Writer Wednesday – Meet Clara Bensen
Clara Bensen is a remarkable woman and writer who did the unthinkable! Forget about trying what to decided to bring and stuff in a carry-on for your travels, Clara chose a green dress and a few toiletries and such to stuff in a purse. That’s it! Clara’s whirlwind adventure and romance is chronicled in her book No Baggage (A Minimalist tale of Love and Wandering.
Writer Wednesday would like to introduce Clara Bensen
Please tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a writer living in Austin, Texas and I just finished my first book No Baggage, a travel memoir based on an article I wrote for Salon in 2013 (“The Craziest OkCupid Date Ever”). It’s the wild tale of what happened when I met a weird scientist on OkCupid and (very shortly thereafter) took off on an experiment that involved traveling from Istanbul to London over 21 days with not much more than the clothes on our backs.
Have you ever travelled solo?
I’ve never traveled solo internationally, but I’ve done many, many solo trips within the U.S. One of my favourite things to do is get in the car and drive west to the California coast through the desert landscapes of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. There’s nothing better than cruising alone down empty back roads, windows down, music up, occasionally stopping at a grungy hole in the wall for lunch or gas. It’s a meditation between you and the road.
How many countries have you visited?
What is your favourite place and why?
I don’t necessarily have a favourite place, but there are regions of the world that call out to me. It’s like everything—the landscapes, the air, the way the sunlight falls—is deeply familiar in some way, even it’s my first time seeing it. Like I said above, the canyons and deserts of the United States Southwest are special to me. The Scottish Highlands are the same. Parts of central Turkey and the Middle East, too.
If you could describe your method of travel in one word, what would it be?
Spontaneous. I love moving from place to place with no particular plan. I’ve found my most memorable travel moments are the ones that are completely independent of any formal tourist experience. On my second No Baggage trip to South America, my partner and I hit it off with the Ecuadorian guy sitting next to us on the plane. It was Christmas Eve and when our flight was delayed he insisted on taking us back to his family home for the night. We ended up spending Christmas morning in Quito, drinking homemade fruit smoothies with a big family we’d never met. If I’d booked a hotel reservation, that experience would probably not have happened.
What is your must have travel accessory?
A good digital playlist is really important to me because the songs I’m listening to on the road become forever connected to my travel memories. I can hear a song years later and it takes me right back to some long stretch on a train or ferry. There’s one Bee Gees song that immediately transports me to a rental car parked along a surreal salt lake in the Turkish plains. For me, the musical memory is sometimes even stronger than a photograph.
Your photos are fantastic both of you and Jeff in your location. What camera do you use?
Since I travel so lightly, I don’t have the option to lug around a big, fancy camera (plus, I don’t want to worry about having to keep an eye on it). All my shots are taken with an iPhone.
What is your most memorable travel moment?
That’s a tough one, but standing in the departures wing of Houston International Airport preparing to fly to Istanbul totally empty handed with a guy I hardly knew has got to be up there!
What is your dream destination?
I would like to make it to Antarctica. A friend that went described how silent it is there, how the icy quiet is almost like a living presence. I’d love to experience that. I’d also like to do a river-rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. You have to reserve years in advance and it’s intense: hot in the day, cold at night. You camp on the banks of the river. There’s no hot tub or room service.
Do you have any upcoming trips? If so, to where?
Right now I’m focused on sharing my book with the world, but I’d really like to visit the African continent. I’m thinking about a trip through Morocco and down into Western Sahara—maybe the Canary Islands too.
How has travel changed you?
What I love about travel is that it decimates me—it makes me aware of my own smallness within a huge, complex world. As my self breaks down, it’s also built back up through experiences that require growth, resourcefulness, and independence.
For me, travel is an opportunity to step out of self-preoccupation, to build relationships in communities outside familiar turf, to practice adapting my mouth to new phrases, to challenge my perceptions, and to be confronted by the realities facing much of the world’s population.
How long did it take for your book to come to fruition?
I started developing the initial book proposal in the spring of 2014 and it was published on January 5, 2016. So, what is that? A little over a year and a half? It was a wild process. The Salon article was the first thing I’d ever published and I had no intention to write a book. After the story went viral, I found myself unwittingly signed up for a crash course in the publishing industry. I’m still learning so much.
The idea behind ‘No Baggage’ – No hotel reservations, no plans and no baggage – for me, a devoted planner seems scary as hell and liberating too. What was the most difficult part and what was the most rewarding?
It is scary. I was prepared to be miserable the first time I tried foregoing plans. Letting go of control and opening myself up to a much broader range of experiences (within basic parameters of safety and wellbeing) took some getting used to. But there are many rewards—I am very aware of what’s unfolding in the moment, my journeys seem to come alive with possibility, my intuition is sharpened, my mind starts forming new connections. It’s freeing to discover you have the ability to flow with whatever’s occurring in front of you.
Do you have any new books on the horizon?
I’m breaking ground on a new one—a tongue-in-cheek memoir about growing up homeschooled in a Christian evangelical community.
What is your favourite travel book?
I love “The Art of Travel” by Alain de Botton and “Wanderlust” by Rebecca Solnit.
What is your favourite travel quote?
“The only journey is the one within,”
by one of my favourite poets, Ranier Maria Rilke.
Could you do what Clara did?