Celebrating My 26th in Chicago

Celebrating My 26th in Chicago, Illinois - USA

It has been almost two months since my birthday shenanigans in Chicago, and I haven’t had the time to sit down and talk about it until now. Sadly, my hard drive with all of my data just crashed and I lost all of my photos from my birthday trip, among many other travels (besides my Snapchat and phone pictures), so I guess I’ve been putting off this post in a way.

I’m still getting used to the fact that I’m 26, it’s a new age that’s unfamiliar to me. I’m still at that point where I have to pause before answering, “…um, yeah, I’m 26.”

As cliche as it sounds, it’s true how much faster time seems to move as I get older. I swear I was just 22, dancing around to T Swift, and graduating college. Okay, let’s be real, I’m still dancing around to Taylor Swift, but I graduated college 4 years ago now. WOW! That makes me feel old.

And that’s okay.

College Graduation from UC San Diego
Photo via Mugdha Golwalkar

With each year that passes, I feel more sure of myself, more confident. I feel as if I’m truly coming into my skin, that I don’t take life quite so seriously anymore. My dad once said that the best years of his life weren’t until he reached his 30’s, and I can see why that would be the case now that I’m quickly reaching that age myself.

So, let’s talk about Chicago and 26.

Every year on my birthday, since I was 21, I spend the day in a new city. It’s my way of guaranteeing I’ll always have at least one trip to look forward to, one new city to discover completely anew. I’m traveling full time right now, but who knows where I’ll be 10 years down the line, or 20? Travel will always be a big part of my life, but this is my promise to myself to always make it happen.

Rogue Hop Fields, Independence, Oregon - The Atlas Heart 2015 Review

My 25th year was one of major life changes and #girlbossing all over the place. In the past year I’ve somehow situated myself as a remote media & marketing manager at a health & wellness company that I love. Even though I had little to no marketing experience previously, I somehow talked my way into this position over a year ago now. I’ve worked hard to educate myself and learn something new about the marketing world every day. I’ve grown a lot in the process.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to only rely on my blog business for income since I just started monetizing my blog in the past year, but I knew I wanted to work for a company that would improve certain skills that I could easily transfer to my blog, one that would challenge me every day, and one that I could do completely from the road. In addition to this marketing job, I’ve become more of a full time blogger than ever. I probably spend close to 30-40 hours a week just on my blog, so I would say that’s pretty full time!

Market on Front Cafe - Missoula, Montana

I’ve worked with countless brands, hotels, and tourism boards, and I’ve seen my blog traffic triple and start to really garner a following in the last year.

In addition, I’ve been in the most serious relationship to date with my current Kiwi partner and signed a lease with a significant other for the first time. I came more into my authentic personality with year 25 and I thought a lot about what I want from my life moving forward. All I can say is that, although I still probably work a tad too much for my health, I’m exactly where I want to be in my life. I’m moving abroad again in the fall and I’m excited to start another new chapter in Asia for the next year.

I’ve always tried to appreciate the people in my life as much as possible with phone calls, postcards, and hand written letters even when I’m not able to be there for them in person. With the not-so-distant death of my grandmother and seeing my remaining grandparents in the depths of dementia since I’ve been home, I can only say that I plan to focus on my loved ones even more with this coming year. To appreciate all those who I love as much as possible, no matter if I’m abroad or at home.

I’ve truly begun to understand the idea of mortality and thought about my own more than ever as I grow older. I may still be young, but I know that is fleeting. I want to try my best to stay in the present and move forward in this world with a patient and kind understanding. That is my goal at least!

To review, these have been my past birthdays in my 20s so far.

21 – San Diego, California

22 – Las Vegas, Nevada

23 – Melbourne, Australia

24 – Wellington, New Zealand

25 – Veneta, Oregon

For my birthday this year, I decided to see a whole new region of the States that I’d never been to before: the Midwest. I spent my actual birthday in the glam and big city glitz of Chicago, and took side trips to Grand Rapids, Toronto, Niagara Falls, and Detroit as well during my two weeks in the area.

Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada

To be honest, my goal this year for my birthday was to finally see New Orleans. It’s a city that I’ve wanted to see for years now. However, once I started looking at flights, I realized that there were no cheap options for getting to New Orleans. I would’ve spent over $400 to get there from Portland, whereas I found a flight for $85 RETURN to Chicago. So Midwest it was!

I don’t know why I had never been itching to go to Chicago previously. It may have just been the fact that I was over the standard big city vibes. Once I arrived in the city though, I berated myself for not getting there sooner.

Chicago is a vibrant Midwest city that I liked from the moment I arrived at the airport, and there was a solo violinist playing in the subway at 4:30am after my red-eye flight.

Celebrating My 26th in Chicago, Illinois - USA

Chicago is bustling with art, architecture, business suits, bridges, and an attractive river that runs through the city.  My neck had a constant crook in it from gazing up at the tall skyscrapers in awe. I’ve been to big cities before but never with as intricate and glittering of architecture.

We stuffed ourselves with deep-dish pizza every day because we just couldn’t help ourselves. We stayed with a couchsurfer couple who had stayed with us in Portland a month ago (just one of the many reasons why I love that community). We went to a twice rain delayed Cubs game. We experienced our fair share of freak Midwest storms. I don’t think I’ve ever seen rain come down that hard before.

We walked around Millennial Park and took selfies with the Bean like any good tourist. We took an architecture tour on the river, learned about the history of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and all the key movie spots throughout the years. *Ahem* Where Ferris Bueller’s dad works in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!!

Celebrating My 26th in Chicago, Illinois - USA

We walked around the breezy Navy Pier, the indoor Crystal Gardens, tried tasty kettle corn and Chicago dogs for the first time. We quickly learned the subway routes and adored all of the back porches and brick buildings in between the stops we passed by. We stood in admiration at the biggest lake we’d ever laid eyes on at the shores of Lake Michigan.

We went to the John Hancock Center and had Long Island Iced Teas (thanks Kendall!) on the 96th floor, looking out over the sprawling city below for as far as the eye could see.

Celebrating My 26th in Chicago, Illinois - USA

We had 4 days in Chicago and it was far from enough. It was one of those cities that I found myself imagining living in at some point. Granted, it’s a city that has its fair share of problems like any big city. However, it’s a city that unexpectedly captured my attention. It’s a city that breathed the hustle life of New York, but had the laid back friendliness of the Midwest.

Although I don’t know when I’ll be heading back to the Midwest, one of my best friends is moving to Chicago next year, so at least I’ll have an excuse to visit!

Here’s to year 26 and the many adventures to come with travels, new and old friends, and the continuation of being my own #girlboss.

Have you been to Chicago before? Do you have a birthday tradition you do every year? Any life lessons you’d like to pass on for my 26th year? 

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Celebrating My 26th in Chicago, Illinois - USA

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Mimi McFadden
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Mimi McFadden

Travel Writer/Blogger at The Atlas Heart
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.
Mimi McFadden
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