After visiting all of the secret bohemian nooks and crannies around the world, you could definitely say that Nina Karnikowski is one of those truly free spirits, and the perfect example of an imaginative traveler. After spending two years as the full-time staff-writer for the Sydney Morning Herald’s Traveller sections on Saturday and Sunday, she has decided to branch out on her own, having just launched her online folio and journal, Travels With Nina, which adds a different type of creative, soulful flavour to the freelance travel lifestyle. I was lucky enough to catch up with her a couple of weeks ago and this is what she had to say!
How long have you been a travel writer?
I started as a full-time staff travel writer for the Sydney Morning Herald’s Traveller sections on Saturday and Sunday two years ago. For four years before that I was writing for various Fairfax magazines including Good Weekend, Sunday Life, the(sydney)magazine and Sport & Style. But really, I’ve been writing about travel ever since I got the bug in 2006 when I lived in the south of France as part of my journalism and international studies degree. It’s the most wonderful job, not only because it takes you to fascinating destinations, but because the process of writing allows you to relive every amazing experience you have.
When and what made you decide to delve into the world of travel writing?
Up until about a month ago I would have said it wasn’t really a decision, more just right place right time. But then I found a journal from my university days and in it I wrote about dreaming of becoming a travel writer. Of donning my fedora and my backpack and venturing out into the wild unknown. So I suppose subconsciously that’s what I was working towards the whole time.
What is your favourite saying?
“You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back.” Paul Theroux. TRUTH. I drop little kernels of my soul along the road everywhere I go. I know I’ll never get them back, but what the destinations I travel to give me in return means I get back tenfold what I’ve lost.
If you could sum up the kind of traveller you are in one word, what would it be?
Greedy. I hate to admit it, but I am. I want to explore all 196 countries in the world (yes, even North Korea) and I have a feeling I’ll keep packing my bags until I do. The problem, of course, is that I fall in love with every place I visit and just want to go back again and again. Lucky I started early.
Can you think of a film which has inspired you to travel to a particular destination?
Bertolucci’s 1990 film The Sheltering Sky, based on the Paul Bowles novel. I’ve been desperate to travel to travel to Morocco ever since I first saw it three years ago. The film’s all dusty ochre plains, exotic music and amazing turbans.
Describe the weirdest travel experience you’ve ever had…
Meeting a Masai tribe in Tanzania in 2011 (I was there for my two-month honeymoon) and asking them to please create me some of their insane body jewelery. It took them five days to hand-bead the body harness and arm band and I sat with them on the floor of their little hut for much of that time, chatting about our families and our lives. At one point the head of the tribe asked me what my father was like, and when I said he could at times be slightly hard he replied, “Oh yes, my father is the same way – he always is saying, ‘kill the lion!’” That’s right, exactly the same. LOL.
Apart from the basics, what’s in your carry on?
I spent most of last year traveling around India, and one of my adventures there was a two week tarot tour of South India. The trip taught me so much about the symbology of the cards and the history of tarot art and now I don’t travel anywhere without my beautiful deck from The Wild Unknown. Travel has a way of making us reconsider our lives and where we’re going so I find the cards a useful guide when I’m a little lost on the road. My yoga mat in my Nagnata yoga bag is another non-negotiable since I’m a pretty dedicated yogini. A girlfriend of mine hand crafts these beautiful bags from antique and hand-dyed Indian fabrics and embellishes them with little mirrors and ancient coins. It serves a double purpose since it’s always starting conversations and making me new friends wherever I am in the world.
What’s the best foreign curse word you know?
“Semrehányás” – which is Hungarian for “I vomit in your eyeball.” My mum’s Hungarian and when we travelled to Hungary together a few years ago she taught me this awesome phrase. Because really, who hasn’t wanted to vomit in someone’s eyeball at some point in their lives?
What’s the coolest hotel you ever stayed in and why?
I recently travelled to Samoa for work and spent a week exploring the hidden lagoons, rainforests, waterfalls and ocean trenches of Upolu. The highlight was definitely spending a night in a 350-year-old Banyan tree called Samson up in the hinterland. My job has seen me stay in some pretty insane places (the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur was right up there) but I’m most at home in nature and have always had a fascination for whimsical treehouses. Listening to Samson creak his song to us as my husband and I fell asleep in his arms made all my dreams come true.
Name a place you’re dying to visit?
Last year I spent some time trekking in Nepal and befriended some Chinese hikers who told me about Jiuzhaigou in Sichuan, which they all said was the most beautiful place in the world to hike. I started researching it and found the most stunning images of crystalline blue waters surrounded by wooded mountains, which are studded with remote Tibetan villages, hundreds of bird species and giant pandas. Heaven. I’m also off to Papua New Guinea for the Rabaul mask festival next week which will be a bit of a dream come true.
Name a favorite destination you would go back to?
Mumbai in India. My hubby and I lived there for most of last year and we fell head over heels for the city. It is truly poetry in motion, every time you set foot out the door. It’s chaotic and at times utterly overwhelming, but I’ve never witnessed such joy and lust for life as I did there. Every night there are parties on the street, with firecrackers and bands and so much laughter, always. Part of my soul is still there and so is our cat, Hindi, who we rescued from the slum we lived next door to. I’m planning to go back to attempt to retrieve both of them in September, when I head back to do a story on the Buddhist region of Bodhgaya.