Great adventure. Cool narrative.
We’re standing on the side of a highway in Budapest, trying to hitch a ride. I’m elegantly dressed for a proper afternoon at the National Gallery in a green embroidered dress and a knotted cotton scarf. Jeff appears to have just walked off the set of a western shot in Brooklyn. His grandfather’s 1950s Stetson, cocked lazily to the side, is accompanied by a pair of fiery red chinos and a striped navy sweater. Both ensembles are looking a little threadbare and with good reason: We’ve worn them every day since we left the Houston airport nearly three weeks ago.
This is not your average OkCupid date.
So what’s this all about?
No stuff? As far as habits go, I’m a pretty standard American woman. I shower regularly, I like clean clothes, and it’s a rare occasion where you can find me looking disheveled. I’m not gonna lie: The thought of ultra-minimalist travel was initially disturbing. I imagined myself stumbling through Byzantine masterpieces with greasy hair and a foul, beer-stained dress equipped with the power to repel all tourists in a 10-foot radius. Hell no. And yet, the idea of moving completely unencumbered through space and time was tantalizing. Even nightmares of unkempt leg hair couldn’t completely banish the thought. What would it be like to say no to heavy backpacks full of coordinating outfits, Lonely Planet travel guides, and cheap souvenirs? What would happen if I navigated all of my needs in real time?
In the end, 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. As Mark Twain so aptly put it, “There ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”
“What will you wear when you’re washing your clothes?” The flight attendant’s concern cycled through my head on repeat as we touched down in Atatürk Airport. She had whispered it dubiously, like a disapproving mother. The truth was, I had no idea what I would wear when I was washing my clothes. I didn’t even have soap, let alone a modesty backup.
The night before we left Jeff and I had painstakingly cataloged the items we deemed crucial for our 21-day journey. Passports, credit cards and iPhones made the cut, as did a small notebook, a toothbrush and a clipped map of the Balkans. Jeff stuffed his core items in his pockets. My dress lacked adequate pocket space, so I substituted with a small shoulder purse that allowed me space for a few additional toiletries, an iPad Mini, and the awkward-looking retainer I’ve been wearing since my braces came off 10 years ago.
That was it.
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