When I went to Copenhagen earlier this year, I didn’t want to break the bank. That meant finding a cheap place to stay. I was traveling alone and abroad for the first time ever, so I wasn’t keen on a hostel. Hostels aren’t even that cheap compared to Airbnbs (sometimes it’s a $10 difference), and I also wanted to be able to sleep. I conjured nightmares where my cohabiting strangers partied until 3 AM and jet-lagged me lay stricken on the top bunk having to get up in four hours.
So that left me with Airbnbs. For those not familiar, Airbnb is a system where locals rent out their residence to travelers, either the full home (i.e. the host is not present) or a room in their home while they are home.
Never having done this before, I was hesitant. Wasn’t it weird to stay under the same roof with a perfect stranger? But I mean, that’s what Airbnb is.
I browsed listings, read reviews, and mapped distances between homes and landmarks. I also Wikipedia’d featured neighborhoods. I reserved my first ever Airbnb with Jakob. From the reviews, Jakob lived with another male (via reviews) and he had two kind cats. I saw myself purchasing cat treats before I arrived. Jakob charged $125 total for three nights. I could not feel cheaper or prouder.
Two days before I was to leave, I sat in a group of friends discussing my spring break plans. A friend asked where I was staying, and as I narrated the above, a text came through on my phone. Airbnb forwards emails as texts to your phone, and that is exactly what popped up on my screen:
“Hi Cazey, We are sorry to cancel this booking, unfortunately we have discovered mould in the room, and we cannot let you be affected by it.”
What?! You’re canceling my Airbnb? I leave in two days! What if I had been on the plane when this happened? What would I have done then, Jakob?! And it’s only mold! It’s only three days! I’ll still stay there! You can reduce the rent if you want? $90 for three nights perhaps? I was going to bring your cats treat! It’s just mold. Jakob, please.
I entered crisis mode. Could I still find an Airbnb? Would I be cast onto the streets and into a hostel?
I messaged three other prospective Airbnbs. Nina was the first to respond. She understood my emergency and accepted my request for housing. Rent was a tad higher: $187 for three nights, but I guess I could manage.
From the reviews and her own bio, Nina lived with a husband, Niels, and two children. I would be staying in a private studio attached to the family’s personal apartment (“the largest room in the whole unit”) with my own bathroom, but a shared shower with the family. Was that normal? Did I have time to care?
I told Nina I’d see her tomorrow. (LOL.)
I printed off directions to Nina’s apartment and set off of my journey. I didn’t plan on going straight to the Airbnb until after I explored the city some. Around 6 PM (which means it was dark in March in Denmark), I made my way to the Airbnb. I soon found myself on the right street according to my printed directions, but I realized I had two numbers written down for the address: 117 and 115. Umm.
Both these numbers corresponded to complexes with multiple residents – all listed by surnames. I did not have Nina’s last name. What do I do?
With no data or wifi available, I wandered around for about five minutes. Nina knew I was on my way (from an email I sent from a McDonald’s 30 minutes before). Would she look out and see the lost soul on the sidewalk? I considered just hitting multiple buttons and asking for Nina and Niels. But how do you pronounce “Niels”? Nils? Nels? Neels? (Americans…)
Finally, I resolved I needed to find wifi and email Nina my struggles. #SOS #PleaseLetMeIn
The nearest place advertising wifi was across the street, an Asian street kitchen called “Chin Chin” (truly, beneath the words “Chin Chin” was written “Asian Street Kitchen”). A Danish woman stood behind the counter.
Me: “Hi. I’m trying to contact my Airbnb host, but I have no wifi. Could I use yours?” I then added, “I’ll buy something…after I get in contact with my host?”
In the back of my brain, I began to feel desperate. What if Nina didn’t live here and this was all a ploy? She had my money and I was homeless in Copenhagen? Stop thinking like that, Cazey!
The Danish woman blinked. “That is fine.”
Finally on wifi, I managed to find more emails from Nina and her last name. She hadn’t responded to my previous email sent from that McDonald’s, which meant she probably wouldn’t respond to an email sent now (she’s stolen your money, Cazey!), but at least I had another clue for locating the residence. I thanked the Danish hostess and wandered back into the night.
Whew, back at the apartment complexes, I saw Nina’s last name listed. I pressed the button. “Hi, this is Cazey… Is this Nina?”
“Ja, ja, come up!”
Upstairs, Nina showed me the place (aka the room) and gave me towels and a robe. I did not plan on wearing that robe. She then told me she would send her husband in to say hello in a moment. I had barely put my bag down before Niels appeared. We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. He had a thick accent, so I had to ask him to repeat his name thrice for me to manage to pronounce it correctly. (“I’m a visual person,” I tried to explain.)
Niels: “Where else have you been in Europe?”
Me: “Well… This is my first time out of the country to be honest.”
Niels: “So exciting! What do you plan on doing here?”
Me: “Just seeing the sights. I also have a friend here who I’m going to see tomorrow.”
That was my first lie to Niels. I had no friend in Copenhagen. But I did not know Niels and Nina, and they needed to think someone was expecting me in case they decided to murder me in my sleep. Obviously it wasn’t a close friend if I wasn’t staying with them.
Niels: “It’s such a cultural city! You’ll love it! I’ll tell you where to go!”
Me: “And I was thinking about going to Malmö for a day trip.”
I had a college friend who lived in Malmö, Sweden for a semester and recommended I drop by. Apparently, it was a 30-minute train ride from Copenhagen to Malmö.
Niels: “How long are you here?”
Me: “Three days.”
Niels: “Don’t go to Sweden; you don’t have time. I know you Americans. You like to come and check it off! Don’t go.”
Niels: “Have you eaten yet?”
Me: “No, I’m starved.”
Niels: “I’ll recommend some bars. You can meet people. Danes are so friendly. And just so you know, you only paid for one person, but if someone stays the night, just let us know. It will be a small upcharge.”
Bring someone home? Upcharge? I’m really just looking to go to bed.
Niels: “And I trust you know, don’t bring home anyone, what do you say, shady. No one shady.”
Me: “I think I’m just going to get food and go to bed. I haven’t slept in 34 hours.”
Niels insisted: “Just let us know if you bring someone home. Not a big deal.”
“In the morning, let’s talk,” Niels added. “I’ll tell you where to go tomorrow.”
He provided me a list of nearby restaurants and bars, yet I didn’t venture far. I grabbed food at Chin Chin, the Asian street kitchen, and had my head on a pillow by 9 PM.
In the morning, Niels showed me the family shower. It did not have a curtain. I wanted to ask if all Danish showers did not have a curtain.
“When you’re done,” he instructed, “we use this to keep the floor dry.” He displayed some device like a broom that you scraped along the tiles and directed the water into the drain, since when a shower doesn’t have a curtain, water goes everywhere.
Niels realized I was wearing yesterday’s clothes. “And why aren’t you wearing a robe? We have one for you.”
Me: “I’m fine.” My insides curdled at wearing some stranger’s robe.
After I showered, Niels convened with me to create an itinerary for my day’s adventures. He first asked if I went to any bars or met anyone, wink, wink, before marking sites on a map. He asked that I return the map before I leave, which I did, but by the end of my three days there, there was a hole in the center of it from folding and refolding. I wondered if he still wanted it back then.
At the end of our meeting, Niels said, “At the end of today, we can see how much you’ve accomplished, and I can give you more stuff for tomorrow. No need to go to Malmö.”
Of course not.
I left the Airbnb at 7:45 AM and did not return until 9 PM. I walked 22 miles that day and checked off every single item on Niels’s list other than museums. I decided I didn’t want to spend any time inside looking at art when I could just be strolling the streets of Europe. Even shopping at H&M was more cultural immersion than a museum in my eyes (and I did shop at H&M).
I was going to Malmö tomorrow, I knew. I am American. As Niels put it, I was going to check Sweden off my list. (Though I planned on coming back one day to see Stockholm!)
I dropped by the train station on my way home to see the schedule for getting to Malmö the next day. I knew I couldn’t tell Niels this.
Back at the Airbnb, I heard Niels coming toward my room. I abruptly shut off my light and got beneath the covers. I heard him pause outside my door and then head back into his apartment.
I tried avoiding him in the morning. I showered early and dressed fast. He stopped me as I approached the front door.
Niels: “If you wait a moment, I have to get the kids dressed, but then we can talk about what you’ll do today.”
Internally: “I’m going to miss my 8:15 train.”
I repeatedly checked the time as I waited for Niels. I was wasting time I could be spending in Sweden.
At long last, Niels finished dressing his children. “So, what did you do yesterday?” he asked.
Now I sat through a conversation of everything I didn’t plan on doing today. I walked Niels through everything I had done – the Round Tower, the Church of Our Savior, the castle, Christiania, the Little Mermaid, the ferry ride, Christian Hans Anderson’s grave, Nyhavn, do you want me to keep going?
Niels: “That’s a lot. I guess you can do the museums today.”
Internally: “No! Anything but the museums.”
I agreed eagerly to his every suggestion, trying to speed up the conversation. I would miss the 8:45 train. “Yes, that sounds great,” “Oh, I definitely need to see that,” “What time does that open?” Meanwhile, I had every intention of being on the train to Malmö within twenty minutes of this conversation ending.
“I think that should fill your day,” Niels concluded.
Me: “I think so, too.”
I rushed out the door. I wondered if Niels took the train to work. Would he spot me on the platform and wonder, “Where is the American going? Surely not Sweden?”
Because I couldn’t ask Niels, the trains slightly confused me. I easily bought a ticket to Malmö, but which train did I board? I asked some Danes to no avail. I even asked a security guard. He put me on the wrong train. I got off at the next stop and backtracked to my original platform. There, I asked a new batch of people. Finally, I realized I had to make a transfer at the airport.
Inevitably, I reached Malmö. It wasn’t much different from Copenhagen in architecture and mood, and it definitely wasn’t a tourist destination in the winter. But I would have regretted if I hadn’t visited.
I returned to Denmark ten hours later. My feet ached. I collapsed in bed.
I thought I would just leave my key when I left for the airport, but Nina and Niels happened to still be home. I wanted a good Airbnb review, and they had been gracious hosts (Niels too gracious). I knocked and told them I was off.
Me: “Thank you for your hospitality.”
Niels: “How were the museums? Did you go to any bars last night?”
Me: “They were great. I took a lot of photos.” Please don’t ask to see the photos.
Niels: “Glad to hear it! Do you know how the trains work to get to the airport?”
Do I, thanks to that trip to Malmö.
Me: “I think I can manage. See you!”