A book deal was far from Clara Bensen’s mind when she embarked on a three-week journey through Europe, alongside a recent OkCupid date, with no luggage. For some, this form of travel might sound too anxiety-ridden. But for Bensen, it was a personal experiment in celebrating the possibilities of life and love.
The Adventure That Has Everyone Curious
In 2013, Bensen met Jeff Wilson after connecting on the dating website, OkCupid. Wilson, also known as Professor Dumpster, is a known Austin character though the Dumpster Project, in which he spent a year living in a dumpster at Huston-Tillotson University, where he taught Environmental Science.
True to his fun-loving nature, he sent Bensen coordinates to where they would meet for their first date. He chose the dark, but charming, Cloak Room near the Capitol Building. Bensen said the connection was immediate, and she had a premonition that something life-altering was about to take place.
Only a month later, Wilson suggested taking a trip with no baggage and no itinerary. The pair agreed to start in Istanbul. If they realized they didn’t enjoy spending that amount of time together, they could split up amicably.
Throughout the trip, Bensen bravely juggled her life back at home and her ambiguous relationship with Wilson, all while lacking the everyday items that provide emotional security and act as a reminder of personal identity.
Discussing Bensen’s Debut Novel, “No Baggage”
They made it through the trip. With one outfit each and the bare essentials, Bensen and Wilson returned home with gorgeous photographs and a strong bond. Still, they were unsure as to where they would stand as a pair when returning to a sense of normalcy. It was only six months later that life accelerated. Bensen wrote an article about her travels that went viral overnight.
Suddenly, introverted Bensen was thrust into the limelight. As the article gained more and more attention, Bensen and Wilson were asked to do major interviews. One notable appearance was on ABC’s daytime talk show, “The View.” Though Wilson felt comfortable enough to ask for a selfie with Barbara Walters, Bensen found the experience rather bizarre. While the shocked faces in the audience were amusing, Jenny McCarthy’s inquiry into their physical relationship was less than welcome.
A book deal was the logical next step. In order to release the book while interest was piqued, Bensen had to get to work immediately. The story was still evolving as she was trying to tell it, and there was immense pressure for a happy ending. She didn’t have ample time to process the journey, but the words had to pour out (admittedly, after a quick Google search of “how to write a book”).
Coming Full Circle, Back to 6th and Lamar
Though “No Baggage” was released on Jan. 5, Bensen didn’t see her book in stores until her reading and signing at BookPeople on Jan. 21. She harbored a fear of bookstores, finding it intimidating to produce work that could live up to the other books on the shelves. Hopefully after presenting her book in front of a packed crowd (including Wilson), she knows her work is in its rightful place.
Ironically, BookPeople shares a parking lot with clothing store, Anthropologie, where Bensen chose the green dress she wore on her famous trip. Since “No Baggage” has already been optioned for a movie deal, the emerald dress might be seen on the silver screen within the next few years.
Bensen knows travel isn’t a possibility for everyone, and her stories, though incredible, are not a call for everyone to mimic her path. She does recommend throughly exploring one’s own city. Bensen and Wilson spend hours walking around Austin and appreciating local favorites like The White Horse, which Bensen notes as one of her favorite Austin locations. “It has a sense of community I hope Austin maintains.”
Every time they walk together, they take a different path, start conversations with strangers and take in interesting details that could be easily overlooked. Recently, they even found red fingernail polish along the train tracks just east of I-35, which Wilson promptly put on.
Bensen is beginning her second book now, addressing what it was like to grow up homeschooled and move to Fort Worth to attend a televangelist megachurch. She clearly has no shortage of interesting stories. For updates on her journey, visit Bensen’s website and follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
@MadameKLM wants to know:
Would you take part in a “no baggage” trip?