2017, A Year to Myself

2017, A Year to Myself | The Atlas Heart

I never expected 2017 to be a year to myself, but then again, I guess you never really know what life will bring you with each new year.

I should know better by now.

Even though I didn’t expect it to be a year to myself, I can say with full clarity now that I’m so very glad that it was. This was the year that I found my independence again, understood fully what I deserve in my life, and embraced my alone time.

I’m someone who is already pretty good at being alone. I’m an introvert, most of my pastimes are solo ones – reading, playing my guitar, listening to music, cooking. And my work is very much a solo pursuit, from writing to doing digital marketing for clients.

I’m used to being alone, but 2017 was a year where I really just had myself to pull me back up from my bootstraps, to lean on, to make sense of stressful, happy, and sad situations.

Wat Phu, Pakse - Laos Travel

2017 was the year that one of the closest people in my life passed away.

It was also the year of a breakup. One that ended up being a silver lining, because I didn’t realize how unhappy I had become with that person until it was ended for me. And then I just felt free, and relieved that I didn’t have to put my energy into something that was no longer a positive thing in my life.

2017 was also one of the best years I’ve had in a long time. I have so many wonderful memories from this year. Even though it was a year to myself, in a way, it was a year of coming out of my shell.

A shell that I had crawled into since 2015, when I transferred from bartending to freelance work on my computer, and spent a depressing year and a half living in Portland, Oregon.

But by April of this year, I no longer had a relationship to fall back on, close friends to spend all my time with, a culture that I knew well. I had foreign countries, endless adventures, new beds to wake up in every morning, and countless fresh faces that filled my days and hours.

I made so many more friends this year than I had in the past two years combined, partly because I was forced to put myself out there more, but also because I found my voice.

March Wrap-Up 2017- Koh Lanta, Thailand

I learned how to get outside my comfort zone yet again, to not indulge in my introverted tendencies more than necessary, and to treat everyone like a new friend.

I found a better perspective, a way to get outside my own problems, hangups, and melancholy nature, that are so minuscule in the scheme of things.

I started volunteering, learning other’s stories, following my heart and allowing my instincts to guide me without worrying so much about the ‘what ifs’. I practiced kindness, smiled and laughed a whole lot more, and met some of my favorite people in the world, around the world.

2017 wasn’t just a year to myself, it was a year of finding a part of me I didn’t quite know existed. It was a year of seeing the strength, compassion, and determination that guide me on a daily basis.

Some moments from this year I will always keep just for myself – there are so many good ones, challenging ones, and educational ones. But overall, this was my year in a nutshell.

January // Myanmar, Thailand

Myanmar | The Atlas Heart

January didn’t start off on the best foot. I was still recovering from a serious illness that had struck on Christmas and I was very weak. I barely made it to midnight on New Year’s Eve because my body was so tired and exhausted from what it had been through.

The next day, I set out on a three day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake in Myanmar. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea with my state, but I was determined to start off my New Year in a positive way.

After the trek, I had another week or so in the country before heading to Thailand, where I finally got well again.

My last night in Myanmar is still one of my favorite memories from Asia. I spent the afternoon climbing a big mountain to get to a monastery at the very top. It was hot, there were aggressive monkeys popping out from random places, and I was sweating profusely by the time I reached the end of the hike.

However, it was one of those moments where you realize how worth it it was once you see the view. I watched the sunset with the monkeys, the monks, and the other travelers who had made the journey, and could see for miles in the fading light. I spent the night in a bare room with a hard mattress.

The experience was beautiful.

The last week of January was spent in Bangkok, and it was a reminder of how much I don’t connect with Thailand’s capital city. Bangkok put me in a stressed out state of mind most of the time I was there, and I couldn’t wait to escape to the islands at the start of February.

“It was eye-opening to see the daily lives of the local tribespeople, even if they’ve been touched by a lot of tourism in the past six years. Everyone was patient and kind as our guide would explain about another cultural aspect of their lives. I only wish I had more time to talk with them through our guide and learn more about their lives. For both nights, we stayed in a local village that was along our trek. We slept on thin mats on the floor with everyone together in a big room, all 10 of us.” – Hill Tribes, Mud, and Determination: A Three-Day Trek in Myanmar

Other related posts: 12 Things to Know Before Visiting Myanmar in 2017, Travel Budgeting for Myanmar, An Ode to the Asian Night BusWrap Up: January 2017

February // Thailand

Koh Chang, Thailand - Asia Travel

February led me to a new part of Thailand that I had never been to before – Koh Chang and Koh Mak. I found myself there because my boyfriend was looking for scuba instructing work.

He found a job on the tiny island of Koh Mak and we quickly got settled with our own little white walled bungalow near the beach.

We would find cockroaches in the crevices, scorpions on the street, packs of stray dogs that would chase our motorbike sometimes. There was a large lizard that always hid in the rafters and made loud mating calls as we tried to fall asleep each night.

I rented a bike and started riding all over the island between work and writing sessions. I found a favorite cafe that looked out over the ocean. I would go there most mornings when I wasn’t helping out at the dive shop.

On most days, we would stop for sticky rice and roasted pork on a stick for breakfast. I spent most of my time writing, exploring, working, snorkeling, and eating curry on the beach.

It was a simple and relaxing existence.

Well, it was, until I found out my grandma passed away back home. Suddenly, I was a million miles away with no one who knew how amazing of a person she was, with no one who knew what I was going through. At least that’s what it felt like.

A deep sadness set in, but I tried to cling on to the raw beauty of the island. The pink and orange sunsets, the group of swaying palm trees that greeted me home on my way back to the bungalow each day, the twinkling turquoise water that I adored so much. I tried to not feel so alone.

I kept going through the motions even though my emotions and mindset were a fragile mess.

I’m currently looking out at a crystal blue ocean in Thailand and trying not to cry over a cup of coffee while writing this. The palm trees sway in tune with each other and there’s a heaviness in the air from the humidity. Besides the odd scooter rumbling by, everything is at peace, like you must be right now. I know you would’ve loved to see this place. To travel and not be constrained by the limits of your time and society. You weren’t given the same opportunities I was for travel and independence, but I know that you would’ve loved it too. ” – On Letting Go: A Letter to Nana Joyce

Other related posts: Wrap Up: February 2017

March // Vietnam, Thailand

Snorkeling in the Phu Quoc archipelago

At the start of the month, I went to visit one of my best friends from home in Vietnam. We spent a few fun days in Saigon together, then I went off on my own to explore more of the southern parts of the country and the tropical island of Phu Quoc.

By the time I made it back to Thailand, my boyfriend had already decided to call it quits on our relationship.

Within two days of making the long journey to get back to Koh Mak from Bangkok, my bags were packed again and I had no plans whatsoever.

I spent the day of the breakup sitting in a cafe trying not to cry and failing, and figuring out what I wanted to do now that I was completely on my own.

I could go anywhere, do anything, I was free, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that yet.

I was tempted to book the next flight from Bangkok to California, to heal with people I knew and loved, to be around my familiar comforts again.

Maybe it would’ve been the smart thing to do, after dealing with two big losses so close together, feeling raw and untethered. Instead, I decided to take it one day at a time, to keep going.

I knew I wasn’t ready to go home yet, to give up so easily when there was so much beauty to be found around Asia. Instead, I made my way to the other side of the country, to another island, and started to heal on my own and with new friends.

I’m not broken or lost. I don’t need to spend the next couple of months in Thailand ‘finding myself’. I know exactly who I am and what I’m doing with my life…I’m not 100% right now, but I know I will be. I know that this will just be another one of those memories in life that adds on to who I am. I’ve been traveling solo much longer than I’ve traveled with other people, and I’m looking forward to leaning into that side of my independence again. My relationship was only one part of my life, it wasn’t my whole life.On Getting Dumped in Thailand

Other related posts: Experiencing Saigon by Motorbike with XO Tours / Peace, Clarity, and Rooftop Pools: Liberty Central Saigon Citypoint / A Day of Agritourism in the Mekong Delta / How to Spend a Week on Koh Chang, Thailand / Phu Quoc Island: A Different Side to VietnamWrap Up: March 2017

April // Thailand

Songkran in Koh Phangan, Thailand - Asia Travel

And I’m so glad I stayed in Thailand because I ended up meeting one of my best friends on Koh Lanta, my chosen base for the next month. We would party through the night, the sand between our toes, day glo smeared on our bodies, drinking Leos to wash our worries away.

She made me laugh ridiculous amounts and helped me to feel whole and happy again.

After a decent amount of time on Koh Lanta together with a good group of other travelers from Belgium, Sweden, and Spain, we went up to Ao Nang, the famous Railay Beach, and the full moon party on Koh Phanang.

We celebrated Songkran, the Thai New Year, riding around the island with American-sized water guns, went to parties in the jungle, and found ourselves at luxury bungalows in the middle of the night with hilarious English boys.

I don’t know what it was exactly about Koh Lanta, and the time I spent in southern Thailand, but it healed me. When I left for the north, I was no longer sad about what I had left behind on the Thai islands.

I want to let the night envelop me in its darkness, to feel the humid air and heavy breeze. I stop on the side of the road to listen to the cicadas in the wind, their music is all around me now and I eagerly turn in place to witness their sound. I pick up a bottle of wine on my way back home to drink out on the porch. The storm has cleared, it’s a perfectly luminous night and I look up at the stars. I close my eyes and take a deep clean breath. The second glass of wine is already going to my head. I have work and deadlines to meet tomorrow, but for now, I am completely at peace in the wild beauty of this place. I drink half the bottle and leave the rest for another night, another time, another moment as bright as tonight.” – If You Were Here (Part I)

Other related posts: Why a Second Visit Changed My Mind About Thailand / Wrap Up: April 2017

May // Thailand, Laos

Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos - Asia Travel

I spent a two week stint by myself on Koh Lanta after partying for a week or so with my friend, and then I made my way up to the north and met up with her again in Chiang Mai.

We explored the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, ate a lot of good food, classed it up for a local jazz club, celebrated a friend’s birthday, and spent an afternoon bathing and feeding elephants at a sanctuary.

We spent a quick night in Chiang Rai, stopped by the famous Wat Rong Khun (aka the White Temple) in a flurry, and enjoyed our last night together hanging out, drinking red wine, and watching Game of Thrones.

In the morning we hugged goodbye. She made her way back down to Bangkok while I hopped on a bus to Laos, my next country.

Laos was a stark change of pace from Thailand and it was a bit of a culture shock to get used to at first.

Thailand is such a social, busy, and touristy country and I had just spent 4 months getting used to that energy. On the other hand, the whole country of Laos almost felt like a sleepy town, and since I was there during the low season, there wasn’t a whole lot of socializing with other travelers.

This was fine as it allowed me to take in more of the local Laotian culture and history and less of the socializing and partying, but I did, in a way, miss the energy from Thailand.

I still ended up meeting plenty of new friends. After spending a week alone in romantic Luang Prabang, I would meet Steph in Vang Vieng, Irma on a night bus from Vientiane to Don Det, and Seth in Pakse, all of whom had an impact on my time in the country.

I spent my birthday in Don Det (aka the 4,000 Islands), chasing waterfalls, kayaking through rapids, sneaking into Cambodia, holding baby goats, and overall, having a crazy adventurous day.

I treated myself to a room for two nights in a fancy French Colonial style hotel looking out over the Mekong, and cheersed with new friends into my 27th year.

I’m still the girl who would stand out on the roof in the pouring rain to kiss a boy that I liked, the one who drinks craft beer to enjoy the taste of a coconut porter on a stormy night. I’m still the girl who would dance for hours to feel the rhythm in my bones, the one who likes to write in cafes and read books on sunny benches in the park. I’m still the girl that goes all in, embraces life, and leads with an open mind and an Atlas Heart. But, I’ve changed a lot since then as well, as do all people with time. I’ve learned a lot in my 27 years about myself and life. The memories, experiences, and people that I’ve met have changed me and and impacted my life in countless ways. They have centered me, educated me, and molded me into the person I’m meant to be.” – 27 Things I’ve Learned About Life and Travel

Other related posts: My First Impressions of Laos / Travel Budgeting for LaosWrap Up: May 2017

June // Laos, Malaysia

A Favorite Island in Malaysia: Things to Do in Penang

I finished up my time in Laos by spending a week in Vientiane, catching up on work, participating in group dance classes near the water, and hanging out a lot with a friend I met in Pakse.

By the second week of the month, I was on my way to Malaysia, my final country in Asia for 2017.

I started in Kuala Lumpur, a city that I’m not incredibly fond of (maybe I just don’t like large Asian cities?), and indulged in all things food. Malaysia’s culinary scene is incredible, after all.

I spent my days working and exploring more of the museums and markets around town, but really I already had my sights on getting out of the city and up to Penang Island. I’d heard such good things about it from other travelers.

Penang was everything I was hoping for and more. I spent over a week in the city, exploring the funky cafes and museums, the street art, and the intersection of so many different cultures in one city. I quickly fell in love with Penang, its energy, its smells and brightnesss.

I ended up spending a lot of that week with a Belgian friend who I would walk with for hours around the city. One moment we would be having a philosophical discussion about life, the next we would be doubled over laughing about something random. He was the perfect person to explore Penang with.

My last stop in Malaysia was to Langkawi Island, a fairly touristy spot right next to Thailand and about as far north as you can get in Malaysia.

I spent five days in my own bungalow. I finally learned how to properly ride a scooter thanks to a German friend, traveled all over the island, and caught every island sunset that I could before heading back down to KL and then Singapore for my flight to Greece.

After eight months of facing eight completely different cultures and the challenges that come with that, I feel like I’ve grown even more so into who I was meant to be all along. I see what people mean now when they say that their 30s were their favorite decade, because now that I’m finally inching toward that milestone, I understand how much more I’ve started to appreciate who I am. I’ve become more self aware, less self conscious. And I’d like to think that travel and the experiences that I’ve had from it has made that so. Most importantly, I’ve learned how to listen to myself. I was originally planning on spending at least a full year in Asia, but after eight months I realized that wasn’t the path that would make me happiest – so I changed it.” – Looking Back on 8.5 Months in Asia

Other related posts: 12 Things to Do in Penang, MalaysiaWrap up: June 2017

July // Greece

Girls weekend in Crete, Greece - Europe Travel

I had decided to move to Europe around the time I was in Vientiane in May, at the end of my time in Laos. I’d been feeling burnt out pretty much since I had left Thailand and I knew that I wanted a change of pace.

The plan when I was still with my ex was always to go live in Europe after we were through with Asia. Even though we weren’t together anymore, I realized that’s still what I wanted.

I originally thought Asia might be a 1-2 year stint, but I listened to my gut feeling and followed it to Greece instead, after 8.5 months in Asia.

I had been looking at Turkey, Croatia, and Greece for a summer base, and I chose Greece because I found a ridiculously cheap flight from Singapore to Athens. I saw it as a sign that that’s where I was meant to spend my summer.

After a week in bustling Athens, which I ended up liking much more than other travelers made me believe I would, I began to create a life for myself on Crete.

Crete is the largest island in Greece, and I was never left bored or without new places to discover. The culture, cuisine, and even the people were so different from the rest of Greece. I loved it.

I found an affordable female dorm in the little town of Amoudara, just outside of Heraklion, and indulged in finally having a fixed life after so many months on the road.

This was also when I realized how much I wanted to settle down and have my own apartment to come back to, somewhere in the world. That I was tired of living out of a backpack and traveling every few days or week.

Having a fixed life again in Greece, it was good for my mindset, my work, and my energy.

My time in Greece has only reminded me of my other European love affair I had with Italy six years ago. I still remember that first night in the main piazza in Florence, a memory that will be forever engrained in what it truly means to feel content with exactly where I am. I know everything is still brand new again, but my return to Europe has only brought up that initial feeling I had when I landed on the continent at the age of 21 – that feeling, almost like I’ve come home.” – 12 Reasons Why I Already Love Crete, Greece

Other related posts: Wrap Up: July 2017

August // Greece

Lefkes Village in Paros, Greece - Europe Travel

In August, I continued to enjoy my time on Crete. I was there for six weeks total and explored as much of the 3,206 mi² island as I could.

I went wine tasting, visited a donkey sanctuary, got lost on the stunning southern beaches, and explored the romantic city on the ocean, Chania.

I made friends with a group of women who I was staying with in Heraklion, and we went on road trips and adventurous girls weekends together. I experienced my first water park ever, had my first golf lesson, and completed a solo eight mile hike through the Samaria Gorge.

By the end of the month, I begrudingly packed my bags again to keep moving. I knew I should see at least a few other islands before I left Greece and my time was running out.

I island hopped to Santorini, then to Paros, and finally to Naxos. Paros, with its white washed cobblestone streets, cats, bright blue doors, and relaxed way of living was my favorite island of the three.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love what I do. I still plan on running my own business and working remotely when I can, but constant travel is something that I’ve realized for awhile now isn’t working for me…I want to be defined by more than just the places I’ve seen. I want to give back, have time for the people I love in my life, build a community again, and maybe even go back to school for a masters or just for fun. I want to feel like I have a sense of home to go back to.” – Why I’m Choosing to Settle

Other related posts: If You Were Here (Part II) / Wrap Up: August 2017 

September // Greece, Belgium, France

30 Things That Went Through My Head in Paris, France | Europe Travel

I spent the first week of September in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki. It had been talked up a lot, and I have to say I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would (the opposite of what happened with Athens).

However, I did become friends with a French girl in my hostel, who I immediately clicked with. We would grab dinner together, go out for drinks, and catch up about our days in our little room on the east side of the city. She even helped me celebrate my first year of The Atlas Heart being an LLC.

And then too quickly, my time in Greece came to an end. I found myself on a flight from Thessaloniki to Brussels, to experience the quirky culture and the cold weather of Belgium.

I adored Belgium even more than I thought I would, and I had already been hyping it up since I was a pre-teen and saw the country in a travel book I picked up one day. The frites, waffles, and OH MY GOD the chocolate, were on point. It was a dangerous combination.

I spent about a week in Brussels total, then moved on to Bruges for a few days, and finally Ghent. The only thing I was sad about by the time I jumped on my bus to Paris was that I only had 10 short days to experience the country. I knew I would have to come back to explore more of Belgium someday soon.

And then I was back in Paris, six years after I had first seen the city. It was different than I remembered. More welcoming, more beautiful, and less intimidating. This is why I always enjoy coming back to places, because you never know how much your perspective might change.

When I first visited Paris, I was a 21 year old newbie traveler that wasn’t very used to foreign cultures, especially ones where I didn’t speak the language. Fast forward six years later and I’m now a travel writer who has been to 30+ countries. Time changes you for the better sometimes. It’s no wonder I enjoyed Paris much more a second time around.

It was a fun week of trying to taste test as many macarons as possible, re-visiting all of the touristy spots, and partying with locals and tourists alike.

I love simply getting lost in Paris, walking along the Seine, following the winding streets of Montmartre, finding myself in yet another used bookstore. I would walk for hours around the city, popping into a store or cafe that looked interesting, meeting up with old and new friends.

My flight to Dublin got canceled last minute (gotta love Ryan Air), so I found myself with an extra night in the city. I splurged on front row seats at a jazz show because I’d always wanted to see live jazz in Paris, and enjoyed one of my favorite nights in the city.

It’s important because I still meet women on a daily basis who are scared of traveling alone, because of what that might mean for their personal safety. Some of them don’t want to deal with the extra attention they would attract on their own – simply because they were born with the XX chromosome. We should be encouraging women to continue to break down the negative stereotypes that still exist around traveling alone as a female. If that means feeling empowered by calling yourself a “solo female” traveler, so be it. I will happily call myself a solo female traveler.” – Why I Still Believe in Solo Female Travel

Other related posts: 30 Thoughts That Went Through My Head in Paris / Historic Indulgence in Bruges: Hotel Prinsenhof / Finding the Beauty in Goodbyes / Wrap up: September 2017

October // Ireland, California

I spent most of October in Ireland, attending a travel blogging conference in the south, trying to visit every major city in the country, and road tripping around the rugged and beautiful Wild Atlantic Way.

My first week was spent in Dublin, another city that I just have never felt a connection with, my second week in Killarney for TBEX, and a third week having a packed road trip around a good portion of Ireland’s coast.

I finally got to see northern Ireland and was blown away with the Causeway Coast, and how different it is up there compared to the south. I had many a Guinness and Murphy’s pint (depending on where I was in the country), finally visited the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, fell in love with Galway, and tried to stay warm with the brisk fall temperatures of Ireland.

On October 18th, I flew from Dublin to Reykjavik to San Francisco and met my sister with a warm embrace at the airport. The first thing I devoured was a California burrito, of course, and my sister and I caught up on each other’s years away from each other.

I ended up flying down to southern California within eight hours of getting back to the US to attend a wedding, met up with many old friends who I hadn’t seen in such a long time, and celebrated Halloween in San Francisco dressed up as French toast and a sexy dragon (not both in one night though).

One of my goals before the end of this year is to get into a better habit of mindfulness. I want to be able to value the passing of time more, to take one day at a time, and to not always feel like I’m running one step behind. October was bursting at the seams, which is probably why I felt so exhausted by the end of it – I barely had time to catch my breath. Note to self: slow down in November and December. Your body, mindset, and bank account will thank you.” – Wrap Up: October 2017

November // California

San Francisco, California - USA Travel | The Atlas Heart

November was all about embracing and enjoying home life, and also getting a semblance of some sort of routine again. I spent a lot of time with friends and family, meeting friends of friends, started to go on proper dates again, and got caught up on a whole lot of work that I never had time for on the road.

I started going to yoga regularly, eating better again, and even tried out a sober month. My energy levels peaked, and besides dealing with one nasty cold that lasted for a week, I had a productive month.

Most importantly, I was able to spend Thanksgiving with my family and my ailing 91 year old grandfather.

November was all about remembering how much I love California, and how, even if it doesn’t end up becoming my base in the next few years, it will always be a place I consider home.

I can’t believe I’ve been back in California for over a month already. It has gone by super fast, probably because my schedule has been filled with plenty of work, family time, and catching up with my closest friends who live in the Bay…A highlight to November was spending Thanksgiving at home this year. Last year around this time, I was still Taiwan and it’s just never the same spending the holidays abroad. Especially a very American holiday like Thanksgiving.” – Wrap Up: November 2017

Other Related Posts: Travel Destinations for 2018: Where I’m Going

December // California

Mendocino Coast Hotels: Brewery Gulch Inn | Northern California | USA Travel

And finally, after a year of so many places, ups and downs, and changes in my life, December came through in a breeze. It’s hard for me to believe that it’s already almost 2018, it feels like I just got home a couple of weeks ago and it should still be October.

Whereas November was more about relaxing and catching up with loved ones, December was much more packed with more hangouts, more dates, more road trips, and more travel planning for 2018.

I started out the month by having a girls wine weekend getaway in Mendocino with one of my best friends, finally got to celebrate the hilarious SantaCon in San Francisco, began volunteering at the SPCA, and split my time between the City and Santa Cruz.

As with Thanksgiving, I got to enjoy my Christmas at home this year which was a great feeling. And shortly, I’ll be taking off for another road trip, ending with an epic two day NYE party in the mountains with a huge group of friends, new acquaintances, and all around chill people. I can’t wait to ring in the New Year with good company.

Even though my friend and I are both native Californians, neither one of us had spent much time north of Petaluma. We knew this needed to change. And, one of my goals whenever I come home these days is to discover more beautiful places around my home state, because there are always endless choices for weekend trips from the Bay Area. So, our Mendocino getaway quickly came together with the plan to have the Brewery Gulch Inn as our base for the weekend.” – A Cozy Mendocino Getaway: The Brewery Gulch Inn

Other related posts: Short-Term Animal Volunteer Opportunities Abroad 

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In an effort to not make this too sappy, I’ll keep this short. I did want to say that even though I never could’ve imagined how this year would play out, I wouldn’t take it back for the world.

I haven’t laughed so much, cried so much, and felt so much in a long time, and for that I am grateful. This year was about feeling all the feels in many ways.

A year to myself was apparently just what I needed.

I hope you all have a wonderful New Year! I’m looking forward to seeing what 2018 will bring. 🙂

How was your 2017? What was your favorite and least favorite memories from the year? What are you most looking forward to in 2018?

*Make sure to check out my past four years in review here for 201620152014 & 2013!

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2017, A Year to Myself | The Atlas Heart

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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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