The best books about travel that are philosophical and funny

Who am I?

I’m obsessed with travel, and have spent years ambling the planet. I’m also an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Durham University—I spend lots of time reading books, and occasionally writing them. Travel and philosophy can help us make sense of our magnificent, peculiar world.

I wrote...

The Meaning of Travel: Philosophers Abroad

By Emily Thomas,

Book cover of The Meaning of Travel: Philosophers Abroad

What is my book about?

The Meaning of Travel offers the first book on the philosophy of travel, helping us think more deeply about why and how we go. Beginning in the sixteenth century Age of Discovery, when philosophers first began thinking seriously about travel, it considers Michel de Montaigne on otherness, John Locke on cannibals, and Henry Thoreau on wilderness. It discovers the dark side of maps, how the philosophy of space fuelled mountain tourism, and asks whether intergalactic travel will affect human significance in a leviathan universe. The Meaning of Travel will reshape your understanding of travel—and provide some laughs along the way.

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The books I picked & why

The Art of Travel

By Alain De Botton,

Book cover of The Art of Travel

Why did I love this book?

How can travel help us find the good life? The Art of Travel asks this question of artists such as Edward Hopper and Vincent van Gogh, with profound and amusing results. Why can anticipating travel be more pleasant than actually going away? What is the lure of the Bahamas, of the ‘exotic’, of open deserts? Throughout, De Botton invites us to pay better attention to the world around us. I especially enjoy his musings on the profundities of travel—on waiting at Heathrow airport, circling ring-roads, and dried ketchup of motorway service stations.

By Alain De Botton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Art of Travel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of the Number One bestseller, THE CONSOLATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY, this is an inspirational and witty guide to how to make our travels go better. Calling upon such guides as Hopper, Flaubert and Ruskin, de Botton accompanies us on an eye-opening and entertaining tour of the philosophical questions behind our desire to travel - and the capricious nature of our thoughts and emotions when we do.

Book cover of Travelers & Travel Liars 1660-1800

Why did I love this book?

This entertaining book treats travellers who were also liars - people who went abroad, but ‘embellished’ their journeys on returning home. It includes the tale of John Byron “Foul-Weather Jack”, who circumnavigated the globe and reported meeting nine-foot giants in 1776 Argentina. In the 1690s, traveller Louis Hennepin’s lies dramatically altered the topography of New Mexico, introducing false rivers and land masses that appeared on maps for 250 years. In the 1560s, sailor David Ingram claimed to have trekked America—describing giant cities, ruby-adorned kings, and rivers flowing the wrong way. Adams thoughtfully reflects on why these travellers lied, and why people at home believed them. The answers lie in the goods and powers associated with travel: prestige, fame, money, and the difficulty of assessing claims about the faraway.

By Percy G. Adams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Travelers & Travel Liars 1660-1800 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“This book focuses upon the hoaxes and lies perpetrated by travel writers during that “Age of Reason. ”

A Philosophy of Walking

By Frederic Gros, Clifford Harper (illustrator), John Howe (translator)

Book cover of A Philosophy of Walking

Why did I love this book?

A Philosophy of Walking reads like strolling-paced poetry. It argues, for example, that walking allows for different silences. The silence of a woodland’s clumping trees is ‘tremulous, uneasy’. The silence of mountains under a hot sun is ‘blinding, mineral, shattering’. Amongst the benefits of walking, Gros includes freedom, peace, and space to think. He tells us that philosophers such as Henry Thoreau and Nietzsche found walking to provide cures for melancholy, and writer’s block. Rousseau used walking as a kind of mediation, covering ‘immense distances on foot’—due to poverty and inclination. For Gros, when we walk, we are put in touch with the world’s eternal, unchanging current.

By Frederic Gros, Clifford Harper (illustrator), John Howe (translator)

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Philosophy of Walking as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.
- Nietzsche

By walking, you escape from the very idea of identity, the temptation to be someone, to have a name and a history ... The freedom in walking lies in not being anyone; for the walking body has no history, it is just an eddy in the stream of immemorial life.

In A Philosophy of Walking, a bestseller in France, leading thinker Frederic Gros charts the many different ways we get from A to B-the pilgrimage, the promenade, the protest march, the nature ramble-and reveals what they say…

Book cover of Spinsters Abroad: Victorian Lady Explorers

Why did I love this book?

Spinsters Abroad set out to celebrate Victorian women traveller such as Mary Kingsley, Amelia Edwards, and Isabella Bird. However, Birkett quickly discovered that these women were not straightforward role models. Yes, they travelled Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, braving hardship, and making all kinds of discoveries along the way. But it turns out, they managed that because their whiteness trumped their gender. Spinsters Abroad reveals the complexity of these women’s travels, and their lives and worlds. It reflects on their motivations for travel, as well as how Victorians conceived gender and race. The book is also jam-packed with anecdotes. Here is Edwards complaining about flies interrupting her watercolour painting of Egyptian ruins: ‘Nothing disagrees with them; nothing poisons them - not even olive-green’.

By Dea Birkett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Spinsters Abroad as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What spurred so many Victorian women to leave behind their secure middle-class homes and undertake perilous journeys of thousands of miles, tramping through tropical forests, caravanning across deserts, and scaling mountain ranges? And how were they able to travel so freely in exotic lands, when at home such independence was denied to them? This book draws upon the diaries and writings of more than 50 such women to describe their experiences and aspirations. Many of the journeys they made are re-constructed - Mary Gaunt's voyage along the West African coast, Mary Kingsley's jungle treks, Amelia Edwards's thousand-mile journey up the…

Book cover of Map Addict: A Tale of Obsession, Fudge & the Ordnance Survey

Why did I love this book?

Travel writer Parker’s obsession with maps glows through every page. This comical, easy-to-read book celebrates maps by enquiring into their history, and the rich ideas in their makeup. It considers the political power of maps: the placement of borders matters, as does topography in wartime. It also considers the relationship between maps and sex, illustrated by English place names such as ‘Balls Hill’ and ‘Aunt Mary’s Bottom’. Map Addict offers many amusing cartographic tales, recounting the military origins of the Ordnance Survey. And how Phyllis Pearsall came up with the idea for the London A-Z one night in 1935, after getting lost and soaked on her way home from a party.

By Mike Parker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Map Addict as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'My name is Mike and I am a map addict. There, it's said...'

Maps not only show the world, they help it turn. On an average day, we will consult some form of map approximately a dozen times, often without even noticing: checking the A-Z, the road atlas or the Sat Nav, scanning the tube or bus map, a quick Google online or hours wasted flying over a virtual Earth, navigating a way around a shopping centre, watching the weather forecast, planning a walk or a trip, catching up on the news, booking a holiday or hotel. Maps pepper logos,…

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