What do you do when your dreams to see the Northern Lights in Sweden are dashed? When you travel, kids in tow, all the way to the perimeter of the arctic circle to find that your accommodations in no way resemble the “comfortable,” “cozy” images proffered on the website? When the property in question had received rave reviews from Vogue, The Guardian and Treehouse masters’ Pete Nelson? You log into the spotty wifi and figure it out.

DREAM VACATION IN SWEDEN

It was supposed to be the killer family trip of 2016, a Nordic wilderness adventure sandwiched between stays in Copenhagen and Stockholm. Unfortunately,  Treehotel, a cluster of modernist tree houses in northern Sweden, did not deliver.

We had signed on for four nights in the property’s about-to-open Seventh Room, the newest treehouse slated to be ready by the end of December. The website featured a sleek edifice nestled in the snow dusted treetops. There were crisp linens and a state -of-the-art bathroom boasting a view of the surrounding forest.

About two weeks before we were set to depart, my husband emailed the property (they never got in touch with us) to confirm that the treehouse would be ready for our stay. It was behind schedule and, in fact, would not be ready until late January.

But, fear not. They could offer up the guesthouse (an adjacent property where tree house guests took their meals) for my family of four. We were assured that we would still be able to enjoy all of the activities (horse pulled skiing, dog sledding) we had booked.

Swedish Dream vacation lingerie

Lingerie as decor at Treehotel . Photo Credit: Amy Tara Koch

DREAM BECOMES A NIGHTMARE

No caveat that the property used the terms “guest house” and “hostel” (as in youth) interchangeably. Or, that the “cozy” building was from 1931; its plumbing and electricity as dated as its decor.

Since we were dealing with a destination that had received glowing reviews from The Guardian, Mr and Mrs Smith, Jetsetter and Vogue, not to mention a recent visit by Treehouse Masters’ Pete Nelson (he filmed an episode on site), I assumed that the lodgings would be of equal caliber to the stunning tree houses. Big Mistake.

GIVING UP THE NORTHERN LIGHTS

After two flights and a 2 hour cab ride to Harads, we were deposited in front of what looked like a ramshackle motel. Once inside, we passed old travel trunks topped with WWII era high heeled shoes. Lingerie-bras, slips and panties- were dangling from coat pegs. Other design elements included a cot in the dining, creepy dolls and old vacuum cleaners.

When we assessed our mildew-scented, moth eaten-looking rooms (one room had a layer of dead insects in the light fixture), I knew that I had been duped. I should have asked more questions. But, with the positive press, the possibility that this “guest house” would be a dump was unimaginable.

So, here we were, two days before New Year’s Eve, in the middle of nowhere (65 km from the Arctic Circle, to be precise) stuck in skanky accommodations. Do we stay? Should we go?

My daughter’s birthday was the following day and we had scheduled a dinner in an ice hut where we were hoping to catch the Northern Lights. A family vote was executed. We would go.

Swedish Royal Ballet.

Swedish Royal Ballet. Photo Credit: Amy Tara Koch

FIXING THE PROBLEM

I went into reporter mode. In the corner of the house with decent Wifi,  I logged onto Hotel Tonight and Expedia where, after a few tries, I found availability at the chic Grand Hotel Stockholm.

If we hadn’t scored, my next step would have been American Express. Credit card companies can extricate travelers from dicey bait and switch travel situations like this. They will also protest charges, a step we definitely planned on doing.

Next, we logged onto SAS airlines and booked the first flight out of Lulea. We were lucky to get the seats.

Once everything was settled, we calmly explained to the children that mistakes can happen. It’s all part of the travel adventure. We also hammered home the notion that flexibility is a critical skill for travelers. When something isn’t working out as planned, it’s ok to change the itinerary.

SWEDEN DELIVERS

Happily, Stockholm was a blast. the Grand Hotel Stockholm was beautiful and had a spa that allowed me to steam myself back into good spirits. After two days, we moved to the 12-room Ett Hem, a stunning private home turned design hotel.

After a few days of museums, Swedish pancakes and an afternoon at the ballet, the Treehotel disaster was reduced to a joke. And, the North Lights were placed back on our travel wish list.

And the charges? After back and forth emails (the owner never bothered to respond even after I emailed him directly), we decided to have American Express dispute the charges.

What happens when a dream vacation goes bad? Find out how this traveling mom coped when her family's bucket list trip to see the Northern Lights in Sweden went bust.