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Travel Writer Nina Karnikowski Talks Life, Death, Bucket List & Healing Through Travel

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One look at travel writer Nina Karnikowski’s Instagram account (@travelswithnina) and it’s easy to be drawn into her curiosity, passion and adventure for life. But like many of us, she’s had to overcome obstacles to get to where she is today, including the loss of a close friend.

We chatted to our favourite free spirit about all things travel, the importance of a bucket list, meditating on death, and healing through adventure. Relish in her wisdom. 

Nina in Morocco

What’s been your journey into travel writing?

I first fell in love with travelling when I lived in France in 2006 as part of my five-year journalism and international studies degrees. I did what we Aussies do best and squished in as much European adventuring as I possibly could that year. I never imagined it could become a career, though. That didn’t happen until I’d been working as a lifestyle writer for four years at Fairfax Media, and was then offered a position as a writer on the travel team. It took almost a decade of hard work to get where I am today, travelling the world for work, but it has been so, so worth it! I really do feel like I’m living the dream.

How many countries have you visited?

57, but who’s counting? Some of my favourites have been criss-crossing the Indian continent, meeting the Omo Valley tribes in Ethiopia, exploring Israel’s Negev desert, staying with nomads in Mongolia, and visiting the tribes of Papua New Guinea. I seek the more undiscovered parts of our planet.

Nina in Jordan

What is it about travel that sets your soul on fire?

The way it can change you, expanding your mind and opening you up to all sorts of new ways of thinking about how we live this one wild and precious life.

Do you think traveling can be healing in any way? 

I often think of travel as medicine. It gives us that potent shift in perspective and energy which can be very powerful in times of sadness or trauma. In January, for example, one of my closest girlfriends passed away after a long battle with cancer. I was left heartbroken. When an assignment to Antarctica came up a month later, I knew I had to take it. Being out in that frozen nothingness, in a place that felt so otherworldly, my heart began to heal and I felt my friend was with me while I was there. It became a farewell journey we were taking together. By the time I got home I was left with nothing but gratitude for the role she played in my life, and inspiration to live my life in a way that would make her proud.

Nina in Antarctica

I’m a massive advocate for bucket lists. Do you have one? If so, where in the world do you still want to go?

Of course! I’ve ticked off quite a few by this stage – Peru, Morocco, Botswana, Nepal, Japan and Egypt among them. Top of my bucket list is heading back to India to spend time with the Buddhists in Bodh Gaya, doing a surf and yoga retreat in Senegal in west Africa, and enhancing my tea practice in Taiwan.

For the uninitiated, what makes a great bucket list location? 

For me, it’s all about combining the destination with your greatest passions. If you love yoga, for example, then you’d head straight to India; if you adore Japanese food, you might take a pilgrimage to Hokkaido in far north Japan for the world’s best seafood. Think about what intrigues you most in life, then choose the best destination around the globe to suit that.

What has been your most transformative trip and why?

India. From the moment my feet touched Indian soil I felt very deeply connected to the country. The explosion of colour, the constantly beeping horns, the marigold garlands strung up everywhere, the rogue cows, the women shrouded in glittering saris, the scent of turmeric and masala hanging in the air… it was all poetry to me. One of my favourite travel writers Pico Iyer says, “home is not just the place where you happen to be born, it’s the place where you become yourself.” India was the place where I dropped into who I really am.

What are your packing essentials?

My yoga mat, a great book, my journal, a shawl and a rich moisturiser.

Nina in Chile

How do you want to be remembered? What does your legacy look like?

I want to be remembered as a woman who threw herself into life. Who was adventurous and curious and brave, with a huge appetite for life and everything this magical planet of ours has to offer. Who loved fiercely, stood up for what she believed in, created a life she was proud of, and always gave more than she felt she could.

Nina in Turkey

What would your funeral or memorial look like?

As a student of Buddhism for many years, this is something I meditate on quite a lot. I believe that thinking about the inevitable end of our lives, and how we will be memorialised, helps us live as our highest selves day to day. I want to be disposed of in the most sustainable way possible at the time, and to be memorialised out in nature. I want all my friends and family to see my body one last time, to help them take in the reality of the fact that I am gone. I want everyone to share the ways I most inspired them, so that they can move forward in their own lives with even more love and fire. Then I want a huge celebration – colourful flowers, incense, loud music, my girlfriends dressed in my favourite clothing and jewellery, singing and dancing, laughing and crying, and feeling full of life and inspiration.

Image credit: Nina Karnikowski and Peter Windrim.

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