As a freelance travel writer, Nina Karnikowski has experienced wild, transformative adventures in fascinating destinations from Antarctica to Kenya, Morocco to Jordan. Based in Byron Bay with her husband, the globetrotting Australian travel writer and author cites India as an endless source of soul inspiration, having lived there for one year. Fascinated by Nina’s wanderlust lifestyle and nomadic journeys in far flung parts of the world, X-Files taps into her top travel tips and how she’s been formed by her travel experiences.
Describe your current role.
Freelance travel writer, and author of the upcoming book Make a Living Living, profiling creatives from around the world and helping aspiring creatives build a similarly successful life and career.
What was your formal background or education?
A double degree in Journalism and International Studies at UTS, including one year studying at the University of Toulon in southern France. I graduated in 2008.
Was this always your dream role? How did you establish yourself?
I recently had a friend from university tell me that in one of our first classes I announced that my dream was to become the next Catriona Rowntree from the travel show Getaway. So even though I have absolutely no recollection of that, I guess the seed was planted awhile back! I started as a lifestyle writer in Fairfax Media’s magazine division, and after four years was offered a writing position on the travel team. In my first two weeks I covered a meditation retreat in the mountains of Ubud and a luxury adventure around New Zealand’s South Island. It was totally dreamy, but just a few months later my husband (then an art director) got a job creative directing GQ India, so we packed our bags and went to live in Mumbai for a year. I continued writing travel stories for the Sydney Morning Herald from there, which took me all around India and to Sri Lanka and Nepal. I eventually went freelance four years ago, and have had some of the wildest adventures of my career since - to places like Morocco, Botswana, Antarctica, Papua New Guinea, Mongolia, Vietnam, Japan and more.
For those interested in pursuing a similar career path, what advice do you have?
Travel as much as you can. Write as much as you can. Learn to use social media in an effective way, set up your own blog, and get your work in front of people’s eyes. I know it might sound much easier said than done. But not doing the things that matter to you and that you really want to do seems, to me at least, as big a tragedy as any problem of failure. If you do venture into the freelance writing world, there will most likely be a period of instability at the beginning, so try to build up a little nest egg to soften the financial blow. Then just be persistent and work your butt off to get where you want to be.
How do you prepare for a big story or upcoming travel?
This might sound a little, umm, “type A”, but I actually mood board before I go on any trip. Getting a feel for the colours, the landscapes, the local artisanal products, those sorts of things that make packing that much easier and more fun. I also dive into the music, films and art of the destination. I try not to read too much about the destination I’m visiting, since I prefer to approach each place with as open a mind as possible. Avoiding having too many preconceived notions of how a place should be helps you properly appreciate it for what it really is.
What are your on the ground rituals?
I always take my yoga gear and running shoes with me, so I can stretch and move my body as much as possible while I’m away. I take a journal to unpack my full brain at the end of the day, too, and try to work a short meditation or breathing techniques into each morning before I head out into the madness.
Your packing essentials are…
Eye mask, silicone earplugs and lavender essential oil are non-negotiables, I’m a sensitive sleeper! Merino wool knickers are another one, they’re so comfortable and can be washed and dried in five minutes. I love don’t leave home without a good robe, for swanning around the hotel room or by the pool, and my constant travel companion is my Olympus OM-D EM10 camera, which also takes fantastic video.
What has been the most transformative journey you’ve had?
My first trip to India. I prayed with the sadhus by the holy river Ganges in Varanasi; stayed in ashrams in Rishikesh, where the Beatles found enlightenment; and lay out under the stars in the middle of the Rajasthani desert. I returned to Australia as a better, maybe even more evolved, human. I continue to return to India whenever I feel my soul start to get a little tired.
How do you hit the ground running in a new country or city you’re in?
I often literally hit the ground running, throwing on my workout gear (I love my bestie’s beautiful organic activewear brand Nagnata) and pounding the pavement to sweat out the flight and get my body adjusted to the new time zone. A long shower, a massage if it’s available, a big slather of moisturiser and I’m good to go.
Define your favourite destination in the world and why.
I’ve already waxed lyrical about India, so I’ll have to say Africa. I’ve been seven times and only fall deeper in love with it each visit. Those wild, open plains when you’re on safari, the incredible wildlife, the most beautiful sunsets you can imagine, some of the happiest and kindest humans I’ve met on this earth. Humankind began in Africa, so it makes sense that it brings out that ancient, primeval part of you, and makes you feel small and insignificant in the best possible way. A recent trip to Ethiopia was my favourite African journey so far - hiking in the Simien Mountains, celebrating Orthodox Christmas with 200,000 white cotton-clad pilgrims in Lalibela in a 900-year-old rock-cut church, and drinking too much whisky and dancing the night away to live Ethiopian Jazz in Addis Ababa. Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.
What is your ultimate source of inspiration as a writer?
Wild, exotic places, with complex and colourful histories and cultures. All images by Nina Karnikowski. For your escapism fix, follow Nina's exotic travels via her Instagram profile @TravelsWithNina.