Top 10 Funny Travel Books for Armchair Travel
I really like armchair travel. Instead of dealing with long flights, expensive accommodation, diarrhoea and pushy hawkers, I just curl up on my couch with my favourite food and read a good travel book for an afternoon. Since guidebooks aren’t really useful stories in the realm of travel fiction, a search for the best adventure novels yields a new genre specifically suited for armchair travel: travel humour and travel adventure books.
Sadly, there are not a lot of useful lists out there by independent reviewers for sharing the best funny travel books, so I chose to write a list of my favourite top 10 travel books to assist anyone looking for a good selection of travel humour. For three years now, I have concentrated on reading travel fiction and have built a sizeable collection of the best armchair reads that I’d like to share with you. These are the funniest, the wittiest, the most adventurous and the strangest stories I’ve had the pleasure of reading.
Travel humour and travel adventure novels make exciting fiction and/or autobiographical reading as most are based on real life experiences and are a great way of seeing the world through other’s eyes, especially when you dream of travelling the world and never have the funds or time to actually do it.
If you're looking for an awesome list of top 10 travel books, check out the ones below that I’d like to share with you - I've read them all - and recommend them for an amazing armchair travel experience.
1. The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific
By J. Maarten Troost
A very entertaining read about a couple who move to Kiribati in the South Pacific and what they find there….one of the most poverty stricken places on earth.
From waiting for an airplane to fly in the drinking water to seeing corpses on the beach, J captures the place vividly – and conveys an in-depth learning process on the culture of the islanders. One of my favourite books of all time.
"At the age of twenty-six, Maarten Troost decided to pack up his flip-flops and move to Tarawa, a remote South Pacific island in the Republic of Kiribati.
'The Sex Lives of Cannibals' tells the hilarious story of what happens when Troost discovers that Tarawa is not the island paradise he dreamed of. Falling into one amusing misadventure after another, Troost struggles through relentless, stifling heat, a variety of deadly bacteria, polluted seas and toxic fish. Maarten Troost has delivered one of the most original, rip-roaringly funny travelogues in years that will provide the ultimate vicarious adventure." AMAZON REVIEW
My rating: 5/5.
Where is Kiribati?
EXCERPT: "There are simply too many people on South Tarawa...which has the world's highest population density, greater even than Hong Kong."
2. Phaic Tan: Sunstroke On A Shoestring
A Jetlag Travel Guide by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner & Rob Sitch
A humourous parody of a guide book about Thailand, Phaic Tan is laid out like a guide book but is completely fictional.
Containing fake hotel / restaurant / accommodation guides and information about Thailand's government, history, native flora/fauna and cusine but with more honest description than travel brochures, you'll feel like you know Thailand well after finishing the book.
The contributors of this travel guide are also fictional and have amusing background history and anecdotes throughout the text. Guaranteed to make you laugh out loud a lot!
"For too long now Phaic Tan has been closed off to the outside world, a country visited each year by just a handful of hardy travellers, aid agency workers and hostage negotiators. Hot, humid and covered in lush vegetation it is often described as 'The Armpit of South-East Asia'. Quadrille Publishing, in association with Jetlag Travel Guides, are proud to present the first serious introduction to this undiscovered jewel." AMAZON REVIEW
My rating: 4/5
A Fictional "Phaic Tan Regional Map"
3. Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure
By Sarah MacDonald
Excerpt From "Holy Cow"
"New Delhi's winters are short. By February the smog has gone, the shadows shorten and shawls are abandoned as spring springs. This is the season for love to bloom, but preferably after the wedding. Sunday mornings we sit sipping chai and laugh at the newspaper's marriage classifieds. Razoo drops in to teach me how to interpret the spouse ads.
'Tall' means above five feet five.
'Handsome groom with green card' means butt-ugly brute with an American work visa.
'Homely girl with wheatish complexion' is an ugly girl with fair skin.
'Broadminded match wanted' means the person on offer is divorced.
'Extremely beautiful girl wanted' means a vain but probably funny-looking bloke wants a babe better than Miss Universe.
'Wanting a homely wife' means a mummy's boy and his family want a slave who'll cook, clean and massage their feet every night."
Written by an Australian reporter which details colourful travels with a great sense of humour, Holy Cow captures the culture of modern India in an engaging and light read that will entertain and amuse. The style of this book is similar to chick-lit, but far more interesting and detailed.
After backpacking her way around India, Sarah Macdonald decides she hates the country with a passion. When a beggar at the airport reads her palm and insists she will one day return - she screams 'Never!' and gives the country, and him, the finger.
But eleven years later, the prophecy comes true. Sarah takes a wild journey of discovery through India in search of the meaning of life and death. Holy Cow is a rollercoaster ride through a land of chaos and contradiction, from spiritual retreats and crumbling nirvanas to war zones and New Delhi nightclubs.
"This book is MUST read for anyone who has either experienced India or is planning on going! Sarah Macdonald does justice to the beauty and extremities of India in such an amusing manner. Witty and clever as well as informative, Sarah delves right to the heart of India and takes you along for the ride. I could empathise with her on many points and re-reading it after my travels makes me nostalgic for India and all its wonder. A beautifully written book that draws you into India through the eyes of a westerner." J. CROSS
My rating: 4/5
4. Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan
By Will Ferguson
A pleasant read about a teacher who hitchhikes from the southern tip of Japan to the northern tip, following the sakura (cherry blossom) trail throughout a season. An interesting, journalistic story, rich in culture, humour and insider knowledge, the vivid descriptions and details of places in this travel book will make you feel like embarking on a Japanese journey of your own.
"It had never been done before. Not in 2,000 years of Japanese recorded history had anyone followed the Cherry Blossom Front from one end of the country to the other. Nor had anyone hitchhiked the length of Japan. But, heady on sakura and sake, Will Ferguson bet he could do both. The resulting travelogue is one of the funniest and most illuminating books ever written about Japan. And, as Ferguson learns, it illustrates that to travel is better than to arrive." AMAZON REVIEW
My rating: 4/5
Mapped: Will Ferguson's Journey in "Hokkaido Highway Blues"
5. Shantaram: A Novel
By Gregory David Roberts
A serious epic/autobiography and international bestseller about an armed robber and heroin addict who escaped from an Australian prison and travelled to India. Experiencing life within the shanty slums of Bombay, Gregory works as a money launderer, forge and street soldier as well as setting up a free health clinic and acting in Bollywood. A long, long read at 933 pages, but I believe, well worth the effort.
EXCERPT: "The long days, working in the slum and grinding commissions from the hard, jewelled eyes of tourists, unfolded one upon another through the tumble of crowded hours like lotus petals in a summer dawn. There was always a little money, and sometimes a lot of it. On one afternoon, a few weeks after that first visit to the lepers, I fell in with a party of Italian tourists who planned to sell drugs to other tourists at some of the bigger dance parties in Goa. With my help, they bought four kilos of charras and two thousand Mandrax tablets.
I liked doing illegal business with Italians. They were single-minded and systematic in the pursuit of their pleasures, and stylish in the practice of their business. They were also generous, for the most part, believing in a fair minute's pay for a fair minute's work. The commission on that deal gave me enough money to retire for a few weeks. The slum absorbed my days, and most of my nights."
"At once a high-kicking, eye-gouging adventure, a love saga and a savage yet tenderly lyrical fugitive vision." TIME OUT
My score: 5/5
6. Molvanîa: A Land Untouched By Modern Dentistry
A Jetlag Travel Guide by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner and Rob Sitch
Advice from Philippe - a fictitious Molvanian traveller and contributor to the guidebook:
"After years of travel, I've learnt a simple fact: you are never going to meet anyone truly interesting in a five-star hotel. To really experience a country you have to be cold, uncomfortable and woken at dawn by the sound of a local artisan clearing his throat and expectorating. You can keep your clean white sheets and air-conditioned lobbies - give me the unserviced cellar of a local pensione any time."
The original Jetlag parody guide book about a fictional country called Molvanîa, in Eastern Europe. Rural, barren and heavily polluted, the laughable attempts of this guidebook to sell tourism in Molvanîa is wildly entertaining. My whole family passed around this book and it’s a great introduction to the whole Jetlag travel series.
EXCERPT: "In stark contrast to the mighty alps towering just a few hundred kilometres to the east, the flat expanse surrounding Svetranj was once known to the Romans as Plana Monotona Desolata. The vegetation here is typical of central Molvania - thistles and weeds interspersed by barren, rocky patches. The expansive beauty of this exposed land seems to stretch on forever, and over the centuries it has attracted painters, poets, romantics and cement-mining consortiums. But, of course, since time immemorial this massive prairie has been home to cziksos (shepherds) who, even today, can be seen moving their flocks across the bleak, windswept landscape.
These colourful figures still wear traditional costume, although their horses have, in most cases, been replaced by noisy, three-wheeled motorbikes imported from Ukraine. (The bikes are, however, still steered using reins). Accompanying each czikso is a large herd of sheep and several zuti herd dogs. Interestingly, the sheep are kept for their wool and milk, while the dogs are routinely slaughtered for their meat, considered a delicacy by these nomadic shepherd-folk."
My rating: 4/5
Map of Molvanîa (useless, since it's a place you'll never visit)
7. A Nice Time Being Had by All
By Peter Biddlecombe
Did you know?
Peter Biddlecombe is the first travel writer to have visited and written about over 125 different countries.
Peter’s seventh large travel novel is a witty tale of travelling through Russia, Iran, Cambodia, Africa and South America, to name a few. Filled with amazing stories of grandeur and inconvenience, Peter Biddlecombe is a master storyteller that will keep you enthralled from page one. Definitely worth purchasing.
Places visited in the book include St Petersburg, Tehran, Kaliningrad, Yerevan, Tbilisi, Chisinau, Damascus, Phnom Penh, Luang Prabang, Maputo, Luanda, Victoria Falls, Gaborone, Ponce, St John's, Caracas, Paramaribo, Cayenne and Georgetown.
My rating: 5/5
"Airport scams, con immigration officers, fake custom officials, light-fingered hotel staff...the world if full of dodgers and dodgers and Peter Biddlecombe has fallen for most of them.
In this, his seventh hilarious book about his global travels, Biddlecombe slips behind the veil in Iran, celebrates with customs officers high in the Caucasus mountains, plots the fall of Dr Livingstone at Victoria Falls and Ponces around in Puerto Rico.
He meets the world's greatest dodgers in Georgetown, Guyana and visits the Miss World factory in Caracas before sipping champagne with a Buddhist monk on the Mekong River."
EXCERPT FROM THE "A NICE TIME BEING HAD BY ALL"
"In the director's office in Chacao, the swish upmarket end of Caracas, the talk, as in directors' offices all over the world, is of the bottom line. Improving and even massaging figures: an addition here, a subtraction there, an overall adjustment in this direction, a slight, ever-so-slight amendment in that direction. Cross fingers, nobody will notice the difference. Then, with a bit of luck, they'll have another big success on their hands.
But this is a factory with a difference. This factory mass-produces non-stop beauty queens: Miss Venezuelas, Miss Latin Americas, Miss Worlds, Miss Universes and presumably in the not too distant future Miss Inter-Galactic Inter-Stellar Spaces as well. The director is Osmel Sousa. The factory - a tiny, rambling, scruffy pink building, with iron bars not only on the windows but on the doors as well - is the Miss Venezuela Foundation.
It is the most successful beauty queen operation in the world with, to date, five Miss Latin Americas, five Miss Worlds and four Miss Universe titles to its credit not to mention goodness knows how many others.
As for the figures in question, they're only too pleased to be revealed in all their glory. Massaged even, if that is thought necessary."
8. The Wrong Way Home
By Peter Moore
Peter travels from London to Sydney through 25 countries on a budget of $5000. Lots of snapshot experiences of countries and engaging writing. Can’t put it down!
Look out for the desolate town on Quetta, the beauty of Luang Prabang, war torn Afghanistan and the confusion of Dili. Peter Moore describes many out-of-the-way places in "The Wrong Way Home" and part of the book is an Australian travelogue. The writing style in the book is witty and humourous and you'll find that 386 pages will keep you entertained for weeks (it's one of those books you want to take time to absorb).
"London to Sydney in 25 countries - that's the task that Peter Moore, an Australian working in England, set himself. Moore writes like a young Bill Bryson with earrings and ponytail, pointing out the ironies and idiosyncrasies of his own and other cultures." AMAZON REVIEW
EXCERT FROM THE BOOK
"These were the landladies I had been expecting to greet me in Prague: weathered and stooping, with headscarves and carrying shopping baskets. But they weren't as kindly or as gracious as I had imagined. They lined the corridor leading to ISBUSZ, shouting and waving and offering ridiculously cheap rooms with an intensity that was quite frightening. Any refusals were met with bloodcurdling wails and, more often than not, a fearsome gnashing of teeth.
One woman clutched my shoulder and implored me to take a large apartment in the centre of the city for the cost of a Mars bar. When I said no, she reacted as if I had robbed her of her last chance of paying for her daughter's life-saving operation. I had to enlist the help of people passing by to prise open her grip."
My rating: 4/5
From London to Sydney on $5000
Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?
By Thomas Kohnstamm
Did you know?
Thomas Kohnstamm worked on the Lonely Planet travel guide to Brazil while writing "Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?"
A hilarious book about a Lonely Planet guidebook writer who travels to Brazil and has to write the entire guidebook on a shoestring. The amazing thing is he actually does achieve a Lonely Planet guidebook….with a little help from all of the locals he meets on the way. Not to be missed!
"A young American, tired of life on Wall Street, takes a job as a travel writer for Lonely Planet. He arrives in Brazil and, amidst the temptations of beautiful women and the all-night partying of Copacabana beach, soon realises that he has been given a task of unimaginable proportions and an equally small stipend with which to fund it." M.D. ELLIOTT
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK
"An hour passes and I am really hitting my stride, taking it all in and starting to get a glimpse of the big picture. I hear a crashing noise near the front of the building. A man enters into the boardinghouse, shouts something unintelligible in slurred Portuguese, and slams the door behind him. He walks into the neighbouring room. I can hear him clearly as though he were next to me: his footsteps, him spitting on the floor. I hear his bed creak as he lies down and then I hear him fart, cough, spit some more and fade into a steady snore.
What the fuck? I get close to the wall with the closets and realize that it is not a wall at all, but rather a stand-alone shelving unit used to divide a single room into two. A curtain covers the distance from the top of the closet to the ceiling. My new roommate pauses with the snoring, rolls over, clears his throat, and starts snoring again.
I have stayed in some messed-up places while on the road before: crabs in the shower drain, bats shitting on my sheets, my bed folding in half in the middle of the night, a rat in my backpack - you name it - but it is all that much less tolerable when you are trying to work.
I have approximately three sentences down on the page when the light in my room flickers and then goes out. I use the battery-powered light of my laptop screen to find the door to my room. A quick look into the hallway proves that the whole building has blacked out.
This is a sign. I shut off my computer, cover my head with the pillow, and sleep for the next twelve hours. So much for day three, or was it four?"
My rating: 5/5
10. Holidays In Hell
By P.J. O’Rourke
A gritty and humourous read about off-the-beaten-track travel through Lebanon, Korea, the West Bank, El Salvador, Nicaragua, the Phillippines and Poland by a foreign correspondent. A book that will inform you about the world’s worst trouble spots through a journey of thousands of descriptive miles. Phenomenal research has been conducted for this book and at times it can be challenging to read it - but ultimately you will learn a lot about the wars and countries contained therein.
"Despite his dodgy shift from student leftist with long hair to cigar chomping ironist with an honest republican bent, this is still a very good collection of thoughts on travel throughout the world: think Richard Boyle does Michael Moore." JASON PARKES
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK
"The government assault came on Friday morning, two days after the election. It was well under way by the time I arrived at 8 a.m. You go to cover a Korean riot story looking more like a Martian than a Woodward or a Bernstein. You wear heavy clothes for protection from the cold and rocks, good running shoes, a hard hat or motorcycle helmet marked PRESS in English or Korean, and the best gas mask you can find on the black market. (It's illegal for civilians to buy them in Korea.)
Korean riot police use the pepper gas developed during the Vietnam War, which is fast becoming a favourite with busy dictators everywhere. I'd been hit with the stuff before, in Panama, but the Koreans lay it on in lavish doses, until the air is a vanilla milkshake of minuscule caustic particles. Pepper gas can raise blisters on exposed skin. Any contact with a mucous membrane produces the same sensation as probing a canker sore with a hot sewing needle."
My rating: 4/5
Relax With A Great Armchair Read...
So there you have it – my favourite best adventure novels and funny travel books that provide me with hours of imaginative travel. Grab yourself a plate of your favourite food and a comfy pillow and absorb yourself for an afternoon in glorious tales of the world beyond your window.
Questions & Answers
© 2010 Suzanne Day