Wrap Up: January 2018

Wrap Up: January 2018 | Montreal, Canada

My January was a month of many ups and one profound piece of sadness. I went to Tahoe and Montreal for the first time, and Chicago for the second time, to see some of my closest friends. It was everything I could’ve asked for to start off my 2018 on a good foot, but it was also the month that my papa passed away.

Not that it makes it any easier, but I was glad to be home this time to be with family. My last two grandparents who passed away did so while I was abroad, and it was heart wrenching to be so far from my friends and family during such a delicate time.

Since my papa’s passing was expected, I had a chance to say goodbye to him a few days before he passed, which I’m incredibly grateful for. Still, there was a deep sadness that punctuated January and the start of the year.

I don’t think it has fully hit me yet that he’s gone. He was such a pure and goodhearted person, and I’m so very lucky to have known him for as long as I did.

In addition to the news of my papa’s passing, the first month of 2018 was packed and much busier than I anticipated. I’m glad I was able to fit everything in and get back into what it feels like to be a nomad again.

Not that I want to jump into the nomadic lifestyle full-time again – I’m still very much enjoying a fixed life right now – but there’s no doubt that I miss travel whenever it’s not in my life, or I don’t have an upcoming trip planned. I think that will always be the case for me.

Wrap Up: January 2018 | Chicago, Illinois | USA Travel

January was a good balance of seeing some of my best friends, making new friends, and splitting my time between my nomadic and fixed-life tendencies.

This was my January!

Places & Memories

Tahoe | My first big trip of the year was to Tahoe. I’m glad I finally checked this bucket list item off my list. As a Californian, it’s pretty much a rite of passage to spend time in Tahoe, usually at least once or twice a year. It was getting embarrassing that I still hadn’t done it.

Luckily, my friend Brian came to the rescue and out of the blue invited me to come up to Tahoe with him and a bunch of his friends.

Wrap Up: January 2018 | Lake Tahoe, California | USA Travel

I spent five days hanging outside of Sacramento and then Tahoe, watching a lot of gambling, sipping on hot toddies, and playing the hilarious Cards-Against-Humanity-esque game, What Do You Meme? 

I was also hoping to play in the snow, but global warming, you know? It was as dry as a brisk spring day up there with barely any slush on the side of the road.

Regardless, Tahoe was stunning – I can see what all the fuss is about. Since we stuck around South Lake, next time I’d love to go up to North Lake in the summer and do more outdoorsy activities. I’m already planning my return.

Montreal | Montreal was one of the trips I was most looking forward to this month. Not only because one of my best friends, Pascale, lives there, but also because it always looks like such a magical winter wonderland in pictures.

I was excited to play in proper snow, and I definitely got what I wished for and more!

Wrap Up: January 2018 | Montreal, Quebec | Canada Travel

Although somedays it was so cold that it was uncomfortable to be outside for long periods of time (I’m talking nostril hair freezing weather), I got a good overview of the city from Pascale and her family and friends.

This is another place I want to go back to in the summer. I’ve heard it’s a stunner during the warmer months with a lot of festivals and events going on.

I also loved that I was able to practice my French without having to leave North America, the AMAZING poutine, and how the city had such a cool European feel to it combined with an eclectic New World vibe.

Chicago | After Montreal, I made my way to Chicago to spend a week with another best friend and her boyfriend. They just moved into a sick downtown Chicago high-rise apartment, and the view that welcomed me each morning kind of made me never want to leave.

This was my second visit to the city and I focused on more of the local side of exploring neighborhoods, bars, and shows, as opposed to focusing on the main tourist attractions like I did last time. I also went to the Women’s March in Chicago, which I was excited to attend and support, since last time at this year I was in Thailand.

Wrap Up: January 2018 | Chicago Women's March

I went to a Second City sketch comedy show (where many SNL stars got their start), visited the humongous Chicago Art Institute (and subsequently watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off later that night), had the best fondue at Geja’s, and walked around the cold city streets until my feet and hands got too numb.

I also really enjoyed exploring the neighborhoods of Logan Square and Lincoln Park.

It’s seems like a favorite pastime of people who live in Chicago is eating and drinking a lot, so here are a few of my favorite bars and restaurants from this trip: Three Dots and a Dash (a speakeasy Tiki Bar), Reggies, Longman & Eagle (delicious brunch), and Replay (arcade dive bar).

San Francisco | Similar to the previous couple of months, I spent time off and on in San Francisco. That time involved visiting my sister and eating delicious Cuban Food at Cha Cha Cha, drinking a lot of Sangria and seeing a random show at the Independent (any Whiskerman fans out there?!), and finally getting back to the MoMa, or Museum of Modern Art.

Wrap Up: January 2018 | Cha Cha Cha, San Francisco, California | USA Travel

I hadn’t been to the MoMa since my last high school field trip, and it’s just as big and impressive as I remembered. It’s one of the better modern art museums I’ve seen, which isn’t a surprise being in artsy San Francisco and all.

San Jose | I spent some more time in San Jose this month, making dinner, cookies, and homemade mulled wine with a friend, drinking at a speakeasy whisky bar, and listening to live jazz.

Wrap Up: January 2018 | MoMa, San Francisco, California | USA Travel
San Francisco to San Jose shenanigans.

The more time I spend in San Jose, the more I like it. Although, it’s not necessarily a place that I would move to anytime soon, it has still been fun taking time to see more of what the city has to offer. It’s so often overshadowed by San Francisco, but I’d argue it has its own draw and character.

Santa Cruz | And finally, I again split my time in Santa Cruz for part of January.

I came back for a few days once I heard about my papa’s passing to be with my mom.

Santa Cruz, California - The Atlas Heart 2015 Review

I also had a lovely visit from my friend. I showed him around my hometown and took him to all my favorite local haunts – Michoacan Taqueria, sunset watching at West Cliff Drive, hot chocolate drinking at Chocolate, and a movie at the historic Del Mar Theatre.

We finished off the night by going to the new cocktail bar at Abbott Square next to the art museum in Santa Cruz. They make the most epic gin and tonics. They’re sooo good, but dangerously strong.


With everything that went down in January, my reading was not as much of a priority as I would’ve liked. I again only got through one book this month – Fluent in 3 Months by Benny Lewis.

I’ve always wanted to be better at picking up and learning languages. I find it kind of embarrassing that I’m a world traveler, and not yet fluent in any other language besides English.

I know a little bit of Spanish, a little French, and my latest language has been trying to learn Portuguese. I would love to by a polyglot and be able to speak multiple languages with ease someday, which is why Lewis’ book was so appealing to me.

Wrap Up: January 2018 | Chicago, Illinois | USA Travel

He basically talks about how language learning, and how good you are at it, has everything to do with your environment and less about age or if you’re someone who just has a ‘knack for learning languages’.

He argues that anyone can be good at a language if you create the right environment and start speaking the language from day one. He brought up some interesting concepts that I want to put into practice, and his book gave me a new perspective on what exactly it takes to learn a language properly from the beginning.

If you’re someone who struggles with learning languages and/or you’re keen to learn one right now, his book is worth the read. If anything, it’s interesting getting insight on what strategies have worked for him, since he didn’t learn his first language until his was 21 and now speaks about 8 or so.


After 20 hours of travel, I just arrived to Delhi yesterday and I’ll be in India for the next two weeks. It’s still surreal that I’m actually here. It was only two weeks ago that my friend Pascale and I decided to come to India together last minute while we were hanging out in Montreal.

I’ll be trying to disconnect as much as I can while I’m here to try and take in all the wonderful things that India has to offer with my short time.

Wrap Up: January 2018 | San Francisco Sunrise | California Travel

After India, I’ll almost immediately be heading up to Oregon for 10 days to spend time with my dad and stepmom and go to a couple college women’s basketball games. It’ll be the perfect place out in the country to decompress after busy India, and to have some quality time catching up with family.

Until next month, friends! Xx

How was your January? Did you have a good start to the year? 

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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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