Though I've been reviewing advanced copies of books less often lately, I was intrigued by No Baggage from Running Press.
Quickly after emerging from a deep and long depressive period, Bensen signed up for OkCupid and within fifteen minutes of completing her profile, she emailed a cocky professor. Within a few short months, she quit the first substantial job she'd been able to find since moving back in with her parents after college and her depression (which was justified because "The money was decent and I had full control over my schedule. The only catch was that software apps made me grit my teeth with boredom.") in order to travel to Europe with the professor for three weeks. They took only the clothing they were wearing and she had a small bag with her passport and toiletries. They took this photograph of themselves the night before they left with everything they took with them:
If everything I've written so far sounds a bit... edgy... it's because this memoir left me a bit edgy. I loved the premise and was fascinated to see how it would all go - taking only what you see above for a three week no-expectations-no-plans trip to Europe where they landed in Istanbul and had a ticket home from London with little to no arrangements in between.
The problem was, there sort of was all kinds of unspoken expectations of which at least Bensen denied existence. It's made abundantly clear that Bensen's shiny new boyfriend, Jeff, was extremely commitment-phobic on every conceivable level and he makes it clear to her that, despite asking her to commit to a sex-filled long distance journey with him, she should expect no loyalty or concern about her on his part, and that they should both be very free to do whatever they wished, including having sex with other people or just wandering away from the trip if they didn't feel like traveling with the other person anymore.
Though Bensen goes to great pains to explain that in her youth, she was always the one in the relationship afraid of any sort of commitment and was free-love-hippie-like in her approach to life and relationships, it felt apparent to me, as a reader, that this wasn't particularly where she was when she agreed to this adventure. She was vulnerable after just emerging from a long couple years of depression, and this free-for-all, let's-just-do-whatever-we-feel-like condition of travel left her scared and worried that he'd just woken up and left (or wandered off to sleep with a pretty young woman they'd met the night before) on more than one occasion. I appreciated that she shared her raw feelings about these incidents but I wasn't convinced that it wasn't foolish to put herself in that situation to begin with or that her angst was worth it, given her traveling companion.
Jeff sounds like an fascinating man to know bit also more than a little bit of an asshole. There were several times during the trip where he treated people with disrespect and coldness without cause, and some of his antics made me grimace because I've witnessed some of these Americans exemplifying how inappropriate and disrespectful of local reverences or customs some Americans can be during my own travels in Europe.
(The next paragraph contains a bit of a spoiler you might want to skip if you're interested in reading the book...)
I liked Bensen herself, her writing, and can relate to her craving for adventure. I understand why she did what she did but although the memoir plays the journey off as somewhat of a grand romantic adventure, I sensed some deeply uncomfortable moments that I'm not certain even years later could be looked back on and laughed at. I was somewhat surprised to find her online after finishing the book to discover that she and Jeff are still together, and I'm happy for her that they are. I'll continue to follow her adventures, albeit with a bit of trepidation.
No Baggage will be released in the United States on January 5, 2016.