A recent interview with one of my favourite sustainable lifestyle brands, Quiet Sydney. They create beautiful Australian-made lounge and sleepwear that’s crafted from natural materials, and is designed to bring us back to the slow, quiet life and the forgotten rituals of rest and simple living. I certainly need a lot more of that in my life! If you do too, you might get something out of our chat below.
Nina Karnikowski is an Australian travel writer, with a fascination for exotic cultures and the transformative powers of adventure. We caught her on a brief stop back at home in the Hunter Valley, to talk about finding balance and stillness while constantly on the move.
Just to start, at this moment in time what do you feel gratitude for?
I’m propped up in bed as I write this, underneath the super-soft linen sheets my mum gifted me on my last birthday, so I’m going to have to say good bedding. I realise my appreciation for comfort may be a sign I’m getting old, but they just feel so luxurious! Perfect for a cosy night’s sleep, which is so important to me these days. So often I neglect these most basic things when I do my gratitude practice, but it really is the little things that bring me the most joy.
Give us a little insight into your life as a travel writer.
I’m usually off on assignments about once a month. This year so far I’ve been snowshoeing in Hokkaido in northern Japan, to Paris to cover the launch of their cultural season, to a private island in Fiji, travelling around Israel and Jordan for a month, hiking in the Canadian wilderness in Newfoundland, and next week I’m off to Borneo to meet the orangutans. It may sound like the dream job and in many ways it is, but trust me, it’s also hard work! While I’m away I’m furiously taking notes, photos and videos, interviewing locals, trying to soak up the experience, all while moving at a pace that’s often very speedy.
When I arrive home and get over my jetlag I’m pitching stories to the various publications I write for, then quickly writing those stories up and collating imagery and video for them, while trying to keep the content on my site flowing. When I’m home I also split my time between Sydney and the Hunter Valley, where my husband Pete works on his family’s farm and vineyard, so there’s quite a lot of movement on home soil too!
It can be exhausting, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m kind of addicted to the nomadic life.
Your work takes you all over the globe, what is it about visiting different places that interests you?
Aside from the fact that I’m fascinated by exotic cultures and getting an insight into the way different people live around the world, I’m also really interested in the transformative powers of travel. I’m yet to visit a place that hasn’t changed me in some small way, that hasn’t added another layer to who I am, which I think is absolutely essential to us as human beings. If we continue to travel, we continue to evolve and to know ourselves and our world better. There really isn’t anything better than that.
Where do you feel most at home?
At the farm, with Pete and our two maremma sheepdogs Minty and Milka and our six chubby white chooks. I miss them all a lot when I’m away, and my little apothecary slash lady den where I spend a lot of my writing days. I grew up in Sydney but I’m very much a lady of the land these days – there’s something so soothing about being surrounded by all that quiet, with nothing but the trees and the birds to talk to.
How do you prioritise and balance time for yourself while travelling, and also back at home?
When I’m away my schedules are usually very full, the companies that send me away want to show us writers as much of their destination as possible, which means we’re often busy from dawn til dusk. I try to make sure I get up a little earlier to do some yoga and quietly sip my tea before I begin the day, otherwise I feel completely discombobulated by the time the assignment is over.
When I’m home it’s definitely easier. Again, it’s all about early mornings for me, rising before the sun so I can light some incense, steep my tea, do my yoga practice, meditate or journal, whatever I’m feeling that day. I used to feel like taking this time for myself was indulgent, but it really means I’m bringing the best version of me to my work and to every interaction I have throughout the day, so now I think of it as a bit of public service.
Particularly as someone frequenting airports and hotel rooms, why is finding stillness, and allowing time for relaxation and reflection important in your day?
It’s all about balancing the energies. In Ayurvedic medicine I’m a vata dosha, which means my energy levels are naturally quite high. So for me, I’m constantly needing to ground down again, in order to remain focused and to quieten my busy brain so I can get some peace and some clarity. That’s so essential for the writing process, and generally for just being a good human.
You recently wrote about trying to settle the ‘travel FOMO’, how do you prevent that need to rush around on your travels and what rituals do you practice to slow down and stay grounded?
That rushing around is a bit of a workplace hazard for a travel writer. But over time I’ve realised that you really do get to know a place more deeply by seeing less of it, and by spending more time in a smaller number of places, which is what I try to do if I’m travelling on my own schedule. If I’m not though, I find that something as simple as stopping in a tea house at some point during the day can help slow you down, can give you that moment of pause and that time to just breathe, so that you can reflect on what you’ve seen so far and plan your next step.
Also, I’ve been doing a lot more hiking in my recent trips, and that’s a fantastic way to really soak up a destination and open yourself up to the natural world a little more, which is usually where the real magic lies.
Five favourites for down time:
Ravi Shankar’s Prabhujee. I fell in love with this song while I was living in India a few years back, and it takes me back to those long, lazy monsoon mornings in our Bombay apartment whenever I listen to it.
The Ayu’s vedic-inspired Souq oil, with its earthy notes of musk and sandalwood, pulls me right down to the ground and reminds me of the winding alleyways of Marrakech whenever I dab it on my wrists.
Also, the smell of burning wood. My husband Pete’s a bit of a pyromaniac, he lights the fire most nights at sundown no matter what the weather, so the smell always signals stop work and start chill time for me.
Each afternoon when we’re on the farm, I head down to the Wollombi Brook with our dogs. We walk to a small waterfall down there where I sit amongst the whispering casuarinas, soaking it all up while the dogs go for a paddle. Just being there is enough to make my breath slow and my whole body exhale.
The feeling of our dog’s fur beneath my fingers. Nothing better.
A good quality loose leaf, organic puerh tea. A mellow, woody taste that reminds me how deeply we’re all connected to the earth.
Where is life taking you next – what are you currently manifesting?
I’m manifesting starting a little family! It’s been difficult to come to terms with the idea of not being constantly on the road anymore, but I’m finally feeling ready and am so excited to show this wild world to my unborn kids. There’s so much it can teach us, all those weird and wonderful cultures and people and places that I know will blow their little minds.
Photography by her husband, Peter Windrim, at their farm in the Hunter Valley.