication and forget about deadlines. I work as an editor too so I know how important these two points are.  I study my outlets closely; give editors what they want; and, deliver clean content.  I believe that working in Canada’s most competitive media market i.e. Toronto as a freelance travel columnist for nearly 15 years says a lot about me and my work.

You’ve also appeared on major broadcast channels such as CBC and NPR. How did that come about and do you have any advice for others who want to be on TV or broadcast radio?

You know the old saying, “What came first the chicken or the egg?” well in my case the broadcast gigs were via my print stories. Somehow I got a call from an NPR host who read a piece I penned on the American fugitive slave, Josiah Henson whose life story was the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s groundbreaking epic novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Few people at the time knew Uncle Tom was based on a real person let alone a national icon. He fled north to Canada to live in freedom in a little town outside Windsor, Ontario near Dresden.  It probably helped that my story was published in a major U.S. newspaper with wide circulation, but then again, the subject matter, certainly gave it that much more.

So I did it. I spoke on NPR.  For my CBC gig, that’s Canada’s national broadcasting corporation, I’m still a travel expert on call and cover current topics that are more topical. I’ve covered subjects from last minute holiday travel tips to my personal experience on the deadly Haiti earthquake aftermath. I was in the Dominican Republic at the time where tremors were felt, a tsunami alert was issued, but more importantly, a small impoverished fishing community near my hotel mobilized to send aid relief. That story was also picked up by print and digital publications across the country.

The only advice I think I can offer to anyone who wants to pursue a broadcast career is to not give up. The entire formula in the media industry today has been turned upside down. There’s no straight line to follow anymore. In fact, I think it’s even easier now. Look at all the digital tools and platforms. If this stuff were around when I was first starting out, I know my bio would read totally different.

Photo Credit: Stephen Smith/mycompasstv

Photo Credit: Stephen Smith/mycompasstv

What is the story with the mycompasstv channel on YouTube and is that an income generator?

We first had our website www.mycompass.ca in 2002 – that seems like a long time ago already. We wanted a platform to showcase our work and that of other professional travel writers and photographers. My other half is an award-winning filmmaker and I had all my broadcast demo reels tucked away but when camera companies were finally producing digital video technology we said, ‘Let’s do it.’ Let’s shoot digital travel videos. We did but then we had nowhere to showcase them… until YouTube started to show itself as a viable platform. It took us a while though. Our YouTube channel has only been around since 2009.

YouTube has been going through a lot of updates lately like changes to its algorithms, SEO and data collection. My partner Stephen Smith who shoots, directs and produces the videos is the better one to explain the income generated in that media. We are basically content producers and our content is unique in demand and of value to certain companies, organizations and individuals.

Is there any kind of advantage or disadvantage of working as a freelance writer in Canada as opposed to the USA?

That’s a very good question. I don’t know of any other way except being based on the Canadian side of the border.  My first reaction is that there are way more opportunities for working in the U.S.A. You guys have a bigger population, more blue chip companies, and a huge network of publishers. Just drill down from the major players like Time Warner to the mid-size media companies, right down to the smaller ones which have their own cachet and appeal.

Photo Credit: Stephen Smith/mycompasstv

Photo Credit: Stephen Smith/mycompasstv

You have $10,000 of travel gift certificates and you don’t have to write a story about it. Where do you go and why?

Wow, I love this!!! I have never been to Australia and New Zealand so I would definitely book a trip to that part of the world with a hypothetical lay-over in Japan which is another country I have been (travel) itching to see. Why these places? Because it is there. ;-) Take a guess on whose famous quote that is…

Ilona is the founding president of TMAC Ontario, (Travel Media Association of Canada), and a former first vice-chair of SATW Canada (Society of American Travel Writers). A syndicated national travel columnist for 13 years and co-producer of www.mycompass.ca and mycompasstv on YouTube you can follow her on Twitter and YouTube @mycompasstv.

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