TRAVELS WITH NINA

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

AUGUSTETHELABEL.COM

Tell us a little bit about your career and how you became a travel writer?
My love of travel began when I lived in France for a year in 2006 as part of my journalism and international studies degree. I scuttled madly across Europe that year and fell in love with packing my life up on my back and travelling to wherever felt inspiring. After I returned to Oz I started work as a magazine features writer for the Sydney Morning Herald – on Good Weekend, Sunday Life and the Sydney Magazine – and after a few years of working my butt off was offered a position as a writer on the travel team. It was a dream come true; in my first two weeks I covered a meditation retreat in the mountains of Ubud, and a luxury adventure around New Zealand.

A few months later my husband, then an art director, got offered a job at GQ India, so we packed our bags and went to live in Mumbai for a year. I loved it from the moment I arrived; I felt like it was home and that I’d been there before. I continued writing travel stories for the paper which took me all around India and to Sri Lanka and Nepal, and when we returned to Sydney I settled back into my role, happily travelling and writing away.

I finally went freelance and started my blog just over a year ago, which serendipitously coincided with my husband starting work at his family’s vineyard and our move to the Hunter Valley. It was scary at first, not having the safety net of a big company around me anymore, but it was the best move I could have made. I now have the freedom to go where I want, when I want, and I’ve had some of the wildest adventures of my career since I left – to places like Morocco, Zambia, Turkey, Papua New Guinea, China, Russia and more.

 

Where’s your favourite place in the world?
This is constantly changing – but right now I’d say Mongolia, where I went on assignment a few months ago. It was incredible to experience a country where the nomadic lifestyle is still a reality for almost 40 percent of the population, a country where there are no fences and where the horses outnumber people. We spent three days with a nomadic family in a sleepy little valley, sleeping in gers, helping milk their mares and yaks to make vodka and cheese, rode their horses and experienced life as it had been lived there for centuries. We visited a horse festival where three-year-olds raced bareback and grown men wrestled each other and tamed wild horses, and drove across hundreds of kilometres of landscape so wild, open and untamed you sometimes feared it was going to swallow you whole. These are the kinds of experiences I live for, experiences that give you a taste of a wild, free existence that puts you right at the centre of yourself.

 

What’s your go-to clothing to pack for your next adventure?
I don’t go anywhere without my RM Williams boots, I live on a farm so they’re kind of essential, and I just can’t part with them when it’s time to hit the road. I’ll always take a couple of my nagNata yoga tees, naturally hand-dyed and so soft and breathable, and my Levis “Big E” denim jacket. I’m passionate about traditional textiles so if I’m travelling somewhere exotic I’ll always leave room to purchase plenty of those.

 

What does #shelivesfree (The Auguste Mantra) mean to you?
It means playing life by your own rules. It means finding a way to get in touch with that little voice inside yourself, and once you’ve connected to it, making it sing loud and clear so you can hear it when it tells you it’s time to pack your bags and go exploring.I’m married and many people give me funny looks when I tell them my husband and I spend months at a time apart when I’m off travelling. But living free means being in a relationship filled with love and respect, where you don’t tell each other what to do. My man and I have built a marriage that leaves a lot of space for personal freedom, which means we can do what we feel we need to to fill ourselves up and be the best version of ourselves for each other when we’re together.Living free also means to me keeping yourself in a financial position where you can be free to compose your life just the way you want it. I don’t make a lot of money, but I do live my life in a way that’s sustainable and free of financial shackles – a car, a mortgage, high-end designer labels and beauty treatments – so that I can feed my soul when it’s howling out for food.

 

Tell me about what it was like to live in India – what aspects of the lifestyle do you miss?
In a word? Overwhelming. In good ways and bad. Nothing can prepare you for India. It’s a place where everything – the crowds, the traffic, the noise, the smells – is dialled up to 110. In the nine months I was there I was sick more times than I can count, I cried weekly at the sheer intensity of the place and the desperation of so many of the people there. And yet I smiled so hard at the colour and the chaos I almost split my face in two, felt more alive than I ever had, and was inspired each and every time I stepped out our front door.I miss the call of the chai wallah waking me up in the morning. I miss walking to our local market every day to buy marigold garlands and fresh fruit and spices. I miss the lumbering cows, the bright saris, the wafts of incense. I miss Hindi, the little kitten we rescued from the fishing slum we lived next to. I miss being able to spend weekends at ashrams. I miss it all, really, even the desperately sad parts. But the motherland is calling me so I know I’ll be back very soon.

 

What advice do you have for women travelling solo?
When you’re faced with a difficult decision or a scary moment, take a minute to breathe and tap into that part of yourself that knows just what to do. Women’s intuition is a real thing, and it’s always kept me safe. Don’t take someone’s word for it when they tell you a place isn’t safe for solo women travellers. Do your own research and make your own call, and if it feels right push your boundaries and go there. The experience you have as a result just might change your life.And always respect the culture of the country you’re in – if the local women are covering up, then you should too.

 

What makes travel so important for personal growth?
As my travel writer hero Pico Iyer says, “as anyone who travels knows, you don’t do it to move around, but to be moved.” Travel moves you in ways very little else can. It stirs you up and flips you upside down. You see places and experience cultures and meet people and do things you never thought you would and that just shakes things up. It makes you re-evaluate the way you live your life, shows you how to do it better and reminds you how small we really are. I don’t care what anyone says about the world being small, it’s huge and when you roam its surface you’re reminded of how small you – the main character in your world back home – really are in the grand scheme of things. I think it’s important to feel that, to feel insignificant and unimportant to shake off some of that ego. You return home humbled, but also filled up, reinvigorated and full of tales and inspirations to share with the world.

 

Describe your perfect day…
I’m in Flores in Indonesia with my man. We awake at sunrise on a wooden boat, the sun licking the horizon as we make our way to a nearby pink sand beach. We bask on the sand for a while, then spend the rest of the day swimming with endangered manta rays, exploring islands in the search for komodo dragons, snorkeling through clouds of colourful fish and huge blooms of coral, and end up on Seraya Island where we spend the night in a luxury beach bungalow. A dream day that became a reality earlier this year.

 

THIS INTERVIEW FIRST APPEARED HERE