Larissa Bodniowycz is a solo traveler and digital nomad who authors the blog Sort of Legal. She works remotely as an attorney for her clients as she travels the United States and internationally. Larissa describes herself as “the queen of half-eaten granola bars who loves to hike, trail run, and travel solo.”
Stephen Harrison: So what quote are we chatting about today?
Larissa Bodniowycz: It is a Lemony Snicket quote, which is the pen name for Daniel Handler. The quote is, “At times, the world may seem an unfriendly and sinister place. But believe that there is much more good in it than bad. All you have to do is look hard enough, and what may seem to be a series of unfortunate events may in fact be the first steps of a journey.”
I’m interviewing you during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re sheltering in place, and there is a lot of fear about how we’re going to flatten the curve. Does this quote help frame how you think about this situation?
Yes, it absolutely does. I think of other experience I’ve been through in my life, like how I graduated law school in 2009, when the economy crashed. People were getting job offers pulled left and right. I did not have a job. It was very uncertain. And this period—although it’s a very different scenario—it brings me back to that.
In retrospect, what happened then influenced what happened later, and it was a huge growing period. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t suck at the time. My view is that you can have an unfortunate event, but good things can come from that or after that. Even though, given the chance, I wouldn’t choose to graduate in a down economy, and I, of course, wouldn’t choose for this pandemic to happen.
You describe yourself as a digital nomad, a remote attorney, and a solo traveler. Can you tell us a little about that life?
I identify as a remote attorney. Initially the remote work was part-time, and for the past six years it has been full-time. As a remote attorney, I’m on my computer a lot. I do contract work for other attorneys where I help them with complex cases. I work with small businesses on their legal issues.
Then when I’m not working, everything I do is sort of the exact opposite! I’m on trails and go hiking. Over the past three to four years, I’ve written about my travels and take photos on my blog and Instagram. This is my recreation/side hustle. At the moment, I’m traveling full-time. So, I’m doing this from a lot of different places.
You mentioned the Great Recession. Was that “a series of unfortunate events” that had a big effect on your life?
Ooh, such a good question. Graduating law school in a down economy was this career/life crisis all at the same time. In retrospect—and I’m a little over ten years out—that was an unfortunate event. I wouldn’t choose it. This older attorney one time she said to me, “Oh, I wish that I graduated when you did because it teaches you to be resilient and to hustle.” The experience helped me learn those things, but I still wouldn’t wish for it to happen to me.
It did help me develop those qualities, and it ultimately resulted in me becoming a digital nomad, and running my own small law firm. It helped me find my place, and to realize that travel is a huge part of my life. What that looks like could change. Hopefully it won’t always be solo travel. Maybe it’s travel with family, but even then, I think I would do my own solo travel. Optimistically, I hope that this current series of unfortunate events [the pandemic], could in fact be the start of a different journey that I don’t know about yet.
The language of the quote says “Sometimes the world seems like a dark and sinister place.” Are you ever scared when you’re traveling solo?
Yes, absolutely. Sometimes I’m a scaredy-cat. Right now, I’m staying at a cute, Craftsman style Airbnb in a nice area of Colorado Springs. But there have been a few nights where I still wake up in the middle of the night nervous.
I did vanlifing for a few months in my CRV. That put me in the middle, literally, of the woods in the national forests, and you don’t know what’s around, and I’ve never been in that much darkness overnight. We don’t realize, always, how much of an impact even smaller city lights can have. Sure, I get scared in those situations. And I think some of that leads to growth.
It’s exposure therapy. I go through that period of fear, and the next day, I’m a little less nervous, and then I’m a little less nervous. Another realization I had was that rather than going to a paid campsite in a national forest, it can feel better to just find a spot that’s not a paid campsite. You might think it’s creepier, at first, but in some ways, it’s less likely that something is going to happen. Very few people are going to accidentally wander upon you in that random location.
What’s the scariest place you’ve been to while traveling solo?
There’s a difference between objectively scary and subjectively scary. In June of last year, I came back to my car after hiking for the day outside of Seattle, and my car window had been smashed in. I had been sleeping in my car for quite a few days before that. That situation wasn’t objectively scary, but I would say that period was subjectively the scariest because it rattles you. It feels like someone has broken into your home. You almost start literally shaking, because it’s unexpected, and feels invasive.
As a solo traveler, do you have any tips on being comfortable spending time alone. A lot of us are getting more alone time during shelter-in-place.
I travel way more alone than I do with people. While traveling alone, I’ve hit lonely periods—that just happens. Usually I try to reframe my mind and think This is a learning experience. I’m growing here, even if I don’t believe it at the time.
Before the pandemic, I could find an event to go to, like a running group. I could go sit at a bar on a Monday and order dinner and not even a drink. Nowadays, it’s been a trial and error process of interacting with people virtually, mostly over Zoom, though that can be exhausting if overdone.
I find myself doing a lot of work over the computer throughout the day. But for me, there is something about not being on screen, and having tasks that don’t take so much brain power, that help me to feel less tired and more upbeat.
Is this desire to travel something you’ve always had?
I was not really a traveler before law school, or for two to three years after. I flew maybe once a year on average, which meant there were some years when I didn’t fly at all.
A friend from Austin invited me on a trip to Colorado. And I was reluctant, because I still didn’t travel much at the time, but for once I just impulsively said “yes” and felt great about it. That’s when I saw the Colorado mountains for the first time, and the Colorado mountains are just jaw-dropping. I can’t think of a better phrase to describe that. But it was really the first time experiencing that. And I thought, wow, I was really happy and really felt like my best self when I was doing that. I was more open talking to people, and I was more direct.
The more trips on I go on, the more confident I am to do more trips, and I realize more. I travel full-time actually, and I have no home base. I go to new places, and it excites me, and it makes me feel like my best self.
Is it scary not having a home base?
I moved every few years growing up, and I think that helped. For me, I would say probably the first two weeks of not having a home base are the hardest. Even the first few days are exponentially harder than the subsequent twelve days. What helps me in the moment is trusting the decision I made, which was that I felt like I had a big adventure in me.
For whatever ups and downs this period of my life has had, it has certainly been an adventure. I’ve lived in my car. I’m now in Colorado Springs by myself during this stay-at-home order and international pandemic.
The quote again is, “At times, the world may seem an unfriendly and sinister place, but I believe that there is much more good in it than bad. All you have to do is look hard enough, and what might seem to be a series of unfortunate events may in fact be the first steps of a journey.”
Do you agree that there is more good in the world than bad?
I do. I get cranky, like everyone else. Like I don’t always feel the goodness. But other days, I feel the good deeply. I will have all of these small interactions with people who are on the trail, and at those times, it’s easy to feel good in the world.
I’ve traveled to some more impoverished places, and I did a house-build in Mexico—I don’t want to glorify those situations at all because I think it would be much better for those people to be out of poverty or to live in other circumstances. But I think what you see is that people are very different, but people are ultimately people. There is a lot of good, and a lot of people trying to be there for each other.