is the online portfolio and journal of Australian travel writer Nina Karnikowski.



Lately, I’ve found myself reflecting on why I do what I do. Travelling the world for work may seem like a glamorous way to earn a living but the truth is, it’s often very insecure, both in terms of continuity and of income generation. So much time away from home means you can often get disconnected from the people you love, largely because you miss out on so many of the little and big events that shape relationships. Your health is compromised because you’re often not in complete control of what you’re putting into your body. Your sleep is often out of whack (jet lag, I love you), and your time is mostly not your own when you’re on assignment so you’re not always seeing or doing what you truly want to. The list goes on.

So why do I do it? Well, because every so often, a trip will come up that makes the missing of loved ones and the bad sleep and the weeks of not getting paid all worthwhile. My recent journey to the primeval rainforests of Borneo was one of those for me. It helped me realise that I do what I do because by encouraging people to see more of the world, I can also encourage them (and myself) to help make it a better place.


In my mind, the ultimate aim of travel is to make us more connected to the world around us. To pull away the cotton wool we’re so often wrapped in in our everyday lives and expose us to the reality of the way things are, so that our perspective on what really matters in life can shift.

After my journey to Malaysian Borneo, I realised that there are two sides of this destination: the dream, and the reality.

So much of what we saw over those ten days was inspiring. There were the young kids we watched climbing a rock face and jumping off its peak, over and over again, into the water in their village in the foothills of Mount Kinabalu. There were the misty sunrises cruising down the Kinabatangan river on a small wooden boat, watching proboscis monkeys play in the trees, crocodiles lazing in the mud, and hornbills flashing across the sky.

There was the moment we looked up into the treetops in the jungle outside the Gomantong Caves and saw a pair of fuzzy auburn arms reaching around the trunk of a tree – the beginning of our first sighting of a critically endangered orangutan in the wild. 

There was dusk on Libaran Island, when we watched 109 baby turtles burst out of the sand like popcorn, then carried them over to the ocean and released them into the wild. There was that night spent standing in the pitch-black jungle, letting the deep thrum of thousands of insects transport us to another world.



The reality, however, was every bit as heartbreaking as the dream was inspiring. As we drove between destinations we travelled through hours’ worth of palm oil plantations. Malaysia is the world’s second-largest palm oil producer, and much of Borneo’s carbon-rich forests have been razed to accommodate the palm oil plantations.

At the Sepilok Sun Bear Conservation Centre and Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, we met dozens of wildlife orphans whose homes in the hardwood forests have disappeared to make way for those palm oil plantations. It was heartbreaking to realise that their worst predators (that’s us) have become the best carers and their only hope for survival.



Before Borneo, I thought maybe seeing these things would make me lose hope. But witnessing one of our planet’s worst ecological catastrophes first hand, and meeting the creatures whose lives have been utterly altered because of it, has instead become a memory for life and a catalyst for change.

It reminded me of how important the daily choices we make are. One example: I had been supporting the palm oil industry without even realising it, through the foods I was sometimes eating and products I was mindlessly consuming – things like chips, certain soaps and laundry detergents. Now that I know better, I’m trying my best to avoid them.

After seeing Borneo’s dark side, along with its lush beauty and ridiculously adorable creatures, I came home inspired to try to do better for our planet. It was a destination that reminded me how important seeing all aspects of a place is, rather than glossing over the ugly parts just because you don’t want your holiday to be tarnished. It reminded me that by seeing more of the world, and getting more informed, we can start to implement change.

If there’s a better reason for travel than that, I’d like to hear it. 






  1. Sophie Johnson
    December 12, 2017

    Thank you for sharing this Nina, I worked at Sepilok in 2014 and 2016 and the destruction is devastating! x

    • Nina K
      December 12, 2017

      Sophie thank you for reading! I left wishing I could go and work there. Those beautiful creatures, my heart bleeds for them. How long were you there, and where are you based now? x


Leave a Reply