On Taking Risks, Long-Term Travel and Finding your Path in Life

Jodi ettenberg wds

One thing I have wanted to do more of is video. However, video to me is quite scary. It’s easier to me to hide behind words, to cobble together whatever honest filaments of prose I need to build a story. In contrast, video is captured as is and though editing can do a lot (and de-contextualize), the medium remains a lot more daunting to me. Your mannerisms come across, your quirks or your expressions. All of which are fairly scary. Getting up on stage at WDS to talk about travel and finding your path in life was also scary, as it marked the first time I spoke in public to a crowd, and to a crowd of 500 no less! I was a corporate attorney, not a litigator, so I was not accustomed to public speaking in any capacity. And Chris, bless him, only told me this when he asked me to speak – “Be inspiring”.

Oh, is that all?

on long term travel and finding your path in life
Talking about the two giant men who tried to bench-press me on a Trans-Siberian train trip, at WDS

In writing the speech – and as you’ll see as a newbie I wrote it all out – I decided to use my own story and my travels as a basis for my message. Namely, that while it’s worthwhile to follow your dreams, you also need to keep moving along that path even in the face of negativity. It’s not enough to say “I quit my job to travel” and leave it at that – your path (like you) is a work in progress, one that is fraught with challenges. In retrospect, quitting was the easy part. What is difficult, and remains difficult, is the chasm of uncertainty that opens up in front of you the moment you do so. I’ve written about this in some capacity, specifically on the things that long-term travel does not fix, but this is the first time I’ve explained the trajectory in full of why I did what I did, and how.

In telling my story I wanted to make it clear that I wasn’t encouraging people to change their lives in the same way, but rather to use my story as a prism through which they could see their own choices. Or, as I said in the speech “there are always things I could do, so why not risk doing the thing I want to do?”

My keynote on finding your path in life

I’ve gotten quite a few reader emails asking if I would post my WDS speech, so I thought it was high time to do so. It’s 33 minutes long, and I hope you enjoy.


p.s. Yes, I am fully aware that I spelled my own site name wrong in one of the slides. That, my friends, is what you get for doing your Keynote slideshow on a 10-hour layover in Seoul ;)

127 thoughts on “On Taking Risks, Long-Term Travel and Finding your Path in Life”

  1. I just listened to whole thing and it was incredible! Nice job for your first time public speaking. I love hearing your story. :)


  2. I finally managed to sit down and watch the entirety of this video. The whole time watching this, I laughed, I teared up, and I felt this whole emotions in my chest I can’t express with words, for I relate with a lot of them. Thank you for sharing Jodi. You are simply awesome.
    PS: I love the fact that I knew this was your personality as I expected. You sound exactly like I pictured from reading your blog :)

  3. Wow, awesome story, Jodi. I just Stumbled Upon this page today and now I’m so excited to read through your blog. I’m entering law school this year, and as someone who has a passion for traveling, it’s good to know that long term travel is a viable option.

    1. Hi Amanda, thanks for the comment and I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the site thus far. Where will you be heading to law school? Best of luck to you with your studies and safe travels!

  4. So nice to finally hear your voice! And I love your uhm… Blunt bangs :) I share so many of your sentiments. You’re such an inspiration.

    PS. I thought of you when we went to Peru’s Islas Ballestas coz I saw hundreds and hundreds of birds!!!

    1. Ha, the fringe has grown out, but it was quite the haircut. Definitely a spur-of-the-moment decision that went awry as I was in bangkok and the humidity did not do great things for the hair. :) As to Peru, been there too and cringed quite a bit as all those cormorans flew overhead. Hope you enjoyed it!

  5. Thank you so much for posting this video. I’ve just stumbled across your blog and am totally glad I did. I’ve been planning my escape (May 2012) for a month now with little to no support and it’s such an inspiration to read so many stories of people who have followed their hearts in spite of naysayers…etc. Love your story and I will continue to follow your adventures as I prepare for my own. Have a great day!

  6. Hello Jodi,
    from one Canadian to another.
    Thank God I found your blog. I have tears of joy running down my cheeks at this moment while listening to your WDS talk.

    I am currently on a three month “what to do for the next few years?” holiday here on a tiny island. I am trying to decide if I am too old (65) to finally set off for a life on the road. There must be some divine intervention going on here!!! You have ins_ired me to go for it. (Lost the letter _ on my keyboard a month ago, sorry.”

    I usually go to one location for two to three months at a time, then return home only to wait for the next tri_. I will only travel for six or seven months a year because I do not want to lose my Ontario health coverage and it will also afford me the luxury of visiting friends for those months.

    You are busy, so I’ll not continue.

    Thank you so much.
    Safe travels to you.

    1. Hi Gail, thank you for the lovely comment. Wishing you safe travels, be they short or long term. Let me know if you’ll be in Montreal this summer as I’ll be back for a few months!

  7. Remarkable! The only thing small about you is your physical vessel. I work in behavioral health and the personal transformation you describe through facing your fears is inspiring. My sense is, though, that you couldn’t have resisted your urge to journey outward if you wanted. I hope my 2 daughters have just a little of your spirit in their DNA. Thank you for sharing your story.

    1. What a wonderful comment to read and start my day with. I’ve no doubt that with your attitude your daughters will do just fine, imbued with a sense of curiosity that cannot be shaken. Have a great rest of the week!

  8. Hi Jodi! I’ve been following your blog ever since the bug of travelling bit me. I’ve been away from home since October of last year. I can totally relate to everything you said. I’m happy I’ve made the decision. However, fear never left me. Everyday I make a decision to continue and move forward. You’ll always be an inspiration. I wanted to share my stories as well, but never had the courage to post it on my very shy blog. I’ve never felt comfortable with my own writing. That’s one important thing I’m working on. I hope to personally meet you someday. We’ll never know. It’s a small world after all.

    1. Hi Angelynira, thank you for the kind comment. It’s true that your fears never fully disappear, though certain aspects of them may get easier, or at least easier to handle. It is a small world, and it’s great to cross paths with fellow travelers within in it. Good luck with the writing. Remember that while it’s tough to put yourself out there to others, it’s wonderful when you get a chance to hopefully make them more comfortable to do the same. That’s how I felt in putting up this video, but comments like yours and the emails that mirror them make me very happy with my decision. I wish you many safe travels!

  9. Hi Jodi, thank you for this speach!! This speach finally encouraged me to finally put my travel dreams into reality:) Leaving for good at the end of the year. Alone.

    1. Hi Nina, that’s great to hear! I’m happy the speech was a part of your decision to explore, and please do reach out if you have any questions that I can help you answer. Safe travels to you!

  10. Saludos desde México. I can´t imagine all the things you´ve lived accross almost all the world. I think people like you inspire a lot of more, even like me who don’t know you in person, but I think its awesome. I am just 18 years old, at college studying hard, but my life´s dream has always to know the world not only because of their buildings, animals or landscapes but the people and how they live in their own way,

    Maybe i hope i will travell as you one day, so what are your most important advices you think are for me??? Or something aabout to think before do it
    also, you must travel around Mexico its very nice and gorgeous to see and live.

    Suerte en lo que hagas, Luis

    1. Gracias Luis, for the kind words. Advice is to remember that enthusiasm for living the world by seeing it, even when life starts to get in the way. And to also build yourself a skill-set that will allow you to work from elsewhere, enabling you to travel and even potentially work abroad. I always tell people that setting up a ‘worst case scenario’ they feel comfortable with – be it a job training, a degree or a plan b if their travels don’t work out – goes a long way toward making you more comfortable taking your show on the road :) Best of luck to you and safe travels!

  11. What an inspiration! My friends and I have been touched by this speech, and are spreading your words. Thank you!

    P.S. When you’re back in Montreal in May, we should do some video work together =D

  12. Good for you for being brave- for speaking at WDS and for being on camera. Right now, co-founder Bret Love is the primary face of Green Global Travel, but as the other co-founder I know that I need to be more vocal and “get out there”. Thanks for being an inspiration!

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  15. Christine | Grrrl Traveler

    Thanks for posting your WDS video for those of us who weren’t there!

    Having worked in video, I have difficulty watching any online vid that’s longer than 2 minutes. But your 33 minutes rocked! From start to end, you were entertaining, inspiring & informative. I enjoyed it as much as I do your posts!

  16. The video sums it all up, I read lots of your posts in the last few days as I am about to get on the 3rd stage of my year of interactive travelling in a few days. I am still unsure of things and how it will turn up at the end but I am sure I will not regret too much to have been on the driver seat of my life. I still remain with few questions about how you have got to experience some of the things you achieved during your travel but I hope I will be able to get to know you better and get those answers…and I know that I have to get there on my own but a hint or a mentoring view would certainly be appreciated ;)

    1. Hi there. Glad you liked the speech and the posts. Feel free to ask questions, of course. I don’t really know what you’re looking for answer-wise, so post away and I will give you responses.

  17. Your speech was music to my ears. It was incredibly inspiring and exactly what I needed to hear. I have been planning my long term travel trip for the past 3 years and it means so much to me to hear your experience. I have had so many doubts and so many people discouraging me that what you have said is keeping me on the right path. Thank you for sharing and I am so glad I found your blog!

  18. Have been uploading your video from the far end of Côte d’Ivoire where I currently work, and loving the 7 first minutes I got to watch. Had to post a comment.
    Considering a very-long-term-trip for myself, starting september 2013. How long did it take you to plan ?
    I am not very good at keeping with my journal and things when I travel (have been to 30+ countries) so far thanks to my job and lifestyle….but never good at keeping track, blogging, etc. so I wonder if I’ll be abble to do it on a very long term trip. Is it very time consuming ? Do you just do is as you go or do you set yourself “working rules”.

    Geek question: Do you still travel with your Macbook AIr 13″ ? Because I want to go with the 11″ and wonder if thats OK…Never went backpacking with a computer before. I worry about hostels.

    Thank you in advance for your reply!

    Your web site is very inspiring.

    Camille (from France), writing from Tabou, Ivory Coast

    1. Merci Camille! Glad you’ve enjoyed what you could listen to. I started planning around January 2008, and left in March. The long-term travel page (www.legalnomads.com/wds) is a place where I put together the various resources I used to plan for long term travel. Yes, the blogging was always consuming but now much more so as I’m not travelling as I used to – it’s primarily for work. At the beginning, when I was running this site as more of a hobby and a fun way to keep people updated, I would set aside a day in the middle of travels to write a post. But I didn’t even have a laptop with me for the first while and posted less frequently. See Shannon’s “should I start a travel blog” page – http://alittleadrift.com/2010/01/should-you-start-a-travel-blog/.

      As to your question, I have a Macbook 11″ not 13″. I’d definitely lock it up in your bag when you leave the hostel and if you’re worried about it perhaps look at a netbook instead as they are quite a bit cheaper. Also take a look at insurance for electronics so you have them covered too.

      Safe travels!

  19. hello Jodi, Thank you for this video. I really connect with the feeling of restlessness. I have felt restless all my life. I went into the Navy because I was bored with life, it had a great impact on my life. I went to Nursing school cause I was bored with life and it has also been a great impact on my life. I now have been a nurse for twenty years and traveling around the country working in my specialty for assignments. I feel I am ready for the next step but do not know what that may be. I realize I will not be satified with working a regular job, I want more out of life but I also dont want to be irresponsible with my future. I came across your video and really enjoyed it, thank you again. Randall

  20. In January I decided it was time to make the dream of long-term travel a reality. For the next year I will be saving every penny possible. As I’m sure you can attest to, this time is filled with a variety of emotions – anticipation, excitement, doubt, and anxiety. There are many days where I question -Is this right? Am I making a mistake? Will I hate it? But reading inspirational posts and watching inspirational videos, much like the one you just posted, help remind me that following our dreams is scary, but well worth the leap. Thank you for sharing this. It’s videos like this that assure me I’m making the right decision.

  21. Jodi,

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, but I stumbled across this post tonight while doing more research for my own little adventure (I leave in February with no return date). I’m planning to continue doing freelance web design while touring Europe and, eventually, SE Asia and Oceania. Your blog has been a great resource for me, both for tips and for encouragement.

    Your talk was fantastic – you did a great job! I really enjoyed it and it really hit home in a lot of ways. I’ve been wanting to travel (emphasized to differentiate travel from vacation) ever since I was a little guy. To see the open road and meet new people – it’s always been a pipedream of mine. Over the last few months I’ve started realizing via people like yourself that it is a total and absolute possibility – not a pipedream.

    My mom was always a big traveler (and still is) – she’d take me and my brothers to fantastically unique locations, miles away from tourist traps and hotels, and ever-so-politely force us to down the local cuisine and “talk to the nice man” making tortillas on the side of the road. Even though she’s such a travel nut, I was apprehensive of informing her about my travel plans as I recently accepted a great full-time job and I know she only wants to see me succeed in life. Well today I dropped the bomb (on her birthday, no less) with “I’ll be okay” on the tip of my tongue and a boat-load of links and info at the ready.

    She was ecstatic. And supportive. And excited. I told her about your blog and it turns out she’s been reading it for years! I was blown away.

    It’s 10 past midnight and I probably should’ve been asleep a few hours ago, but after watching your talk I just had to drop you a line and let you know how you’ve touched at least two Arkansans. Keep up the good work – maybe I’ll see you out there. :)


  22. Thanks for sharing this.

    I’ve taken a really similar path in my own life (leaving a stable career to travel), and it’s great to see what you’ve been able to do.

    Like you, I started my journey without much clarity on where the path would take me. For me, building up the courage to take a leap of faith has made me into a better person and I’ve been amazed, like you, at the opportunities that you’re presented with when you follow your heart, stay open-minded, and work to add value to the world in your own unique way.

    Thanks again and good luck!

  23. Hi Jodi,
    I actually found this blog on your site while researching how I need to go about starting my travel journey. I’ve always wanted to travel, but I’ve only been able to travel with friends or loved ones.
    I’m just started on my blog last month, and am still working on how to start out travelling on my own in a few months, and your video has been both realistic and inspiring. I’m going to travel soon. And maybe one day randomly dash into you in some corner of the globe.
    Thanks very much for posting.

    1. Hi Abby, thank you for the kind note. There are a few other posts that may be helpful – if you check above in the “resources” section, about long term travel and storytelling. Start with http://www.legalnomads.com/story if you want to start somewhere. I hope you have a great trip, and know that things are up and down but in the end you’ll grow as a person and whatever you decide to do next will be informed by all that learning.

  24. Hi Jodi,

    I’m a long-time follower and reader of yours, and I wanted to tell you that I’ve come back to your site again and again to enjoy your thoughtful writing. As I’ve recently embarked on a new career path (in middle age!), I’ve come back to this video for encouragement. Still great! Thank you, Jodi.

    Wishing good health for you,

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