When I started Legal Nomads over 8 years ago, I never thought that I would be traveling for more than a year. I did not care about soup. I was not particularly obsessed with eating street food. I laughed when someone told me that they did not think I would return to a life of law.
“Of course I will,” I said, probably more defensively than was necessary.
“What else would I be doing with my life?”
Somehow, the answer “making tamales in Oaxaca” wasn’t on my list.
You’ve heard the story enough times if you’ve read the site, any of the interviews from my press page. One thing led to another, words begat more words, travel begat more travel. And here we are, years later, me thinking that I would be working in-house as a lawyer and instead building a business around the incredible food that the world has to offer.
As I said in this year’s personal musing on my travel anniversary, one of the most beautiful components of this weird and wonderful life is the fact that I have been able to take my time and see where it leads.
I have traded stability and a lucrative salary, yes. But in return I have received time with loved ones, meals that are worthy of joyful tears, and a tremendous network of smart, caring people around the world that I call friends. I’ve also had the privilege of being able to slowly figure out how I want to build a business, without engaging in tactics that I would resent were I my own reader/customer.
For Legal Nomads, as you see on the about page, this has meant:
- no pop ups.
- not selling text links or sponsored posts.
- not taking products on my travels that I wouldn’t naturally use, or filling my feeds with sponsored content.
- not using the press trip as my business model.
- clearly disclosing that I use affiliate links for Amazon.
Everyone earns a living in their own way.
My choices simply reflect what I would want to see if I landed on this site and knew nothing about it.
What mattered to me was working in ways that excited me, and hopefully contributing something lovely to the world in the process.
In addition, and perhaps more urgently, I did not want to turn the cathartic, empowering act of writing into a chore. So I took on other off-site work in order to free up this space for my ideal portfolio of writing and photos. I’ve discussed a writing and narrative course that I will be offering readers, upon your request. (More here.) There is also the public speaking work, which is paid. And some consulting work for branding and online community-building.
But most of all, I wanted to create something unique that combined a love of food and art and travel.
Which led to the very important question: if I don’t want to primarily earn a living as a writer, what can I do to contribute creative things to the world and still get paid for them? I’m not owed support for simply creating, but I wanted to build something of value that people would want to support.
Maps of Food That I Want to Eat
And by that header I mean, “I want to eat the foods, and the maps are sufficiently delicious-looking that I’m tempted to try and eat them too.” (Hey, there’s no gluten in paper.)
It started when I wanted to buy a map for a Vietnamese friend, one that had all the names of the great meals I discovered roaming the streets of Saigon. I searched the net for something that I liked, but came up empty-handed. I figured, “best build it myself, then!”
I reached out to Ella Frances Sanders, the wonderfully talented artist behind Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World.
She agreed to undertake this project, a total of 10 countries in an elegant series available in black or white. We started with t-shirts but the shop has expanded now to tote bags and art prints.
With 5 countries in the shop — Italy is the newest — I just spent the weekend redoing all of the product images and redesigning the shop to allow for browsing by country.
Pick up a Food Map of Your Own
Back when I wrote my food book, I posted about it noting that the first “sell” I wanted to make to my community was something I built myself. I’ve tried to keep that as the golden rule over the years, be it writing, photography, or other work.
I’m happy that I’ve managed to carve out a space with new products that are mine alone.