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Make Yourself At Home

Culture Etc.

Make Yourself At Home

The imperfect art of elevating domestic travel.


By Anna Rawhiti-Connell

In 2016, Airbnb launched a global brand campaign urging its customers to “live like a local”. It cashed in on the deep fear that a certain kind of traveller has of looking like a tourist, promising authentic experiences against exotic backdrops where we could live out our assimilatory fantasies. The campaign looks like a relic from another era. We now have no choice but to live like the locals while on holiday — because we are the locals.

This admittedly presents a challenge for me and my cohort of social media-obsessed urbanites. How much escapism and avoidance of our own lives can truly be found within New Zealand’s closed borders? Without the option of pretending we are wretched Parisian writers in charming but rickety apartments in Le Marais, how will we show that we are unique, special people taking unique, special holidays? Without stark cultural differences to embed ourselves amongst, how will anyone know we are worldly people with open minds and open hearts? What will we Instagram?

With overseas travel off the cards for most of us, and the government signalling that borders could be closed for another 18 months, fantasy seems more important than ever. As a child I played house, bribing my brother to play neighbour and circus monkey in games about pretend lives. As an adult I have my own rented house, but now I live my fantasy lives in the homes of other people, sinking into baths with views I will never be able to afford.

Urged to explore my own backyard, I have become an experienced Airbnb user in recent months, scanning listings to indulge my escapist tendencies. Rates have come down across New Zealand since the pandemic hit. This time last year, the average rate per night in Queenstown was $482. It now sits around $359. The glittering “Rare Find” diamond appears more frequently than it used to. Reviews seem less likely to mention the breathtaking views and scenery and are a little more focused on the amenities. The phrase “break away” has replaced “visit to New Zealand”.

Selecting holiday accommodation has always been about trade-offs. Overseas, you’ll take proximity to the train or a “cute neighbourhood” over comfort or a working lift. Stuck at home, the analysis has changed. Our accommodation choices are not entrees to the cities of our dreams but the main course. Where Airbnb once promised us authenticity, its function is now compensatory, mitigating our fear that perhaps we won’t be quite as enthralled with our domestic holiday locations as our international ones.

On a visit to New York, it didn’t occur to me to take photos of our one-bedroom studio accommodation — the images I posted on my social feeds were of landmarks, ironic and deliberately kitsch tourist attractions and the pizza at a place only true Brooklyn locals know about, which I discovered via some light googling. I took many pictures of our rented house on a recent mini-break to Martinborough. Truth be told, I spent more time taking pictures of the bath that overlooked the olive grove than I did in the bath and more time watching US election coverage on the telly than I did in the olive grove.

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Don’t get me wrong, I’ve boarded the domestic tourism train enthusiastically. High on patriotism and in the grips of a nine-month-long cortisol stress response, robbed of being able to bore people about my plans to have a truly authentic time on the Amalfi Coast, I spent the month before I took a short holiday telling everyone how much I needed a holiday.

On my trip to the Wairarapa, I found myself adopting weird airs and graces. Dressed as if I were doing a royal tour of the French Riviera, I walked into vineyards in Martinborough and told people, “We’re from Auckland”. Most refrained from giving me a sarcastic “two thumbs up”, but there is no pecking order in their minds. We are all domestic tourists. The eyeroll I got in a shop in Greytown when I said I was from Auckland, after buying an obnoxiously large pair of sunglasses, was totally deserved.

Anna Rawhiti-Connell is a columnist at Newsroom.

This story appeared in the January 2021 issue of North & South.