8 Years of Legal Nomads

Eight years ago today, I left New York bound for Chile. I expected to take a sabbatical from the law and return a year later. Of late, people have asked the same question: when is enough for this strange life I’ve chosen?

The problem with the question is that it suggests what I do is temporary. This strange life is my life and one that I am excited to keep living. It may not be normal, but the assumption that it has to come to an end is a very binary way of looking at the human experience. I fully understand where it comes from, and people’s questions often seek to validate their own decisions or assuage their own fears.

In my case, I don’t have a comforting answer. I usually say, “who knows! Only the future can tell.” That’s not meant to be pithy, it’s simply how it is. Things change yearly — how could they not — but a wholesale abandonment of this site or the flexible life I’ve built is not where I want to go.

I often joke that this new career chose me. It wasn’t until I was two years into writing and eating that I realized I would not return to New York. I had moved on to something that would take me away from the law for a long time to come. That something involved telling stories about food, which included the ability to chose a place to live based on what I wanted to eat. The new career also afforded me the response of “I eat soup for a living” to the many people in North America who asked what I do. (Have you noticed that few other countries ask you what you do as quickly or abruptly as the USA and Canada?)

I went from this:

long term travel 8 years later

Me at the beginning of my RTW trip, at the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia

To this, just under 8 years later:

ramon camaron in oaxaca

Losing my shit over a shrimp tostada at the awesomely-named Ramon Camaron in Oaxaca

Long Term Travel and Self Work

I have written quite a few posts about lessons I’ve taken from travel. Suffice it to say that these last 8 years have taught me that travel can be a container for all sorts of things. Immersion therapy for fears (spiders and silence among them), exhilarating highs, painful lows. It is simply an armour you put on that can protect or trap, depending on how you wear it. But it isn’t the travel that changes you, it’s the interactions with others and how you absorb them.

In a Medium post earlier this year I said:

Travel itself is not an answer. It can’t save you from yourself, or the demons that you have. You will bring them along with you as you roam. You can’t absolve yourself of your responsibilities or the monotony of routines that will reappear the minute you stop moving. And if you travel to escape darkness, it will eventually find you.

The lifestyle I have had the privilege to build is a decadent one. I can live where I want, I spend ample time with people I love, and I occasionally stop in the middle of stuffing my face with a great dish and think wait, this is work?!

The flexibility I’ve forced into my business comes with another positive, which is the ability to build in time for self-work. Problems are problems, at home or abroad, and I don’t want to fall into the trap of traveling to escape them. I don’t think that I have – the last year especially has been about facing my fears. But it’s good to take stock every so often and make sure you’re on the path you want to be on.

I believe that everyone owes it to themselves and the people they interact with to do the same. To reassess where they are and where they are going as human beings. Not a 5-year business plan, but to think about the person they want to be in several years.

When I do writing workshops, I tell people to write their own bio for 10 years in the future. I’ve found the exercises a good way to get a better handle on what their professional goals might be, and what they need to do personally to make it happen.

There’s a lot on the Internet about self-work but there are truly no rules. Who do I want to be? Is what I do helping me be that person? How can I add more kindness and caring to my day-to-day life, despite its ups and downs?

Important questions, no matter where you are. I only began to contemplate them when I took myself out of a profession that didn’t resonate. But that’s simply my story. Those nagging, quiet questions were ones I wished I had asked before.

This Year’s Projects for Legal Nomads

I chose long ago to abandon my plans to return to the law. I felt that this site, with its emphasis on stories and food, provided more value to others than a return to corporate. I am flattered that over the years you have proven me right, supporting my work and reading REALLY LONG POSTS at a time where the soundbite started to rule the web.

In the years since the site started, I’ve gone from pure narrative storytelling to a mix of the stories plus the practical guides. I think both are really important, which I reiterated in my “Why Travel Blogging Needs more Storytelling” piece.

This coming year will bring additional focus on the projects I hope are helpful to others.

  • For starters, the gluten-free cards project, a big undertaking to translate dish-specific country cards for celiacs to travel more safely. Currently, Japan and Greece are done. In progress are Italy, Morocco, Spain, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • In addition, I’m building out country guides for the site (Australia is now up) for planning purposes when readers want to head somewhere I have already been.
  • Also in the works: an overhaul of the taxonomy of this site. Eight years of blogging, including a switch from Blogspot to WordPress and several theme changes, has led to quite a bit of disorder. I’m rearranging all of the content under the following categories: Travel Writing and Photography, Food, Alternative Careers for Lawyers, Speeches and Workshops, Travel Tips and Resources, and Wellness. The latter will be where the posts about insomnia or fear live, as well as the usual narrative storytelling.
  •  My typographic food maps are growing, and for sale right now are Thailand, Mexico, and Vietnam. I am in the process of redesigning the Legal Nomads store. You’ll see Portugal next, which looks great so far. I’m also adding a new set of products for each of the maps: tote bags (these look so shiny I LOVE THEM!), pillowcases, and mugs.
  • More public speaking. I’ve been asked to speak at the NAFSA conference in Denver, about empathy and storytelling, as well as a few universities, to talk about how food can build human connection. I hope to do more of these in the coming year.

If you’re looking for project updates during the year, I frequently update the “now” page on the site.

Future Plans and an Apartment in Oaxaca

People still ask me whether I want to settle down. I think I have, in my own way. My version of what “settling down” means just isn’t the norm. My roots are there, they just splay out sideways, reaching farther but not quite as deep.

There are some changes for the coming year. I was not looking for a base in Oaxaca, but a place came up for rent across the hall from two of my good friends, and was a reasonable price in a good area near some great markets. Just as I started contemplating the investment, a reader wrote to ask if I knew of a place she could sublet for a few months. Easy decision there. I was a nomad with a lease, and my reader had herself a newly painted apartment.

I am still leaving Oaxaca in late May, and my reader will take the place while I am gone. I will come back again next winter. After so many years in Asia, it is lovely to explore a new country and its food. I’ve been learning as much as I can about mezcal and how it’s made. Corn was domesticated not far from Oaxaca City, and as a celiac this place remains a calming experience. In most countries, snacks are off-limits, bread-heavy. Here, antojitos are corn-based with the exception of tortas (sandwiches), meaning I can graze like a cow all day long, corn-filled and happy.

I’ll be writing more about the history of some of the dishes here, and about mezcal. I’ll be profiling some of my favorite vendors and their specialties. While I struggled to wrap my head and tongue around Vietnamese, I already speak Spanish. I’m taking lessons to improve – my grammar is appalling – but I can ask people their life story, and explain mine in return. It feels good.

Not a day goes by that I don’t miss Saigon. There are times when I wonder if I ought to have chosen Lisbon. This lifestyle certainly encourages a paradox of choice! Over the years, I’ve found the options to be paralyzing and to be liberating; it’s more about owning what you decide. In the spirit of these last 8 years, I decided to point myself in the direction of something that excites me and see what happens next.

So Oaxaca it is, at least for now.

I bought a rug, and some cutlery. A bottle of Tobala mezcal. A lamp for the bedside table. It is the first year lease in these 8 years that isn’t a month-to-month contract. The place comes fully furnished but it is fun to add some touches to the place, especially when I now live in a valley teeming with artisanal geniuses and weavers.

As always, I am grateful for the many wonderful people who have become an important part of my life, as well as the close friends from home who still love me despite this “strange”existence I insist on leading.

To my readers, another sincere thanks for the comments, the emails sharing your own story, purchasing things through my Amazon links and then sending me notes to say you’ve done so, the bowls of soup you’ve sent photos of, the snapchats with vendors I’ve written about around the world, and so much more.

I started writing to share stories with my family, and it remains a huge honor that my words resonate with so many people in this wide world we live in.

-Jodi