10 Years of Legal Nomads: Favourite Posts from A Decade of Nomadic Living

My initial plan for a 10-year anniversary celebration was a big party in my then-home of Oaxaca. When it became apparent that my food-filled bash would be impossible, I thought I would share the writing and photography that brought me the most joy over the years.

Today marks one year from the spinal tap that changed my life. In what was easily the toughest year I’ve had, it feels right to share this long retrospective on my tapaversary.

I smiled a lot and I cried a lot as I rounded up the posts below. Compiling these memories allowed me to release a chunk of the grief that I lugged around with me this year. The process felt profoundly cathartic. And I feel fortunate, because while my recollection over time is good, having a written compendium here of my adventures breathes life into them again and again.

I couldn’t help but notice that my photos were nothing to get excited about when I set out, with absentminded framing and no editing. And that’s ok, because this was a blog for my mum and my friends. I had no plans to make Legal Nomads the skeleton of a new career. I see travel bloggers start out today with their blogs all shiny and ready to go, and while that’s probably the best business decision overall, I’m very glad in retrospect that it wasn’t what I did. Those first two years with an occasional laptop, little social media, and taking notes by hand on long bus and boat rides provided a stark, arresting contrast to my days in Biglaw.


Over the years, I had many opportunities to run Legal Nomads differently. I could have added ads. Made much shorter posts. Taken more press trips. Opened the blog up to sponsored links or guest writing. As travel blogging evolved, so too did the ways to make money.

The thing is, almost every time I met a reader on a food walk or during a meetup, I’d inevitably think, “if I met this person at a party, I’d totes want to be their friend.” They were smart, they were curious, and they were caring. My wonderful community made it easy to keep doing what I was doing.

My hypothesis was simple: if I thought my readers were the cat’s pyjamas, then obviously I was writing as my true self.

Writing in a true voice was important. Presenting a glimmering version of yourself that doesn’t feel real is an easy path to discontent. You can follow your passion all you want, but if you’re not expressing it authentically, in a way that is indisputably you, the gap will catch up with you. The space between who you are and who you express yourself to be exists in varying degrees. But if it’s too large, especially if your work involves sharing your thoughts creatively, the disparity can easily engulf you.

The business philosophy over the years has been simple. Write how you’d want to read, learn as much as you can each day, listen very carefully to what readers tell you, and create the products they feel they need or want in their lives.

(If making money alone was the primary goal, I would have gone back to working as a lawyer.)

With the events that transpired this year I’m very glad I did things my way. When shit really hit the fan in January, it allowed me to look back on this decade of concentrated, sometimes ill-advised travel and say, “no regrets at all.”*

*ok maybe that bus ride to La Paz.

That ethos also led to a book about food, to hand-drawn maps of food, and to detailed gluten free cards so celiacs can eat food safely as they travel, with less anxiety.

You guys sure like your food.

Which is convenient, since I do too.

But it didn’t start out that way.

Early stories below are mostly about travel, since the food part really came in later. It wasn’t until I got to China and then Southeast Asia that food became the thing that led me from place to place, learning as much as I could. I’ve written before how friends from law school find my food obsession laughable because then I just didn’t really pay attention to what I was eating.

My name is Jodi, and I am a former careless eater.

For the last many years, however, the quickest way to happiness was through a bowl of soup.

hu tieu nam vang
Hu tieu nam vang in Saigon, 2013

On this journey of 10 years and thousands upon thousands of steps, I consumed many bowls of soup.

Through those bowls of soup, and the gracious (and sometimes less gracious) people that made them, I learned so much about the world and those living in it.

A big thanks to Candace Rose Rardon for the beautiful short video below, a hand-drawn gift of my favourite soup, bun rieu.

My post about it, of course, included in the round up below.



Table of Contents

Ten Years of Long Term Travel (And the Stories Behind the Posts)

bagan myanmar
Overlooking the temples of Bagan at dusk, Myanmar 2009. Taken by my friend Honza.

Why yes, there IS a table of contents!

Click to jump ahead, or scroll down to go in order:
FAQs for 2018 and What’s Next


A note before we dive in! I initially set out on this round-the-world trip with Jess, who was my opposing counsel on an ad deal we negotiated for our employers before we quit. She was a great lawyer who also wanted to travel, and after the closing lunch for the deal we agreed to take the plunge together. We started Legal Nomads on Blogger, with the amazing slogan “Two Lawyers, One World”.

I got sick pretty quickly (theme here, I know), and Jess continued on when I headed back to North America in the summer of 2008 for a few months of recovery. She visited India, parts of Africa, and documented it here before returning to the States and lawyering once more.

So for those who are newer readers: Jess was my “s” in Legal Nomads, and why the site wasn’t The Legal Nomad to begin with. 

Salkantay to Macchu Picchu, with Bronchitis:

In which Jodi discovers diclofenac, and the rescue mule.

salkantay to macchu picchu
Embarking on the Salkantay to Macchu Picchi trek, with the challenge straight ahead

Friends recommended that I skip the more popular Inca Trail route to Macchu Picchu and avoid the crowds by opting for Salkantay or Lares treks instead. The choice was made for me when I realized that there were no more permits for the Inca Trail that season, so the next step was finding a tour operator to take me the more difficult way: winding up through Salkantay Pass, then down to the trees below.

I opted for a company called United Mice, and ended up with a very small group who were all in good shape and willing to wait for me. Because I had the brilliant idea to climb Salkantay with bronchitis and a busted rib. My lungs wheezing up at altitude, the poor rescue mule stuck with me as a passenger at the highest points, and a very painful ladders-and-ropes climb up Putucusi near the end of the trip.

Still, she persisted.

macchu picchu

Despite that brief stint on the rescue mule, I made it to the top of Salkantay, and Macchu Picchu, and Huayna Picchu, and Putucusi. Basically, I was a crazy person.

Bronchitis 0, Jodi 1

Bronchitis? WHAT BRONCHITIS? Posting atop Putucusi, where I had to take diclofenac pills to make it up the ladders because I had BUSTED A RIB due to strong coughing.

Mongolia Dazzles the Mind:

Wide open spaces and nomadic living.

Mongolia, I wrote, was “like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”

I left on my round-the-world adventure primarily so that I could visit Siberia, and that I did do. Lured by an old PBS documentary about the trans-Siberian trains, and a cloudy gemstone I discovered as a kid, it was as wonderful and satisfying as I had hoped.

But Mongolia. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. Silly me, thinking Siberia would be the apex of my adventures – only to find the next country an entirely mind-blowing affair. And of course 9 more years of travel that I didn’t expect either.

The piece includes quite a few practiced superstitions that were relayed along the way, and at the time I remember feeling the awe of a big 180. Stepping over sheep and goats to pee in the Gobi, shoveling sheep manure to keep the yurt warm at night, and sending photos from the Blackberry I still had in hand to my family in Canada going, “CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?” From lawyer a few months prior to camping in the Gobi with a family of nomads, trying to prevent a magpie from running off with sheep intestines? Yep, things had changed.

I included this post because nothing since has compared to the magic of simply watching the identity I had dissolve, replaced by pure wonder. Who I was shortly prior didn’t matter, because everything in front of me felt so intensely new that it blotted out anything familiar.

All in a Beijing Block:

If only I knew how long Beijing blocks were before I arrived.

Joel and I first met when we were barely out of our teens. We spent a summer stuffing our faces in Montreal, and then stuffed ourselves into a car to drive 29 hours for the second year of Bonnaroo. After the trains spat me out in Beijing at dawn, he gathered me up for a reunion.

My one-week trip turned into a month of eating, drinking tea, and me learning about the city that had become his home. It was fascinating to weigh the differences in how living abroad had changed him. I was at the start of my travels and the fact that he traveled to Beijing and then stayed was a marvel. Could this be what I chose, too?

Fluent in Mandarin and impish as always, seeing Beijing through Joel’s eyes was a true pleasure. My month in the city opened me more to learning through food, something that became my raison d’être soon thereafter.

long term travel
“Yawn for the camera, Jodi!” “Ok, Joel!”
beijing feast
99% of our time in Beijing involved food and Pu’erh tea. The remaining 10% was travel to the places where the food and tea lived.


Dos and Don’ts of Getting Sick on a Round the World Trip:

This is an early piece in what is quite a few wellness posts on the site. I’ve now aggregated them in their own category, as they are something readers ask for often. (Came for the travel, stayed for the pain, eh?)

I share this post for two reasons: the first is that there’s a part two, which is really just a list of mishaps involving sickness – loss of toenails, getting tear gassed, falling off a cliff, YOU KNOW THE USUAL. Somehow the 15 things happened in only 3 years of round-the-world travel.

The more important reason is that the story I tell at the beginning is part of why I finally grew up and started taking my celiac diagnosis seriously: a medicine woman in Siberia (yep, Siberia again!) told me that I’d be dead in 10 years if I didn’t.

Ulan-Ude, Siberia
Ulan-Ude, Siberia

This part of the story didn’t make it into my post, which is primarily some tips about staying healthy on the road, and how said Siberian woman stopped my evil cough on the trains. But it certainly stuck in my mind. Especially as the story occurred in 2008, and we are… almost at ten years later. In the back of my mind, I’ve certainly kept an eye on the clock.

To be clear, she was saying that if I didn’t do what I was supposed to do with my stomach, there would be big problems.

And she scared me sufficiently to stop the “well I don’t feel sick if I eat x thing that’s totally not what I’m allowed to be eating,” and actually BELIEVE the literature my doctor had given me, trust the studies that showed increase stomach and colon cancer rates without a strict adherence to a gluten free diet for life, and start me on the path that led to what is now a part of my business: gluten free guides and translation cards for celiacs.

Lombok to Flores by Boat:

You get what you pay for.

lombok to flores by boat
My chariot for the Lombok to Flores boat trip.

In this case: I didn’t pay much and I’m pretty thankful to be alive after this trip! From our boat getting stuck in a fishing net just before dawn, to sleeping in an over-stuffed low slinging “5-Star Floating Loft” with the captain falling asleep at the wheel pretty much every day – it’s a wonder I am.

Following a fairly ridiculous trip back that involving sitting on the roof of a car careening through the mountains with a goat in my lap, this was one of the trips I wrote about after and then sent an advance apology to my mum.

lombok to flores by boat
Our boat down below. Beautiful trip, full of misadventures.

El Nido, Paradise Found:

And I never wanted to leave.

Bacuit Bay, Palawan
The Bacuit Bay, in all its glory, from the hotel that became my home for several months.
el nido, philippines

I washed up on the shores of El Nido after a wretched 7-hour banca boat trip from Port Barton, Palawan, and it took very little time to realize I didn’t want to leave.

My home was The Alternative, a now-closed resort run by a fabulous woman named Becky. She, and her family, took me in and housed me for months in exchange for working at the front desk and assisting guests if necessary. The place only had electricity during specific hours of the day, I often woke up bit by ants during the night, and the only reasonably priced way out was via an insane bus ride to Puerto Princessa, or an equally crazy cargo ferry ride to Coron.

I loved every minute of it.

The Philippines: I came for the tarsiers, and I stayed for the people (and those sunsets).


A Solar Eclipse in Burma:

Bhamo to Mandalay by government ferry, including an extra day for getting stuck in a sandbar. Several times.

government ferry bhamo to mandalay
My chariot for the multi-day ferry trip from Bhamo to Mandalay. We spent hours on deck, we ate, we did yoga, we taught everyone how to play Memory, and we watched an eclipse.

I had no laptop or phone with me during my weeks in Myanmar, so it was at an internet cafe that I realized the upcoming total solar eclipse was precisely where I was heading. SQUEE! Research suggested a government ferry that traveled from Bhamo to Mandalay. Newfound travel friends echoed this finding, and a few of us decided to experience Eclipse O’Clock for ourselves.

I allude in the post to the hassle of buying tickets. At the time, only crisp new US bills with certain serial numbers exempt were allowed to be used in Myanmar. I specifically went to a bank in the states before I left asking for new bills only, without those serial numbers AND THEY WERE SUPER DUPER FRESH AND NEW. Alas, despite their careful vertical home in my guidebook, the government ticket agent rejected them. I said they were new, he said they were not. I got quite frustrated and licked my bill to prove it was new. He took my disobedience as overt rebellion and threatened to call the cops.

Thankfully, he called my hotel owner who graciously swapped out bills he had for mine, so the gentleman could be paid.

His bills were definitely more worn down than mine, but faces were not lost in the process – well, other than mine. Because I had a ticket, sure, but I also had a reputation in Bhamo for being a very difficult pint-sized tourist who licked money.

Not my finest moment.

Regardless get on the boat I did, with said travel friends. The trip included a karaoke-off with the captain broadcast through the entire ferry’s PA system, exploring a part of the country that is sadly out of reach today due to sectarian violence, and watching that gorgeous solar eclipse.

I’m sure you can see why I included it in this round up! It was an unforgettable trip.

solar eclipse myanmar
Eclipse o’clock on the Irawaddy!

My Safety Whistle, Worth its Weight in Gold:

One of the most popular earlier posts on my site, and I still won’t leave home without one.

Of all the posts that characterized my initial years of travel, this one remains the most infamous. At reader meetups, people would bring me safety whistles. Companies reached out to ask if I wanted to make Legal Nomads branded ones, and any time a new traveler bought a bag with a whistle on it, I’d get a photo if they read my blog.

I wanted to make sure people had a safety whistle, but so many of the posts I read on the topic talked about female safety in challenging circumstances. I decided to share the stories that were a little more zany: how my whistle saved me from aggressive blanket-stealing monkeys, and more.

I still always have a safety whistle on my day bag.


WDS Keynote on Passion, Fear, and Taking Risks in Life

First time public speaking.

keynote jodi ettenberg
My first ever talk, at WDS 2011. (c) Tara Wages

I watched many speeches in my lifetime, but never contemplated becoming a public speaker. For good reason: it terrified me. I even won “most easily embarrassed” as my high school graduating yearbook honour, so this was not a new problem.

This was my first speaking gig, thanks to some skillful maneuvering from Chris Guillebeau (read: he didn’t ask me to speak, he put my name up as a keynote and then said people were excited so I shouldn’t back out). I’m very grateful he did, because speaking has become a big part of how I work.

I was beyond terrified to get up on stage and threw up ahead of my talk. Somehow I managed to look like I wasn’t about to fall apart at all while presenting, or so people say. I worked as a corporate attorney, not a litigator so I did not have courtroom experience. It was this talk – to 500 people, no less – that opened my eyes to the transformative power of my own storytelling through speech.

To get up in front of a crowd of this size, to NOT fall off the stage (for some reason this was my big concern), and to have the audience seem interested…I realized midway through the flow of my talk that this was one other medium I wanted to embrace.

If only I could stop throwing up.

The year following this talk, I accepted all gigs that came my way. After my 12th talk, I stopped throwing up. I still get extraordinarily jittery, but I’ve conquered a good chunk of my fear of speaking through specific practice tools, hard work, and stepping onstage even when it was terrifying.

An Ode to Spices

Where the food writing — and Jodi Eats food walks — all began.

Chilies in Jaipur, India
Chilies in Jaipur, India

This is the post that led to my book and to taking readers around the dizzying alleyways of Saigon, feeding them until they were ready to burst. As I mentioned above, in my lawyering days I didn’t care for food the way I do now. Time flowed in 6-minute increments, and food took up a multiple too many. But before starting in New York I spent a year studying European law in France. In between classes, I learned about spices from market vendors and realized that what I thought was “food” was actually just quite bland.

One of the hardest things right now is that I’m very limited it what I can eat. Most foods, including almost all spices, fish sauce, and a whole lot more, give me anaphylactic reactions that affect my healing. I’m currently on the most limited of diets, and it’s astounding to think of what I used to eat and cannot any longer.

Decoding the Insanity of Driving in Morocco:

Not for the faint of heart.

renting a car driving over the Tizi n'Tichka Atlas Mountains
Rainbows and storms along the Col du Tichka (or Tizi n’Tichka) in the Atlas Mountains.

This short post was a sillier one, because how else to convey the giant game of chicken that was my cross over the Atlas mountains and into the Sahara? I already had a few weeks of Morocco under my belt, and absolutely love to drive. While I joke in this piece about the lack of rules being the rule, truth is the hours of looping over the mountains were some of the most exhilarating ones of my travels.

We drove from Marrakesh up to the Col du Tichka (Tizi n’Tichka). The road was built atop the echoes of an older caravan trail in the 1930s, and it climbs up toward the snow-covered peaks of the Atlas before its decline to Ourzazate and the desert. Trucks push hard, hurtling their way up the steep curves. Roadside meat and soups and tagine abound, and the risk of animal encounters is high. I say ‘risk’ because what I really mean is, “that blind curve ahead? I can’t promise there won’t be 100 sheep standing there as soon as you come around the bend. Good luck!”


The Overview Effect, Mindfulness, and Travel:

Changing how the world works, one vista at a time.

While I later dove deep into John Kabat-Zinn and mindfulness’ effect on pain, this 2012 post was a very macro exposure to how perspective can change your life.

From that post:

“Astronauts who have seen the Earth from space have often described the ‘overview effect’ as an experience that has transformed their perspective of the planet and mankind’s place upon it, and enabled them to perceive it as our shared home, without boundaries between nations or species.”

The term Overview Effect was coined by astronaut Frank White, who actually commented on the post (!), and refers to the shift from seeing the Earth and people in it as individuals, to feel a coherence and unity between it all. The post relates to space and time, but travel can transform perspectives in a similar, more subtle way.

I was thinking about this post recently, because this year’s events felt to me like an “Overview Effect” of their own. They’ve shifted the way I see the world, and myself in it. And they’ve skewed my perception of time.

Pictures from Myanmar: Myitkyina, Inle Lake, Mandalay, and More:

Temples of Bagan at dawn
Temples of Bagan at dawn. Not pictured: goats.

Adventures in spontaneous, somewhat illegal travel.

soup vendor in myanmar
Me with my favourite soup lady in town, and her adorable grandson. I went back there every day that I could. A soup lover was born!

I spent a total of 7 weeks in Myanmar in 2009/early 2010, overstaying my visa illegally and going so far as to photocopy it and white out the dates, to the absolute glee of the gentleman working at the copy shop. When I was pulled off buses or flagged on the side of the road to present my passport and visa, I would provide the passport and my fake copy. Thankfully, no one looked at the date I was stamped in on; they were too busy confused about what I was doing alone in the middle of nowhere.

During my visit, the Junta was still in power and there were few tourists in the country, especially compared to now. Myitkyina, where I went to attend the Kachin State Fair, was especially untouristed; the entire visit was a reverse-fishbowl, with the gaggle of tourists there posing for photos during most of the festival. One photographer whined about it unceremoniously, “I’m here to photograph them!” Boo hoo, imagine how they feel under the gaze of your lens?

Several cities I loved are completely limits due to the horrifying sectarian violence in Myanmar during recent years. In 2009 and early 2010 when I was there, the country was very different. Extremely cheap lodging, no ATMs or SIM cards I had to count my money at the back of of the market in Yangon and lug it around the country in ziploc bags instead. Without a doubt, the locals I ate with were among the nicest people I’ve ever encountered, kind-hearted and fascinating.

Before I left, I was warned that it was extremely important to not talk about politics, not ask to see anyone’s home, not risk their lives due to the government at the time. I treaded carefully, and the travelers I met did too. People were dressed conservatively, they were extremely knowledgeable about history, and they were deeply interested in the (destructive) politics of the region.

I don’t write this with a tone of nostalgia, only to share how it was. When I read people’s accounts of the country now, it seems a wholly different place. I realize that’s how it works.

But those 7 weeks were a suspension of anything that made sense. With no laptop, no cell phone, and a stubborn determination to overstay my visa, every day was deeply immersive and truly felt like I lived a week in 24 hours.

The friends I met traveling in Myanmar, too, became friends for life.


Travel to North India: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly:

This post about India is one of the longer ones on the site, but as you may suspect based on the length of this one, I refuse to serialize my articles. It goes through the overwhelm of a country that seems to house the best and worst of humanity, the most varied of foods, the brightest of dress. India felt like an exercise in superlatives, and I synthesized it the only way I knew how: through words and pictures.

The trip was both a gift to my mum for her 65th birthday – she always wanted to see the Taj Mahal – and my first time in India. We spent most of our time in Rajasthan.

Before we left Canada my mum was told, “if you want to avoid getting sick then just eat at the nicer hotels.” My mum’s reply: “Have you MET my daughter?!”

We ate street food and restaurant food. We had lassis and curries and dals for days. I got to see her joy as she dug deep into the country’s history, and she watched me get so excited over a cardamom lime lassi that I cried.

As bonding trips go, it wasn’t the most relaxing. But I wouldn’t change it for anything.

Jaipur's palace of winds
Jaipur’s Palace of Winds
Lunch in Udaipur
Lunch in Udaipur

Pleading for Bun Rieu Soup in Cai Rang:

When people ask me about Vietnam I joke that I came for the canh chua, and stayed for the bun rieu. This tomato and crab broth is easily one of my favourite soups in the world, and I’ve tracked it down in San Francisco, Ottawa, and further afield.

In Cai Rang, however, I had to beg for it – because the market vendor just wouldn’t serve it to me. A granny took pity on my soup needs and harangued the vendor until he gave me the soup I wanted. And then she brought her friends to beam at me as I finished the bowl.

I love this post because my days in Cai Rang were a true pleasure. I stayed at a wonderful homestay with a Quebec gentleman and his Vietnamese wife, and spent mornings roaming the colourful markets near the Mekong. In the afternoons, there were bike rides and hammock reading. As with many of my trips, I extended my stay and ended up feeling part of the family. A true pleasure.


How to Make the Most of a Transpacific Repositioning Cruise:

I can’t begin to quantify just how fun this trip from Vancouver to Tokyo was, with a group of people who were uniquely varied yet didn’t take themselves too seriously. What happens if you take a group of entrepreneurs with a childlike enthusiasm for life, a love of tea, and just the right amount of green bandanas? Click to find out.

I included this post because it remains one of the best experiences I’ve had over the years, a testament to Tynan, who organized it, and Nick, who brought many of the props and party games that made the cruise so fun.

repositioning cruise across the pacific
Heading to shore in Kamchatka province, Russia
repositioning cruise across the pacific
The fab group of “Gang Green,” causing havoc and creating joy on board the ship.

Japan in 77 Photos:

A brief mention for this very long (77 photos long, to be precise) photoessay from Japan: it’s here because I won an award for it in 2015. For someone who started out taking photos without thinking, not knowing anything about framing or cropping. And for someone who still doesn’t use Lightroom or any editing (the photos were just straightened and cropped in Google’s now-deprecated Picasa programme), this felt very nice indeed!

Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple) Kyoto
All smiles at Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto
Fushimi Inari-taisha
Fushimi Inari-taisha

I never thought of myself as a photographer; the photos existed to support the words that I wrote. Over the years, I spent more and more time thinking about the right photos to accent my pieces, and learning more about cameras.

I had a wonderful time in Japan, criss-crossing by train, climbing Mount Fuji as that year’s birthday mountain, and consuming my body weight in sashimi. Sadly, I also got sick despite showing restaurants a short celiac card, and even at times with a guide. So my weeks in Japan were also reason that I created my gluten free cards – so other celiacs didn’t have the same pain I did when traveling to the country.

Why I Love Saigon:

A love letter to the city I fell for at first sight.

jodi ettenberg saigon
Me in Saigon, New Year’s Eve 2014. Photo by Jimmy (Bean) Dau.

During my first day in Saigon, I turned to my good friend James and said, “I need to live here.”

He was taken aback.

I had just arrived, many of our mutual friends found the city too chaotic for their tastes, and I barely saw anything yet.

“I don’t care, James. There’s a soup lady outside my door, the chaos is magical, and I just know! I love it.”

I wasn’t wrong.

I ended up spending many winters in Saigon, eating all of the soups. Riding around from district to district, lost in alleyways and whirling around in the noise and call-and-answer of vendors on the street.

There wasn’t a week in Mexico where I didn’t dream at least once about Saigon. The city marked itself indelibly upon me.

I know that I only began to scratch the surface of the city and country I loved. But it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to note that no place captured my heart as quickly, and aggressively, as Saigon. And like a true “love at first sight” relationship, sometimes they can grow into a nurturing, healthy situation. And sometimes they burn out, hot and fierce, leaving you dazed.

My time in Saigon came to an end when the smog and mosquitos took me down. I wrote a very long post about all of the street food I ate and how you can too, but I chose my love letter to the city for this 10-year retrospective because it details how the city captured my heart.


Fishing for Socks in Lisbon:

I never got to write a guide to Lisbon, because suddenly I was in New Zealand, learning to sail and sitting for 10 days of silent meditation. Sandwiched by driving around the country for several months, these two experiences were so arresting that I looked back on my Lisbon notes in confusion.

What was I going to say, now?

lisbon portugal
Beautiful Lisbon

Most of the month in Lisbon was spent writing a speech on food that I presented in Estoril. My memories of the city itself were magical, though, with long wanders around town and hours of thinking at the lookouts that took my breath away.

Lisbon was the only other city that felt like home almost immediately upon arriving. I was in true limerence; nothing seemed wrong. The buildings, the food, the wine, and the sea. The friendly people I met. The complicated history – tsunami, fire, and earthquake ALL in one day! How could one not fall for Lisbon?

I actually got my Portuguese residency visa approved and was going to move back there and establish a base when in 2016 I impulsively opted for Oaxaca instead. That decision led me to a whole new set of memories and friends and food, but occasionally I wonder what would life have been like had I chosen the other path?

When I got back from Portugal, I found a package of SmartWool socks on my bed at my parents’ place. My friend Tony sent it to me after reading this post, noting, “really Jodi, you could have just bought more socks.”

The piece is about socks, but of course not really about socks. It still makes me smile today.

Revisiting Mrs. Pa, the Best Smoothie Cart in Chiang Mai:

I first met Mrs. Pa in 2011, and have sent everyone I know to her cart ever since. When this mess happened last year, readers and friends passed messages back and forth, until reached out herself to demand that I get better.

I wrote about her initially in 2011 but this 2015 post allowed an unusual opportunity to go back and ask if the piece had an effect her work, and to share more about her infectious enthusiasm for life.

I miss Mrs. Pa’s amazing strango smoothies with a pinch of lime, but I miss Mrs. Pa more than all of her fruit combined.

mrs. pa smoothies chiang mai
My cheerful reunion with Mrs. Pa, in Chiang Mai

On Facing Fear And Learning to Sail in New Zealand:

On Facing Fear and Learning How to Sail in New Zealand
So pretty. So scary.

After almost drowning as a kid in the local pool, sailing felt like a terrifying overreach of sanity. It’s one thing to take a larger ship across the ocean, or a slow moving ferry. But a sailboat, and one you run with one other person after only 2 days of sailing school? Nope.

This piece was hard to write, but even harder to experience. Panic attacks, sleepless nights, and sobbing while adjusting the sail all figure prominently, but the exciting part is that I would get on a sailboat again today. Learning to sail did help me overcome my fears, and I hope to get back on a sailboat one day.


Spiders and Silence: My 10 Day Vipassana Course:

Between the sailing and this arachnoid-filled Vipassana course, my time in New Zealand was not a relaxing one. The Vipassana course, spiders aside, taught me a very important skill that I used continuously as a lifeline when the cerebrospinal leak began.

For me, the fascination lies in the neuroscience of how meditation affects the brain, as well as the discourses and learning that happens from Goenka himself. The identity aspect – the decision to change the way you govern yourself, accomplished through the discipline of consistent meditation – is not the point of Vipassana. But I was doing the course for personal reasons, and a very personal post is what emerged.

Before this past year, the Vipassana was the hardest thing I’ve ever willingly done. And I am infinitely grateful that I did it, because it set me up for 6 months of total incapacitation. Moreover, as someone who had never meditated consistently prior to doing this course, I went into it without an existing practice to fall back on.

During the months of bedrest following the lumbar puncture, people asked if I was bored. I really wasn’t. I spent a lot of my time meditating, and especially after the 4th patch in January – sometimes upwards of 5-6 hours a day.

I couldn’t control anything about my physical body, and so with the help of those around me, I turned to my mind. Vipassana, guided meditations, and reading about the brain kept me sane at a time where nothing made any sense. This 10-day course was critical to my ability to process and stay equanimous during this terrifying time.

The Most Embarrassing Stories From my Travels:

This piece came about because I was stung on the butt – twice – by an angry yellow jacket wasp. When friends said, “Jodi why does this always happen to you?!” I realized that I never wrote about some of the mortifying experiences from my wandering.

You’re welcome.

Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat, scene of one of the more cringeworthy incidents on my travels.

Really though, if you can’t poke fun at yourself, what’s the point?

How to Eat Street Food without Getting Sick:

This question was the one that guided me toward my book, and remains one of the more frequent emails I receive. So I decided to put a post together and share my thoughts as someone who preferred street food to restaurants, and had many years of eating to prove it. It’s one of the more popular posts on the site because it’s a question we often worry about when we’re told in the West that street food is dangerous.

This year we lost two food greats, Anthony Bourdain and Jonathan Gold. Both wrote exquisitely about food, culture, and travel. And both saw eating — often street food eating — as a gateway to experiencing all of humanity in one little vignette. Yes, street food can be in the wrong circumstances. But in the right circumstances, it’s simply delicious and it’s one of the most authentic cultural explorations you can enjoy in a new place.

best bun rieu saigon
My favourite bun rieu vendor in Saigon, setting up for the day.


The Cow Head Taco Philosopher of Oaxaca:

Not being able to return to Oaxaca has been a hard pill to swallow about this big life change. Yes, the city is gorgeous. Yes, the surrounding sights are too. But what I miss are the people, many of whom are in the food world. Many have stayed in touch, thankfully, and one who makes me smile extra wide is Israel, he of the cow head tacos extraordinaire.

tacos de cabeza Oaxaca
Israel and his amazing cow head tacos.

I’ve taken my parents to eat at his stall, and readers aplenty. My biggest complaint is that he kept trying to comp me my tacos, and then my parents’ tacos. So I took to leaving him pesos under his bag and texting him a note later: there’s no such thing as free tacos.

Of course, he was just being affectionate. But when he realized I would consistently trick him into paying, he started giving me bottles of mezcal instead. Our back and forth continued, a present-off over the years. I brought him a fleece Canada hat for cold Oaxaca mornings during the cooler autumn months. He brought me mezcal and alebrijes. The best kind of stalemate.

His jovial belly laugh and enthusiastic hugs are extraordinary. But it’s his attitude – one of letting go of anger, embracing change and connection, and appreciating family – that serves a lasting lesson for anyone. His outlook on life and generous spirit was the genesis for my post.


My spinal tap post was pretty much it for this year, so instead…

Some FAQs From Emails with Readers

Many of you have written asking questions, and I’ve compiled 6 of the most common ones below, as part of this 10 year retrospective.

1) Are you going to sell Legal Nomads?

No, I have no plans to sell the site. (And to the guy who pitched something else, then learned of my present situation, and then asked if I was going to sell “since you can’t travel anyhow” – definitely not, and if so never to you.)

2) Are you going to stop writing on Legal Nomads?

No, I am going to keep writing and have been quietly updating posts with current information. Some, like my Montreal guide, were updated to reflect the spirit of the city I now call home. Others, like my brief history of chili peppers, were updated to include the question I most often get via email: why do our mouths burn when we eat chilies?! And I’ve been updating several of my celiac guides as well, with Malaysia and Thailand almost complete.

I do have drafts of some more personal posts I look forward to sharing, as well as other “Brief history of” series posts, since the microhistory fascination is endless for me.

And I’ve still got a few Thrillable Hours posts to put up, and several more in the works.

3) What about your writing course?

*For background, awhile ago I quietly put up a note about a course I planned to offer, called “How to Tell Stories in a Digital World” and asked people to contact me if they were interested.

The writing course! Yes, I hope to offer it as soon as I am able. It will be live-taught, so if I can’t travel I’m excited to travel through time with readers instead. I am not sure when it will be ready as I’m still working on the workbook; my plan was to finalize it late last summer and we know how that went.

I’ve kept an email folder of people interested and will be in touch when I am ready to start.

The plan remains to offer classes of 10 people at a time to keep things focused and not too thinly spread.

4) Can you write about the specifics (treatments, books, meditations) of what’s worked for you as you recover?

Yes, I’m happy to do so. I’ve had to change so much of what I eat, products I use, and how I move my body that I do hope to put together a post that gives the specifics because I wish I had that info when I was starting on this road! Like my post about pain, I’m sure it’ll include lots of resources.

5) Are you now in Montreal indefinitely?

Yes, though I’m staying with family as I’m still unable to live independently. I also plan to drive back down to Florida this winter. Winter and a healing dura are a dangerous proposition, especially for a klutz like me.

My friend Mike needs to get his car down that way, and conveniently I fit in it. So the plan is to return and continue the healing process. And the walks with birds.

6) How do you stay so positive despite what’s happened?

Every year that I do an annual review, I talk about gratitude and appreciation. And that’s because I have it in spades. Despite this challenging time and the overwhelming not-knowing of this next stage, I have a decade of concentrated memories, a huge network of caring, smart readers, and parents and friends who have prioritized my healing.

There were many, many weeks when I was not even remotely positive. Things were very bleak, and understandably so. I remember waking up at my mum’s place at 4am with a start, realizing the depth of how complicated this was. Feeling the deep loss of what gave me incredible joy during the last decade.

My attitude now is less about positivity and more about choosing to focus on what I am grateful for, what I still do have in my life. As I said in a recent podcast interview, there’s no healing in being bitter.

At present, I don’t know whether I’ll be able to travel again safely. It may require a lot of accommodations that I’m not sure make the experience worthwhile. I don’t know because it’s too early to know, too soon to really understand what my baseline is.

So in the absence of not-knowing, I focus on today. Not by denying the validity of any grief or the anger, because that just makes them take hold in the body. But by feeling those emotions, and then setting them aside compassionately, saying to myself – “not today.”

Today, I focus on what I have, and what I can do.

And that’s the best I can do for me as I work to recover.



53 thoughts on “10 Years of Legal Nomads: Favourite Posts from A Decade of Nomadic Living”

  1. Jodi,
    The world is better because you are here.
    – I am very glad you are doing better.
    Take care of yourself.. we need you.

  2. I’ve been following your stories over the last few years since we met briefly in Toronto (I was the girl that worked on big ships unloading sugar at Redpath). It was heartbreaking to watch what you went through and I’m so amazed at your ability to focus on being grateful. I’m in Montreal now full time also, email me anytime if you’d like to catch up. I can come to you (and bring you any treats from around the city you may be craving!)

  3. Long time reader here. Happy ten years! Love your blog and how it as has changed as you have changed with new experiences. Wishing you good health and more passport stamps in the years to come.

  4. I am so glad to hear from you and about you. Please know how valuable your posts are whether on the move or in place. You inspire my 76-year-old self!

    1. Thank you! Through it all the thing I love (writing) is still possible. Just not the ways I got my input levels of joy. So it’s a challenge I think everyone faces at some point in their lives. For me, younger than I expected. Hopefully the writing helps people feel more understood within this difficult process.

  5. Jodi–I have also followed you for almost the whole 10 years. I love your writing–you are so real and personable that I always find many things that I feel also. You are facing these challenges now with amazing strength. I went through my own 2 years of hell, feeling so hopeless. And now that I am out the other side–and learning and practicing mindfulness meditation was one of my saving graces. So I am happy to hear that you have embraced it also. I will always follow you, and I will continue to send wishes from my heart for your recovery. I just know that it will happen.

    1. I’m so thrilled to see comments from long term readers on this post! Thank you for the lovely comment, and for continuing to read. I am sorry you experienced a challenge like that, but I think your attitude will only serve you well as you move forward. Resilience isn’t easy to cultivate, but once you can set up these tools, to reframe, to pull your body out of fight or flight, you set yourself up for an even richer human experience.

      Much love to you, Judi!

  6. This made me realize how long I’ve been reading – I think I found you through Jared so maybe late 2008? Thank you for sharing – and continuing to share – your journey and your meals with us!

  7. Love you, lady! From the time your work first flashed across my screen while I was catching WDS updates here in Portland, to the overlap in Assisi and Bologna, to the sock rendezvous in Montreal, I’ve been so grateful for your presence and company in this world. We all are fortunate to know you. (I smile any time I see a flash of Candace’s painting—and I still regret that I didn’t manage to join you for some Vietnamese dining in east PDX!)

  8. Beautiful, thank you Jodi. I have loads to read in the upcoming days and weeks.

    Does it help you in the difficult times to relive memories? To just dive into the most heartfelt memories such as your Mongolia trip or your love for Saigon and feel deep appreciation that you experienced that? I’ve followed your journey for a few years now and admire how you’ve gotten over the spinal tap mess. Ultimately the things we have influence on are our thoughts and how we use our mind. I believe you’ve mastered the process even though the road to it has been nothing short of bumpy.
    I’ll keep my fingers crossed that things look brighter and brighter every day! Much love, Veronika

    1. Thank you Veronika! I hope you enjoy your deep dive.

      As I said in the post, it was cathartic but also very difficult. I found myself very emotional over the photos especially, because there is a loss of innocence in what has happened. Even if I do go back out one day, it will be very different and with more friction. Natural movement is not as joyful because now there is risk. And that’s just LIFE, at least life for me. But it’s also very difficult.

      I don’t think I’ve mastered the process, but I am better at reframing things in the best way to keep me on a path of healing.

      Thank you for reading <3

  9. Loved reading this and going through your years of memories with you. And so glad we had a chance to catch up today!

    As for that never you guy? OMG i so hear you!

    Lots of <3 and healing to you. And more soon!

    1. And yours was too! I remain enchanted with your incredible ability to take the ugliness of humanity in your research and synthesize it into something beautiful and encouraging of change. Wishing you wonderful next steps across the pond <3

  10. So nice to see updates on the site! Congrats on 10 years, your healing, a recap to truly be proud of. I can’t wait to see what you have in store.

  11. You are an amazing person! You seem to write right from your heart, I so enjoy your posts! It was nice “reminiscing ” with you and I think I will reread some of your posts.

  12. Dear Jodi,
    Justin and I are forever grateful to you for showing us the world through your words and helping us take the leap for our eye back in 2014-2016. We have chatted about Mrs Pa before. I’ll keep praying for your recovery and I hope to meet you one day. I also would love to hear more about meditation and other resources you have used as I do have chronic pain in my Achilles’ tendons. Un beso gigante.

  13. What a pleasure to revisit so many of these memories. Your writing is vivid, memorable and honest. We met in Porto and I remember thinking, “she’s just as I imagined her to be from her words.” Thank you for reminding me that I don’t have to write for anyone but myself.

  14. Dear Jodi, I am not a long time reader, I actually only found your blog when I was searching for articles on csf leaks online. Your story touched me and it sounded so similar to mine that I felt the urge to contact you. And I am so glad that I did because you have been such an amazing support during these crazy times. I have since then visited your blog regularly to try to catch up with all your adventures in the past 10 years. You have all my admiration for everything you have achieved, for the person that you are and I wish with all my heart that each day that goes by takes you to a better place. Muitos beijinhos de Lisboa

  15. Jodi,
    So so so glad to hear you are doing better. I love reading your stories. Your writing inspires me to write better.
    10 years is huge, congrats!

    the other Jodi

  16. Reading this made me realize how long I’ve followed your blog and enjoyed your writing, without actually commenting much. So, thank you for sharing your stories with us and for being an inspiration in how you approach life. It really makes a difference.

  17. Dear Jodi,
    i’ve never post a comment, i’m one of those silent readers, and i’ve been for years, but i really wanted to tell you (in my broken english) how much your writing move me. Please don’t stop writing, if not about travel, i’m sure many of us would gladely just enjoy readind about, well, life!

  18. Dear Jodi, I will always love you and keep you in my thoughts and prayers. You are an inspirational, marvelous and brave soul in a petite body. You will keep shining even though this hardest recovery time.

    Everything happens for a reason, as long as we understand that We Choose this path to learn and grow, it is so painful but this is a compact we made with our eternal soul before we came here.

    Love and light,

    (PS, We met once in TBEX Thailand, I love your keynote so much that I kept watching it on youtube)

  19. Great work organizing your writings and photos into an adventure with which all who have traveled can identify and enjoy. Keep working on achieving a functioning full life and feeling better. Thank for sharing your travels, travails and triumphs.

  20. Your travel journey of 10 years sounds exciting and unique! I also believe that food is one of the best ways to extract stories out of a place. Being on the road enriches you a lot. I, too, hope to do a RTW trip sometime in my life.

    All the best to you for your future journeys! :)

  21. WOW! This is an incredible highlight for you. Congratulations. Sit back and take a moment to gloat at all the amazing things you’ve done and what you have accomplished! It’s not a small thing. This year will be my 10 year anniversary too and I can’t believe how fast things have gone. Again, a massive congrats!

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