I’m Moving (Back) to California!

I'm Moving (Back) to California!

After 5 and a half years of slow travel around the world, I’m ready to have a more stable life in California. This is why. 

When the wheels lifted off the tarmac for Iceland in May, I felt my heart sink and float back down to San Francisco. 

A realization set in. I was leaving for yet another indefinite amount of time abroad, and all I could think about was how much I was going to miss California. 

I rarely get homesick, and the fact that I was already feeling a homesickness creep in during takeoff was proof enough that, at least for now, California is where my heart and mind are at.  

Friend Catch-ups in San Diego, California - USA Travel
How excited I get after having really good Mexican food in California.

I planned to live in Europe for the rest of spring and summer, and maybe find a base on the continent to set down roots for a while.

On one hand, I was excited as I always am for new travels and new cultures to explore, to finally experience Portugal, a country I’d heard such good things about. 

On the other hand, I knew deep down that I was setting off on a wild goose chase to find a base, because I’d already found a home in California during my 6 months back between travels this past winter. I just wasn’t ready to admit it. 

But, after spending a few months in Europe this summer, I was even more sure of that decision to move to California. I knew I was ready to call it home again. 

I made it my goal for 2018 to find a more permanent base this year, to finally unpack my bags and start creating a life for myself that wasn’t just about travel.

I lined out the reasons for wanting to settle here, but it ultimately came down to an untethered feeling I had about my place in this world and what I was actually doing with my life. 

I'm Moving Back to California
In Ireland, right before I got back last year and realized how much I miss California.

In the past year, I noticed travel losing the allure it once had for me. And it scared me. 

I’ve not only made travel my job, but my identity over the past few years, and I realized how unhappy I had become with that identity because it doesn’t represent all of who I am, and it’s not only who I want to be. 

It was hard to come to that realization because I liked being the adventurous friend who tells the craziest stories over a round of beers.

I liked being the exotic foreigner who decides to take off and live in another country for a few months to a year at a time. I liked getting carried away with travel romances, and reluctantly leaving them behind once they lost their whimsical glow. 

I liked finding my independence and coming to the realization that I don’t need anyone but myself to be happy, but also how I’d like to someday share my life with someone who complements me in the best ways.

I still plan to be that adventurous friend who you can rely on for a good story, but I also plan on doing a lot more with my life than just saving up for my next big trip. 

This is far from me saying I’m giving up on travel. In fact, I think this move will allow me to enjoy travel more because I won’t be working while on the road as much as I am now. 

When I do take trips, I want to really enjoy every minute and detail of them, not get lost in the daily minutiae of client work and running a business out of a backpack. 

I'm Moving (Back) to California | Udaipur, India
When I went to India earlier this year, I was able to fully enjoy the trip because I didn’t take my work with me.

Adventure will still be a huge component to my life, and I’m excited to see how it will unfold in other ways than just the travel realm – although I still plan on scuba diving (more), hot air ballooning, paragliding, and bungy jumping in the near future in a few different exotic locations. 

I left San Diego over 5 years ago with the intention of getting outside of my comfort zone, having international adventures, and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. 

And I did just that. My travels from the past 5 years have been life-changing, real, and led me to the career I’ve made for myself today as a travel writer and business owner. 

But, by continuing to stay on the road, even after I figured out my place, it made me lose my footing again. 

It’s time for me to slow down, enjoy the solid connections and friends in my life, and become truly comfortable with who I am and what I’m doing with my time here. 

And for right now, California is the next step on the journey for me. 

So, Why California?

Over the past year, I’ve traveled to cities like Brussels, Paris, Montreal, Chicago, Edinburgh, and now, Lisbon, to see if any of them had a spark for me, to make me consider moving there. 

There were pros and cons to each, but ultimately it was always California that I looked forward to coming back to. 

I’ll be the first to say that I never expected to move back to California more permanently in my 20s (or even in my 30s), but my mind changed when I got back from another year abroad last fall and spent a solid 6 months in the Bay Area.

I had just gone through probably one of the roughest emotional years of my life, and California welcomed me back with open arms. 

I'm moving back to California | Mendocino Weekend, California
I’m looking forward to more girls weekends with some of my closest friends

I reconnected with all of my oldest friends, my family, and had the chance to say goodbye to my last grandparent before he passed away – something I didn’t get to do with my last two grandparents because I was abroad. 

And I noticed something funny about being back in California for longer than I had since leaving it 5 years ago – I had a different type of confidence at home than I did abroad. 

Even though the US frustrates me to no end sometimes, I knew how the culture worked without having to think about it, I felt a sense of calm every time I drove down the streets I grew up on, I had a built-in community and packed weekends every week with various friend groups from different parts of my life. 

Dating was nowhere near as challenging as it has been abroad. When I got back home, I realized that I hadn’t dated an American in over 5 years (!!). 

And, honestly, it was refreshing that the first guy I dated when I got back was a born and bred Californian, who understood all my references and humor without a second thought. 

Although I would be lying if I didn’t say that I’m still attracted to foreign romances (against my better judgment, usually 😀 ).

Wine Weekend Getaway with Hotel Valencia Santana Row - California
Wine tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains, only about 30 minutes from where I grew up.

I was originally planning on staying in the US for only a couple of months when I flew in from Ireland last October, but I ended up staying 4 months longer because I couldn’t bring myself to leave.

It felt too good to be in a place where I felt comfortable and at ease. I realized how much being back in California healed me in terms of my mental and emotional health from the past year, and it was hard to let that go. 

Around this time is also when I realized that maybe it’s okay to not always feel the need to challenge myself in every aspect of my life, that it’s okay to make this one part of my life easier. 

Because sometimes it can feel truly wonderful to just go with the flow and fit in completely with the culture you’re living in.

Wrap Up November 2017 | The Atlas Heart
My brother’s 30th birthday in San Jose. Damn it felt good to finally be in town for one of my sibling’s birthdays.

Now, even though it feels like a huge weight has been lifted now that I know where I want to be, I know it’s not going to be all daisies and roses. 

I always have reverse culture shock when I come back to the US, no matter how long I’m away, because it’s a very different mindset and culture from pretty much anywhere else I’ve been. 

I also know better than anyone how many flaws my country has, especially right now, but hey, at least I can actually try and change what I don’t like about my country when I’m back on US soil. Or at least stand with and support those who are trying to change it.  

As of now, I plan to live in San Francisco, although I haven’t taken San Diego or Los Angeles off the table either. 

There are plenty of pros and cons to living in SF that I’ve already thought about in great detail before making my decision to move there. They are as follows: 

I'm moving back to California | San Francisco, California
Grabbing drinks with friends in San Francisco before taking off on another foreign adventure.


  • It’s where my people are. A good chunk of my family and my closest friends from high school and college are living in San Francisco right now. I already have a built-in community with people that I love to spend time with. This is a huge plus for me. 
  • I’ve always wanted to live in the city. Growing up in Santa Cruz, it’s always the dream to live in the ‘big city’ when you’re younger. Although I’ve spent a lot of time in San Francisco over the years, I’ve never properly lived there. My childhood self would be ecstatic that that’s finally happening. 
  • Networking opportunities. There is so much happening in San Francisco, especially in terms of the travel industry and networking events. Plus it’s where the birth of the startup happened, in Silicon Valley, so there are plenty of inspiring business owners and creative entrepreneurs that I can connect with in the city. 
  • Weather. God I’ve missed California weather…although I guess San Francisco isn’t the best representation of that with its cold wind and fog. Still, much more temperate than most places in the world, and if I stick to the right San Francisco packing list it should be fine. 
  • Outdoorsy culture. I love how outdoorsy and active people are who live in California, it’s a big part of the culture, especially in San Francisco. There are so many good hikes and parks that are in and around the Bay Area, and not too far beyond that. I plan to get out in nature as much as I can once I’m back. Plus, there are some great road trip options a short distance away from San Francisco, like doing a trip down to Big Sur or Lake Tahoe
  • It’s beautiful. There’s a certain unique beauty to the hills and glittering bay in San Francisco. It’s why so many people come back to the city time and again. 
  • Mexican food. Need I say more?
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco | Marin Headlands
The Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands, a great place to go hiking right next to the city.


  • Violence/Safety. Being in the US, San Francisco has its fair share of random violent incidents. When I was back last winter, I had a scary run-in with a mentally disturbed man at a deserted train station in the city. It was the first time that I thought my life was going to be held at gun or knife point. It was terrifying. And just the other day I read about the random stabbing and death of a young black woman in her 20s at a popular BART station in Oakland. I know violence happens in any big city, but certain parts of San Francisco feel much more unsafe than anywhere I’ve been in Europe, Asia, Australia, or New Zealand. That fact is something I have to come to terms with still. 
  • Homelessness. The amount of homeless people you see while walking around in San Francisco is heartbreaking, especially because it just shows how large the wealth gap is in the city. San Francisco is where some of the richest people in the world live, and yet there is a huge homeless problem and a lot of people in need. Something doesn’t quite add up. 
  • How expensive it is. There’s no getting around it, San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in. I think it actually surpassed New York a few years ago as the most expensive city in the US, and I’m sure it’s right up there with London. It’s not uncommon to see a 2 or 3 bedroom house or apartment costing around $3,500-$5,000 per month in rent. I’d estimate, to live comfortably in the city, you have to be making around $60,000 to $70,000 per year, and that’s at minimum. It’s going to be an adjustment, especially from living in places like Portugal, Greece, and Thailand (my last three bases), which are much more affordable.  
San Francisco, California - USA Travel | The Atlas Heart
Catching a sunset with my sister at Baker Beach in San Francisco.

What Now

After I set up my base in San Francisco, I plan to grow this blog in ways I haven’t been able to while traveling full time. Most importantly, I want to start making more passive income, writing more, and doing a bit of a reorganization with The Atlas Heart brand.  

You might start seeing more Bay Area/California travel posts and guides, because, let’s be real, I’m excited to share my knowledge about a place I truly feel like I can be an expert on. And, to show you how much there is to do in the Golden State! 

I'm Moving to California | The Atlas Heart
You could say I’m excited for my upcoming move to SF!

I’m not saying that my move to San Francisco, or even to California, is a permanent one, but it’s the biggest commitment I’ve made in quite a few years, and I’m excited to see where this new path takes me. 

I hope you guys stick around and follow along on this new adventure as I learn how to reconnect and fall in love again with my home state, and continue to travel to new exotic locales in my free time.

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Mimi McFadden
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