Do not follow Nina Karnikowski on Instagram if you are in any way insecure about your life/career, the number of stamps on your passport, or if your last holiday was spent in a grotty tent in a Big 4 with a toddler.
Or, get over it. Someone has to travel the world and be paid to write about it. Otherwise how would we know about male Mongolian bikini wrestling? Or what it’s like to stay on a billionaire’s priavte island in Vanuatu?
As well as being well-travelled, a brilliant writer and extremely photogenic, Nina also gives a real sh*t about humanity, the environment, and where her clothes come from.
In other words, she’s the total package.
1. Which came first, the travel or the writing? The writing. I’ve written ever since I was a kid. I still remember my first little journal - its hard navy cover with gold stars and moons all over it; its small, useless gold lock that made me feel so grown up. Back then I wrote about friends, boys and how annoying my mum was. Eventually, it became a place where, when I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders, I could go to pour my thoughts out onto a few pages and feel kind of ok again. When it came to choosing what I was going to do with my life, I honestly didn’t feel like I had any other choice. Writing was kind of it for me. And if I had to choose between travel and writing – man, it’s a tough one, but I think I’d choose the writing.
2. Best ever….
budget holiday: I did Antibes on a budget with my husband a couple of years back, as a bit of a “can we do one of the world’s poshest places on a sausage budget?” Well, yes we could, and we had a damn lot of fun doing it. We didn’t have two grand to blow on a room at the insanely gorgeous Hotel du Cap Eden Rock, so we used Airbnb to find a fantastic apartment right in the centre of the old town. We decided that yachts were totally 2012, and instead opted for a $100 per day eight-foot runabout (the one with the torn sunshade and five horsepower engine) to putter us around those insane sandstone cliffs. And we hired a cheap scooter to visit the poshest beach in town, Plage de la Garoupe, then picnicked in a hidden cove with crunchy French bread, juicy nectarines and a $6 bottle of wine. Bliss.
all-out no-expense spared holiday: My second wedding anniversary at the ritzy Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur in Rajasthan, India. I had rose petals sprinkled on me when we arrived. The pool boy gave us iced cucumber slices for our eyes while we sunbathed. And in our Grand Royal Suite, surrounded by intricately carved wooden furniture and rich silk upholstery, we had a bath looking out over Lake Pichola while we drank French champagne and ate mud cake. It was so ridiculously opulent I’m still wondering whether I dreamt the whole thing up.
travel surprise (good or bad): How cool Mongolia was. To be honest, I didn’t know a great deal about the place before I went. But here’s a country where nomads (who make up over 40 percent of the population) will teach you how to make vodka from yak’s milk. Where you can witness three-year-olds racing horses bareback, and grown men in bikinis wrestling each other in what can questionably be considered the ultimate display of manliness. And where you’ll explore landscapes so wild, open and untamed you sometimes fear it’s going to swallow you whole.
3. Can you recommended any eco or sustainable holiday resorts/experiences? I had a fantastic experience this past summer on Ratua Private Island in Vanuatu where, because it’s owned by a French billionaire, 100 percent of the profits go back to the health and education of the communities in the neighbouring islands. There were just ten 200-year-old Javanese bungalows dotted around this idyllic island, all with no TV, AC or even glass in the windows. The epitome of barefoot luxury, where we spent our days snorkeling with sting rays, tropical fish and the giant turtles the area is famed for, kayaking to remote blue holes, getting massages and swimming with the island’s horses - all while knowing that our tourism dollar was going to exactly the right place.
4. You lived in Mumbai for a year, how was that? Living in India changed my life, and not a day goes by when I don’t dream about its colourful flower garlands, smiling faces, scents of turmeric and masala, lumbering street cows and addictive chaos. It transformed me with its ability to delight and confuse and outrage me all at the same time. Each day when I’d walk along the seafront at sunrise I’d be stepping over whole families sleeping on the pavement. Seeing those sorts of sights – along with the chained monkeys performing on the streets, the legless guys pushing themselves around on trolleys begging – made me feel simultaneously helpless and so inspired to try to see more of the world and attempt to change not only my perception of it but other people’s as well.
5. Favorite shopping destinations? Ganesh Emporium in Udaipur, India: a restored 250-year-old mansion housing 16 cavernous galleries crammed with Rajasthani treasures. Here you can find everything from woven camel dressings detailed with beads, tassels and mirrors, to antique rugs, handmade bedspreads, and chunky silver jewelery. Morocco: in the Marrakech souks where you’ll find leather babouche slippers in all the colours of the rainbow, silk caftans and djellabas, silver filigree lanterns and millions of beautiful hand-woven Berber rugs. I also loved Essaouira where you don’t get hassled the way you do in Marrakech, and where the goodies have a kind of faded elegance to them that matches the whole aesthetic of the town. Cappadocia in Turkey, where you get the most stunning kilim cushions, rugs, bags, slippers, vests… You name it, they’ve got it in kilim.
6. What are some treasured items you’ve picked up in your travels? A hand tie-dyed Tibetan Lingtse Cape that I purchased in the Ladakh region of northern India - they haven’t been made since the 1960s. Its stunning colours, thick wool fabric and shaggy tassels seriously spark my joy every time I look at it.
A beautiful pink and black Yao minority jacket that I bargained for in the Longji rice terraces in the Yangshuo region of China on a hilltop one afternoon as the sun set. You’ve probably seen images of the Yao women before: they’re the ones dressed in pink and black with hair down to their knees: they only cut it once in their lifetime, just before they get married. To have such incredible workmanship and intricate embroidery hanging in my house reminds me that fashion can truly be art. I also treasure my Mongolian camel wool slippers, they’re so comfy and make me think of the special times I had with the nomads whenever I slip them on my feet.
7. What does ethical fashion mean to you? It means actually giving a shit. Excuse the language, but you know, so many people don’t and it can be frustrating. It means thinking twice before you buy a top just because it’s $10 – have a look at where it’s made, consider what the conditions might have been for the person who created it, and ask yourself do you truly need it and will you wear it again and again, or will you just toss it out after a wear or two? Ethical fashion is fashion that’s made with heart, soul and conscience, garments that are made with care and love in good conditions. As a consumer, I truly believe you can feel when the garment’s been made with love, and you’ll in turn love the bejeezus out of it and probably keep it your whole life.
8. What are your core personal values? I believe in stepping as lightly as you can on the planet - it’s the only one we’ve got and even though the environmental problems we’re facing right now may seem insurmountable, every small contribution we make really can make a difference. I’m no saint but I try to minimize the amount of water and energy I use and the packaged food I buy, I try to never buy fast fashion or food, I never drive when I can walk, and I go organic whenever possible – because those chemicals are not only killing us but our earth, too. I make an effort to seek out sustainable accommodation when I’m travelling, and to offset my carbon footprint when I can. Oh, and I’m also a great believer in compassion and love, because that’s where the path to peace begins.
9. What makes you laugh? Apart from Broad City and our dog Minty? People who take themselves too seriously. They crack me up.
10. What’s the oldest or most worn item in your closet? Well I do happen to own a yellow silk jacket from the 70s… the 1870s, that is! A beautiful Edwardian piece that sits on my wall and that I’m terrified to actually wear, lest it fall to pieces on my body.
11. Unoriginal I know, but I have to ask…Nina’s packing essentials: My yoga mat in its ethically-made bejeweled Nagnata yoga bag. Apple cider vinegar to use as a facial toner and digestive tonic. And a good probiotic – because the places I tend to travel to can wreak havoc on a lady’s belly.
13. What’s next? I’m heading back to India next week to relive the Mumbai magic, to get some ashram time in and to explore the state of Himachal Pradesh where I haven’t yet been. After that I’ll be on assignment back in Aus, following in the footsteps of Crocodile Dundee in Kakadu, closely followed by a trip to Malaysia.