Finding wanderlust: introducing The Atlas Heart 2

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I may not have a traditional backstory as a travel writer. I didn’t start traveling abroad until I reached 18 and I went on a backpacking trip through Costa Rica as a graduation present to myself, with the money I had saved from working at my local movie theater.

In school, I was always playing 3 different sports at a time, and wearing myself thin with AP classes and my social butterfly tendencies to be everyone’s friend.

Don’t get me wrong, I like being busy, but I’ve always been a naturally introverted person as well. Once I learned how to zone in on that side of my personality, to sometimes just sit back and observe the world rushing around me, that is when my love for writing grew and took off. Add that to the desire from a young age to see what was outside of my little hometown bubble, and travel writing became a clear choice for me as I grew older.

Skydiving in Taupo New Zealand

Hiking the Tongariro Crossing - New Zealand

Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef - Australia

Perhaps it was also due to the fact that travel wasn’t a priority in my family. Vacations generally consisted of a road trip to Nevada (an 8 hour drive away) once a year, but I always felt a jolt of deep longing whenever I looked up at a plane flying over me. I would wonder where the people in that plane were going and what adventures they were off to next. I wished more than anything that one day I could be up there too.

However, I was starting to realize a big issue in my life at the time – the problem of crippling anxiety that hit me hard during my middle school and high school years. Every week it seemed, I had new anxieties and reasons why I couldn’t do something.

Then one day on the bus, I met an elderly woman who sat next to me and asked me where I was going. When I told her that I was on my way to San Jose to meet a friend (a 45 minute drive away), she just about fell out of her seat. She couldn’t believe I was so brave as to take a trip all by myself, it was hard enough for her to get out of her house most days, there were too many bad things in the world.

That’s when it hit me that I was creating a life for myself that was heading exactly towards that mentality. I worked hard for the next year, facing the many anxieties and random irrational fears I had accumulated. Once I conquered the majority of them, I made a promise to myself that I would never let fear keep me from doing what I wanted to do in my life.

Eastern Beaches - Sydney, Australia

Bali, Indonesia

Wine Tasting in the Yarra Valley - Victoria, Australia

Surprisingly enough, I’m glad for the amount of anxiety I once had in my life because it pushed me outside of my comfort zone in so many wonderful ways.

It allowed me to move abroad and start over in 3 foreign cities completely by myself. It inspired me to jump out of a plane in New Zealand, get my scuba certification in Cambodia, (try) to learn how to surf in Hawaii, even drink snake blood and bile in Vietnam. There’s not much I won’t do these days when it comes to adventure, because I tend to keep my promises.

With my new found independence after high school, I made travel a priority once I hit college and had a regular income as a barista and/or bartender. I would fly down to Austin, Texas, just for the fun of it in the middle of winter and spend a week exploring the hidden city treasures and vibrant live music.

I went to Florence, Italy, for a summer simply to learn how to cook delicious Italian food. I finally even moved abroad to Australia and New Zealand, and spent two years away from home intaking everything I could about the culture down under.

Angkor Wat Monkey - Siem Reap, Cambodia

I funded all my travels through working 2-3 minimum wage jobs at a time, and, in the case of Australia and New Zealand, applied for working holiday visas and paid my way as I went. I started my blog, The Atlas Heart, right before I left for Oceania and it has given me a place to jot down my thoughts on the world and hopefully inspire others to find their own adventures along the way.

There will always be reasons not to travel. My goal is to break down the misconceptions that people carry around with them, that travel is scary or too expensive – it really doesn’t have to be. Going beyond travel, this can apply to any aspect in life. If there’s anything that you’ve put off doing because of trepidation or comfort zone restrictions, do it now.

All we have is the present, after all.


Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. Follow her on The Atlas Heart for more great stories and photos of a worldwide adventurer.

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About Mimi McFadden

Mimi is the founder behind The Atlas Heart blog and has traveled through 4 continents since her first trip abroad at 18, including a two year stint living in Oceania. From jumping out of a plane in New Zealand, to eating snakes in Vietnam, learning how to cook in Italy, and scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, she is always looking to live with an open mind and an Atlas Heart. She's currently based in the Pacific Northwest.

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