Who's out there now?

Who’s Out There Now: Jodi

Written By: jeff

Posted On: May 10th, 2011

travel advice, career break advice, travel the world, career break travel

In this week’s ¨Who’s Out There Now¨ feature, we bring to you Jodi who runs the site, Legal Nomads. A former lawyer, Jodi’s been out traveling the world since 2008, as she says on her site, ¨proving that even lawyers can have fun.¨ Jodi gained a bit of notoriety last year when she found herself in the middle of the anti-government protests in Thailand. When she’s not rabble-rousing and causing international incidents, you can usually find her out sampling the local cuisine.

1. So, where in the world are you answering these questions?

Chiang Mai, Thailand! After I left Thailand last June, I did so on a return ticket. Every time I leave Asia I know within a few weeks I’ll be craving sticky rice again. So I got back here in January and have been exploring Northern Thailand and Laos, and focusing on freelance writing.

2. You were recently in Bogota (unfortunately I was away) and I heard you remark that you thought the traffic here was worse than anything you had seen anywhere else. I knew it was pretty bad. But, is it really worse? Why?

It was actually a compliment. Traffic in Bogota was incredibly hectic but still maintained a rhythm and complexity that made it almost beautiful. Like a dance! I did appreciate how effortlessly vehicles moved together, barely missing one another but gliding through traffic unscathed. I’m sure there is a fair share of accidents, though I didn’t see any. What struck me was how everyone knew what the other cars were about to do and preemptively moved to accommodate that.

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3. I was looking over your itinerary. And, we just missed each other in Santiago, Chile where you started your round the world trip. I had just left to head to Colombia for the first time while you were getting going. (Reader backstory: Jodi and I keep missing each other as we both zig zag around). Why did you choose to start off in Chile, or South America for that matter?

Climate. I really wanted to hike through Torres del Paine and see Patagonia before it got too cold. I only quit my job in Mid-March so I couldn’t leave any earlier, but the first stop was as South as I could go, before it got to be winter. There was still snow and ice, but wow was it gorgeous.

4. How is your travel style different now than it was when you took your RTW journey?

It’s different now because I have to support myself while travelling, whereas the first 2 years of travel were purely for the pleasure of exploring and experiencing, and then sharing those experiences. I had saved up to avoid working at first, just to savour the newness of the places I was seeing and the things I was eating. But of course, even if you stick to cheaper places like I did, those savings ebb and you have to start working. So my current travel style is more of temporary settling in each place – a few months here, a few months there – enabling me to get to know the history, food and culture but also establishing a routine that lets me get work done.

5. Career break, nomadic adventure, backpacking, how do you characterize your travels?

It certainly started as a career break? At this point, it’s been 3 years so career break is stretching it, and my travel life has organically shifted into a new career involving writing and curating. Curious nomad? Perpetual adventure-seeker? Who knows! I’m bound to change hats in the coming years. I will say this for those looking to take a career break: recently, I was asked to apply to a legal job because my prior work was the experience they were looking for. Instead of my trip being a negative, it was seen as an extra bit of personality that other potential candidates didn’t have. And the woman I started travelling with, Jessica, (the original “S” in legal nomads) did not struggle to find a legal job upon her return. So for those of you worried about a career break: it isn’t the end of your careers, unless you want it to be!

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6. You have an unfortunate history with being crapped on with birds and even a bat! I know travelers like to brag about getting off the beaten path. But, where are you going that you become a guano magnet?


Oh Jeff, why do the birds hate me? People keep saying it’s good luck, but 11 times?! I got an email recently from a guesthouse in Burma. I was staying there during my time in Inle Lake and they were talking to me as Crap #7 occurred. They wrote to say “oh many people have come here and say you recommended our house. We remember you and the bird!”. I fear that this will be my legacy. “Jodi Ettenberg: travelled far and wide, got crapped on aplenty.” The bat was a press trip to the Dominican Republic. Happily no bats crapped on me in caves during my spelunking in Laos or the Philippines!


7. What are some of the secrets to travel that you’ve discovered that you think more people who aren’t traveling should know?


Spontaneity is awesome and street food is awesomer. I was a lawyer for many years, and was organized as ever. But I’ve learned to let plans happen more spontaneously. While I did plan out the beginnings of this trip, I’ve found that open-ended travel is so incredibly rewarding – you can pick places based on recommendations you receive along the way, you can go where climate or festivals or newfound friends take you. It’s liberating and fun and I’ve found the places that bring back fondest memories are inevitably those that were not even on my initial itinerary. And street food. I’m from Montreal. We don’t have a street food culture – it’s too cold to sit outside and wait for food in the winter, and the government has yet to license carts in the summer. So street food was a glorious discovery for me, especially in Asia. I can count on my hands the amount of times I’ve gone to a sit down restaurant. Street food is where it’s at: fresh, cheap and a great way to meet locals and get the lowdown on what to try tomorrow.


8. What was your first ¨I’m not in Kansas anymore¨ moment?


Just after I left NYC, my flight was delayed in Sao Paulo, the Policia Nacional took our passports away and suddenly I was in a cab, speeding toward a hotel at 2am (not stopping at red lights of course – this was Sao Paulo) and thinking “well, the adventure begins!”


9. What’s been your most ¨local¨ experience so far?


Given my proclivity for streetfood and obsession with fresh food markets, I find myself making local friends wherever I go. Which is a really great thing! And a great way to find more good food too. (There’s a food theme, I know. If ever we travel together you will see just how much food dictates my days). The experiences where I lived with locals – in El Nido, in the Philippines for a few months, in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert with nomads for a week – those were the most incredible of al the local experiences. To be a part of a routine and a life I’ll never truly understand was extremely special – I felt fortunate to get even small windows into that life. In Burma, too – the relative isolation of the country means that interaction with locals is often one giant adventure. Taking a slow ferry down the Ayeyarwaddy during a solar eclipse resulted in a karaoke session with the captain and doing Kachin whiskey shots with the crew. Pretty lively!


10. What has been your most embarrassing moment?


Burma again. I took to wearing a Burmese longyi, a tube-like sarong that for women fastens by pulling the tube to the right side of your waist, then folding it so it tucks into your waist on the left side. Throughout Burma, women are unfolding and refolding all day long – the longyi gets a bit loose as you move around, you know? One day during a glorious week on Inle Lake, I stood up in a boat full of Pa-O tribesmen and women and my longyi got caught on a nail in the boat and within seconds, had dropped to the floor. Let’s just say that Pa-O had never seen a white woman’s behind, let alone one in thong underwear. The rest of the week when in town, the boatmen would mimic my longyi falling down and collapse with laughter. I had to laugh along – you can’t get angry about these things! But I also started fastening the longyi with a safety pin, unlike the Burmese who never seemed to have such accidents. I learned my lesson.


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11. What´s your secret for getting the most out of your journey?


No secret – just get out and go! There’s no how-to for enjoyment, but in order to start enjoying something like travel, you have to have some confidence that things will fall into places, even if they seem impossibly chaotic to you now. They will! I promise.


12. Finally, our lightening round.

  • Best dish you’ve found so far: Don’t get me started, Jeff! I’ve got a food problem – I can’t possibly pick just one. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve waxed poetic about some dish “ZOMG this is the best thing ever!” only to have my friends go “Jodi, you say this EVERY DAY”. And it’s true! I do! There’s so much deliciousness around the world. I will say that the street foods in Asia – grilled, crispy pork, steamed springrolls, sweet and spicy papaya salads, coconut desserts, thick noodle soups, rich curries – all of it, all worth discovering and trying, at least once.
  • Most exotic food eaten: When I lived with nomads in the Gobi desert, I helped with the meal of killing and skinning a sheep and then cooking it. While not the most exotic thing I’ve eaten (pretty sure fried bugs in Cambodia is up there), it’s certainly the most exotic process. I didn’t expect to be helping out but when you’re with a family in a local setting like that one, it would be rude to say ‘no thanks, I’ll pass’. So I didn’t.
  • Most breathtaking moment: Dawn on my 30th birthday atop the most holy mountain in Indonesia. Despite a gimpy ankle, I climbed up there to be at the summit as the sun came up, and it was glorious. One of the most hard-earned but appreciated moments of the trip and seeing the sun rise over Rinjani and the water in the distance was so great.
  • Biggest disappointment: Getting teargassed is more painful than it looks.
  • Most memorable place: Burma, the Philippines, Mongolia. Each otherworldly in their own way, each giving me a lifetime of memories to look back upon and smile.
  • Most memorable person: When I was in Bangkok last year, I would go to the Immigration Detention Center (IDC) every week to bring food and books for the Sri Lankan and Ethiopian and other refugees inside. Since then, the Thai government has seriously cracked down against non-family member visits, but last year it was still possible to bring food in and have it (and you) inspected before being able to chat with those in IDC through a metal fence. A lot of the people in IDC were fleeing persecution in their home country, usually on political or religious grounds. Until the UN could go through their application for asylum in a 3rd country, they were stuck in IDC, some for years. There was one person in there, this vivacious, bright Sri Lankan woman just out of her teens, who I think about a lot. She was so smart and remained so positive and caring despite being in IDC for months with no end in sight. Really an incredible lady, with such a presence! Easily one of the more memorable people I crossed paths with on my travels. There are many others, of course. I really do believe that you can learn from everyone you meet on your travels, if you listen well enough. I’ve been so lucky to meet and interact with a wide variety of strong, fascinating men and women and I think I’m a better person for having known them.
  • Best thing to have on a long bus ride: Earplugs and/or an ipod; sometimes the sound of people throwing up just needs to be drowned out with loud music. Second best thing: snacks for the inevitable group of young kids on board, which is a great way to endear yourself to their parents and hopefully get some fun snacks from them too! I usually bring a bag of clementines or oranges for all my bus rides if they’re in season – excellent shareable snack, instant friends, and you can smell the peel if you start to get nauseous. (It helps….a little.)
  • Worst thing to have on a long bus ride: Durian. Good god does that smell terrible.
  • Best thing you packed. SAFETY WHISTLE! For serious. It saved me several times.
  • Dumbest thing you packed: The Great War for Civilization. While an educational, interesting read – it weighs about as much as I do.
  • Funniest travel habit you have: I always lift my feet when the plane is about to land. Not sure why, or when this started but I do. And I get a bit nervous as the plane is descending – can’t miss my foot window! What if my feet are still on the ground? – until we land. It’s strange, I know.
  • Place you wish you could’ve stayed longer: Everywhere!

travel advice, career break advice, travel the world, career break travel






You can follow Jodi online at Legal Nomads, on Facebook and on Twitter @LegalNomads








Every week, Career Break Secrets profiles a different traveler or traveling couple who are embracing the ¨Because Life Is Out There TM¨ travel spirit.  These are people who have taken the plunge to embark on a career break and are currently traveling the world.

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