Homes and Experiences is a bittersweet comic novel about travel, experiences, and what really matters. Mark works for Urb, a travel start up for booking stays in people’s homes and travel experiences (guess which company it is satirising), where he writes copy and lives a mundane London life. When he’s offered to spend the summer travelling across Europe visiting some of Urb’s offerings to write non-travel-expert copy, he sees it as a chance to finally do the travelling he never has, and invites his posher, more worldly cousin Paris to come along with him. A big argument puts a stopper in this plan, but as Mark travels, he emails Paris with the details of his trip: the highs and lows in his quest to balance Urb’s need for catchy copy with his desire to try and actually see something authentic.
Williams has created an email epistolary novel that uses the format to cleverly expose Mark’s feelings about his trip and incorporate a twist to change the perspective on what Mark does during his travels. The tone is charming, exposing Mark’s naive outlook on travel on one hand and his conflict around gentrification and the impact of Urb/Airbnb on local cities and communities. The novel does well to satirise millennial culture and guilt whilst also showing actual difficulties and emotion that go along with these (the travel issues that come along with not flying are a key example, though they are also reminiscent of the BBC travel show Race Across The World, in which the participants can’t fly either). Alongside the satire and humour is a real emotional side coming from the interpersonal relationships in the book, and particularly friendships: from Mark’s idolising friendship with his cousin Paris to others that develop throughout the book, there’s a real focus on the importance of these relationships not just romantic ones.
On the one hand, the novel appeals to me as a millennial who does like travelling to European cities (though, admittedly, I’ve never stayed in an Airbnb), and on the other hand, it’s a clever way of presenting some of the issues with this kind of start up tourism and gentrification, but through the lens of someone at a loss with what they’re doing with their life and trying to make the most of an unusual opportunity. It can be funny and relatable, but also bittersweet, and the format has a good payoff.