About Me and Legal Nomads

Thank you for reading Legal Nomads. I am a former lawyer currently traveling (and eating!) my way around the world, one country at a time. This site began as a travel blog for my family and friends when I quit my job in 2008 and took off to see the world. I thought I would travel for a year, and wanted to post photos and share crazy stories so that my loved ones could follow along from afar.

Almost eight years later, with no fixed home base…

A return to my old job never happened, and Legal Nomads grew with each passing year of travel. At the same time, a business began to take form at the intersection of what I loved most: storytelling, food history, and connecting to others around the world.

About Legal Nomads

Legal Nomads started as a vaguely chronological recounting of my time living and eating abroad. I wanted friends to follow along, and I loved to write. As I traveled, I figured out that I also loved soup.
legal nomads

I am thrilled the site has evolved from a blog to a platform that trumpets for values I share with my readers and community: a place to connect storytellers who want to dig deep into a new country, a growing number of great people also obsessed with food around the world, a resource for celiacs and long-term travelers alike. I want the site to remain an inspiration to those who crave a life of travel and exploration, but one that also sets realistic expectations about the sacrifices unconventional choices require. Legal Nomads focuses on food, but also the human experience in a modern digital world.

If you are new to the site, you might want to start with:

Legal Nomads won a Lowell Thomas Award for best travel blog in 2015 had has been featured in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC Travel, CNN, and more, as well as on the blogs and sites of many of my readers. The Links I Loved Newsletter, highlighting the best pieces from around the web in any given month, has been growing steadily as a curated digest of longform writing.

More than anything, Legal Nomads is about a lifelong dedication to learning as much as possible and connecting to others through food.

About Jodi

Jodi Ettenberg

Wandering the streets of Saigon

If you had told me in 1998, when I went to law school, that I would be running a food and travel business from around the world in 2015, I would have laughed at the impossibility. I thought I would be a lawyer in New York and eventually shift into a public advocacy legal role. Never did I think I would be a writer and public speaker.

I grew up in Montreal, Quebec, and spend my childhood skiing and playing soccer and not really thinking about travel or food. It wasn’t until I saw a documentary about Siberia in high school that I began to think about heading there myself, a seed that grew bit by bit as the years went by.

Prior to founding Legal Nomads, I worked for 5 years in New York as a corporate lawyer, having studied in Canada and then accepted an offer at a firm in Manhattan. My school debt was minimal due to Canadian tuition rates, and as I practiced law I was also able to save up for my dream trip: a long extravaganza on the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian Railway.

I set out in 2008, with Siberia as the impetus for a sabbatical from the law. As I travelled, I found something strange happening: I started to pick places because of the food. Learning about countries and their history became far more fascinating when seen through the lens of mealtimes, and I wrote about food more and more on the site starting in 2010. By 2012, when I published my first book, The Food Traveler’s Handbook about how to eat safely and cheaply around the world, food had eclipsed almost everything else as I roamed.

I am also a celiac, and part of why I continue to share on Legal Nomads is to help others with the disease travel safely and with less fear. The Gluten Free Travel Guides aim to arm celiacs with more knowledge and less panic as they explore the world.

I’ve been honored that my writing has resonated with a growing community of readers and have tried to share the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, and the stories that I learn along the way.

Funding a Life of Flexibility and Food

Given that I don’t take advertising or sponsored content, I wanted to share how I do afford an unconventional life. Keep in mind it is a lifestyle choice, also, and my expenses are far lower than were I to live in New York City. I have been able to save money while building a business, one that has this blog as its heart and food as its mascot.

So, how do I afford my lifestyle?

  • I do social media consulting work and brand audits for brands who want to focus on authenticity, engagement and a long-term strategy. This was born out of my own use of social media, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I generally provide a site and social media audit and recommendation report, then continue to work with those clients on an occasional basis in the months that follow the report.
  • I have opened shop where you can buy t-shirts and prints featuring hand drawn, one-of-a-kind typographic maps of food. Presently I have Thailand, Vietnam, and Mexico, with 10 countries planned. There will be tote bags and mugs soon.
typographic map of mexico food

One of the hand drawn maps in the Legal Nomads store

  • I am a Wanderer-in-Residence with G Adventures, meaning that I act as a brand ambassador for them, hopping on a trip or two per year, doing the occasional speaking gig, and writing for their Looptail blog. I’ve been a brand ambassador with them for several years now.
  • I do freelance writing for magazines and websites on an ad hoc basis. I do not pitch stories in advance, but have licensed photography and written destination or food-based writing pieces for publications around the world.
  • I take the occasional unpaid press trip, about once per year. As with my trips to Jordan in 2011, you’ll always know if I take a press trip as I disclose it in the post. I receive many offers for paid-for travel, but I only accept them where it is a place that I’m excited to see, and I think that my readers will benefit from the history and the food and the stories that spring from the trip.
  • I have built part of my business around speaking at conferences about food, storytelling, and branding and community building online. These are paid opportunities, or at a minimum cover travel and accommodation. I often stay longer in the conference destination so that I can explore while I’m already in the area, which builds in fun travel time.
  • I published my first book in 2012, called The Food Traveler’s Handbook. It’s about how to eat cheap, safe and delicious food anywhere in the world.

Site policies, disclaimer, and keeping Legal Nomads ad free

When the site began attracting more attention, I received offers for sponsored posts and text links, as well as ad offers. I decided to keep the site ad-free, and have maintained that throughout my years of travel.

  • Book reviews: I sometimes summarize or list out books of interest to readers, particularly those about food or  ones I read when I was travelling from A to B. Best books posts: Part 1, Part 2, and food books. I welcome emails about books you’ve written, especially if they are food-related. Occasionally publishers send me free books to read, which I include if I enjoy them and leave out if I do not.
  • Product reviews: I do not cover products or review them. Instead, I post about what I actually travel with on my World Travel Resources page.
  • Affiliates (Amazon and Others): In posts where I reference books I’ve read or product I’ve used, I link to the product on Amazon.com or the manufacturer’s page, where I receive an affiliate percentage of the purchase price. If you click on a product I recommend and it is sold via Amazon or that manufacturer, I will receive a minimal percentage of the sale price (4%-6%, usually). Buying via these affiliate links helps keep Legal Nomads ad free. I do not link to products I have not tested or verified.
  • No sponsored posts, embedded links, or guest posts: I do not accept sponsored posts or embedded text links, nor do I take guest posts. When writing about travel undertaken as part of my brand ambassadorship with G Adventures, I disclose as much in the post.
  • Ads generally: No no no. No ads, display or otherwise.
  • No pop upsI know, I know, they work. I hate them. So they won’t be on Legal Nomads.

TL;DR  I chose not to monetize Legal Nomads via advertising or sponsored content, and have kept the site ad-free. Any affiliate links are products I have used or can vouch for and am comfortable attaching to my reputation online. I will continue to maintain this integrity and treat readers with respect, as I would want to be treated online.

Where have I been?

Florence Italy

Florence on a rainy day.

This section of my about page used to list out the places I’ve travelled to, and link to the posts that cover them. It has been close to seven years now, and that’s just a laundry list of places! Suffice it to say that I’ve developed a vague but very satisfying routine of chasing summer. I spend the North American winter in warmer places. My family jokes that I’ve lost some credibility as a Canadian; I no longer enjoy the cold!

During the rest of the year, I follow anchor points of weddings from friends and family, and conferences I want to attend. This usually means my summers are spent in and around North America, and spring in the EU.

Certainly not as routine as my life used to be, but nonetheless a comforting trajectory as I continue to explore the world through my stomach. For a more thorough list, please see the “Browse by Destination” dropdown menu in the footer of this page.

Have my travels been fulfilling?

People often ask if my travels have been fulfilling, or if I regretted taking off. In my “why I quit” post I wrote about moments of overwhelming happiness on this journey.  That’s not to say every day has been perfect, but on the whole I have been lucky enough to explore some extraordinary countries, meet terrific new friends and eat as much food as possible. I’ve ended up doing so as a line of work too, which was unexpected but wonderful.

Some posts along those lines:

I’ve also put together an FAQ post for the questions I’ve received most from readers, and the rest of my personal stories are here.

For a longer-form answers, here are:

A video interview from July 2013 with Bloomberg TV for their “Stealth Lawyer” series, about food, travel and life after law.

My talk about taking risks, long-term travel and finding your passion in life from the WDS  2011 conference.

Want to Connect?

I’m on TwitterGoogle Plus, and Facebook, as well as Instagram if you’d like to see other content like mobile photos and links I loved.  For the longer-form ode to food, my book is available on Amazon here.

Thank you for reading!

– Jodi