Travelling with intention, or Mindful Travel, is part of a new slower style of travel – but what does that entail?
We enlisted travel writer, tour guide, and mindfulness expert Nina Karnikowski to work out what Thoughtful Travel truly means and how we can become more mindful travellers.
Your upcoming trip, Mindful Travel in the Himalayas with Nina Karnikowski, focuses on the concept of travelling mindfully - can you tell us a little bit about what it means?
The term mindful can be subbed out with conscious or thoughtful, so it's about travelling with intention and clarity.
This idea of the obliteration of presence has become solid in modern life. The trip is really about reclaiming that sense of presence, so about connecting intentionally to our surroundings through things like journalling and mindful photography, which is something we could all learn a lot about in the day of smartphones where we click away a million times a day and don't take in what's in front of us.
So, I want to encourage people to take in the moment with all of their senses and be present there. Be present for the people – for the culture, for nature – because otherwise, what a tragedy, we miss these beautiful places we'll see. When you think about it, a lot of modern travel is taking away from us being present in the area, so this is returning to how we used to travel. When you're attuned to the place that you're in, you can see how you can give back to a place, and you're mindful about what you're doing there, and how you're behaving so there's that charming cross-section there that we'll be able to explore in this trip.
So, you’ll be heading to Nepal in October; one thing we like to say about Nepal is that it’s a boomerang destination – people keep coming back. As someone who’s spent their fair share of time there, what is it about Nepal that keeps you coming back?
I'm a big fan of visiting a place multiple times. I interviewed with ABC recently about precisely that, and there are two camps - the people that say ''been there, done that, tick that off" and then the people that go back all the time.
A trip like this makes it even more insane to be in that mindset of just ticking things off because what you want to do is develop a deeper relationship with a place, and when you go somewhere like Nepal, you want so badly to create a connection to it.
I think, in so many ways, the Nepalese have the keys to a good life, and that's due to a mixture of a lot of things. It's a mixture of the incredible natural beauty that is there and the kind of energy that is in the Himalayan region that really can't be described. You have to go, you have to feel it, and once you've felt it, you just crave more of it.
It's also the Buddhist underpinnings of the Sherpa people in the Himalayas who came from Tibet. There's all this Tibetan Buddhism weaved into the culture there, so the idea of interconnectedness between all things is a significant tenant of the Buddhist belief. Understanding that connection between the natural world and yourself is just something that is inherent in Nepalese culture, in Sherpa culture, and witnessing that in people's lives first-hand is just so beautiful and moving, and, when you go to places like the monastery that we'll be visiting, you see that in action - you see it in action in just about everybody you meet. There's that lightness of being; there's this incredible sense of humour that Nepalese people seem to have.
Nepalese people have been through the most horrendous these things, most recently the earthquake and then Covid, but when you speak to them about those times, they'll be telling you a horrible story, but they'll be laughing and saying, "What can you do? This is life." What can we do? We continue and always prevail. I think those beliefs are just so beautiful to be around. I think they really change us as people.
There is so much to love about Nepal - What location are you most looking forward to sharing with them?
Well, I think just sharing the Everest region in the Himalayas, just being in the mountains, in high altitudes, makes you feel amazing. You feel this sense of presence that comes with that.
Of course, I can't wait to go to Namche Bazaar - that's the "capital of Sherpa culture", so there are little Sherpa shops and Tibetan stalls and all that sort of thing, but then rounded by the majestic Himalayas.
I wrote a book a couple of years ago called 'Go Lightly', which was all about how to travel more sustainably, and those kinds of places are just that in action. You're in a natural environment, you're taking things slowly, you're seeing these beautiful places, and you have no choice but to interact with the locals because you know there's all these amazing local handicrafts that you can support the local community by buying, and I think also staying in eco-camps is another really exciting thing for people to experience as well.
In the upcoming trip, there will be exclusive workshops with you -what’s the outcome for travellers who choose to take part? What do you want them to walk away with?
It's not only about the experience within the destination. I hope people connect more deeply to Nepal by doing things like reflective writing and taking time to take far fewer photos and do that more mindfully. Walking slowly, with a consciousness about what's around - all of these things will enhance the moment, yes, but then when they go home, I would hope that people continue some of those things.
Not everybody, for instance, would love to continue journaling. However, I teach a lot of journalling, and I have yet to meet anybody who finishes and goes, "I'm never going to do that again" I've had people from teenage girls to 75-year-old men saying oh my gosh, I had forgotten about this, or I never knew I had access to this. It's such a life enhancer, so I'm very passionate about people taking that on, but really, it's about just developing a more significant presence in this special place.
The trip will also feature a special presentation with Dr Ananda from a great project called T-HELP; why was this a must-do on your itinerary?
Well, I'm constantly thinking about this idea of being as nourishing for the places we visit as they are for us. So, people have in their heads ''I've got to go and build an orphanage if I want to give back" or something similar.
It's actually not about that at all. It's so much wider than that, and there are things that we can do, such as spending money in local communities at places like the stalls in Namche Bazaar or eating at local restaurants.
This is such a beautiful project. To facilitate women to learn about worm farming and, if we're trying to do things that are beneficial for the environment - what could be better than empowering women to learn new skills in ways that can help move them away from any kind of industrialised Agriculture? Worm farming is a tenant of permaculture and regenerative farming, so for people to understand what's happening in that in that area is really beneficial.
So, the trip goes from October 15th to 28th, and coincides with the Hindu festival Dashain. Could you tell us a bit about what that festival means?
I was lucky enough to actually be in Nepal at that time last year as well, so I learnt a little bit about it then. It's just beautiful to be there at that time because there is an abundance of colour and family gatherings and beautiful offerings everywhere, which there are in Nepal generally, but at that time, it's heightened.
It's a Hindu festival all about good prevailing over evil, which is also a beautiful thing to weave into this particular trip, but it’s a time for Hindus to worship the goddess Durga - victory over a demon.
The goddess Durga symbolises fertility, so it's also about celebrating the fertility of the land and receiving blessings for a good harvest ahead, so I was in the Himalayas last year and you would see families congregating wearing red, they also had this holy grass called Jamarra, which the women put in their hair and then they put it on the offering tables along with any incense. It's the biggest and most auspicious festival in Nepal, so it's an amazing time to be there. Then at the very end of Dashain, I was in Kathmandu and saw all of the processions that happened there.
On this trip, we're going to be spending a few days in Kathmandu, so we’ll probably see that too. There are these ancient, beautiful temples where the festivities are taking place - so you see people creating music and coming out with their offerings; it's a really special time to be there, and everybody's just in that celebratory mood which is very special.
The actual trekking part of the trip will be for eight days; how challenging would you say it is?
Well, it’s classed as introductory to moderate, so it's perfect for first-time visitors to Nepal and first-time Trekkers. We do reach out of about 3900 M, which is relatively high, so you need to have a good level of Fitness. Having said that, altitude: we can't predict the way that it will affect people. You could be the fittest, strongest person, and it might still affect you, or you could be completely unfit and wouldn't affect you at all.
Luckily, there are medications and things you can take. There’s an amazing group of people on the trek to take care of everybody and make sure that everything is incredibly safe in that respect. In terms of fitness, it's recommended that you do regular exercise three to four days a week.
If you miss it here or there, that's totally fine - you do not have to be crazy fit for this. We're not going to be running up Everest - we are going to be working very slowly and mindfully and really taking it all in. It's more about that than anything else - being in this beautiful place and walking (note: walking, not running).
It will be deliberately like that in order to allow for the slow gain in altitude because that way, it's much less likely to affect you.
You have published some great books over the last few years, including Go Lightly and Make a Living, Living, but your newest project will release just prior to this trip – what can readers expect?
I'm very excited about this one - and nervous - because it's a memoir, so it's a lot more personal than my books in the past. It's going to be called 'the Mindful Traveller'. There you go, in perfect alignment with this trip.
It comes out on August 29th, and it's a memoir about my travels. But more than that, it's about the gifts of stillness, reflection, and coming into a deeper connection with the natural world. That's what we’re focusing on this trip, and I wanted to create something that would help anybody out there who is wondering: how do I become a better steward for the planet - a better force for good? It's really to give people an example of what that might look like. People who love travel and nature and who are searching for ways to come into a deep relationship with the natural world, which is what we'll be doing in Nepal.