Travel | 20th November 2020
Q+A: Nina Karnikowski on Sustainable Travel
Author and Travel Writer, Nina Karnikowski is on her greatest adventure yet - making her readers' travels more conscious and less harmful for the planet.
Having worked as a travel writer for some of Australia’s most respected publications over the past decade, Nina Karnikowski is now on her greatest adventure yet: making her and her readers’ travels more conscious and less harmful for the planet. In the lead up to the release of her latest book Go Lightly, How to Travel Without Hurting the Planet in early 2021, we asked Nina about her thoughts on the future of travel post-pandemic, ideas for soothing the travel ache during this time, and the steps we can all take to start travelling in a way that conserves, educates and enriches more than it destroys.
Do you think travel will return to the way it was pre-pandemic? What changes do you think could and should be made to the industry?
My greatest hope is that we don’t return to the way we were travelling, because that way was broken. The six percent of the world’s population who had ever set foot on a plane (yes, seriously) were travelling far too quickly and often, and I say this as someone who was travelling overseas up to a dozen times a year for work. That fancy-free jet-setting simply cannot continue, knowing that the travel industry has been responsible for an estimated 8 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, as well as overtouristed towns, the erosion of cultures and wilderness areas and more.
What we need now, considering that tourism also accounts for one in ten jobs around the world, is to reform the way we travel rather than stopping it entirely. We can start by taking fewer trips but staying in destinations for longer, so we can make a lasting financial impact on local communities. By travelling not to get the hottest poolside Instagram shot at that foreign-owned resort, but to be part of a rewilding or conservation project in a destination that really needs it.
By planning more domestic travel and looking at our home countries with the fresh, curious eyes of a traveller, which will also mean avoiding the inflated airline tickets, long queues and health checks that will surely await us once international travel opens up again. Mostly, we need to think of transforming the way we travel not as a sacrifice, but as an invitation to bring more imagination and richness into our journeys.
During this time, what have you missed most about travel?
Almost everything. Even things like sleeping on airport floors, or not sleeping properly for days on end because of jetlag. I really miss the physical movement, but most of all I miss the interacting with cultures so vastly different to my own, like meeting tribes in Namibia, or staying with nomads in Mongolia. At the same time, I’m learning so much about myself and the world through the stillness and quietude that has followed the pandemic.
Sitting with all those questions I was running from, for such a long time, has been revealing. Who am I beyond the glamorous job title? What does someone who wasn’t really interested in the more mundane realities of life do, now they are all she has? Is the greatest adventure of all this very one, opening up to life, just as it is? I still don’t know the answers, but I am trying to find them.
Do you have any advice for travellers who are feeling stagnant or low because of this inability to travel?
Try to look at your own home with the same amount of wonder you give exotic destinations. Get curious about the plants growing around you, about the nearby national parks you can explore, about the locally-owned stays nearby. It’s about making your own backyard feel new again. I’ve been doing this around my own region, finding new trails to hike and new beaches to swim at. I bought a second-hand bike on Gumtree that I’ve been exploring with, and I’ve been learning to garden, both of which have been opening up whole new worlds.
As Proust famously said, “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Travel-related books and films have also been a salve - I’m loving the new Netflix series based on Vikram Seth’s book A Suitable Boy at the moment, set in India and with the most stunning costuming and scenery.
Once we can travel freely again, what trips are you dreaming of?
More active, overland travel, such as biking across northern India, staying with locals and eating in locally-owned restaurants along the way so we can make sure every one of our tourist dollars stays in the area, and that we’re having meaningful interactions with locals. Or learning to sail around – or maybe even to, if possible - New Caledonia.
I’m also dreaming of staying on a permaculture farm in Japan for a couple of months. One of the subjects in my first book Make a Living Living: Be Successful Doing What You Love is a Japanese tiny home builder named Yuichi Takeuchi, and he has recently built a tiny home village on a sustainable farm called Kurkku Fields in the Chiba Prefecture, which I also can’t wait to visit. Trips like this, that equip us with the skills and knowledge to live more ecologically, will become the new version of aspirational travel, I think.
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