21 days. 8 countries. 3,500 miles. 1 green dress. 

luggage-less dance across europe clara bensen

Have you ever boarded a plane with absolutely no baggage?

Probably not, right? Clara Bensen did just that when she strolled through an international terminal three years ago with no itinerary, and nothing to hold onto except the guy (Jeff Wilson) she met on an online dating site. It all began in April of 2013, with a simple OKCupid date. 25-year-old Bensen was newly recovered from her quarter life crisis and said yes to a date with Jeff Wilson, a dumpster diving professor and ‘travel experiment’ evangelist. It didn’t take long before the two were off on a 21-day European adventure like no other.

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No Reservations – literally

Clara was still fragile from a post-college downward spiral when she met Jeff, a playful soul drawn to creating magical experiences out of everyday normalcies. Jeff likes to push the boundaries, experimenting with awkward disruptions on a daily basis. He’s the sort of guy who, well, throws on a pair of red chinos and heads off to Europe with nothing but a couple of credit cards and an iPhone. But, Jeff is just what the doctor ordered, and saying yes to this trip was just part of the beautiful, messy journey to newfound freedom and life.

Traveling Unencumbered

I had the chance to sit down and speak with Clara in a serene coffee shop in east Austin where she brought her baggage-less trip to life through her words and inevitably through her writing. Clara explains their journey as one like all others: times filled with worry like when they stood dripping sweat on the Bosnian highway, thumbs up, hoping for a ride into Croatia. And, times of sheer magic, like breathing in the ancient air of the Acropolis. “It is the rhythm of travel, to be exhausted by marathons of movement, and then surprised by tiny moments of magic amongst the chaos.” And according to Clara: “It always works out. That is what I have learned most, to trust in the entire crazy process.”

Luggage-less travel Clara explained the intensity of travel without material trappings. “It took us ten minutes to pick up our lives and leave a place – that is invigorating in itself. The shear notion that nothing, no material trappings are holding you back from moving freely is reason in itself to feel alive and connected to your surroundings.” She also explained the wonder behind experiencing a place in a totally different way. “The things you talk about with the people you stay with are real; they know the behind-the-scenes places to go.”

The Book Deal: ‘No Baggage’

After arriving back to the US in one piece (and the same pair of clothes), Clara published an article on Salon.com entitled “The Craziest OKCupid Date Ever” which was read by more than half a million people worldwide. The story of her baggage-less adventure attracted major international attention, with coverage in USA Today, and appearances on The View and Fox News. Our very own Sophie Saint even wrote a Travelettes feature on the two: A Story of Romance, Travel and OKCupid.

clara bensen luggage-less dance across europe

Her recently published book, No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering‘ is the extended version of the article, a story about the ability to be wildly free, and to live (for a while) without the encumbrance of ‘stuff.’ In my opinion, it is beautifully written with a mixture of historical context, passion, and realness about what its like to travel unencumbered. I highly recommend it for anyone going through a quarter life crisis, needing a little love story, or just wanting to be reminded of the real reason we travel – for the people, the experiences, and the moments you can never quite explain.

Once is never enough

Clara and Jeff have made four subsequent no baggage trips. They have traipsed across time zones and climate zones in Ecuador, explored the Caucuses, bundled up in parkas throughout Scandinavia, and ate their way through Japan. They have a growing photo collection in the same outfits, standing about five feet apart staring at the camera, with various scenes playing out in the background.

Luggage-less dance

Currently, the couple is still together and curious as ever in Austin, TX. When asked what they still do to keep the adventure alive, Clara mentioned their aimless wandering and walking. “We love to just wander through the streets and back roads of Austin with no agenda, no end in mind.”

Playfully daring the world to experience something different

Clara said, “This whole being alive thing is pretty weird, and thinking of life as an experiment takes off the pressure of feeling the need to follow a straight path, a certain direction. Jeff and I like to dare the world to show us something new. He has opened up my eyes to the pure wonder of play, and the discovery that stepping out of your comfort zone and into the unknown offers unprecedented freedom.”

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clara bensen luggage-less dance

clara bensen luggage-less dance across europe

Their story will inspire you to jump out of your comfort zone, book a trip across the world with the BARE essentials, or maybe simply give you a nudge to walk out the front door and wander. A baggage-less trip is definitely on my bucket list thanks to Clara and Jeff, what about you Travelettes- would you hop on a plane without any bags in tow? 

Follow Clara's travel experiments on her website, Instagram, or Facebook.
All photos courtesy of Clara Bensen