The funniest travel books

Why am I passionate about this?

Robin Cherry is a Cleveland-raised, Hudson Valley-based author of Garlic: An Edible Biography and Catalog: An Illustrated History of Mail Order Shopping. When not zeroing in on the microhistory of unusual things, she writes about food, wine, and travel. Her father’s family hails from Moldova which may explain why two of the five books on this list are about, or include, chapters on, Moldova. The fact that two concern Mongolia is inexplicable as she’s never been there. Her story on visiting Moldova was included in Lonely Planet’s 2016 Travel Anthology. 


I wrote...

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

By Robin Cherry,

Book cover of Garlic, an Edible Biography: The History, Politics, and Mythology Behind the World's Most Pungent Food--With Over 100 Recipes

What is my book about?

Garlic! Garlic is the Lord Byron of produce, a lusty rogue that charms and seduces you but runs off before dawn, leaving a bad taste in your mouth. Called everything from a rustic cure-all to Russian penicillin, Bronx vanilla, and Italian perfume, garlic has been loved, worshipped, and despised throughout history. This book takes you on a grand tour of its fascinating role in history, medicine, literature, and art; its controversial role in bigotry, mythology, and superstition; and its indispensable contribution to the great cuisines of the world. It includes over 100 garlicky recipes.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Playing the Moldovans at Tennis

Robin Cherry Why did I love 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. 

By Tony Hawks,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Playing the Moldovans at Tennis as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'All I knew about Moldova were the names of eleven men printed on the inside back pages of my newspaper. None of them sounded to me like they were any good at tennis ...'

An eccentric wager finds Tony Hawks, a man who loves an unusual challenge, bound for the little-known Eastern European state of Moldova. His mission: to track down members of the country's football team and persuade them to play him at tennis. The bizarre quest ultimately has little to do with tennis or football, but instead turns into an extraordinary journey involving the Moldovan underworld, gypsies, chronic…


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

Robin Cherry Why did I love 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. 

By Eric Weiner,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Geography of Bliss as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What makes a nation happy? Is one country's sense of happiness the same as another's? In the last two decades, psychologists and economists have learned a lot about who's happy and who isn't. The Dutch are, the Romanians aren't, and Americans are somewhere in between...

After years of going to the world's least happy countries, Eric Weiner, a veteran foreign correspondent, decided to travel and evaluate each country's different sense of happiness and discover the nation that seemed happiest of all.

*He discovers the relationship between money and happiness in tiny and extremely wealthy Qatar (and it's not a good…


Book cover of In the Empire of Genghis Khan: A Journey Among Nomads

Robin Cherry Why did I love 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. 

By Stanley Stewart,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Empire of Genghis Khan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Vivid, hilarious, and compelling, this eagerly awaited book takes its place among the travel classics. It is a thrilling tale of adventure, a comic masterpiece, and an evocative portrait of a medieval land marooned in the modern world. Eight and a half centuries ago, under Genghis Khan, the Mongols burst forth from Central Asia in a series of spectacular conquests that took them from the Danube to the Yellow Sea. Their empire was seen as the final triumph of the nomadic "barbarians." In this remarkable book Stanley Stewart sets off on a pilgrimage across the old empire, from Istanbul to…


Book cover of Travels with My Aunt

Robin Cherry Why did I love 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. 

By Graham Greene,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Travels with My Aunt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Henry Pulling, a retired bank manager, meets his septuagenarian Aunt Augusta for the first time in over fifty years at his mother's funeral. Soon after, she persuades Henry to abandon Southwood, his dahlias and the Major next door to travel her way, through Brighton, Paris, Istanbul, Paraguay... Accompanying his aunt, Henry joins a shiftless, twilight society: mixing with hippies, war criminals, CIA men; smoking pot, breaking all the currency regulations and eventually coming alive after a dull suburban lifetime.


Book cover of Tuva or Bust! Richard Feynman's Last Journey

Robin Cherry Why did I love 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. 

By Ralph Leighton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tuva or Bust! Richard Feynman's Last Journey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1977, Feynman and his sidekick- fellow drummer and geography enthusiast Ralph Leighton-set out to make arrangements to visit Tuva, doing noble and hilarious battle with Soviet red tape, befriending quite a few Tuvans, and discovering the wonders of Tuvan throat-singing. Their Byzantine attempts to reach Tannu Tuva would span a decade, interrupted by Feynman's appointment to the committee investigating the Challenger disaster, and his tragic struggle with the cancer that finally killed him. Tuva or Bust! chronicles the deepening friendship of two zany, brilliant strategists whose love of the absurd will delight and instruct. It is Richard Feynman's last,…


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The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

By Kathryn Betts Adams,

Book cover of The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

Kathryn Betts Adams

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The Pianist's Only Daughter is a frank, humorous, and heartbreaking exploration of aging in an aging expert's own family.

Social worker and gerontologist Kathryn Betts Adams spent decades negotiating evolving family dynamics with her colorful and talented parents: her mother, an English scholar and poet, and her father, a pianist and music professor. Their vivid emotional lives, marital instability, and eventual divorce provided the backdrop for her 1960s and ‘70s Midwestern youth.

Nearly thirty years after they divorce, Adams' newly single father flies in to woo his ex-wife, now retired and diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Their daughter watches in disbelief as they reconcile and decide to live together again. She steps in to become her parents' eldercare manager when her mother’s condition worsens, facing old family dynamics and disappointing limitations to available services. Throughout, she attempts to help her parents maintain their humanity in their final years.

The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

By Kathryn Betts Adams,

What is this book about?

Grounded in insights about mental health, health and aging, The Pianist’s Only Daughter: A Memoir presents a frank and loving exploration of aging in an aging expert's own family.

Social worker and gerontologist Kathryn Betts Adams spent decades negotiating evolving family dynamics with her colorful and talented parents: her English scholar and poet mother and her pianist father. Their vivid emotional lives, marital instability, and eventual divorce provided the backdrop for her 1960s and ‘70s Midwestern youth.

Nearly thirty years after they divorce, Adams' father finds himself single and flies in to woo his ex-wife, now retired and diagnosed with…


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