All posts by Mimi McFadden

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.

Australia Travel Playlist

As you read this, I’ll be thousands of feet above the ocean on my 14 hour flight to Auckland, New Zealand, followed by a four hour flight to Melbourne, Australia. The next 24 hours are going to be grueling, It’s hard for me to find ways to creatively keep myself occupied on long flights such as this one. Music is what keeps me going, makes the time fly by and inspires me while I’m traveling on long haul flights.

I have thousands of songs, plenty of playlists, and a lot of new music to choose from, but I wanted to share a few songs that I’m really into at the moment. Keep me company by listening with me and enjoy the following tunes!

1. Mellow Mood – Slightly Stoopid

This song exudes happiness, summer days and the good life. I can’t help but smile when I hear this song, and feel like everything is going to be a-okay.


2. Where Will You Be? – Mumford & Sons

Mumford & Sons has been the soundtrack for my last 24 hours in LA. This song in particular resonated with me and my upcoming travels.


3. Radioactive – Imagine Dragons

I was only recently introduced to this band, but I immediately took a liking to their sound..and this song is about the zombie apocalypse, how could it not be good? This song reminds me of sunny days driving around Southern California.


4. Rescue Song (RAC Remix) – Mr. Little Jeans

My roommate introduced me to this song on my way to the train station yesterday. It has such a fluid and calming sound, good for any long flight.


5. Ta DoLeuer – Camille

I love the sound of French, and I love the uniqueness of this song. Just addicting and creative enough to keep me hooked.


6. Ride – Lana Del Rey

I’m a little obsessed with Lana del Rey, but for good reason. I love her vision not only in terms of her music and lyrics, but also with the incredible stories she tells through her videos.


7. Cups – Anna Kendrick

This song is basically my theme song for my trip, and Pitch Perfect is a huge guilty pleasure of mine.


8. Time to Pretend – MGMT

Although a bit more on the depressing side, I can’t help but adore this song. I find it so real at this time in my life, and my reasons for wanting to take a break from the “guided” path that has been laid out for me since I was young.


9. Undisclosed Desires – Muse 

Muse = epic.


10. Promise – Ben Howard

Sigh. Ben Howard basically takes everything I’ve felt and puts it into music. I especially like this song because of how gorgeously it sits with me.


On leaving everything behind to follow your dreams

The sun is gleaming through the palm trees, I’m riding alongside the ocean, the orange sky as my canopy. What a way to say goodbye to this cherished place I’ve taken for my own, a place I call home even with these restless bones.

The southern winds pushing me onward towards my journey, the new adventures that await. This feels right, even with the tug of nostalgia filling my chest, a montage of memories in my head.

This is my purpose, my path in life. I hate goodbyes, but I don’t see this as such, because those who I’ve met, who have touched my heart in someway, will stay there even after I’m long gone from this place.

Life is such a beautiful art, with its stops and starts, passing glances and what ifs that fade away as the sun descends its last rays.

The man next to me sips on his Corona while in his own space, drawing from a vivid imagination that consumes his focus as we pull into another station . We’re all in our own space, yet connected through our graceful humanity, our innocent fallacies that make us kindred souls as we tackle our independent goals.

The train stops, last call, end of the line. But this ending is my beginning, so I’m going to take it and run into the arms of a soulful passion that is all my own. That is my journey to travel.

I’m finally ready to start.

I believe in

I believe in watching every sunset as if for the first time, I believe in not settling for someone who makes you feel ordinary, I believe in rainy days and the rainbows that come after, I believe in flossing and wearing sunscreen every day.

I believe in music being the soundtrack to life, I believe in spending hours in coffee shops and secondhand bookstores, I believe in trying everything once, I believe in honesty and sincerity.

I believe in reading in the sun, I believe in bucket lists and staying up all night just to plan my next trip, I believe in keeping an open mind, I believe in going to the beach as much as you can, I believe in playing basketball as a way to clear my head.

I believe in the benefits of education and learning new things every day, I believe in still sending postcards and handwritten letters, I believe that everything happens for a reason even if it’s not always easy, I believe that traveling with someone can make or break a relationship.

I believe in being polite, especially to strangers, I believe in karma, I believe in pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, I believe in the benefits of doing things that scare me because every day could be my last.

I believe in midnight adventures and the value of a good California burrito, I believe in the balance that comes with yoga, I believe in taking risks and having spontaneity, I believe in wishing on 11:11.

I believe that every person should have a passport and that they should use it, I believe in discovering the world with the curiosity of a child, I believe that when it comes down to it we are all the same, I believe in the beauty of poetry and prose.

I believe in following my heart.

 What do you believe in?

(Post inspired by C’est Christine)

Travel Resolutions 2013

And so the countdown begins, 25 days until departure, and I’m ready for the new experiences that will come with 2013. Recently leaving behind a 2 year relationship, and my own broken heart to boot, I’ve actually come away with the feeling that there’s nothing left to be afraid of, and a confidence in my own strength to tackle whatever life throws at me in the next year. I think it’s going to be one hell of a year.

I’ve realized the only way to love the life I live is through passion, optimism, and spontaneity. So, this year my travel resolutions will revolve around just those things, letting go of the negative aspects in my life in the process.


Countries to visit: Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia

Wish list countries (if I have the time and money to keep traveling after the above list): Nepal, Myanmar, Laos, India, Taiwan, Fiji, and although not a country I want to see Hawaii this year.

Travel Resolutions

1. Hot air balloon over Melbourne at sunrise

2. Go paragliding in New Zealand

3. Skydive over the Great Barrier Reef

4. Practice yoga in an ashram in India and/or get my yoga teacher certification in India or SE Asia

5. Find a volunteer program in Southeast Asia that represents one of my passions and genuinely helps the local community

6. Buy a ukulele and learn how to play it throughout my travels

7. Learn how to surf

8. Get my scuba certification

9. Learn how to make authentic Thai cuisine in Thailand

10. Get a tattoo while abroad

11. Hike a volcano in Hawaii

12. Watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat in Cambodia

13. Ride a motorbike through the Vietnam countryside

14. Sail Halong Bay in Vietnam

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

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Postcard from Santa Cruz, CA

I visited my hometown this past weekend for the last time before my travels, and to say a temporary goodbye to my family and friends. In order to celebrate my last views of Santa Cruz and to serve as a reminder to why I love this place so much, here are a few photos of what home means to me.

“What a life I lead when the sun breaks free, as a giant torn from the clouds. What a life indeed when that ancient seed is a-buried, watered, and plowed.” – Fleet Foxes









What’s your favorite photo from Santa Cruz?

Exploring my own backyard in Julian

Last weekend, I convinced my roommate to take a road trip with me to Julian, CA. I invited a few other friends, and next thing you know we had a full car and were cruising along on a beautiful Southern California day up to Julian to indulge in everything apple related.

I’m talking about the apple pie capital of the world, and it has been an hour and a half away from me this whole time I’ve lived in San Diego! I’ve been wanting to visit Julian since I heard the words apple and pie in the same sentence, and even more so in the last few months of checking off my San Diego bucket list. Unfortunately it’s hard to take those kind of road trips by yourself when you don’t have a car, and even harder to convince college students to spend their precious study time and money on gas when the words Vegas or Big Bear aren’t included.

It was one of those quintessential perfect days, it almost felt like summer until we got up to the snowy parts. Julian is an unassuming tiny town tucked away in the mountains that has the best apple pie I’ve ever tasted, and I’m not exaggerating when I say the best I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve tried a lot of apple pie. If you love apple pie as I do, or just want to feel like an American for a day, this is a must visit destination for you.


We stopped by the Julian Pie Company, and I had the original apple pie with cinnamon ice cream. It was one of the best moments of my life when I took that first bite. Afterwards, we walked around downtown Julian which consisted of a couple blocks of old western-style stores, and eventually made our way down the street to Julian Hard Cider. We talked with the owner, bought and shared some cider tasters, and I eventually decided on the cider with blackberry and blueberry infusions (“the black and blue”), it was delicious.

As we made our way home, with the sun shining its last rays, I realized that this was one of my favorite days I’ve had in 2013 so far. I also realized how many more days I want to spend this year simply exploring new towns and indulging my taste buds, the simple life of travel and exhilaration of experiencing new things. In my opinion, the secret to happiness.

To listen to our soundtrack for our road trip and exploration of Julian, click here

Walkabout: La Jolla Edition

I love walking. I walk everywhere because I don’t own a car, but even more than that, I walk because it brings me moments of clarity and simple bliss. Sometimes I walk with no destination, just for the purpose of fresh air, exercise, gorgeous views, good music, and a way to clear my head and maybe even figure some things out. I call these particular walks my  “walkabouts”, the irony of which has not escaped me with my upcoming trip to Australia.

There has been a lot to think about with my departure date coming up so soon, and my whole trip itself becoming more real than it has ever felt before. I’m proud of myself for embarking on such an endeavor, one which I wouldn’t of had the confidence or the bravery to pull off as little as four years ago when I first started college. On the other hand, I can’t help feeling selfish and even guilty sometimes for leaving certain people behind to chase my own dreams of traveling, knowing that I’ll miss out on so much in the process of fulfilling what I want to do with my life.

My walkabout around La Jolla this afternoon was meant for me gain some insight into all these thoughts that keep rambling around in my head, yet also to quell my incessant need to always overanalyze everything. To just find peace and happiness in the present moment.




Meet me there, bundles of flowers, we wait through the hours of cold. Winter shall howl at the walls, tearing down doors of time, shelter as we go.”

I’ve been on a huge Ben Howard kick lately, and he made up the soundtrack to my walkabout today, listen to it here.

Considerations when moving abroad

Considerations When Moving Abroad - The Atlas Heart

My big move across the world is a little over a month away, and this realization has made me consider a few different aspects that have continuously been popping up in my stream of consciousness recently. Here are the main issues I’ve been thinking about while getting ready for my travels.


The elephant in the room, and the one that makes up most excuses for why people don’t travel. I’ve been saving for about a year for my trip. Although I’m not a trust fund baby, I have a good amount of student loans, and I don’t like giving up on the things that make life fun and exciting (i.e a night out, coffee dates with friends, movies, etc), I’ve worked two jobs for the majority of the year, so as to be able to have a good time in the present but still be able to put a little away each month.

Granted, I still have a ways to go in order to travel for most of this year, but I’ll be spending the first 6 months of my travels in Australia using my work visa. Luckily, the minimum wage is also a lot higher in Australia than it is in the States, and the Aussie dollar is actually slightly stronger right now as well. Even though the cost of living is higher down under, I’ll still be making more money while living abroad than I would be staying at home. Truly a win-win situation. 

Selling your stuff vs. paying for a storage unit

This was a question I went back and forth on constantly, until I realized how freeing it would be to get rid of the majority of my possessions. Since I’ve been a college student for the past four years, I don’t have very expensive belongings and hardly any furniture with moving almost every year from dorm room, to apartments, to townhouses. I came to the conclusion that I would actually be spending more money on a storage unit for the year than I would if I just bought what I needed when I get back.

The hardest possessions for me to give away were my clothes. But let’s be honest, I had way too many to begin with since I’ve just collected more and more since high school, getting rid of very few in the past years. I love having a great selection of clothes, but I came to the conclusion that between working most days (with a restricted dress code) and the amount of clothes I haven’t worn in over a year, that it was time to pass my wardrobe on to someone who would actually use it. Last weekend, I delivered three huge trash bags full of clothes to Goodwill…and it felt good, I felt lighter in a way.

I’m also in the process of selling my nightstand, desk and bed. I’ve found friends who are willing to look after my guitar, piano and bike while I’m traveling, so kudos to having good friends. All of the other material things I’m holding on to will be flying home with me next weekend in two big suitcases, when I visit home for the last time before I leave. Somehow, I have successfully managed to find a place for my things without a monthly storage fee.

Travel insurance, to buy or not to buy?

A question that I’m still in the process of deciding how to answer. I know the safe thing to do is to just buy the insurance, but I will only be traveling with a few electronics and I’ve realized that the cost of travel insurance for the whole year would be more than the cost of those electronics put together. I’m thankfully also blessed with having incredible health insurance while abroad, thanks to my dad’s time working for the city, so my health will at least be covered. Travel insurance is expensive, and right now I don’t think that’s a luxury I’m willing to give into. I may buy some later on in my trip, but for now I’m giving it a big resounding no.

To be fair, it really depends on your individual situation and budget. If I didn’t have health coverage abroad I would probably be leaning more towards the benefits of purchasing travel insurance, so it all depends on a multitude of considerations.

What electronics to carry while traveling

I’m a travel blogger, I’m bound to carry around a handful of electronic trinkets to help with my blogging, keep me connected, and get the most out of sharing my travels. I’ve minimalized as best I can, and I think I’ve finally found the perfect balance.

1 Canon Rebel T3 DSLR

1 shoot and point camera (or iPhone depending on if I can afford to buy one before I leave)

1 MacBook Air (I’m in the process of trying to find someone to buy my MacBook Pro 15″ so that I can carry a lighter alternative with me)

And that’s it. I’ll be living out of one suitcase for the year so this will have to suffice.

Finding the best way to stay in contact with those you’re leaving behind

You’re bound to leave those most special to you behind when you decide  to go on a round the world trip by yourself. For me, this comes in the form of my family, my friends from high school and college, and an off and on relationship I’ve been in for the past two years. It’s important to think about the best (and cheapest) ways to keep in contact with these people once you make the big move, and follow through in keeping those connections you hold dearest to you.

I think one of the scariest aspects of moving abroad is having your social network and safety net of connections grabbed from underneath you. To bridge the gap as much as you can between people who are continents and time zones apart, without sacrificing your travels, is a delicate balance and one that I’m sure I’ll constantly be working on in the next year.


Don’t expect the road to be easy, but also don’t expect the worst

It’s naive to think that you’ll immediately feel at home in a foreign city, that you’ll have a solid group of friends in no time, and have an easy transition abroad. Don’t get me wrong, this can definitely be the case as it was when I moved to Italy for a summer. But there’s also a possibility that you’ll have a rough time when you first move abroad, while you’re still getting the hang of everything that is so foreign to you, such as my first year of college away from home.

The famous Lao Tzu once said to act without expectation. This is some of the best life and travel advice I’ve heard. Don’t expect things to be easy when you first move abroad, but also don’t expect the worst. You will have the best time of your life, and learn so much about yourself in the process, but it may not come as easily as you think. Hence, why it’s  important to always keep an open mind and a balanced heart while traveling.

Your plan (or lack thereof) once you get to where you’re going

When I first backpacked through Costa Rica at the age of 18 with two of my best girl friends, we planned out almost everything and all accommodations ahead of time. It was my first time abroad and I was a little nervous about things not going exactly as I imagined. Well, as I’m sure anyone who has traveled can attest, things hardly ever go exactly as you think they will when traveling. There were many instances of that in Costa Rica, including being stranded in the middle of a dirt road, miles from the nearest town because we got off on the wrong stop, and having to hitchhike with a couple locals the rest of the way. That experience ended up being one of my favorite memories from Costa Rica.

I realized with that trip, that if you just go with the flow everything is bound to work out fine, and even better in some cases. My summer in Tuscany was also fairly planned out. I did a culinary program for the first half of summer, and went on a backpacking bus tour across Europe with other 20-somethings, only traveling by myself to Paris and Dublin. Australia is the first trip I’m taking where I don’t really have a plan except to get a job and my own apartment, and I couldn’t be more excited (and a little nervous) about all the different possibilities that lie before me. I think it’s important to try out different types of trips so as to figure out what kind of traveling you like to do, whether that be a strictly guided tour through Europe or taking off and backpacking by yourself through the Amazon.

What are some important things you consider when moving or traveling abroad?

6 free things to do in Santa Cruz, CA

6 Free Things to Do in Santa Cruz, California

Okay, so maybe Santa Cruz doesn’t have as much going on as Los Angeles, San Francisco, or San Diego, and maybe I’m a little biased being that I was born and raised here, but I do believe that Santa Cruz is a place that you should visit at least once in your life. Sure, it’s a small beach town like many that exist on the West Coast, but Santa Cruz has its own little unique charm that I have yet to come across anywhere else.

I love that there are plenty of beaches within walking distance, yet also hiking trails through the beautiful redwoods right there as well. I love that there are so many locally owned stores and coffee shops, organic produce, hippies and street musicians. I love that I can get decent food in pretty much any cuisine even though it’s a relatively small town. I love that we’re so close to the big cities in the Bay Area for concerts or weekend getaways, but still tucked away in our own little community. I love that I grew up going on field trips to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. As much as I sometimes resent the fact that everything closes up by 9, I really do love Santa Cruz. As a local, here are some of my favorite free things to do, other than spending your money at the Beach Boardwalk (my first job at 16!) or the Mystery Spot, which is what most tourists do.

1. Watch the surfers from West Cliff and drive along East Cliff

West Cliff is one of my favorite places to go in Santa Cruz, it’s an absolutely gorgeous place to walk or just sit and watch the ocean. In my opinion, this is the best place to watch the sunset and the surfers down below the cliffs. It’s also a pretty drive at night, listening to good music with the windows rolled down (or heater full blast depending on the season) with the twinkling lights across the bay as your background. East cliff is also worth checking out, it’s less popular than West Cliff and thus less touristy, but it has beautiful views of the ocean as well.

2. Window Shop on Pacific Avenue

I love just walking down Pacific Avenue, basically the street that makes up most of our downtown. There are so many locally owned boutiques and coffee shops that I spend whole afternoons browsing through Bookshop Santa Cruz, finding eclectic pieces of jewelry at Bunny’s, or sipping a cappuccino at Santa Cruz Coffee Roasters. The coffee in Santa Cruz is some of the best I’ve tasted in my life, try as many of the locally owned coffee shops as you can, they all have their own vibe and delicious coffee.

Best places to grab food on Pacific Avenue: El Palomar, Chocolate, Taqueria Vallarta, Hoffman’s Bistro

3. Hike the DeLaveaga trails 

A great place to go on a light or strenuous hike, there are so many different trails you can go on. Also, a great place to walk your dog or have a nice morning jog with just you and the beautiful redwoods. Some of the trails overlook the disc golf course if you want to check out the game and maybe find some frisbees. Find a spot called “The Top of the World”, if you can, the view will be worth the hike, but you’ll probably come across some of the local stoners at the top since it’s a popular spot to smoke. Every time I explore more of the DeLaveaga trails, I fall a little more in love with the beauty of my hometown. For more hiking spots, check out the UC Santa Cruz trails. They offer some of the best views of Santa Cruz, and you may even come across the famous limestone kilns. Henry Cowell State Park is great place to come up and close with the giant redwood trees, but it also has a $10 entrance fee.

4. Sunny Cove Beach

One of the local secret spots that the tourists haven’t taken over yet. It’s a small beach and a little hidden and hard to get to, but it’s one of only beaches that isn’t overrun in the summer, and it’s a perfect place to lay on the beach and feel like a local. If you’re traveling with a dog, 20th Ave beach is a great dog beach with friendly owners that will strike up an easy conversation with you.

5. Walk along the Santa Cruz Wharf

Compared to a lot of wharfs I’ve visited in California, the Santa Cruz Wharf doesn’t have much to it, but if you walk to the end you get a great view of the skyline of the Beach Boardwalk and you get to see and hear the seals up close. If you’re feeling like a nice seafood dinner, go to Rivas on the Wharf, it’s one of my favorite restaurants in Santa Cruz and allows you to sit alongside huge windows overlooking the ocean.

6. Natural Bridges and the Monarch Butterflies 

If you want to see the beautiful Monarch butterflies up close, visit the Natural Bridges State Park. If you don’t park your car in their lot, there’s free parking on the street and free butterfly tours. The butterflies arrive in October and migrate in February. The best time to come is in November when thousands of butterflies call the Eucalyptus trees at Natural Bridges their home.

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Other notable places to visit:

  • For live music, go to a concert at the Kuumbwa Jazz center
  • Attend a Shakespeare Santa Cruz production. The season occurs at the end of summer, from July to August, and you get to watch Shakespeare plays in the middle of the forest up at UC Santa Cruz. It’s beautiful, the acting is phenomenal, and it’s definitely worth the $20-$40 ticket price. Make sure to bring warm clothes, blankets and a picnic since it’s outside.
  • And if you’re in the area, make the short drive to Monterey to check out the world famous aquarium and a beautiful city on the bay.

My top 15 travel songs

I’ll admit, I’m a music nut. Whether it’s on my daily bus rides around the city, a long flight across the country, or simply a workout at the gym, I’m dependent on my iPod and my love of music. I have a soundtrack to most things I do in my life, and I love getting to know people from learning about their music tastes.

For any of you who are as addicted to music as I am, I give to you my favorite travel playlist that inspires me to get up and go explore the world.


Holocene” – Bon Iver

I listened to this song on repeat for a good chunk of my flight to Rome. Not only is the melody soothing when realizing that you’re flying halfway across the country not knowing a soul on the other end, but the lyrics centered around possessing humility are really what speak to me. Holding onto your humility is so important when traveling and discovering a different culture. To let go of judgements and the idea that one culture is better than the other. To be a traveler instead of a tourist.

Everything’s Magic” – Angels and Airwaves

“Just sit back and hold on, but hold on tight/ Prepare for the best and the fastest ride.” This song describes perfectly how I feel when I’m in a new place to explore. The excitement, possibilities, everything’s magic.

Big Jet Plane” – Angus & Julia Stone

“Gonna take you for a ride on a big jet plane.”

Plane“- Jason Mraz

“I’m leaving your town again/ And I’m over the ground that you’ve been spinning/ And I’m up in the air so baby hell yeah/ Well honey I can see your house from here.”

Clarity” – John Mayer

“By the time I recognize this moment, this moment will be gone/ But I will bend the light, pretend that it somehow lingered on.” The epitome of travel and the beautiful fleeting experiences that come with it.

Airplanes” – Local Natives

I adore this song for so many reasons. It reminds me of jetting off to follow your own dreams, and the sadness that sometimes comes with leaving parts of you behind.

California” – Phantom Planet

My go-to road tripping song, especially on my many trips of going back and forth between the Bay Area and San Diego. But even more than that, I love listening to this song while abroad because it reminds of where I come from and how much I love the place that I’ll eventually always come back to.

Young Blood” – The Naked and Famous

Maybe I associate this song with travel because the first time I heard it was when I was doing a pub crawl in Berlin, they blasted this whole CD while we were driving around the city. It not only reminds me of having ridiculously good nights abroad, but also the importance in doing as much as I can while I’m still young and able.

Land Locked Blues” – Bright Eyes

“I dreamed you were carried away on the crest of a wave.” Perfect song for those dreamy days spent imagining my next adventure.

The Girl” – City and Colour

“While I’m off chasing my own dreams sailing around the world/ Please know that I’m yours to keep my beautiful girl.” Besides the fact that his voice makes me incredibly happy, this song is one that I can relate to a lot while traveling. It’s hard to not leave someone or something behind when you decide to take off on your own and explore the world.

Drops in the River” – Fleet Foxes

Young today, old as a railroad tomorrow/ Days are just drops in the river to be lost always.” I always think of an epic journey whenever this song comes on. To not take any day for granted, or put off that trip that you’ve been wanting to take because who knows how much time we have. Actually, pretty much any song by Fleet Foxes is great for traveling.

Find My Way” – The Gabe Dixon Band

“Well it’s a long way I know/ And there’s no one way to go/ But it’s all gonna show in the end.”

Shine” – Laura Izibor

“Let the sun shine on your face/ don’t let your life go to waste.” Perfect song to give into what you really want to do with your life.

Don’t Stop Me Now” – Queen

“I’m a shooting star leaping through the skies/ Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity.” Love this song.

Sweet Disposition” – The Temper Trap

A flood of good memories come back to me whenever I listen to this song. This has been the soundtrack to a lot of nighttime adventures, a lot of good times at home in San Diego and abroad.

What are the go-to songs you listen to while you travel?