Munich, Germany -- The land of tradition (and luxury cars). Oktoberfest. Giant pretzels. And most importantly, delicious, unpasteurized Bavarian beer. What could possibly go wrong?
As much as I love the concept of Airbnb, it should be noted that it’s not a hotel. Requesting a room last minute doesn’t necessarily mean your accommodations are solved for your upcoming journey. I found this out the hard way.
I arrived in Munich late in the afternoon via bus from Berlin. I was anxiously awaiting a confirmation message from the Airbnb that I requested the night before. I didn’t have a local SIM card and the bus lacked wifi. A very primitive feeling for 2015. Backpacking existed for years prior to the internet, so surely I could survive, right? I exited the bus station searching for a wifi signal like one of those weirdos you see with a metal detector wandering sandy beaches. After wasting more time than I want to admit and the weight of my backpacks wearing me down, I decided I’d fork over my precious Euros for a temporary SIM card.
Naturally, the guy in the convenience store that I walked into didn’t speak English. After gesturing my way into purchasing a SIM card, he installed the chip, and gestured back that I can only make calls and I have no data. WHAT? Who am I going to call in Munich? Give me data!
The struggle was real. My mind was racing. My Airbnb pending. Then a bilingual Bavarian yoga instructor entered the scene. She was twice my age and needed to copy a flyer for her class but she quickly became my two-way translator, zenfully transforming phone minutes into gigabytes of data. Finally! Only to be greeted with an incoming message from Airbnb informing me that my request had been denied. I looked up from my backlit screen and saw her staring at me. I had offered to buy her a drink as a thank you but rather she asked me if she could buy me a “welcome to Munich” cup of coffee. I no longer had a place to be, so why not.
I’m not a stranger to “winging it” but this was really pushing my comfort zone since it was after 4pm and was going to be getting dark soon in a city I’m unfamiliar with and have no contacts but this woman who I’ve known for going on ten minutes.
We walked to a nearby café. There she told me she wasn’t much of a traveler yet had been to India seventeen times. She said the Holy Spirit was calling her there. After seventeen times I think the Holy Spirit has her on speed dial. I jokingly called her a “Bavarian Indian” which she took a liking to. She made some nearby hostel recommendations and told me to contact her if I was struggling to find anything. We exchanged information and went our own ways.
For the next hour or so I scrambled contacting nearby hostels and budget hotels only to find out that there were no vacancies due to the Audi Cup, a major soccer tournament, which was taking place in town. Not a soccer fan. Didn’t realize that. In desperation and exhaustion, I contacted the Bavarian Indian and she invited me to crash on her couch for the evening. (She said it was good for her karma.) Conveniently, she was located near the hostel in which I was bumming free wifi. This was going to be “couchsurfing” the old fashioned way before Couchsurfing became a “thing”.
I cautiously entered her third floor apartment. Very quaint. Very hippie. Shoes off at the door. She showed me to my room which had pink stars, purple curtains, more miniature mystical statues than I could count, and bookshelves full of spiritual propaganda. I felt like I walked into the web of a dreamcatcher. But as hippie-trippy as the room was, I was overjoyed that I had accommodations for the night.
“Stranger danger” is a term that exited my vocabulary years ago when I started traveling solo. A younger me may have crossed my fingers tight in hope that I wouldn’t die from stab wounds in the middle of the night. But there was something tranquil and comforting being in the presence of her.
She took me to a traditional Bavarian bier garden that evening. I had offered to buy her dinner but I think because she’s a yoga instructor she didn’t typically eat heavy Bavarian food, so I got her a couple of soft drinks and a big pretzel instead. Despite a few hours of wandering where my head was going to rest, it turned out to be a great evening. I found a hostel the next morning and was on my way.
While I felt very fortunate, I think this a great example of the “traveling-solo” experience and building quick trust. There are many more good people than bad ones. Putting yourself out there can be nerve wrecking at first and definitely push your comfort zone, but the rewards of being authentic around new people outweigh the path of being passive. While you do need to be smart on the road and trust your gut, do embrace the locals. You can read every tip on Trip Advisor, but when you are lost and/or confused on a side street in Munich, don’t be afraid to reach out to a local for help. You’re backpack and accent are giveaways that you’re not from there anyway!