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Into The Wild Meets: Jodi Ettenberg

Jodi Ettenberg is the founder and writer of Legal Nomads, a blog which explores her love for both travelling and food. After quitting her job as a lawyer, her adventures began, and they are yet to stop. We interviewed her to find out more about her journeys and experiences so far.

What was the inspiration behind your decision to quit your job in law and start travelling?

I saw a documentary about the trans-Siberian trains and decided I wanted to travel to Siberia. While working as a lawyer I saved up for a 1 year round the world trip, one that would include Siberia and Mongolia and the trains. I did NOT expect to be doing it longer than a year! I quit my job for a sabbatical, not a new career. But when the blog I had started to share my experiences with my mother began to take off, it slowly morphed into a new career, one I am very grateful for.
Alpaca farm in New Zealand | Jodi EttenbergHow did your friends and family take this decision?
They knew it was coming. I think they never expected it to be as long-lasting as it has been but once they saw that the site was becoming a business they were curious -- as I was -- to see where it would lead. There were some who questioned my sanity, or my ability to support myself. But most of them were extremely supportive and enjoyed reading as I wrote.

How have you funded your excursions? Have there been moments when you have been far from home and strapped for cash?
No, I saved up money as a lawyer for a few years of travel, and said that if I wasn't making more than I was spending by the time 2010 came along, I would go home. Thankfully with the blog-as-platform, I have been able to do freelance writing, some brand ambassadorship work, selling some of my photos, and more recently the Legal Nomads store, selling hand-drawn maps of food.
Hobbiton, New Zealand | Jodi EttenbergMy tuition was quite low as I was a Quebec resident (at the time), so I did not have the crippling debt many Americans have as law school grads. As a result I was able to start saving more quickly, and I think it is what allowed me the freedom to build the site without advertising or sponsored posts.

That said many others have built strong blogs while working in other ways -- teaching English, doing freelance work in programming or graphic design, etc. -- but in my case I had the legal background that helped set me on my way. The rest came from the community I built at Legal Nomads.

Have you always had an interest in other countries & culture?
Yes, I first lived abroad in 2001, when I studied in France, and I loved learning about history when I was a kid. My mum is a wonderful storyteller and taught history herself, so it was natural that I became interested too. Stories are such a wonderful way to get people more excited about history and anthropology.
Photographing Wanaka, New Zealand, at Dawn | Jodi EttenbergWhat about food, where did your passion for all things culinary come from?
It came as I was travelling, to be honest. I never had a focus on food at all, but I did once I started to travel and see how integral it was to cultures around the world. In Canada our culinary history is as young as our country; not that old! But elsewhere seeing how movement of people changed the way people eat, or how communities truly came together over food, it got me really interested in learning more.
To me the food is tasty but it's mostly about learning as much as I can, and food is a great lens to do so.

Is there any one particular food or meal that you have come across in your travels that really stands out to you?
I once had an incredible cardamom and lime lassi in India, in Jodphur. I dream of that lassi.
I also had a very funny attempt to try and get bun rieu soup in Cai Rang, in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam.

On the flipside, have you had any truly bad experiences that have made you reconsider your choice of lifestyle?
I think it's lonely when you are sick and very far away from home, but nothing has made me reconsider the lifestyle even though there have been ups and downs throughout it, as with anything else!
Jodi EttenbergPacking can sometimes be tricky, what is the one item you could not imagine travelling without?
I don't think there is just one. I have a system for packing now that works for me, but it has changed quite a bit over the years. I now have a laptop since the blog has become a priority, something I didn't have before. I always travel with a sarong, a doorstop (for keeping door wedged shut from the inside at night if needed), a smartphone, and a lock for my bag.

What are you up to at the moment, do you have any plans or projects you are working on?

Currently in Thailand. I've been working on a gluten free cards project for celiacs like me, to build a comprehensive database of GF cards that are really detailed, to further avoid us getting sick as we travel. I just released the one for Japan (for free) with a guide to eating there. It has been a really exciting project.
Jodi EttenbergFinally, what’s the best piece of advice you can give to fellow travellers?
It's good to have a vague plan of where you want to go, but don't plan too much. I see people with spreadsheets of destinations and cities and flights. I respect the desire to see as much as you can, but part of what makes travel so wonderful is the serendipitous meetings and unexpected changes of plans that comes with being flexible.

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