During my visit to the TBEX travel bloggers conference in Stockholm, Sweden, my girlfriend (and fellow travel blogger) Claire and I stayed at my friend Magnus’ place. His house is pretty high-tech, with code locks on a lot of the doors. He gave us the code for the outside door but we forgot to exchange one not-so-small detail: the door code for his bedroom, where we happen to be staying.
We arrived late at night on the day before the conference, and so we dropped our stuff in the room and went to sleep. The next morning we were having breakfast when, without thinking, I closed the door and the lock activated itself. To make matters (a lot) worse, Magnus was at a silent retreat for 10 days in Germany, and was strictly not to be disturbed.
Where do you go from there? This is a story about my first TBEX experience, but most of all about the kindness of strangers when you have a hell of a story to tell.
So there we are: my girlfriend Claire in her pajamas and with wet hair, and me in my shorts and shirt eating breakfast. Practically our whole life was in that room: our wallets, phones, clothes, TBEX welcome packs, badges and laptops.
Day 1: Travel bloggers conference TBEX exceeds my expectations
I have been blogging for about two and a half years now, and I’m at the point where I should either quit or take the hobby a bit more seriously. As I never even thought of quitting, I attended the TBEX conference in Stockholm.
Life kind of caught up with me just before the conference, so I had very little time to check out the program or book any pre or post conference trips. Big mistake, so it seemed, as I saw a lot of amazing pictures tagged with the appropriate hashtag #tbexstockholm on Instagram. The first day I actually arrived was the day where only the opening party at the Haymarket was scheduled. All was well; I had some delicious food from the buffet, a glass of champagne, posted some photos and talked to a few interesting people. Slightly tipsy and overwhelmed I made it home.
Day 2: Locked out of a room, indefinitely
Tired but motivated, we get out of bed and start making breakfast. Claire (still my girlfriend) gets out of the shower wearing pajamas and a towel on her head. She tries to open the door to the bedroom, but it seems stuck. I had closed the door earlier, without really thinking about it, and the electronic code on the door activated itself. * Insert swearwords here *.
After some disbelief and hope that it would all be solved quickly, we looked at the time and saw that we already missed the morning part of the second conference day. We were staying at my friend Magnus’ Collective Sunshine, basically a house with 12 residents from all around the world (to get an idea of what this looks like, check out my previous article about Collective Sunshine) which was very handy in this case.
We borrowed a phone, some money, public transport cards and even socks and underwear from our housemates, who were extremely kind to us, and we made it just in time for lunch. We looked like a bunch of weirdos, with our oversized trousers and t-shirts.
During lunch we joined a group of travel bloggers who didn’t seem to know each other. When one of them asked casually how our morning was, we told them the short version of the story. Over the course of the conference, pretty much everyone we told our story (mostly when it came to exchanging business cards which we obviously didn’t have with us) asked us the same thing: “I can’t believe you guys are still smiling!”. Funnily enough, we reached a point of acceptance and decided to make the best out of the situation. The delicious Swedish food and drinks, interesting presentations and cool like-minded travel bloggers helped a lot. I mean, what’s not to like?
[..] when you tell others your story, people will listen and be generally very helpful.
Meanwhile Claire was struggling a bit more that I was, as she didn’t have her prescription glasses and inhaler. Luckily that got solved quickly too. A housemate lent his inhaler, and we found glasses that had almost the right strength at (of all places) Flying Tiger.
Day 3: Anxiety kicks in
The day after the situation remained the same. House owner Magnus was still unreachable and nobody, including his parents and many former housemates that I contacted, knows the code. With the help of Magnus’ dad, we start investigating our options. We find out we can either:
a) Call a locksmith to break the door. Costs: 300 – 500 euro and lots of inconvenience.
b) Rebook our return flight from Sunday to Tuesday. Costs: 250 euro and two missed days at work.
Not exactly an easy choice to make, is it? Especially since there is still the possibility that Magnus will respond to the (emergency) email and solve all problems immediately.
Meanwhile, at the conference, we pretty much have become a charity project. We get a bag, a battery pack and umbrella from several of TBEX’s sponsors, and the 72 hour public transport passes and museum passes that all attendees received from Visit Stockholm were a blessing as well. Our story is spreading as well, and we get introduced to others as the “couple without belongings”.
Day 4: We start to see that things aren’t that bad after all
After 2 full days without belongings, we notice a few things:
- Not having a phone you can constantly check for updates is liberating. Although I have disabled all notifications on my own phone, I too often catch myself using it in social situations where I should be interacting with fellow table guests.
- Our lack of options gave us much more creative freedom in our minds. Not having to think about the minutiae of life, you start to enjoy little things more and you feel more relaxed overall.
- Being already out of our comfort zones, we noticed that it was much easier for us to talk to “strangers”. Both Claire and I can be helplessly introvert when it comes to social situations with people we haven’t met yet, but being in the situation that we are, the conversations came naturally.
- Most of all: when you tell others your story, people will listen and be generally very helpful.
Day 5: D-Day
It’s Sunday, our flight back to Amsterdam will depart at 16:35 and our situation hasn’t changed one single bit. Decision time is nearing. I check flights once again, and see that a cheap flight opened up on Monday. That seems to be the best option, as we would be able to get hold of Magnus by then and our problems will all be solved, right?
We start the process of rebooking, but then find out that we need a credit card to confirm our rebooking which, of course, we don’t have either. We download Skype, on which Claire calls her mom to get her credit card details. While this is happening, a message pops up on our borrowed phone. It’s MAGNUS!
He has awoken from his dormant state, and has seen the stream of emails with him cc-ed. His response is clear and simple: “the code is either xxxxxx or xxxxxx” (sorry for the censorship). I jump up and pace to the door. I try both codes and… nothing! Disbelief kicks in yet again. But how? Magnus provides us with two more codes, but both don’t work either. He tells me that his dad has a master code to reset everything, and soon I have an e-mail from his dad with the lock’s PDF manual and the master code. I read every letter of it, as if I’m about to defuse a bomb, and approach the lock with the step-by-step instructions. Whatever I try, the lock does not respond the way it should.
At this point, my thoughts are all over the place: are we ever getting home? While (once again) I’m trying different codes, I have Magnus’ dad on the phone. He suggests switching the batteries with another (similar) code lock in the house. I put the new batteries in and try Magnus’ codes again and… SUCCESS!!
With about 2 hours before our flight departs we rush to the airport and luckily make it just in time…
The moral of this story
All in all it was a remarkable experience that I have learnt a lot from:
- Getting out of your comfort zone brings out the real you, as well as the kindness in others
- You don’t need much to be happy, sometimes it’s good to experience discomfort to appreciate the comfort in your life. Best-selling author Tim Ferriss has an interesting podcast about this subject.
- And most importantly: whatever happens, the mess will always work itself out in the end one way or another.