From afar, it seems the world really is Nina Karnikowski’s oyster. You might know her on Instagram as @travelswithnina – a visual snapshot of her wild, transformative adventures off the beaten trail. She’s collected stamps in her passport from over 60 countries, transporting readers to India, Africa, Antarctica and beyond.
Nina at home with her beloved maremma, Milka.
But in real life, this grounded wordsmith has also created rituals and sanctuary to balance out the beauty and mayhem of her travel writing career.
I first met Nina around six years ago when we were both on assignment in South Australia’s McLaren Vale wine region. It doesn’t often happen that, as travel journalists, you’re bunked in together to share accommodation but as far as roomies go, I hit the jackpot that trip. Since then I’ve watched Nina’s career soar as she leaped from full-time staff writer for Fairfax Media to full-time freelancer, travelling the world from one exotic destination to the next – at the same time navigating a move to the country while her art director husband, Pete, retrained as a biodynamic winemaker, and more recently, north to Byron Bay to resettle in Australia’s hottest creative heartland.
On the eve of her first book launch, I visit Nina at home to chat about not only her travel writing adventures, but how she has been able to carve out her own Life Unhurried – helping to bring inspiration to those who want to walk their own paths, and live more sustainably, at the same time. Watch our conversation in full above.
Prefer to listen? You’ll find the podcast version of this episode of My Life Unhurried here.
During our heartfelt conversation, Nina reveals:
- The one place on earth she just can’t stop returning to.
- What travel writing is really like, from a financial POV.
- How to carve out the life you’ve always dreamed of (when you’re programmed to be a good 9-5 desk bunny).
- Some of the incredible stories behind her new book, Make A Living Living.
- How to tame the Instagram beast (and what’s really happening behind the screen).
- Small steps we can all take to travel more sustainably.
- Why you should question everything (including bin liners!).
- The most powerful way to slow things down.
- The rituals she relies on to recharge and continue to create.
- And her #1 tip for living a Life Unhurried.
“A lot of people glamorise the life of a travel writer and it is incredibly glamorous in some ways but there’s a lot of other elements that people aren’t factoring in”
Nina on… What it’s like to be a travel writer
It’s the ire of any travel writer – the perception that you get paid to go on holidays, while in reality, it’s a career and lifestyle choice that, while completely delicious and rewarding in so many ways, means doing life at full pelt.
“When you’re on an assignment you’re all in,” Nina explains. “You’re not there lying on a beach, you are on tight schedules and you want to give everyone your full attention and you are taking every single detail in and taking copious amounts of notes and photographs.”
Whether she’s face-to-face with polar bears in the Arctic, journeying through Mongolia in ex-Russian military vehicles, exploring the Namibian desert in open-sided safari trucks, or learning pre-Colombian weaving techniques in a small village in Guatemala, it’s the transformative nature of travel that captivates Nina’s imagination and what she feels so passionate about sharing with the readers who devour her words.
“Seeing things you would have never imagined, it just teaches you so much about alternative ways of living and so much about what we take for granted,” she says. “The ultimate aim with travel is to get us thinking differently about life.”
Nina beside one of the 900-year-old camel-thorn trees found in Dead Vlei in northern Namibia.
Nina on… her favourite travel writing adventures
Call it an occupational hazard, but as a travel writer, it’s natural for curious friends and stranger to ask that one dreaded question: what’s your favourite place to travel to?
“I like really wild, off-the-beaten track places, I like the empty places,” Nina says. “Places that have a real soul to them where I can spend my time getting lost, sinking into really exotic cultures. I’m not a lover of big cities but throw me into a desert in Namibia and I’m happy”
She’s been to Africa about 10 times, most recently Namibia but before that, she was in Ethiopia to celebrate Pete’s 40th birthday.
“It’s just the most incredible continent because you’re seeing the cradle of humanity, that’s where we came from and it’s just full of the most wild and untouched places,” she says.
Of course, the longer you do something, the more of it you do and in light of society’s (and Nina’s personal) awakening when it comes to sustainability and slow travel, she has become far more discerning before jumping on a plane.
“At this point I’ve actually taken a few months off travelling because I found I was needing to centre myself a little more.”
“It’s so delicious to go on journey after journey after journey but you really need that time to stop and reflect and integrate it all and make sure you’re still doing what you want to be doing, that the intention and motivation is right”
Nina on… making freelance travel writing work
The secret to Nina’s success could be her 5am wake-up time. “My body clock went a bit crazy after all the travel,” she says.
Before she even thinks about starting work on a story, Nina spends time journaling – she is a devotee of Julia’s Cameron’s Morning Pages (an exercise found in the book The Artists’s Way), drinking tea, and moving her body – yoga is her go-to, either at home in her beautiful backyard or at Creature Yoga in Byron Bay.
“It’s making sure by the time I sit down at my desk I’m centred and calm so I don’t need to spend as much time there; if I don’t do it I’ll be there twice as long,” she explains.
“I’m freelance for a reason. There are some financial sacrifices that you make and I look at that and think ‘I want to be living my best freelance life’ and that means not spending as much time working.”
“I was joking with a friend recently that if self love was an Olympic sport I would be a gold medal winner… can you tell I don’t have kids yet?”
‘I want to be living my ‘best freelance life’ and that means not spending as much time working
Nina on… how to live a creative life (and get paid)
After being asked so often, ‘what’s it like to do what you love and get paid for it’? Nina decided to write a book about it.
Make a Living Living (available 23 March 2020) is based around 26 people around the world who are living out their dreams and earning an income. The types of creatives you would follow on social media and think, hang on, how do they make a living doing that? From a knitter living in New Zealand to a chocolatier in Northern NSW to a tiny home builder in Japan, Nina has delved into the lives of these creatives to ask, ‘what kind of courage did that take’?
“People are super honest about how they started, how much money they started with, and I ask their advice – what would you tell people wanting to live a more free, creative life,” she says.
“I think so many people talk about it, and obviously there’s so much fear… real fears too, financial instability, or failure…
“A lot of people also know they want to do something creative but they’re not sure what that is.”
Nina wrote Make a Living Living to help aspiring creatives shrug off this sense of uncertainty. The book also includes exercises to help you learn to trust yourself, take risks, and monetise your passions so that you, too, can build a successful, purpose-driven career.