November 14, 2013

Need an Idea For a First Date? Try Traveling to 8 Countries in 21 Days.

With no luggage.

It’s been more than nine years since I’ve been on a first date of my own, but, sheesh, have things really changed this much?

Jeff and Clara met on OKCupid (an online dating service). They decided to skip the coffee and make their first date an epic, border-crossing adventure.

In her words:

On the surface, we appeared to be sure candidates for “World’s Most Unlikely Pair.” He’s a wildly energetic university professor who is always on the move. I’m a reclusive writer who spends hours identifying new constellations in the ceiling paint… Somehow our personality differences are offset by the fact that the same mad scientist blood flows through both of our veins. We live for the unexpected, the experimental and the subtly disruptive.

His third email was coy: “Do you have any ideas for travel experiments? I have a few things I dabble in, and I’m going to push one of these experiments to the nth limit in June.”

“Dabbling” referred to his traditional method of travel, which involved booking an outbound flight to one international airport and an inbound flight out of some other port-of-calling a few countries away. Beyond visas and flight details his trips were completely unstructured. No hotels and no itineraries.


I succumbed to curiosity and signed my name to the no-carry-on dotted line. I was in. Exactly one month and two weeks after meeting online, Jeff and I nervously booked two luggage-free flights to Istanbul. This was either the best idea ever or the beginning of a brutal, three-week long demise.


Neither Jeff nor I wanted an around-the-world adventure in suffering. We like to eat, sleep and travel well—just like everyone else. Many people interpreted our experiment as a radical act (à la John the Baptist’s honey and crickets survival diet), but it truly wasn’t designed to test how much deprivation we could endure. We were curious about whether we could enjoy a journey just as much—or even more—when we eliminated the tourist agenda and most of the material trappings. What we discovered was that after a certain base level was met (water, food, shelter and a fully charged iPhone), decreasing the number of possessions did little to affect the quality of our journey. What we lost in souvenirs, we gained in unprecedented freedom of movement and an unbeatable conversation starter.


Did our luggage-less dance with uncertainty lead to some kind of travel nirvana? Yes and no. We careered through time and space at a fiendish pace and experienced all the blood, sweat and exhaustion that might be expected. At the same time, we were vividly present in the midst of a disorienting cloud of city grids, metro stops and incomprehensible dialects that shape-shifted with every border crossing. We were alive. And every so often the intensity was punctuated with time-crushing moments that were so staggeringly beautiful and strange that even now I’m not sure they occurred at all.


I can’t help but to wonder how real life would compare, upon returning home from such a trip?

Would burned toast smell the same as it had before? What about the wine; would it settle on your tongue with a host of memories attached, from this moment on?

Would you move through the melancholy—sometimes lovely, sometimes torturous—moments with more grace than you had access to before?


(For the original, full-length article and source for photos, click here.)

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

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