“Live like a local”… “Experience what locals do”. So goes the AirBnb tag line. Escaping the tourist trail and hordes of other tourists, especially badly behaved tour groups, theoretically grants one a much more authentic experience of a place. Except the last couple of times I’ve gone away, I’ve stayed in AirBnb for reasons of cost (I’d picked my ideal hotels and then got caught up in hectic Hong Kong life and forgot to book. They were booked out by the time I tried to make a reservation) and it left a sour taste in my mouth.
By “living like a local”, you also experience some of the drudgery of daily life you’ve travelled halfway across the world to escape. My neighbours in Hong Kong are selfish, loud, rude assholes. I am unfortunate to probably be one of the few people in Asia to live under someone who clop clops on floorboards in shoes from about 5 in the morning, and god knows how they can move around constantly in such a tiny space. They don’t seem to go out much, either. My neighbour on this floor is a hideous tiger mother who forces her children to play a variety of musical instruments well past the cut off time under Hong Kong’s noise laws (when do those children sleep?!), and when asked to stop, has reminded me this is Hong Kong and, in rather colourful language, invited me to go back to my country if I don’t like it. Lovely woman. So, with neighbours like these (admittedly quite low on the asshole scale of Hong Kong), robbing me of precious sleep and quiet in this hectic city, who wants to deal with other people’s asshole neighbours while on holiday in another country?
In Amsterdam, we stayed at a gorgeous flat in a wonderful, quiet area moments from gorgeous boutiques, cafes and canals. The apartment was clean, stylishly decorated and a lovingly cared for home inhabited by the host for most of the year. The bed even had the same mattress topper as our Hong Kong bed- we were sure to get a wonderful night’s sleep! Maybe this AirBnb thing was as good as it was cracked up to be…
Except it seemed the clop clop neighbour had followed us to Amsterdam and there was no soundproofing. We could hear every word they spoke (not understanding those words didn’t make it any easier to ignore), and everything shook when they walked. They didn’t go to bed till after 3 am and were up and clopping around by 8, and as comfy as that bed was, it was impossible to get enough sleep. We faced the prospect of spending the next five days in a stupor of exhaustion, our holiday movements dependant on the actions of the people upstairs.
Exhausted, I ended up booking the fabulous Hotel Okura Amsterdam at 2:30 am, delirious and almost in tears at being unable to sleep and enjoy this beautiful city. The last minute rates were steep, but it was amazing how much our experience of Amsterdam improved with proper sleep and clear heads. We used the AirBnb as a suitcase storage unit and pit stop when in the area – a costly pit stop indeed. I don’t regret the expensive five-star hotel, but I do regret not booking it in the first place rather than the AirBnb apartment.
In Prague, a city I hated on sight (but more on that another time), we stayed in an inexpensive apartment that was clearly not anyone’s home. Cheap towels and linen, the kind you’d never buy for yourself and inferior to those even at a cheap Ibis hotel, furnished with op shop furniture and generic Ikea furnishings to create a poor copy of some kind of ‘shabby chic’ picture seen on Pinterest. Seriously, go have a look on AirBnb and you’ll see a hundred apartments furnished with the same inspirational quotes or maps on the wall etc. In eschewing a soulless hotel room to “live like a local”, people flock to unofficial hotel rooms just as devoid of soul or sense of the city in which it’s located.
An upcoming last minute trip to my second home, Fukuoka, saw hotel rooms almost booked out across the city. So, I checked AirBnb. Small Japanese apartments (1LDK in Japanese realty parlance), usually inhabited by two people at most, are configured with two, sometimes three semi-double beds, even across the tatami mats where the living room should be. Listing descriptions proudly proclaim up to six or even 8 people can fit in one apartment, and many of these listings are written in only simplified Chinese or Korean. Talk about living like a local.
Some listings I saw explicitly referred to previous guests causing trouble and imploring prospective guests to observe neighbourhood noise rules, as well as not bother neighbours (ie, those living as actual locals with jobs and lives) by knocking on their doors with questions related to AirBnb. The boundaries between hotel, hostel and home are blurred too much.
I own property in my home country and I checked AirBnb to see if any listings are in the street or even the same block. How would I feel if my property or street was being used as AirBnb? I wouldn’t like it, that’s for sure. So I therefore feel uneasy about crashing other people’s neighbourhoods.
Bear in mind, I’m not talking about using AirBnb to rent a room in someone’s home and stay with the owners. I’m sure there are rewards on both sides there, and perhaps this homestay model brings less negative backwash to the local community. But when so many residences in an area seem no longer filled with locals but with generic, unofficial hotel rooms, and the ‘locals’ are mostly other tourists (yes, tourists, not travellers or whatever ridiculous euphemism), how is that living like a local?
I don’t buy it. I’m happy to live like a tourist and stay in a comfortable, stylish hotel. Holidays are all too short and before long, I’ll be back living AS a local in Hong Kong, schlepping it to work on the MTR and dealing with my asshole neighbours. Who wants that on a holiday?