About Me and Legal Nomads

I’m a former lawyer currently traveling (and eating!) my way around the world, one country at a time. This site began when I quit my job in 2008 and took off to see the world, having saved up money by lawyering for 5 years in New York City. I wanted to have a blog where I could post photos and share crazy stories so that my friends and family could follow along from afar.

I thought I would return to lawyering after a year or so on the road, but as you know (since you’re reading this now), a return to the law never happened.

Almost seven years later, with no fixed home base…

This is my vaguely chronological recounting of my time living and eating abroad. It is mostly about the stories, so while I do post as I discover new places, I often share stories from earlier in my travels several years later. More than anything, it is about connecting to others through food and learning. 

Jodi Ettenberg

Wandering the streets of Saigon

From lawyer, to career break, to travel and food writer

Casting aside my initial itinerary, I found myself organically moving from one place to the next based on my tastebuds or a fellow traveler’s recommendation. It’s meant that my travels have had a flow to them, linked by common connections and shared meals. And as I kept writing and sharing my photos, trying to improve my photography and provide tips for people looking to set off on their own journeys, Legal Nomads started gaining a readership of its own.

By late 2010, I started receiving offers for freelance writing and inquiries to buy photos, and now have formed longer-term partnerships with several companies I respect and enjoy working for.

After two years of round-the-world travel focusing on what I wanted to eat and learn about, I found myself morphing into a new form of traveler, someone who still does those things but does so at a much slower pace, built around existing work contracts and speaking opportunities.

How do I afford to keep travelling?

Given my blog policies, below, readers often ask how I can afford to keep travelling, even if my travels are no longer of the round-the-world variety. As I said on my FAQs from 6 years of travel post, I’ve been asked if I had a rich boyfriend, or a trust fund. No, and no.

Keep in mind that the lifestyle I’m living usually has me in Southeast Asia for part of the winter – that means $350 a month rent for apartments and $2 street food feasts.  At present my life could not stay as is and sustain me in North America or Europe for the full year, but the way I have structured my living spaces, the income I make allows me to cover all costs and save some money too.

So, how do I afford this?

1) 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.

2) 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 almost four years now. I also have long-term relationships with Longreads and SilverKris from Singapore Airlines. I also do quite a bit of freelance writing for magazines and websites  on an ad hoc basis.

3) 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.

4) I have been speaking at conferences about food, social media curation or content strategy, each of which usually cover flights and accommodation as well as an occasional speaker’s fee. I’ve also started a newsletter, Links I Loved, of the curatory variety. 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.

5) I partnered with a great artist to make a total of 10 hand-drawn typographic maps of countries and their foods. The first was Vietnam, and the next was Thailand. I’ve now built a simple online store to house these prints and versions of the food maps in t-shirt form. Next up: a food map of Mexico.

6) 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.

These six things help support the travel I do, but are by no means the only travel I am doing. I’ve sought to keep a balance between the work travel and the fun, and it’s been great to piggyback one on the other.

Blog policies 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.

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.

Amazon affiliates: In some of my posts, where referencing books I’ve read or product I’ve used, I link to the product on Amazon.com, where I receive an affiliate percentage of the purchase price. So if you click on a product I recommend and it is sold via Amazon, I will receive a minimal percentage of the sale price (4%-6%, usually).

Sponsored posts, embedded links, and 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 ads, display or otherwise.

TL;DR Instead of monetizing Legal Nomads directly, I’ve used it as a springboard for other opportunities  (see below for what they are). This ancillary work stemmed from people finding me here, then reaching out to work with them elsewhere on the web.

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 — usually somewhere in Southeast Asia, and as often as I can, the country of Vietnam.

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 post.

Have my travels been fulfilling?

Meknes, Morocco

Meknes, Morocco

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.

Travel has also helped me keep life in perspective in the long and short term, and led to many reflections on what it means to be ‘home’ in a world of in-betweens.

In April 2013, I wrote a long post about what comes next and how 5 years of travel has changed me. For the 7th anniversary of my travels I wrote about the ups and downs of having had no home base. Both are far more personal than the usual but hopefully provide some insight into why I keep doing what I do.

I’ve also put together an FAQ post for the questions I’ve received most from readers.

For a longer-form answers, here are:

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

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

World travel tips and resources for celiacs

After many great emails from readers asking about packing, planning and budget for round-the-world travel, I’ve built a World Travel Resources Page that hopefully serves as a starting point for those feeling overwhelmed. The page (which started small but has sprawled into quite the list) now includes information on how to stay positive on the road, some recommended reading, what to put in your first aid kit and gadgets to bring along as you travel.

There’s also a list of 21 practical tips for long-term travel, cobbled together after 4 years on the road.

For years I never wrote about having celiac disease, but readers often asked me to summarize my food findings as I’ve travelled. As a result, I’ve started a series of food guides for celiacs, and have hired translators to create gluten-free cards that best mimic the names of local foods.

Looking for more? 

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