Meet Jodi Ettenberg, travel photographer and founder of Legal Nomads, a travel site that follows her adventures (and mis-adventures!) around the world. Jodi is a former lawyer from Montreal who quit her job to become a marshmallow-addicted globe trotter.
What inspired you to start traveling?
I saw a documentary on the trans-Siberian trains when I was in high school, and it planted a seed that only grew over the years. I wanted to see those places for myself, not just learn about them on the TV, and I wanted to live the world by seeing it with my own two eyes. As time went on and I saved up for eventual travel, I decided that it wasn’t just the trains I needed to see, but everything I could find before, after and in between. And thus by the time I quit my job, I was determined to travel around the world. There’s more to the story, but that’s the nut graph of why I started doing what I do.
After I took off, I enjoyed it – sicknesses, random mishaps and all – so much more than I even realized I could. And so despite only expecting to travel for a year, it’s been almost three and a half, and I’m still going strong. My style has changed – of course, now I have to build in time for freelance work, as opposed to pure travel. But the sentiment remains: I’m doing what I feel passionate about, and I’m very thankful that I could build this life for myself.
Favorite destination and why?
I don’t have a favourite destination. I think just about everywhere has a myriad of wondrous things that make it special, make it somewhere you can learn from as you go. While there are places that are ideal for certain things – Bangkok for street food, El Nido for island relaxation, Myanmar for cultural quirks and learning about the geopolitics of Southeast Asia – I can’t honestly pick one that is a favourite over the others.
What made you start a travel blog?
I started a blog for the same reason that many of us do: to keep my family and friends apprised of my whereabouts. I wanted to have a place to share the stories and adventures, something I did via group emails on prior travels. But in starting a site, it would be an easy way for my family to know where I was and also memorialize my own travels outside a journal. Subsequently, the site grew in popularity and I’ve organically morphed into doing freelance travel writing and photography. But I didn’t quit my job to become a travel blogger. It was a great surprise, and I’m going with the momentum I’ve got to see where it takes me.
Most embarrassing travel moment?
There were a few, quite a few. Up near the top is the time when I was wearing a Burmese longyi and it got caught on a nail in a boat and dropped to the floor, to the shock and horror (potentially some glee mixed in) of all the tribesmen in the boat. I’m fairly certain they’ve never seen a white woman’s behind before, especially not without the thick flannel bloomies the women wear in that region. Here I was, trying to be respectful by wearing the local dress with long sleeves, and instead I flashed an entire boat of elders. Disaster.
Favorite travel books?
Many. I’ve actually written posts about the best books I’ve read on my travels (part 1 and part 2), and am going to be doing a part 3 shortly. One of my favourites is Tiziano Terzani’s “A Fortune Teller Told Me“, as well as Tahir Shah’s “In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams” Both are terrific.
You quit your job as a lawyer to travel the world. What advice would you give someone looking to do the same?
The advice I give when people write me asking about when they ought to do so is that it’s important to build yourself a “worst case” scenario you’re comfortable with, if you need to rely on it.
While I’m not a lawyer by practice, I am still admitted to the bar in New York State, and to the extent my foray into travel writing and curation doesn’t work out, I can fall back on freelance legal work or legal practice. Many people urge you to just up and go if you want, but I don’t know how realistic that is for many of us. I saved for 6 years to do this because I wanted to travel without working for the year. If that’s your goal, savings are what you need. If you want to become a digital nomad, then doing so with less savings and working as you go is feasible. It’s a highly subjective question, but the general sentiment remains: if you have a bottom-line, worst case that is a backstop for your plans, you can do anything up until that point.
Best meal abroad?
Impossible to answer. A million, billion options to choose from. In fact, I’m sitting here and drooling on my laptop just thinking about them. Rich pork broth filled with springy rice noodles in Myanmar, thick curries with egg and celery root in Bangkok, succulent anticuchos in Peru, taco-filled days in Mexico City. So much great food out there. But one common denominator exists: with the exception of the anticuchos, all the options for best meal are from street stalls. So for those looking for places to eat on the road, try your hand at street eats. Choose the stall with the most people eating at it, and get to it – it’s the best way to experience a new place.
What has been one of your favorite cultural experiences abroad?
There are many, and piled upon them are the infinite layers of social interaction that make up those experiences, the multitude of quirks and social faux pas and fun memories that braid together in my memories. My months in El Nido was a highlight of my travels, as I was fishing for breakfast and truly felt a part of the family that I lived with, helping them to run their bed and breakfast in Palawan. In addition, any set of memories from Myanmar was a serious highlight, especially the 3 nights of slow boating down the Irawaddy, singing karaoke with the captain and watching a solar eclipse with the crew.
What is cave spelunking and where did you do this?
I’m pretty sure spelunk is one of my favourite words in the English language. It’s a term for exploring caves, something I’ve done as I’ve traveled, most notably in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Laos, Myanmar and the mother of them all, a water-drenched, physically challenging 6-hour cave connection in the depths of Sagada, the Philippines.
Anything you can’t leave home without?
Sarong, headlamp (see spelunking, above), safety whistle, laptop (one has to blog on something, right? 😉
Any upcoming trips planned?
I’ll be heading to Morocco in mid October, then likely to Turkey and probably onward to India and Sri Lanka in the new year. Or back to Asia. Who knows, really – I don’t tend to plan too far in advance!