Do you remember this story? The one about the couple who met on OkCupid and took off on a three-week trip with no luggage? As, like, their first date? Part of my mind never stopped spinning over this idea. When I heard Clara Bensen was writing a book about the experience, I knew I would want to read it, even if it turned out to sound like it had been ghostwritten by a drunken Cosmopolitan stringer. No worries. Bensen writes beautifully, so much so that we can be sure she’ll write another book one day.
No Baggage is, on one level, a travelogue. The author and her new boyfriend use Couchsurfing.com to find places to stay in various cities across seven countries. He likes to document and photograph the few possessions they carry, noting what got lost and what they added along the journey. Apparently sample-size tubes of toothpaste are harder to come by than one might guess. For anyone who is enchanted with the idea of simply locking the front door and heading off for the sunset, this is a very practical guide.
On another level, the love story really shines. Jeff Wilson must now rank as one of the quirkiest, most charismatic male love interests in print. If this had been a novel, we might not have believed in him. He has kind of a Where’s Waldo? thing going on, with red pants, a stripy sweater, and black-framed glasses. One thing that can be said about traveling with only the clothes on your back: it works really well if you want to adapt your story into a cartoon or graphic novel. I would definitely buy that book.
On yet another level, Bensen writes eloquently about her personal demons. It is staggering to contemplate her courage, not just in jumping into this affair and this wacky adventure, but in sharing the most personal details about her struggles with anxiety. She goes right out the door without so much as a bottle of sunblock or a pocket handkerchief. I can’t even leave on an overnight without at least an emergency sandwich.
(I do have to throw it out there, though; I couldn’t help but read the story through my own peculiar perspective, and wonder if the root of her issue may have been nutritional rather than emotional or mental).
Love is for everyone. Adventure, though, may be for the young. Part of me wanted to tag along on the next No Baggage trip. The other part contemplated how high-maintenance I can be as a traveler, with my fussy sleep problems and my inflexible diet, not to mention how quickly I turn into a walking biohazard if I can’t bathe every day. The last time we decided to “wing it,” I wound up crying into an empty peanut butter jar on a bus somewhere in the south of Iceland. It’s funny. I’m a one-bag traveler, but my one bag seems equivalent to dragging an entire PODS unit by a bungee cord compared to the No Baggage schema.
This is a really beautiful book. I loved it SO MUCH. I highly recommend it, for minimalists, for armchair travelers, and for people who believe in reckless love.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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