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No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and…

No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering

by Clara Bensen

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In the wake of a mental breakdown, Clara Bensen had just started rejoining the world when she decided to sign up for OKCupid on a lark. Through the website, she met Jeff, a college professor with an adventurous and spontaneous streak. A month into their relationship Clara agrees to join Jeff on a three-week, 8 country trip to Europe. The only condition: neither of them would bring any luggage.

This memoir is utterly engaging from the first page. Blending gorgeous travel writing with the tale of her unconventional romance with Jeff and reflections on her mental health journey, there's a lot of compelling reading here. While I could never imagine undertaking a trip with a single outfit and the contents of a small purse, it was utterly fascinating to explore such a trip. Highly recommended for both fans of travel memoirs as well as dating/relationship memoirs. ( )
  MickyFine | Jun 6, 2017 |
I could identify with Clara. Take away the 40 year age difference and the mental illness I could have been her. My lack of self confidence would easily be substituted for her anxiety. My Catholic upbringing traded for her homeschooling emphasis on evangelical teaching. Nevertheless I liked the book and related to many of her observations and revelations. I never could have traveled for 21 days w/o baggage! The theme of the memoir was self realization. I did miss the travel theme which was in the back seat. The object of her affection was an anomaly, on the surface he seemed self absorbed underneath was an extremely free spirit. ( )
  Alphawoman | Jun 11, 2016 |
Clara Bensen
No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering
Running Press
Hardcover, 9780762457243 (ebook also available), 288 pgs., $26.00
January 5, 2016

Clara, a smart, observant introvert, a “nice girl who played by all the rules,” was raised in an evangelical household terrified of Sartre. She had a crisis of faith and then, Sartre-like, an existential crisis. Recently surfaced in wonderment and determination from two years of a nervous breakdown, Clara is starving for life.

Intent on the “unconventional life,” Jeff is intense, charming, and either adventurous or reckless, depending upon your tolerance for risk, with a tendency to allow “playful disruption” to escalate into heedless exhibitionism. His motto is “We’ll see.” As in, where are we staying tonight? “We’ll see.” How are we getting from Budapest to Sarajevo? “We’ll see.”

No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering is a hybrid of memoir, travelogue, and psychological and philosophical rumination on the American condition in a time of rapid transformation. After meeting in Austin, Texas, through OKCupid and dating for a month, Clara and Jeff bought plane tickets to Istanbul and return tickets from London for a three-week trip through Europe. They used Couchsurfing.com to lay their heads at night—“no hotels, no reservations, no itineraries,” relying on serendipity, synchronicity, and the kindness of strangers. The “no baggage” in the title is literal—Clara and Jeff took only the clothes on their backs. It is also figurative in that they were in the midst of a relationship experiment—no traditional commitments—trying to travel without emotional baggage.

This free-form, tour-bus-free travel initially leaves Clara unmoored, but she finds her stride. It allows them to meet diverse and fascinating people: an Iranian tree-planting bicyclist, a Greek translator with a broken heart and passion for modern dance, a Hungarian film critic, a Turkish fisherman. These connections inform Clara’s awareness as she riffs on history, politics, religion, international relations, and economics, with literary allusions referencing John Muir, Lewis Carroll, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Sylvia Plath, and Diogenes. Her imagery brings famous landmarks to life, describing the minarets of Istanbul as “stacked like upturned teacups” and the inner basilica of the Hagia Sophia as a “gilded orange sliced in half.” The thermal spring-fed bathhouses of Budapest have “enough pools for a Dr. Seuss poem: indoor pools, outdoor pools, hot pools, cold pools, mineral pools and wave pools.”

This trip is Clara’s challenge to her wounded psyche, a sort of shock therapy to come to terms with the fundamental uncertainty of life by deliberately choosing the unknown. “Oh, you know, I’m feeling paralyzed by the human condition,” she writes candidly and humorously of her mental illness, “and I don’t know what to do except curl into the fetal position like a frightened pill bug.” Clara struggles with the ambiguities of the relationship as she and Jeff test “whether it was possible to love without grasping.” The “modern” experiment is alternately empowering and like a toddler with too many choices and not enough structure.

No Baggage is about exploring potentialities through journeys: those you take on planes, trains, and automobiles, and those you take through mental illness, friendship, and, maybe, love.

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life, ( )
  TexasBookLover | Mar 7, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0762457244, Hardcover)

No Baggage is a memoir that will resonate with adventurers and homebodies alike—it’s at once a romance, a travelogue, and a bright modern take on the age-old questions: how do you find the courage to explore beyond your comfort zone? And can you love someone without the need for commitment, or any expectations for the future?

When Clara Bensen arranged to meet Jeff Wilson on the steps of the Texas State Capitol, after just a few email exchanges on OKCupid, it felt like something big was going to happen. Clara, a sensitive and reclusive personality, is immediately drawn to Jeff’s freewheeling, push-the-envelope nature. Within a few days of knowing one another, they embark on a 21-day travel adventure—from Istanbul to London, with zero luggage, zero reservations, and zero plans. They want to test a simple question: what happens when you welcome the unknown instead of attempting to control it?

Donning a single green dress and a small purse with her toothbrush and credit card, Clara travels through eight countries in three weeks. Along the way, Clara ruminates on the challenges of traveling unencumbered, while realizing when it comes to falling in love, you can never really leave your baggage behind.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 31 Aug 2015 12:20:34 -0400)

"Newly recovered from a quarter-life meltdown, Clara Bensen decided to test her comeback by signing up for an online dating account. She never expected to meet Jeff, a wildly energetic university professor with a reputation for bucking convention. They barely know each other's last names when they agree to set out on a risky travel experiment spanning eight countries and three weeks. The catch? No hotel reservations, no plans, and best of all, no baggage. Clara's story will resonate with adventurers and homebodies alike--it's at once a romance, a travelogue, and a bright modern take on the age-old questions: How do you find the courage to explore beyond your comfort zone? Can you love someone without the need for labels and commitment? Is it possible to truly leave your baggage behind?,"--Amazon.com.… (more)

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