Jeff Wilson and Clara Bensen pose with everything they packed for their 21-day trip. Credit: Clara Bensen
A lot of people may boast on OkCupid that they are adventurous and love to travel, but Clara Bensen and Jeff Wilson proved their chops when they planned a 21-day trip after meeting on the site.
Bensen and Wilson had only met a month before they booked their flights for their breakneck trip, and they decided to make things even more challenging when Wilson proposed a wild idea: He told Bensen he wanted to travel with nothing but the clothes on their back, as well as passports, credit cards, iPhones, a small notebook, a toothbrush and a map of the Balkans. Bensen took on Wilson's challenge.
Bensen, a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas, wrote on Salon, "Never one to waste time, Jeff set an experimental trap weeks before he knew my real last name or whether I actually looked like the pictures in my OkCupid account. 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.'" That experiment would eventually take them from Istanbul to London, stopping through eight countries total before returning to Texas after 21 days.
Wilson and Bensen ended their trip in London. Credit: Clara Bensen
Metro spoke with Bensen about her whirlwind trip, and whirlwind romance.
Metro: Are you two still seeing each other?
Bensen: Yes, we are still seeing each other.
When did you meet on OkCupid and when did you plan the trip?
We met in April. I made an OkCupid account that I kept for seven days: It was originally supposed to be a social experiment where I dated one guy a day for a week, but that old plan never happened. [Wilson] and I met in April and we purchased our flights in May and about four weeks later, we took the plane to Istanbul in June.
Where is Jeff [Wilson] from?
He is from Gurney, Texas, the outskirts of San Antonio.
How many times did you meet before you took your trip?
Jeff is a professor of environmental science and at the time he was teaching near the Mexican border, so we were kind of commuting to see each other. We probably only saw each other 10 times or less before we bought the plane tickets and we saw each other a couple of more times in the weeks that led up to the actual trip.
How well did you feel like you knew him before you booked the trip?
Pretty well. We hit it off the first time we sent an email to each other and the first time we saw each other in person. It’s that feeling you get that you’ve known someone a long time, so that worked in our favor, but we weren’t totally sure either. We told each other during the interim between buying a ticket and going to the airport that we’d sit next to each other on the flight and go our separate ways once we got to Istanbul, so that was a backup plan.
Was that really a backup plan or a joke?
Oh, it was a joke [laughs].
What did your friends say when they heard about your plan?
My friends thought it was a little strange. They weren’t sure how it was going to go without having all my stuff and my family also was a little – they were supportive but hesitant I guess. And also Istanbul was our first destination and we pretty much landed in the middle of political unrest and riots, and so there were lots of different things going on when we left.
Wilson and Bensen pose with a couple in Istanbul, Turkey. Credit: Clara Bensen
At any point during the trip did you feel awkward being around Jeff since you didn’t know him that well?
No. We got to know each other pretty well. We were wearing one outfit everyday. At night we basically washed our clothes and hung them out to dry. But it wasn’t awkward at all – that was the surprising part of it. We were both prepared for it to be an interesting trip relationship-wise but we finished the trip as better friends and partners than we started.
How often did you get to wash your clothes?
That is what surprised me. I was thinking it might be a long time but we did a lot of couchsurfing and stayed with friends, so most of the time we were in people’s homes. I washed my clothes probably almost every other day – only one or two days it went a little bit longer. Jeff didn’t wash his clothes quite as much [laughs] but that was by choice.
Did you have a jacket? What did you do when it got cold?
No, we didn’t bring anything extra. We had a meeting in the U.K. in Cambridge and people were warning us if we didn’t bring anything warm we’d be miserable, but we didn’t bring anything and there was only one cold morning, but other than that they had a heat wave so we never ended up using any extra clothing.
What was the biggest challenge of the trip?
For me, personally, I’m kind of a writer-type. I spend a lot of time alone. I like quiet, I like to think about things, and the pace of the trip was so full speed ahead – it was really intense. We were in people’s homes sleeping on floors and couches so there was very little privacy. We were meeting all of these different people, which was great, but it was sensory overload. That was probably the biggest challenge. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the lack of stuff or no clothes. That was not as big of a deal.
Would you say you fell in love with Jeff on the trip?
[laughs] I’d rather not say that, specifically. We’re kind of private people.
Have you ever done anything hugely romantic and impulsive like this before?
Definitely not romantic. When I was 17, I dropped out of school, I dropped my job and left everything and lived in Oman for several months, so that was a pretty formative experience. It’s not the first time I've decided, “OK, I’m just going to take a chance here.”
So were your friends and family not surprised when you told them about the trip?
In some ways they were not surprised at all. The no clothes and no luggage element was a bit of a surprise, but as far as taking off like that, no.