My Favorite Moments of 2015

My Favorite Moments of 2015 - The Atlas Heart

The best highlights and adventures from New Zealand to California in 2015

As I went through and reviewed this past year, a few moments in particular really stuck out to me as the best highlights from 2015. Since these moments had such an important impact on creating a great year, I wanted to tell you the anecdotes behind them and why they were so special to me.

This year, I wasn’t able to travel as much as I would’ve liked but I had a lot of little moments throughout the year that really made a difference in the scheme of things. These are my top memories from 2015.

Experiencing a Multi-Day Hike in Abel Tasman

I’ve always had a fondness for the outdoors. Growing up surrounded by lush redwood forests and beach vibes, it’s hard not to. Australia is really when I started venturing to national parks on my own to get lost in nature, but New Zealand was the first time I experienced a multi-day hike.

Abel Tasman National Park - Best Moments of 2015, The Atlas Heart

A multi-day hike is SO different from a day hike, most notably because you have to carry your accommodation and food on your back. Abel Tasman National Park at the top of the South Island is not a place you should only visit for a day, it’s considered one of the most stunning areas of the whole country.

So, we decided to tackle a three day coastal hike and we couldn’t have been more pleased with our decision. Luckily, it was fairly temperate the whole time we were there and it was during the summer, so it was a relatively easy hike for our first multi-day excursion.

With that said, the hike had its hard moments because it wasn’t something we were used to. We walked miles upon miles each morning and continued on even when our muscles were sore and aching. There was no better feeling once we made it to the end of the hike and hopped in my car to head back to Nelson.

That feeling of accomplishment never really goes away and it has made me want to tackle many more multi-day hikes in the future. It’s such a great way to really get a feeling for a place and understand and explore it on another level.

Related: A 3-Day Trek through Abel Tasman

Going Away Party in Wellington

In March, Kendall and I had our going away party at the bar I had worked at for just under a year. You could say that I’m used to goodbyes now with how much I travel for long periods of time. I’ve had my fair share of going away parties in the last few years alone, but this get together was one of the best.

The Bruhaus, Wellington - Best Moments of 2015, The Atlas Heart

Everyone who worked at The Bruhaus had a great relationship with the locals, a lot of them we were friends with outside of work too. Because of this, we had a packed bar of people we knew and ones we didn’t, all drinking to our journey and adventures ahead.

One of our good friends, Jat, bought us an expensive keg of our favorite gose ale, and we passed out pints to our new and old friends while enjoying life from the other side of the bar.

Going Away Party at Bruhaus - Best Moments of 2015, The Atlas Heart

That night was not only fun, but it made me realize how many wonderful connections I had made through that bar and Wellington in general.

It was also the last hooray before heading back to the US after an extended period of time abroad. It’s such a different experience working in the places you travel as opposed to just being a transitory tourist, and I cherish those two years beyond words. This going away party felt like a celebration of my time in Oceania as a whole.

Getting My First Tattoo

I had been debating for so long about what I wanted my first tattoo to be. I wanted to get my first one while I was abroad to make it even more special, but by the time I arrived in Auckland, I had a few short days before heading back to my home country so I accepted it probably wasn’t going to happen.

First Tattoo - Best Moments of 2015, The Atlas Heart

Then I received the message from my sister that I should call mom, my grandma had passed away. I was so sad and angry at myself that I had just missed seeing her one last time, but Kendall was there for me and helped me get through that day. As is sadly often the case, death that is close to us has a way of making us gain perspective and think about our own mortality. There is nothing like the present when death rocks your life in a profound way.

I decided I wanted to get a tattoo my last day abroad, for myself and as a homage to my grandma, to signify where I come from and where my roots will always be. I chose a simple design that day of a redwood tree, a symbol of my home and my roots in California. I chose the placement to be on my ankle with the trunk heading down towards my heel, the root of my body.

I still look at it fondly as a reminder of my time abroad, of my grandma, and the warm feeling that comes with no longer second guessing myself.

Attempting to Surf in Oahu

I’ve mentioned on here a few times about my extreme anxiety about the ocean and waves in particular. I’ve almost always lived near the sea and I love it deeply, but it’s something that gives me trepidation to be in. It’s such a strong feeling whenever I go into the ocean that it’s still a fear I haven’t quite gotten over. If you believe in reincarnation, it’s almost as if I drowned in a past life – it’s that strong of an aversion.

When I was in Oahu and starting fresh in the States again, I wanted to attempt to get over this fear and try my hand at a variety of water sports. I went body surfing, snorkeling, boogey boarding, stand-up paddle boarding, and the big one for me, I took a surf lesson.

Learning How to Surf - Best Moments of 2015, The Atlas Heart

I probably should’ve warned our instructor ahead of time about my uneasiness in the ocean, but I didn’t want that to be the focus. Because of this, he took us out further than he maybe usually would have because he thought that both Kendall and I were athletic and comfortable in the water.

I was trying to damper the oncoming panic attack as we made our way to the crashing waves. I stood up briefly once, but the waves crashed over me a good 4-5 times throughout the course of 30 minutes or so of trying to ride a handful of waves. I was out of energy from how far we had paddled out by this time, and I think I was even more afraid of getting pulled under again at this point.

Our instructor had been spending more time with Kendall since he was a natural at it to begin with. I made my way to shore after getting pummeled by another wave and having the wind knocked out of me. I was shaking uncontrollably by the time I got to shore out of pure adrenaline and anxiety. And even though our instructor looked at me with disappointment when he caught up with me, I was really proud of myself for even getting that far into the waves at all.

Some people may not understand the feeling of crippling anxiety, but I’ve dealt with it my whole life. To have been able to even get to the point of riding a surfboard on a crashing wave is something that took me many years to do, and it was one of my favorite moments from 2015 because of that. Regardless, of how terrible I was at it.

Related: Top 5 Things to do in Oahu

Living in a Van for 2 Months

I’m a road trip person through and through. Give me a car full of good tunes and good company with an open road in front of me and I couldn’t be happier. I thought an epic road trip would be the best way to see California again when I came back in April, so Kendall and I bought a cheap cargo van named Tinker Bell  and lived in it for 2 months up the coast.

Van Life - My Favorite Moments of 2015, The Atlas Heart

It was one of the more unique travel experiences I’ve had, but I loved it and wouldn’t take it back for anything. We put an air mattress in the back and slept in either campsites or on the side of the road each night. There are a few important aspects to note about living in a van, most importantly, to always have enough drinking water and to remember to use the toilet before finding a spot for the night if you’re sleeping on the street.

It wasn’t the most comfortable living arrangement for two months, but it was definitely the most adventurous and cost effective. This was before I was working on this blog full-time and I could be offline for days at a time. We would get lost in a national park or drive to a random beach to get out and explore. Nothing was really planned in detail ahead of time, and I grew to love this type of traveling a lot, especially in terms of seeing spots I had never been to before in my home state. It was a great homecoming and some of my favorite memories from the year came from that trip.

Related: 101 Things to do in California | The Ultimate Bucket List

Coming Home to Santa Cruz

Seeing my mom open the door and come out to give me a hug for the first time in two years caused me to feel a wave of emotions. I was finally home and it felt strange but comforting all at the same time. I have so many fond memories of the time I spent in my hometown in May, showing my Kiwi boyfriend all the key local spots around Santa Cruz and spending quality time with the family.

Santa Cruz, California - Best Moments of 2015, The Atlas Heart

I remember lunch dates and movies with my mom, breakfast by the ocean at Aldos, going on a hike in the redwoods, watching the surfers at Pleasure Point, and experiencing all my favorite haunts and activities I had missed so much while I was abroad.

Related: 101 Things to do in Santa Cruz (From a Local)

Deciding to Write Full-Time

I’ve mentioned this turning point a lot on this blog, and not to sound like a broken record, but it was one of  the defining and happiest moments of 2015 for me. I had played with the idea of turning this blog into business off and on for the past year, and I finally took the plunge to make it a reality this year.

Writing Full-Time - Best Moments of 2015, The Atlas Heart

I’ve never worked harder, without a day off and 12 hour days on a regular basis, but I have taught myself so much about the professional blogging business and how far I still have to go to properly start monetizing. It has been eye-opening and there are definitely days I want to close my laptop for a week just to rest my eyes and stop, but I know one day this hard work will pay off.

Surprisingly, even with the harder moments and financial difficulties that come with working for myself, I haven’t wanted to quit at any point. I go to bed exhausted pretty much every night, but I’m doing something that I actually love – which is a new concept for me. Bartending was a great way to make money while I traveled, but it was never something I genuinely saw myself wanting to do long-term.

Writing full-time was the best decision I could’ve made for myself, and I have high hopes for increasing my income and brand awareness for 2016.

Going to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

I had been wanting to attend an Oregon Shakespeare Festival production since I was quite young and became interested in Shakespeare Santa Cruz. I had heard such lovely things about Ashland in Southern Oregon, and I saw my chance to finally see a play at the famous Elizabethan theatre with my solo road trip from Santa Cruz to Portland.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival Production - My Favorite Moments of 2015, The Atlas Heart

I contacted the festival on a whim to see if I could write a review for them in exchange for a chance to see a play or two. I received a yes, and it was one of the best mornings in my mom’s kitchen in Santa Cruz, realizing that I was making a big transition into working with companies for my blog and also fulfilling one of my childhood dreams.

I ended up going to two productions, Guys & Dolls and Head Over Heels and I had the best time by myself getting lost in the acting and theatrics, appreciating the feels that art can give you.

Related: Experiencing the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland

Staycation in Portland

After my travels around Oregon, I made sure to get back to Portland in time for my one year anniversary with Kendall. We decided to stay in a swanky hotel in downtown Portland, thanks to my mom’s generous offer to treat us for a weekend of luxury – knowing we were both still struggling a lot financially.

Staycation in Portland - My Favorite Moments of 2015, The Atlas Heart

It was the nicest gift she could’ve given us for our one year, and even though Kendall still had to work for part of our staycation, it was the first time we enjoyed living in downtown Portland for a couple of nights.

We would wander to find a good Indian spot for dinner, we came across free outdoor live music, and Kendall treated me to the best professional massage ever. I felt relaxed for weeks on end after our staycation and it was the perfect way to ring in one year of happiness with each other.

Related: 8 Free Things to do in Portland

It’s all About the Strip Clubs

Believe it or not, some of my best nights out in Portland have involved the infamous strip clubs all over the city. Portland is known for its strip clubs, it actually has the highest per capita than any other city in America, and it’s a standard local nightlife activity to go see.

Strip Clubs in Portland - My Favorite Moments of 2015, The Atlas Heart

Some of my fondest memories have been going out with our few Portland friends to a strip club to either start or end the night. Sometimes the most random nights are the best ones, and Portland can definitely take the cake for randomness.

My First Travel Blogging Conference – TBEX

A big step forward in my blogging career was attending my first professional conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida – TBEX, or Travel Blog Exchange. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was wonderful, overwhelming, and just a tad intimidating all at once.

TBEX Conference in Florida - Best Moments of 2015, The Atlas Heart

After bartending for so many years and being in a sorority in college, I can talk to pretty much anyone, and I was glad for that background going into such a huge conference with so many types of people. With that said, it wasn’t as intimidating as I thought it would be, everyone, for the most part, was very friendly and professional. I even made a few new friends that I still keep in contact with.

It was eye-opening to learn more on what this whole business is all about, and understand the culture and fast-paced nature of blogging and marketing trends in general. It was my first time speed networking with companies, and because I had to get so many aspects together for the conference, such as a media kit and business cards, it made me get serious about my blog real quick. I would say it was a leap forward in the right direction for my career, and that alone made it one of my favorite moments from 2015.

Related: My First TBEX and Misadventures in Florida

It’s still hard for me to comprehend how much you can accomplish in a year, it’s a lot of time when you think about it. What were your favorite moments of 2015?

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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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10 comments

  1. I really love the tree tattoo, especially knowing the meaning it holds for you. What a full, busy year of adventure and following your dreams! Looking forward to seeing where 2016 and your writing takes you. Cheers!

    1. Thank you, Debbie! Yeah, it took awhile to write down all of these favorite moments for this post – but I’d say it’s a good thing there were so many from 2015.

  2. What wonderful moments and I love that I can follow your whole blog here in one post! Thanks for sharing. Love that tattoo and congrats on conquering the ocean!!

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