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Over the last several years, the “live like a local” movement has been fueled by Airbnb, VRBO, and other vacation rental options. These companies have built campaigns on the concept. We’ve had countless conversations with people about it. They truly feel staying in one of these accommodation types gives them, as travelers, the experience of what it is like to live as a resident of the destination. I have always found this ideation curious in the world of travel.

Living Like A Local

When I was a young adult, I moved to one of the top tourist destinations in the United States – Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This small, charming town surrounded by mountains, hosts millions of visitors each year. Both Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park are located at it’s doorstep. It is one of the most beautiful, iconic places in the country.

When I moved there, I immediately fell in love with the charm and appeal of my new home. Everything here was so new and exciting. It felt like such a departure from my hometown and such a breath of fresh air!

After a bit of time passed, things started to change. No longer did I feel the same enthusiasm that the first few weeks brought. I started a new job, I signed up for a post office box to get mail, registered my vehicle in Teton County, and I was really settling in. With the excitement of my initial arrival slipping away, the truth was right in front of me. I was no longer on vacation; I was a resident.

There, in my early twenties, I learned a major lesson. Visiting a destination as opposed to actually living in it are two vastly different experiences. One is not the same as the other.

I learned a major lesson. Visiting a destination as opposed to actually living in it are two vastly different experiences. One is not the same as the other. Click To Tweet

Short Term Vacation Rental Experiences

We believe there are things one truly needs to experience for themselves. Staying in a vacation rental would certainly be one of those things we would eventually end up trying for one reason or another.

Fast forward 15 years from my time in Jackson. Within the last year, we have had two experiences staying in Airbnb rentals for trips. They were both enjoyable, but I never felt like a local while staying in either of them.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Our first stay was in Edinburgh, Scotland. We decided to stay in an Airbnb simply because of costs. Arriving at the tail end of festival, we found our typical hotel choices to be cost prohibitive. Fortunately, we found a great snug in the perfect location that was within our budget.

The place was charming and served as the perfect launching point for all our adventures. Located in the Grassmarket area, we were just a few blocks away from colorful Victoria Street, the Royal Mile, and Edinburgh Castle.

We enjoyed the fact that we were able to catch up on laundry. This was crucial since we were on a backpacking trip. But, other than morning tea/coffee, we never used the kitchen space. We found there were simply too many restaurants in the city we wanted to try instead.

While I envisioned how great it must be for the owners to have that well-located snug as a vacation rental, I never imagined being able to actually live in that particular space. It never felt like any sort of “home.”

Estes Park, Colorado

Our second experience was in Estes Park, Colorado. Normally, we would stay at our favorite hotel in the area. However, the pandemic led us down the path of choosing to stay in a vacation rental instead.

We found a high-end condominium in a resort community. This was the perfect setting for a trip being carried out under the circumstances. Hardly anyone was staying on the property, so we had space to breathe and relax.

Because the situation was a bit different on this trip, we did a lot more cooking at this Airbnb. We brought most of our own food from home, and picked up a few remaining items at the store. And, once again, I was able to stay caught up on laundry. That is something I really do appreciate about rentals.

As we settled in to our condo, I did find myself noticing certain things about it that really appealed to me. I said to myself, “I could live in a place like this down the line.” But, I still never felt like a local while staying there.

A Time And A Place

Again, staying in these rentals never once gave us the feeling that we were contributing members of the community. We were ultimately still guests in the destination regardless of where we rested our heads at night.

I am glad we were able to have both of these rental experiences. Both options offered us a clean, safe place to stay. They served their purpose for each of the trips we used them on. Still, I feel there is a time and a place for utilizing vacation rentals. A few instances include:

  • Needing kitchen facilities to cook your meals
  • Wanting to avoid large, crowded hotels
  • Managing budget constraints

Regardless of the reason for staying, I simply do not agree with Airbnb’s “live like a local” campaign.

Sustainable Tourism Impacts

Part of the reasons I feel there is a time and place for rentals is related to the impacts. I have very mixed feelings about these types of rentals and their role in sustainable tourism. It is interesting that so many places have been revolting against them in recent years.

One of the biggest issues with rentals is they are pricing locals out of the market. As landlords scoop up properties and charge hefty rent prices to tourists, limited availability within the real estate market also causes increased prices. Many locals cannot afford these prices. Venice and Prague are a great example of this.

Another issue is related to zoning and noise. Vacation rentals are generally found scattered throughout residential areas of cities. These spaces are not zoned for commercial use. On top of that, the increased flow of visitors increases noise in the area. Once quite streets can often be turned into spots filled with visitors busily going about their days.

There are also arguments related to the contribution rentals make for the local economy. Hotels and other accommodation options obviously have plenty of pitfalls as well. However, many of these places employ local workers, partner with local businesses, pay hefty taxes and, in some cases, contribute to the community in a variety of ways including CSR efforts. Airbnb owners rarely have the same positive impacts on their community.

Changing Traveler Preferences

While not always the most sustainable choice, and certainly not something that will make you feel like a local, the role of vacation rentals is set to change.

The COVID pandemic will forever change the travel landscape. Many top destinations have been rebelling against Airbnb rentals for the reasons mentioned above. While opposing and problematic, I believe vacation rentals will continue to gain popularity for the foreseeable future.

Many large hotels will struggle to maintain their customer base. People will seek out safe places stay, offering less contact with others.

Although people still want to travel, many will not be as comfortable with eating out. The allure of having a private kitchen in which guests can cook their own meals will be even more appealing, especially as restaurants and bars continue to have restrictions.

This change of traveler preference still won’t lead people to experience local life. But, it might offer a more comfortable alternative during such unsettling times.

Renting an Airbnb or other type of vacation rental is a great way to get away for a few days. There are plenty of unique accommodation types to appeal to a variety of traveler. As travel continues to change, rentals will continue to gain popularity. But, staying in one won’t give you the feel of what it’s like to actually live in the destination. In reality, that experience really is something else.

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11 Comments

  1. I must say – I would choose the Estes Park rental! Agreed – the pandemic will forever change the landscape of travel, choosing a place to stay, doing more cooking, avoiding large crowds. . .the list is somewhat endless. Very thought provoking and interesting perspective. Thank you for your insights!

    1. The place in Estes was very nice – would definitely go back there! It will be interesting to see how everything comes out on the other side.

  2. We have used vacation rentals when we were in one spot for a longer time. Or often when we visited family and wanted more space to entertain. We do like that you get to stay more local in a vacation rental like AirBnB. But for short stays I like the convenience of hotels and not having to worry about much. Lately I have found the vacation rental prices with all fees in to be very expensive. Especially for shorter stays where things like cleaning fees are spread over a shorter time. I agree with the concern about people buying up what could be rental properties for short term rentals. That is certainly not helping the local costs.

  3. I agree with so many points here. I think part of this is down to time and the need that many travellers have to fit in everything they can in a trip. I try to see the local area as much as possible to but over the past few years I’ve started to favour staying in one place for longer and having some days where I just relax and read a book in the accommodation, I shop and cook as I would do at home and other than having day trips here or there it helps me to slow down. I also end up befriending people a lot and have revisited the same locations to spend time with friends I’ve met from the areas. Still not living like a local but I think most of us just want imagine temporarily that these escapes from our realities could be real.

  4. This is a really interesting post. I have stayed in many Airbnb’s through the years but they have all been chosen due to location & cost reasons. The big hotel stays no longer appeal to me as much. But I have never felt or expected to feel like a local as a result (mind you, I don’t tend to stay more than a few days before moving on again). I like your argument about the sustainability though & hadn’t recognised how it could impact house prices for locals in tourist destinations. It’s certainly something to consider in the future as I am reflecting so much on my travel habits & how they will change when I am (finally) back travelling again. Thank you – a very thought provoking post.

  5. Very interesting post as I love to live like local and experience that place by living like them. I would surely book vacation rentals which make me feel to live like locals. Your stay at Estes Park, Colrado looks very nice and beautiful too.

  6. I have definitely had mixed experiences. We went to NC and stayed is the most amazing cabin, but when we went to GA, the AirBNB we stayed in was not like the pictures and we ended up all being sick, because it was old and not clean enough… I am always wary

  7. I also have had mixed feelings about contributing to the Airbnb type rentals. I love having access to a kitchen and to laundry facilities, but I fear that I am contributing to the sky rocketing houses prices that so many communities are facing. 🙁

  8. I learned a similar lesson about “living like a local” when it came to moving to a famous city. I do enjoy having apartments when traveling but not always for the “like a local” feel, but for convenience and usually price. I’ve been in many Air B&Bs and only a handful of them have felt like a “home”, but many of them have been fantastically convenient.

  9. This is a great look into vacation rentals and how they have an impact on local residence. We’ve used both and have started taking a better look at the local affect before we decide what to rent!

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