Well Wandered - Travel Tips & Wanderlust
Nina Karnikowski of Travels With Nina
Nina is one of those magical creatures that you feel as though you’ve known forever, when in fact you’ve never actually met in person. A testament to her ability to truly connect with people through her earnest and honest writings. Nina seemingly has the dream life - a talented travel writer who calls Byron Bay home. Having travelled the globe far and wide, Nina shares some inspiring stories and tips with us.
You’ve recently returned from a trip to our beloved Guatemala with Caitlin of Thread Caravan. I love this concept of learning a new skill while experiencing the local culture – how did you find the experience?
I had been collecting vintage huipiles, the vibrant tops Guatemalans have been weaving and wearing for thousands of years, for almost a decade before this opportunity came up, so to finally visit the country felt like a full circle moment.
Caitlin has created such a heartfelt, special product with her Thread Caravan weaving workshop. Every detail was in alignment, from the workshops themselves, to the farm-to-table restaurants we ate at, to the boutique properties we stayed in. Even the little goody bags she gave each guest at the beginning of the journey, filled with ethically-sourced Guatemalan products. Each day she introduced us to local creatives and we learnt a new weaving-related skill – from how to de-seed and spin local cotton in Chuacruz; to how the cochineal insects were harvested off cactus pads and ground into a powder that we then dyed with in San Juan; to how to design and weave our very own scarves and wall hangings on backstrap looms from local weavers in San Antonio Palopo. In between there was fantastic vintage shopping, and every day was a reminder of how important it is to keep these sorts of artisanal traditions alive. Weaving is in danger of dying out in Guatemala – the younger generation are much less likely to see the value in learning how to weave and create their own clothes, which can often take up to two months to create, when 15 tonnes of incredibly cheap western clothes are being shipped over from America every month. It’s sad, but we as conscious travellers can be part of the solution, by investing our tourism dollar in journeys like these that benefit the local community both financially and creatively, and teach us about the importance and beauty of these artforms.
I remember when I was 14, my sister’s best friend had just returned from India with this beautiful picture of a Sadhu. My mind exploded! At that moment I knew that I HAD to see the world. What were your early inspirations for travel?
My family background is eastern European – my mum is Hungarian and my dad is half Polish, half Russian. So ever since I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Sydney I knew that the world was vast, that my grandparents had come to Australia on a boat from the other side of the world after fleeing the war and I wanted desperately to go and see where they had come from. No surprises, then, that my first overseas jaunt was to Europe when I was 16.
I’ve seen pictures of your beautiful home, and it’s filled with beautiful pieces from around the world. What are some of your most treasured overseas purchases?
I’m a bowerbird; no matter how much I try to follow the Marie Kondo minimalist movement, I can’t help myself when I find a curious treasure on my travels. They are my daily reminders of how weird and wonderful planet Earth is, particularly necessary when I’ve been home writing for a couple of months and the world starts to feel small again. I have a gorgeously tattered camel dressing covered in old shells on our living room wall, which I picked up while Pete my husband and I were living in India in 2013. Rajasthan is home to the world’s best-dressed camels, and in fact a few years after purchasing this piece I met the camel king of India in Pushkar, the man who’d won the award for best-dressed camel at the famous fair for something like seven years running, and it always reminds me of him, even though he didn’t actually sell it to me. We have some beautiful pieces from our trip to Ethiopia last year - my favourite has to be the trio of lip plates we bought directly from the tribeswomen in the Omo Valley who wore the plates in their own lips. I remember poring through the pages of National Geographic as a kid and staring in wonder at photos of those women and thinking how incredible it would be to see them one day, so the lip plates have also become a reminder of how our dreams really can become our reality.
What has travel taught you?
It has taught me how to celebrate difference, to keep an open heart and to be less judgemental. How to live with less, and to find gratitude for the small things. How to be brave, how to be strong, how to be fierce. It has taught me the importance of staying curious. And it has taught me how small I really am. I think it’s so important to feel insignificant and unimportant every so often, to shake off some of that ego.
What’s always in your carry-on luggage?
A cashmere eye mask I bought in Mongolia on an assignment a few years back (I actually bought four of them and am on my last one now, so perhaps a return trip is calling!) accompanied by a pair of silicone ear plugs, the kind you usually wear for swimming. They block out even the most unhappy babies on long haul flights.
How do you research a new destination? Are there any resources that you can share with us?
I dive into the internet first, and always check out what the greats like Conde Nast Traveller, Lonely Planet, the New York Times travel section or the Telegraph in the UK have to say about a destination. I scour the local library for books and guides, track down films set in the destination, listen to music from the place, scour Instagram to see what travellers are doing on the ground - a full immersion, basically. Having said that, I also don’t like to go too deep. It’s never good to arrive with too many preconceived notions or expectations; that’s the quickest way to be disappointed by a place.
[side note: Nina has the best Spotify playlists to get you inspired for your next trip - check them out here]
Who is the most interesting person you’ve sat next to on a plane/bus/boat?
I was heading into the bush in Zambia a few years back, having just come off an overnight flight from Australia and having lost my luggage en route, and found myself in an open-sided safari Jeep with the famous naturalist Jonathan Scott. I actually have to admit I didn’t know who he was at the time, but basically he’s the Steve Irwin of Kenya, and was not only full of exciting tales but extremely charming, too.
You’re obviously no stranger to jet lag! I find that the effects of jet lag can take weeks to shake and are mostly mental rather than physical. What are your tips for managing the “coming home blues”?
I definitely still suffer jet lag, despite no longer drinking on flights, pounding the waters and Hydralytes and doing all those boring, sensible things. I always unpack as soon as I get home, no matter what time of day or night it is, so that tedious task isn’t looming over my head and killing my post-journey buzz. I find decorating the house with treasures I’ve collected along the way is always a mood elevator, as is a walk in the sunshine and a swim in the ocean to reset the body clock, a long hot bath with Epsom salts and lavender oil and, once the sun has gone down, a lovely glass of wine with Pete so I can bore him to tears with all my photos and travel tales. Nice to relive it all immediately, then just get on with life and start planning the next adventure.
What three 3 things do you NEVER travel without?
I’m a big baby and I can’t travel without my blankie. A black woven cotton number I bought in Cambodia years ago, so warm, soft and comforting. Plus it can be worn as a scarf once you get off the plane or out of the car, too.
One of my yoga teachers recently introduced me to the massage ball, basically like a tennis ball but more firm. You lie on top of it and massage different areas of your body - it makes your muscles less sore and stimulates blood flow, which makes it great for mid-flight too.
And always a reusable water bottle; plastic bottles are the devil.
It’s seems that you’ve uncovered the magic travel wardrobe formula; looking amazing while being practical at the same time. What’s your secret?
Thank you! I wish I could say I never thought about it and was effortlessly fabulous but I actually do spend a fair amount of time thinking about how to pack perfectly for each destination. Some of my best bits of packing advice are: Invest in a great pair of Levis; you can dress them up or down and they only ever improve with age. Linen pants and shirts are your best friend on the road; they don’t crease too badly and you can mix and match so you have fresh looks. I adore Blundstone boots – I’ve worn my Blunnies through the desert in Jordan and Israel, hiking up volcanoes in Guatemala, city slicking in Japan, hiking in Ethiopia and in Indian ashrams. They have never failed me.
Always pack a hat - the best way to hide the inevitable bad hair days you get while travelling, to keep your skin out of the sun and to instantly elevate any look. Akubra’s Traveller is a favourite. Oh and I’m a big believer of picking a colour scheme for each journey: earth tones for Africa, bold colours and prints for India, you get the drift. Makes packing easier and the photos always look better, too.
Looking back, what do you wish you had known before setting out on your first overseas adventure?
That I didn’t need to annihilate myself with drinking every night. So much of my first big overseas adventure to Europe is a blur.
Does your beauty routine change a lot while travelling?
My very simple home beauty routine stays that way while I’m away. Organic jojoba oil as cleanser, apple cider vinegar mixed with filtered water as toner, a Weleda biodynamic rose face cream to moisturize, RMS coconut oil-based concealer and blush and a lick of mascara. I have started packing a kilo of Epsom salts each time I travel though, not very practical but I’m nothing without a good soak at least a couple of times a week.
What are your top 3-5 travel tips
Don’t get too attached to your plans. The best adventures happen when things start to go wrong.
Edit your photos on the go. You very rarely get around to editing your hundreds of photos once the initial excitement of the trip has faded, which often means they never end up seeing the light of day.
The best experiences you’ll have on the road will be when you push your boundaries and say yes to things you wouldn’t normally. This attitude had led me to kayak down a river full of crocs and hippos in Zambia and to trek up an active volcano in Papua New Guinea, two of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.
Don’t be afraid to explore the world on your own. We put off so many adventures because we can’t find the right person to go with, or out of fear. That’s tragic, because solo travel is one of the best ways to see the world. You don’t have to make compromises so you can make the trip exactly what you want it to be. You don’t have your blinkers on as much so you’re more engaged with the destination. And actually you’re never really alone because you always meet extraordinary people along the way.