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How My Trip To Europe’s Christmas Capital Turned Into My Nightmare Before Christmas
Life & Travel

How My Trip To Europe’s Christmas Capital Turned Into My Nightmare Before Christmas

I don’t usually splurge or impulse shop. I’m happy to wear the same clothes until they’re no longer in good condition, and I cook my food at home more days than not. But, girl, if you tell me you want to travel somewhere, the cards are OUT!

One day, I was scrolling on Instagram when I saw a beautiful Reel about Strasbourg, France, during Christmastime. Then I saw another one and another one. So I sent one to my good friend, who said that was her DREAM Christmas destination. SAY LESS, SIS! Within 72 hours, the whole trip was booked. Flights, transportation, lodging, you name it.


We landed in Lyon on Thursday before heading to Strasbourg and were instantly charmed by the classic French façades and smiley locals. We had an amazing first night enjoying the Festival of Lights all through the city.

Fresh off an amazing first evening, we headed to Strasbourg on Friday in a BlaBlaCar (a ride-share system in Europe) with two friendly local women who gave us tons of expert recommendations on what to do, see, and eat in Strasbourg.

They dropped us off in the center, and our faces lit up. The town was decked out in Christmas decor from head to toe, and the streets were buzzing with folks clambering around stalls selling Christmas decorations, hot drinks, and other artisan knick-knacks. They don’t call it Europe’s Christmas Capital for nothing!

We rushed to our Airbnb to put our bags down and start exploring, and that’s when everything went south.

Photo courtesy of Ambar Mejia

Sleep Tight, Don’t Let The Bed Bugs Bite

I always check my lodgings before settling in because I’ve walked into hotel rooms that haven’t properly been cleaned or other situations where I haven’t felt safe enough to stay.

So we looked around the Airbnb to make sure everything was okay when I heard my friend say, “I see something moving on the sheets.” “Are you messing with me?” I responded.

I double-checked, and my heart sank. “I see it too, fuck.”

“There’s another one on this side, too.”

“Damn,” I said, “I just spotted a third.”

“We can’t stay here.” We grabbed all of our stuff and ran for the nearest cafe to strategize where we were going to stay. Only one major problem: Everything in town was booked.

Enrique, Our Christmas Angel

We looked all around Strasbourg and even at nearby towns and villages. Booked. Booked. Booked. We even started considering taking a train to a nearby town in Switzerland or Germany, which had affordable lodgings available and were only about one hour away by train.

But we still had a bus back to Lyon early Sunday morning to consider and felt going to another country would derail our whole trip to see the Christmas Capital of Europe.

I checked Booking.com for just one night instead of two, and there were three options. But every time I’d make a booking it would immediately cancel because they weren’t ACTUALLY available. Now I had over $1K in holds on my account and nowhere to stay when finally our last attempt went through.

Phew! “At least we have somewhere to stay tonight, and we can figure out what to do about tomorrow.”

We showed up at the hotel to hear the receptionist getting an ear-shattering lashing from a livid guest. Needless to say, Enrique looked like he was having a worse evening than we were.

Photo courtesy of Ambar Mejia

When we tried to check in, he said, “I’m sorry, but that booking shouldn’t have gone through on Booking.com. We are full.” I wished I was one of those people who could go into a rage. I wished I could throw an adult tantrum until I got my way, but I’ve never been capable of raising my voice. And I was one more round of bad news away from tears.

“Please, sir, we are in a desperate situation. We are two young women with nowhere to stay tonight. Our Airbnb was canceled, it’s close to freezing temperatures outside, and if we don’t figure something out, we are going to sleep on that bench outside. If there’s anything you can do, we would really appreciate it.”

He melted, “Okay, let me see what I can do.”

It took hours. And as each minute passed, even our options of going to Switzerland or Germany were off the table. The last trains had left.

We heard him clacking away on the computer between stressed sighs, and I hoped he would at least be kind enough to let us sit in the lobby all night where it was warm.

Close to midnight, he came over with two mugs of warm cocoa and cookies, and said, “I have a room for you.” I felt so much relief the tears just started rolling down my face.

Gratitude (And Hot Wine) Is The Best Medicine 

The next morning, we tried to make the best of it. Between calls to our host and Airbnb customer service, it felt like our minds were still tied up in resolving our situation.

But we were still alive and well. We were fortunate to have had the money to resolve the situation even after multiple holds. And we were so grateful for Enrique’s kindness.

We just wanted to shake it off and enjoy our girls’ trip.

We took a train to Colmar as we had originally planned. The town and its nearby villages inspired the village in Beauty and the Beast, and there was a Christmas market down every quaint, cobblestoned street. It was hard to continue sulking while surrounded by so much Christmas cheer. (The multiple cups of mulled wine didn’t hurt either.)

After a few hours, we returned to Strasbourg to check out the Christmas markets. With no lodgings available in the city, we decided to take an overnight bus back to Lyon and cut our trip short.

It Got Worse Before It Got Better

More back-and-forth calls to our host and Airbnb, getting soaked at a bus station with no indoor waiting area, freezing temperatures, delayed buses, and midnight bus transfers where the only thing open for shelter was a rock and roll bar and rats. Trust and believe we were ready to go home!

Photo courtesy of Ambar Mejia

Life Is A Box Of Chocolates But It’s Also What You Make It

There were so many times on this trip that I just broke out into hysterical laughter because, with all the chaos of the trip, I was left thinking, what is this a sitcom? Did I somehow end up on the set of Eurotrip 2? Am I really in a rock and roll bar at 1 a.m. singing "Wonderwall" by Oasis in exchange for shelter?

But with every round of setbacks comes an opportunity for reflection, and here are mine:

1. Airbnb might not be the best choice during busy times, especially in smaller cities with fewer options. While we selected accommodations with a Super Host and everyone was responsive, it took three days to initiate a refund, it will take longer to hit my account, and they didn’t necessarily help find us other accommodations. At least with a hotel, there is someone onsite to help you immediately.

2. Always, and I mean always, have wiggle room in your budget or credit cards for things to go wrong. If we had waited for Airbnb to find us a solution, we could’ve been stranded for days. I joked that 25-year-old me would’ve just had the energy to party for two days straight and not sleep, but I was so grateful 31-year-old me had the money to make sure I was safe and could get a good night’s rest.

3. Strasbourg was ripping at the seams with tourists visiting the markets. You could barely get through the markets without standing in a pedestrian traffic jam—even with the rain! It felt like being at an American theme park during spring break.

If I had to do it again, I would fly into Switzerland, rent a car, and drive into Strasbourg in the middle of the week instead of a weekend. Then you could also take time to see the Christmas markets in nearby villages, which I thought were less crowded, more enjoyable, and so adorable.

Photo courtesy of Ambar Mejia

You Catch More Flies With Honey

While previously in my story, I wished I could go into a rage on everyone, like the woman at reception, I think kindness, being respectful, and keeping a cool head saved us.

Enrique could’ve turned us away. The Airbnb host initially suggested we were wrong and that it was a different kind of bug we found, not bed bugs. She is a Super Host, and this is her business. She could get shut down, and I get that. But we had no incentive to fabricate this.

In both situations, we remained respectful, expressed ourselves calmly, and reinforced what we wanted. And in both situations, we were able to get the resolution we needed.

So, if you’re also the kind of person who struggles to raise your voice and feels that sometimes makes you feel unheard, this is your reminder (and mine) that softness is powerful too.

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Feature image courtesy of Ambar Mejia

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