6 Questions For The Girl From “The Craziest OkCupid Date Ever”
Thursday, November 14, 2013
If you’ve been anywhere near a computer at all this week, chances are you’ve come across “The craziest OkCupid date ever,” the highly click-worthy article that was published by Salon on Monday, and which has since gone completely viral (over 16,000 shares on Facebook alone as of today).
The story chronicles the 21-day, ultra-minimal trip to Europe taken by Austin-based freelance writer Clara Bensen (ClaraBensen.com) and her date Jeff, whom she had recently met on OkCupid. Despite being in a relationship for less time than most of us go without getting a haircut, the two embarked — at Jeff’s suggestion — on a trip to Europe where each packed nothing more than what could fit in their pockets (and one small shoulder bag), which begs certain obvious questions regarding sanity, hygiene, the role of modernity in contemporary travel, our reliance on technology, and practical questions about washing one’s clothes with no spare clothes on hand.
Lucky for you, we tracked down Clara, who agreed to candidly answer our more pressing questions about her trip, the role of ultra-minimal travel in the world today, and most importantly, whether she and Jeff made it through to the present, relationship intact.
1) When I first clicked on the article, I thought I was going to read about a couple’s first date where they ended up in Budapest by the end of it. However, after reading a bit in, it appears you knew Jeff for about 6 weeks before heading off on your ultra-minimalist trip where neither of you brought much of anything for an 8-country, 21-day trek. How well did you really know Jeff up until that point, and how much more do you think you knew him after the trip was done?
Yes, you’re right. Jeff and I met online in April, bought the tickets four weeks later in May and boarded the flight to Istanbul in June. Some people interpreted the Salon article title as if we never met in person before embarking on the trip together. That’s not the case. I may have a wild, adventurous streak in me, but I’m not that wild.
2) What if this trip was your first date with Jeff? In all honestly, do you think it would have worked out? Do you think it would have been unwise to find that out?
The first time Jeff and I arranged to meet in person, he gave me a set of geographical coordinates and told me to meet him at exactly 7:52 p.m. The coordinates turned out to be a blue-tiled star right under the giant marble dome of the Texas State Capitol building. 7:52 p.m. was sunset. The word “subtle” has never been in his vocabulary.
Call me crazy, but I still think we could have pulled off an awesome adventure even if, by some freak chance, our first date had been a 21-day, no-luggage adventure. We connected as soon as we met on the Capitol steps, and the elements that brought us together the first night are the same things that we still enjoy about each other: a sense of adventure, curiosity, and a certain willingness to take a risk with the unknown. Those are key skills needed for any formative travel (or relationship) experience.
Qualifier: Don’t get me wrong: while the OkCupid chain of events worked out for me, I don’t generally recommend hopping on a plane with some stranger you had a nice online chat with. Common sense and gut intuition go a long way to ensure that you don’t land in Kinshasa only to discover that your travel partner has a penchant for collecting beard hair specimens in glass mason jars. Online dating is a crazy world, folks. Use your head.
3) How important do you think it is for a person who loves to travel to date and/or end up with someone who also loves to travel?
Well, I can’t speak for everyone obviously, but for me it is pretty important to date someone who also enjoys travel. And maybe travel is the wrong word. I think “adventure” might be more accurate, because travel is often expensive and completely out of reach, but adventure is always available, in some capacity, no matter where I live. Sometimes Jeff and I wake up in our home town of Austin, put on some shoes and walk out the front door with no plan or destination in mind. We wander around the city for hours, just like we did in Istanbul, Athens and Sarajevo. There hasn’t been a single instance where adventure has failed to show its face.
Also, freelance writing is not exactly a lucrative trade at the moment. I have a fairly simple life: I live in a 450-square-foot apartment, I don’t own a car, and I try to keep my expenses low. That being said, every so often I clean out my bank account for a ticket to some part of the world that I’ve never seen before. I need a partner who can understand and appreciate that impulse and (hopefully) share it with me.
4) You mention in the article that you took nothing more than the clothes on your back, and few items that you could fit in a shoulder purse. How, beside the obvious hygienic implications, do you think travel differs when traveling with so little? Is it akin to living a minimalist lifestyle back home, or does it differ somehow because you’re on the road?
I was expecting ultra-minimalist travel to be much more difficult than it actually was. There was very little I missed about past travels with heavy backpacks and unwieldy suitcases. You really don’t need much. If traveling light differs in any significant way, it’s in the freedom of movement that it offers. I had never experienced that kind of lightness before.
Even though our story blew up because of the OkCupid angle, my original intent in traveling with so little was to explore my relationship with “stuff.” Some commenters have pointed out that millions of people in the world live with very few belongings and it was no big achievement for us to have gone luggage-less for a few weeks. That is a completely valid point and we wouldn’t deny it. Still, as an American living in a culture that places a high value on consumption and accumulating stuff, it felt personally meaningful to explore my dependency on physical belongings within the context of travel.
When I came back to Texas, I ended up giving away a lot of my belongings and about 3/4 of my wardrobe. My space feels so much more open and relaxed. I don’t miss any of it. So, yes, I think there are some crossovers between minimalist travel and minimalist living, at least based on my experience.
5) Beside having to keep in mind that the only clean clothes you were going to get to wear were the ones you were going to have to wash by hand, what were some of the practical implications of traveling so lightly? For example, the first thing that comes to my mind is having backups of certain items in case they get lost (credit card, contact lenses, memory card for my camera). Did you have any problems in this respect, and if not, was it just dumb luck, or were they problems that could have easily been overcome?
Like I said in the article, Jeff and I are both experienced travelers and even though the whole scenario appeared to be risky, we actually went out of our way to reduce the risk. We had copies of our important documents and phone numbers in secure online storage in case anything was stolen (it wasn’t). I had a backup pair of glasses in case my contacts were ruined. The only cameras we had were our iPhones, so there were no backups to worry about — everything uploaded to the cloud. We Couchsurfed and stayed with friends the entire way (only 3 of the 21 nights were spent in a hostel or hotel), so if we had run into trouble, we would have had a lot of troubleshooting support. The only thing we really wished we had brought was a tube of toothpaste (we broke down and bought some Crest in Athens).
Jeff and I agreed that we were willing to lose even the essentials that we brought with us. Travel always holds the possibility for the unexpected and that’s part of the fun. We also agreed that if we totally hated having no stuff, then we would just shift our plans and buy a cheap backpack. We’re not into suffering. It was originally just a fun, personal experiment that was designed to test our boundaries.
6) Lastly, be honest, there’s only so much cleanliness one can exude in the same set of clothes they have worn after three weeks traveling. Did you or Jeff have a certain Deadhead-like aroma about you come the end of the trip? Who held up best in the smell category, you or Jeff?
Surprisingly, no! There was only one instance of sub-grade hygiene. We took a 23-hour bus ride from Athens to Budapest and we smelled terrible by the end of it — greasy hair, unbrushed teeth and dirty feet, but I challenge anyone (even someone with seven suitcases of freshly pressed clothes), to smell like roses after that long of a journey!
We washed just as often as in the United States, which means I showered regularly and washed my dress every other day or so. I had a spare pair of underwear — Jeff didn’t. We also had deodorant, so honestly, we both smelled like fresh-cut lavender most of the time. Even when we’re not traveling I tend to take hygiene a little more seriously than Jeff, so I guess I win the smell category award (but not by all that much).
I will say this: I haven’t worn the green dress since the last day of the experiment. It’s hanging in my closet as the only souvenir I brought back from the trip.
Finally, to answer the most pressing question: yes, she and Jeff are still very much together. In fact, they’re planning a second adventure to South America over Christmas break.
By Matt Stabile
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matt Stabile is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheExpeditioner.com. You can read his writings, watch his travel videos, purchase the book he co-edited or contact him via email at any time at TheExpeditioner.com. (@TheExpeditioner)