Hakea Woman: travel and sustainability writer Nina Karnikowski



Nina is a truly incredible human who is highlighting important issues and conversations in our community. The author of two books, she is dedicated to helping people discover less impactful ways of travelling and living. She also teaches regular writing and creativity workshops focused on deepening connections to Self and the Earth. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Nina recently - a woman with such an incredible warm, welcoming and inspiring energy - with so much wisdom and knowledge to share. We discussed more sustainable ways of travelling, adapting during the pandemic, writing as ritual, what is success and what it means to really live. Nina’s thoughts really resonated with me and my ultimate intentions for Hakea so I wanted to share our conversation with you here.


There is a lot of fear and I think societal pressures around leaping into the unknown, wether that's freelancing or starting your own passion project, how did you overcome these feelings?

My biggest fear has always been not living a life that’s true to my own desires; in fact, it has always been a ‘normal’ life that I’ve been most afraid of. Waking up one day to realise I’ve lived someone else’s life, based on someone else’s definition of success. What a waste. That drives me to keep fearlessly pursuing my own version of success, the markers of which are creative expression, free time to be in nature and in my body, and lots of adventures and experiences. Those things mean much more to me than financial success or ladder-climbing that our patriarchal, capitalistic society would have us blindly chasing. 


Has one particular story from ‘Make a Living, Living’ inspired you to a deeper extent and impacted the decisions you make as a freelancer/entrepreneur? 

I often return to the story of Jeanne de Kroon, creator of the ethical fashion brand Zazi Vintage. “Find something you believe in that the world needs - build your business from that,” she said, and I really believe we could all benefit from thinking more that way. Jeanne now employs more than 50 disadvantaged women in villages across Central Asia, Afghanistan and India to produce her creations, which repurpose exotic vintage fabrics, supply chain waste and dead stock. She travels a lot, lives ‘lightly’ on a stylish boat on the canals in Amsterdam, and the astounding thing is, she started her now-thriving business with less than 300 euros. My intention in creating this book was not just to show readers cool people doing cool things, but to empower them to do them, too. Jeanne’s story does that really well.


So much of what you share really resonates with me and the intention of Hakea; to empower women to really live a life on their own terms. With that comes challenges, in what was a crazy year with COVID limiting travel, what was the biggest hurdle you faced and how did you move past it?

The pandemic brought the travel industry to its knees, so my biggest hurdle was figuring out how to make money again, after eight years of generating a decent income solely from writing travel stories. But as generally happens with the most difficult moments in our lives, it has ultimately taken me to higher ground. I’ve managed to launch my second book Go Lightly: How to Travel Without Hurting the Planet in that time; I’ve started teaching writing in intimate workshops and to private students, which I’ve discovered I love; I’m currently working on getting my third book out into the world; and I’m now writing more stories about how travel can be in a regenerative, rather than destructive, force in the world. So I guess I moved past it by being nimble and innovative, by thinking first and foremost about what the world needs right now, and by not clinging to a past version of myself that no longer exists.  


Images via @travelswithnina


I’ve read what success looks like to you before and it’s beautiful. Has that shifted at all in this past year… what does success look like to you currently?

It looks like being able, in whatever small way I can, to contribute to the creation of a better world, as we stand in the rubble of our old broken one. It looks like being able to quiet this booming call to be productive, and instead create plenty of time to do the things I actually want to do – plant vegetables and flowers in my garden, go on hiking and camping adventures with my husband, cook nourishing meals for our friends, dance and go to yoga, swim in the ocean and ride my bike, read and write for hours and hours. Just be a human, not a robot, basically.


How do you stay grounded, and not get caught up in what or where to next?

I find this difficult, since my mind and body move very quickly and I love planning. But I try to stay present through my morning writing ritual, which I do most days at sunrise, by getting outside as much as possible to walk and run and ride my bike and tend to my veggies and play with our dog, by cooking and bathing and indulging in other deliciously sensual pleasures. Oh and I’m heading off on a vipassana 10-day silent meditation retreat on Friday which should be a big help, too. 


I've always found being in nature very meditative and helpful in working through my thoughts and feelings. I started journaling this year (thanks to your beautiful workshop) and it is such a gift. Have you always had a daily writing ritual, and what have you found to be the greatest long term benefit you have felt since beginning?

I’ve been journaling pretty much since I could write, but got into it more regularly when I experienced a bout of severe anxiety in my late teens and early 20s. I was having panic attacks and finding it quite difficult just to get through the days, and journaling was the single greatest thing I did for my mental health at that time. I read that we have 70,000 thoughts that spin through our minds each day, and journaling by hand each morning is the best way I’ve found of slowing those thoughts down, and connecting to life just as it is, rather than constantly being in this virtual reality we so often find ourselves in these days. In my recent workshops, I’ve been working more with writing as a way of connecting to the outer world, as well as the inner world, and that has been transformative. Writing love letters to the earth, writing to inanimate objects with a deep sense of curiosity, that’s really changing how I look at the world, and making me and (hopefully) my students better stewards of our planet, too. Once you realise how alive everything is, and how interconnected we are to every living thing on the planet, it’s hard to ignore that.


"Journaling by hand each morning is the best way I’ve found of slowing those thoughts down, and connecting to life just as it is."


I felt so supported during your writing as ritual workshop. Is there something you gain from teaching other people about the rituals that you love?

I gain as much, if not more, from the people who come to my workshops as they do from me. For example, at a recent workshop where a talented writer shared some beautiful words she’d written, I flipped the script and asked her to share her most potent piece of writing advice with the group. “Pay attention,” she said. Such wisdom in those two simple words, which are now my mantra for good writing and good living.


For so many of us travel is, or was, a big part of our lives. What would be your first suggestion for those of us wanting to travel in a more sustainable way? 

Take longer, slower adventures, closer to home. Travelling slowly is like having a full meal as opposed to snacking – it leaves us more satisfied because we’re sinking deeper into the destinations, so we don’t feel the need to take, say, three trips a year as opposed to one good long one. That means less flights, which equals less carbon emissions, and a deeper relationship to the people and places we visit. Travelling at a slower pace also means we can make a bigger economic impact on the communities we visit, and gives us more time to figure out the best way to give back to them. ‘Going lightly’, and living lightly more generally, is all about reciprocity.


Image via @travelswithnina


Since exploring Australia recently did you find somewhere that just blew you away?

Last month, I took a 4000-kilometre road trip in our hybrid electric car up the east coast of Australia. I camped and hiked and visited permaculture farms along the way, and tried to educate my audience about some of the places and causes that desperately need our attention, including the decimation of the Great Barrier Reef and the protection of the Daintree Rainforest. The trip helped me fall in love with Australia again (or maybe for the first time?), and helped me remember that we can all apply the same wide-eyed curiosity to places close to home as we did to Morocco, Nepal or Peru. Which is as good for soothing our travel ache, as it is for reducing our environmental footprint.


What book are you currently reading? 

I just finished Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. It’s a poetic bible for anyone wanting to move towards a more reciprocal relationship with the natural world, and understand the interconnectedness of all things.


Lastly, what are the essential items you would pack when travelling light to a warm coastal destination? 

A cozzie, ideally one that reverses so I could change colours without packing two pairs. A sarong that doubles as a towel / scarf / blanket / top / bag. A pair of Teva sandals, because you can hike and swim in them, go out to dinner in them, wear them on the plane with socks and not worry about bringing another pair of shoes. Reef-safe sunscreen, without common UV-filtering ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate, which have been linked to coral bleaching. Oh and my favourite paper sunhat – any clothing item that can be directly composted once we’re done with them gets my tick of approval.


nina karnikowski mustard yellow bikini

Shop Nina's style, mustard Jardin Top and Santiago Bottom



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