Get to Know: Jodi of Legal Nomads

Jodi Ettenberg August 20, 2013 18

I’m a former lawyer currently traveling (and eating!) my way around the world, one country at a time.


Who is Jodi?

A frequent question, one that transcends borders or language, is “what do you do?” Be it in San Francisco or New York, Saigon or Bangkok, the basic introductory queries always include a version or another. These days, I’m able to give an answer I love:

“I eat soup for a living.”

Delicious bun mam soup in Saigon

Delicious bun mam soup in Saigon

I used to have a much more straightforward answer. Once a lawyer in New York City, I merely said, “I’m a corporate attorney” … and then watched the person’s eyes glaze over with total and absolute disinterest. After six years of lawyering, however, I quit my job to travel the world for what I thought would be a year. And then my answer became “Oh, I’m just traveling for a year before I go back to being a lawyer.” And then, as a new career took form, “I write about travel, but I suspect I’ll go back to being a lawyer soon enough.”

Today, from lawyer to blogger to author and soup eater, I can synthesize what I do – writing about the stories behind our foods, emphasizing the interconnectedness between people and places and sharing narrative as a way to bridge cultures – in one short sentence about eating soup.

Having fun in the Mekong.

Having fun in the Mekong.

How did I get here?

When I quit my job in 2008, I started my site, Legal Nomads, to keep friends and family apprised of where I was headed.  As you can ascertain from my intro, making this blog a platform into a new business was never the plan. The plan, as I saw it, was to travel for a year or two then head back to lawyering, hopefully in the public sector.

However, April will mark my 6th year of travel and writing, and will be the first time that I can say “I’ve been traveling and eating soup for longer than I was a lawyer.”   Had you told me when I left NY that I’d be doing this still, excited to wake up and learn about a new place through its food, I’d have laughed. Had you told me that I’d have written a book about it and was preparing to launch food tours for my readers…well, I’d have laughed even harder. But by sticking to the things I believed in, by following the sparks that ignited as I explored the world, I find myself here.

Me with G CEO Tagine in Morocco.

Hanging with a G CEO  in Morocco.

One of the most common questions I receive is “why do you keep doing this”? My life of travel isn’t meant to run from what other people see as “normal”. While it seems quite destabilizing from the outside, I’ve actually managed to create a routine within these travels, spending most of the winters in Southeast Asia and the summers in North America. I’ve truly enjoyed chasing opportunities as they’ve arisen and learning as much as I can in the process.

I have celiac disease, so for me Southeast Asia provides a great opportunity to learn through food without getting sick – wheat is easier to avoid there than in many other places. And in the summer months, I’ve had the privilege of speaking at conferences and seminars about career transitions, social media strategy and community-building, all the while visiting friends and family in North America.

Where have I been?

I started my travels in a traditional round-the-world context, beginning in South America (at the far reaches, down in Patagonia) and planning to loop around the world and back to New York. While I began Chile and spend time in South America, then moving to South Africa and Siberia and Mongolia, much of my time in the last several years has been centered in Southeast Asia.

In between those longer stretches, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting parts of Europe and the Middle East, but my heart – and my stomach – leads me back to soup and street stalls soon enough. It is in Southeast Asia that the chaos of markets and tiny plastic chairs provide a backdrop to explore the reasons we eat what we do, following a specific condiment or spice with the movement of people and seeing how our eating patterns change as we move from place to place.  Legal Nomads is ad-free, so the cost of living doesn’t hurt either – by renting a place in Vietnam or Thailand and eating there, I’ve managed to support my lifestyle and only work with companies I love.

My Best Travel Story

Why G Adventures?

Speaking of companies I love: partnering with G Adventures was a perfect fit on a variety of levels. They’re Canadian; I’m Canadian. Their social media manager hates olives; I hate olives (#saynotoolives, everyone). They champion embracing the bizarre and exciting people about a common community cause. They value entrepreneurial, creative spirit. They also care deeply about changing people’s lives through travel, and have shown time and time again that they follow through on that promise.

I joined the Wanderers In Residence programme in 2010, and have been on one trip thus far, a fabulous trek through Morocco. In documenting it for The Looptail and for my own site (my Morocco posts are here) — I found myself enthralled with the country and the people I met on the tour. Alexandra, a fellow attendee on that trip, has remained a great friend, our bus ride chats blooming into a cross-continental friendship. Yacine, my guide for those few weeks, corresponds with me regularly. And I loved his introduction to Morocco so much that I stayed put for an additional few weeks, renting a car and driving on their crazy roads all the way to the Algerian border, sleeping under the stars in the Sahara. I looped back to Marrakesh and continued upwards, to the Rif mountains, climbing up to the summit of the dizzying medina in Chefchaouen, my eyes soaked in blue and gold.

Group jump shot in Morocco with G Adventures and CEO Yacine.

Group jump shot in Morocco with G Adventures and CEO Yacine.

This year, I’ll take my second trip with G under this WIR programme, one that is very special to me. My mum, who did not grow up with a life of travel, has always wanted to see India and the Taj Mahal. I’ll be taking her with G Adventures for a two-week trip into the North of India, to Jaipur and Udaipur and Agra. She’s beyond excited to see a part of the world she has dreamed of for so long, and I am thrilled to provide her with an opportunity to do so through G, while also being there to watch her experience India. The structure of a small group provides her with comfort she needed to agree to let me drag her around India for a few weeks. And it will be the first time we travel together in over ten years. We leave on September 27th. It’s going to be a blast.

* * *

With one life to live, we might as well do something we find personally meaningful. In partnering with G, I’ve found in them a company that believes exactly that and affords me new ways to get that message out to potential travelers. In intertwining my passion for travel and food, I have tried to convey to others that doing what is unconventional might not be as unstable as others perceive. It might be what stabilizes you. It might be what moves you to drill down on a topic you find fascinating, to teach the world about what you discover, and to help others in a way that resonates with the values that you embody and love.

Like the other wanderers in this WiR programme, I’m inspired by G’s mission, its values and its dedication to making life – and all of us living it – more fun, more connected and more exciting.

Plus, what other company would let me take over its social media channels for a day?

Mwhahaha…..stay tuned.


  1. sudhir August 20, 2013 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    love what you do, been where you’ve been, and exult in your joi de vivre!
    me? being a globe trotter for 40 years [and will continue to be so] was in Saigon last month for two weeks – enjoyed the cuisine ambiance and friendly locals. i am a sailor – captain of a cargo ship n do get to be paid for all these exotic location visits – helps to be a foodie too! wish you good luck!

    • Jodi August 20, 2013 at 5:45 pm - Reply

      Thanks Sudhir!

  2. Allan Wilson August 20, 2013 at 8:47 pm - Reply

    Love it :) If you had to choose a soup for life what would it be? #olivesareawesome

    • Jodi August 21, 2013 at 8:02 pm - Reply

      Hard to choose! There’s a soup for every mood :)

  3. Katrin August 21, 2013 at 5:10 am - Reply

    Hi Jodi,
    thanks for your great story! It’s truly inspiring.
    I went on a G Adventures-trip to India in Oct. 2011 and had a FANTASTIC time (with a lovely group and a great CEO)! Since then, I’m in love with this crazy place and it perpetually calls me to come back… which I’ll hopefully do very soon. You and your mum will have a blast, I’m sure! When I look at the photos I took on the trip I still wipe my eyes in awe and wonder, marveling at the beautiful places we visited (with Udaipur being my favorite).
    Have a great time and keep us updated about your adventures (love your blog, by the way)!

    • Jodi August 21, 2013 at 8:01 pm - Reply

      Thank you for the comment! I’ll be updating here on the Looptail and my blog..and my mum has even asked if she can write a post too. (I said yes, of course!). Looking forward to it :)

  4. Robin August 28, 2013 at 1:56 pm - Reply

    I remember we chatted briefly at G Base Camp when you were in town this summer and I can personally vouch for your small head. Why any bird (or bat) would want to single you out for it is beyond me :P

    Just had pho yesterday and after reading/seeing this post, I’m craving another bowl of soup!

    • Jodi September 3, 2013 at 3:20 pm - Reply

      Right? I fail to understand why they are doing this to me. One day, perhaps, the meaning will become clear ;)

  5. Daniela August 29, 2013 at 3:59 pm - Reply

    I you love soups yopu definitelly have to come to Vancouver Canada to eat my husbands soups, any soup you can think of and many more. He is a master soup chef!!!

    • Jodi September 3, 2013 at 3:20 pm - Reply

      I will definitely let you know if I go to Vancouver — what an invite!

  6. Lynn September 2, 2013 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    Hi Jodi,

    I was very inspired and happy to stumble across your website & learn more about you on looptail after deciding to do my first solo trip to Morocco with G Adventures. I plan to go Feb 2014 & my biggest fear is eating. While I consider myself a foodie, I’m newly gluten free (6months). I’ve learned to easily make accommodations & live without gluten in USA, however I’m a bit concerned with how I’ll fare in Morocco. Can you tell me more about how you managed to stayed gluten free while enjoying all that Morocco has to offer?!

    Thank you in advance for your advice. I look forward to following your adventures on looptail & your blog. You are a true inspiration!!

    • Jodi September 3, 2013 at 3:25 pm - Reply

      Thank you Lynn!

      Morocco is actually quite easy to be gluten free. I didn’t have much trouble there at all. You have to avoid couscous, of course, and thus the little flat breads made with semolina flour are also going to be a problem. But the tagines are all gluten-free naturally since the couscous is not put inside the clay pot when it is made. There were great soups too, but do ask if the harira soup has flour in it — you don’t want to have that thickening the soup.

      I wished I could eat more of the dishes but there were rice and meat dishes well-worth trying that had no wheat — you will find plenty. And the macaroons on the streets of the medina in Marrakesh have almond flour only. Yay!

      Your CEO will be able to help you with the food, of course. And when breakfasts are included in the trip, just telling them your allergy meant while others were eating bread, you can ask for a simple omelette instead — was always provided, since eggs were around in the kitchen.

      Two links for you:
      1) Gluten-free cards from — just get one in Arabic, and one in French.
      2) A crash course to what to eat/see/do in Marrakesh if you are staying after the trip:

      Hope this helps and safe travels!

  7. Surya Bhattacharya November 13, 2013 at 8:35 am - Reply

    This is so inspiring. I came here from your blog post where you said you were going to go to India. I would so love to be traveling full time but unfortunately I don’t have any savings. I worked for a year, and saved everything so I could treat my family to an exotic vacation, which I did :D Now that I’m finishing my masters, I guess I need to be a professional designer for a while and then take off into the unknown :)

  8. Laura Nelson September 8, 2014 at 8:01 pm - Reply

    My husband wants to travel around Asia but I’m a little nervous as I have Celiac Disease and I keep hearing that wheat is starting to become more prevalent in Asian cuisine and at the same time they are unaware of Celiac. How do you ensure your meals are gluten free and avoid cross-contamination? What do you do if you are on a trip with an organized tour, like G Adventures, and you get glutened? If it helps narrow things down, we plan to visit S. Korea, Vietnam, Nepal, Mongolia, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia.

    • Jodi September 28, 2014 at 9:29 pm - Reply

      Hi Laura, thank you for the comment. Wheat is prevalent in some countries more than others (China, Japan, and Singapore, for example) in Asia, but far less so in Vietnam or Laos or Cambodia.

      Just as with my meals in N America when eating out, I can’t guarantee it is gluten-free, but doing research about what to avoid and what I can eat has meant that it is rare that I get sick.

      I would:
      - get a gluten-free travel card in the local language (you can do this at or, or for free at
      - read up from blog posts about different places and their wheat ingredients (e.g. in Japan, where I am visiting for the first time, mayonnaise sometimes has wheat added — something I would not have assumed prior to my visit)
      - Learn how to say “I have a wheat and soy allergy” in the local language.
      - Of course talk to your guide about all of this :)

      If I do get glutened, then I take some time away from the activities until I feel better. I would still rather travel and risk getting sick than stay home, but it does require constant vigilance. Worth it though :)

      For Vietnam, I did write a 10,000 word piece on street food in Saigon that is Gluten Free — you can find it on my site (just google Legal Nomads Saigon Street Food) as I don’t want to spam the links here.

      For other places, there are lots of great blogs out there as well to help guide you. Feel free to send me an email if you have more questions too!


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