The Best Funny Travel Books

Robin Cherry Author Of Garlic, an Edible Biography: The History, Politics, and Mythology Behind the World's Most Pungent Food--With Over 100 Recipes
By Robin Cherry

The Books I Picked & Why

Playing the Moldovans at Tennis

By Tony Hawks

Playing the Moldovans at Tennis

Why this book?

Travel writing can be so serious. “I was a divorced heroin addict so I went on a hike” or “I have a terminal disease; this is my final journey.” This book (and the other books on my list) illuminate foreign places and people with erudition, thoughtfulness, and laughter.

Whenever I’m in London, I visit Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street and ask the sales assistant to recommend a humorous book about the former Soviet Union. Playing the Moldovans at Tennis is one of my favorites.  British comedian Tony Hawk's first book, Round Ireland with a Fridge, saw him hitchhike around the island to win a drunken £100 bet. In this book, Hawks accepts a bet from a friend that he can’t beat the entire Moldovan football team at tennis and the loser has to strip down and sing the Moldovan national anthem on Balham High Road. While his escapades are laugh-out-loud funny, Hawks develops a real affinity for Moldova and the epilogue to the second edition of this book is incredibly moving. 


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The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

By Eric Weiner

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Why this book?

Subtitled One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World, this book chronicles Weiner’s travels to discover why some countries are happier than others. 

A former foreign correspondent for NPR, Weiner augments his adventures in the “happiest countries in the world” which include eating rotten shark in Iceland, and finding contentment in Bhutan with a trip to “the unhappiest country in the world,” my poor Moldova. He chose to visit Moldova when he said, “all of this happiness was starting to bum me out” and he thought a trip to an unhappy place might cheer him up. Spoiler alert: he hated it. 


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In the Empire of Genghis Khan: A Journey Among Nomads

By Stanley Stewart

In the Empire of Genghis Khan: A Journey Among Nomads

Why this book?

As a child, Irish author Stewart dreamed of riding a horse across Mongolia and this book is the fulfillment of his dream. In the heart of the book, Stewart travels 1,000-miles across the vast steppes of Mongolia on horseback. He encounters stunning scenery, a hilarious nomad wedding brawl, and “a vast medieval world of nomads apparently undisturbed since 1200.” This book is worth it just for my favorite exchange.  While Stewart was watching the wrestling competition at  Mongolia’s annual Naadam Festival, he asked a fellow observer why the wrestler’s jackets had “long sleeves but an open front that left the chest bare.” “Keeps the women out,” he muttered.  Turns out Mongolian women are fearsome wrestlers. 


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Travels with My Aunt

By Graham Greene

Travels with My Aunt

Why this book?

Retired bank manager Henry Pulling, a stodgy bachelor who spends his days tending dahlias, meets his eccentric, promiscuous, and amoral Aunt Augusta at his mother’s funeral. She drags him out of his suburban torpor and into a life of adventure accompanied by her lover from Sierra Leone. They travel from Paris to Istanbul on board the Orient Express and to South America where Henry reveals that Augusta has taught him well. Greene described Travels with my Aunt as “the only book I have written for the fun of it,” and while it is a bit dated, it’s still a fun ride. 


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Tuva or Bust! Richard Feynman's Last Journey

By Ralph Leighton

Tuva or Bust! Richard Feynman's Last Journey

Why this book?

Legendary physicist Richard Feynman’s intrigue with the remote Siberian country of Tanaa Tuva was inspired by the country’s triangular postage stamps he collected as a child. As an adult, he asked his friend, Ralph Leighton if he knew anything about the country and when the two men discovered the capital was the “legitimate vowel-less” Kyzyl, they become obsessed with visiting it. Feynman and Leighton spent over ten years trying to reach Tuva, foiled by ridiculous Soviet bureaucracy and ultimately, Feynman’s death from cancer. While the ending is bittersweet, this story of friendship and obsession is a fitting tribute to Feynman’s passion, playfulness, and curiosity. 


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