I have travelled the world for as long as I can remember and loved books since before I could read. I have spent countless hours in airports, buses, trains, railway stations and in the hammocks on tropical beaches. But also on my couch planning the next adventure.
I have read so many great and entertaining books that have given me the burning desire to grab my backpack, take my kindle and go on the next journey.
I thought, making the list of the absolute must read travel books would be piece of cake, since there are so many of them. Well, yeah, that’s the problem. There are too many too great books. It already felt like a little victory once I got my best of down to 30. But it still felt more like a library than the top picks.
After careful consideration, here is my current list of 10 of the most entertaining books ever written for travel inspiration.
Alec le Sueur – The Hotel on the Roof of the World: From Miss Tibet to Shangri La
On a par with the best of Bill Bryson and Pico Iyer, Alec Le Sueur’s bestselling insider account of life at the world famous Holiday Inn, Lhasa, Tibet (altitude 14,000 feet) pits Communist owners against capitalist manager to create a chain hotel in Shangri-La. Against all odds, heroic Tibetan workers fight with Chinese bosses who turn off the heat in reezing weather when occupancy falls below 20 percent. They struggle against Maoist bureaucrats trying to break up the first Miss Tibet beauty pageant. And they delicately remove the American Express card from the wallet of an apparently deceased guest to cover room charges. Nonstop hijinks make this one of the funniest travel books on the planet.
Bill Bryson – Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe
In the early seventies, Bill Bryson backpacked across Europe—in search of enlightenment, beer, and women. He was accompanied by an unforgettable sidekick named Stephen Katz (who will be gloriously familiar to readers of Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods). Twenty years later, he decided to retrace his journey. The result is the affectionate and riotously funny Neither Here Nor There.
Peter Moore – No Shitting in the Toilet
A travel guide with a difference, this title introduces a world where you are more likely to find a cockroach on your pillow than a complimentary mint, where you take your life in your own hands every time you get on a bus, where everything goes wrong, and you still end up loving every minute of it. Instead of practical hints, it gives you impractical ones (how to avoid jet lag – avoid jets) and rather than tell you the best places to stay, it tells you the worst. Instead of celebrating transcendental travel experiences, it revels in the most demeaning ones (on checking the hygiene in restaurants: there are two things you don’t really want to see in life. The first is your parents having sex. The second is the state of the kitchen in restaurants catering for backpackers). But in that sense “No Shitting In The Toilet” is more in touch with the way things really are.
ed. Doug Lansky – There’s No Toilet Paper… on the Road Less Traveled: The Best of Travel Humor and Misadventure
The perfect trip, where nothing goes wrong, is surely not the memorable trip, which is where everything goes wrong and one lives to tell the tale — and laugh about it. This collection captures the wackiest and most bizarre experiences of well-known writers whose travels have taken a detour. Stories include Nigel Barley escorting a monkey to the movies in Cameroon, Dave Barry vainly trying to learn more Japanese than how to order a beer, Alan Zweible high-tailing it to a nudist camp, Donna Marazzo bravely attempting to use a high-tech Italian toilet, and Richard Sterling feasting on deep-fried potato bugs in Burma. There are even practical tips here too; readers can surely learn from Mary Roach, who discovers that utilizing an Antarctic ice-sheet outhouse at the very moment a seal chooses to use its opening as a blowhole may not be the best way to start the day.
Paul Theraux – The Great Railway Bazaar
First published more than thirty years ago, Paul Theroux’s strange, unique, and hugely entertaining railway odyssey has become a modern classic of travel literature. Here Theroux recounts his early adventures on an unusual grand continental tour. Asia’s fabled trains — the Orient Express, the Khyber Pass Local, the Frontier Mail, the Golden Arrow to Kuala Lumpur, the Mandalay Express, the Trans-Siberian Express — are the stars of a journey that takes him on a loop eastbound from London’s Victoria Station to Tokyo Central, then back from Japan on the Trans-Siberian. Brimming with Theroux’s signature humor and wry observations, this engrossing chronicle is essential reading for both the ardent adventurer and the armchair traveler.
Russell McGilton – Yakety Yak. Bombay to Beijing by Bicycle
So begins Russell McGilton’s ten-month cycling journey through bustling cities and remote villages of India, Pakistan and China, where he encounters and is embraced by fascinating locals and fellow travellers.
Simon Majumdar – Eat My Globe: One Year in Search of the Most Delicious Food in the World
When Simon Majumdar hit forty, he realized there had to be more to life than his stable but uninspiring desk job. As he wondered how to escape his career, he rediscovered a list of goals he had scrawled out years before, the last of which said: Go everywhere, eat everything. With that, he had found his mission — a yearlong search for the delicious, and curious, and the curiously delicious, which he names Eat My Globe and memorably chronicles in these pages.
John Humphrys and Christopher Humphrys – Blue Skies & Black Olives: A survivor’s tale of housebuilding and peacock chasing in Greece
Radio 4 Today presenter and national treasure John Humphrys’ funny and engaging memoir of building a home in Greece with his son Christopher.
William Sutcliff – Are you experienced?
The hilarious international bestseller about a young man’s misadventures in India.
Liz travels to India because she wants to find herself. Dave travels to India because he wants to get Liz in bed.
Liz loves India, hugs the beggars, and is well on her way to finding her tantric center. Dave, however, realizes that he hates Liz, and has bad karma toward his fellow travelers: Jeremy, whose spiritual journey is aided by checks from Dad; Jonah, who hasn’t worn shoes in a decade; and Fee and Caz, fresh from leper-washing in Udaipur. . . .
With refreshing honesty and a healthy dose of cynicism, William Sutcliffe offers a transatlantic, nineties version of On the Road that intrepid travelers and confirmed stay-at-homes will enjoy in equal measure.
Gerald Durrell – The Corfu Trilogy incl. My Family and Other Animals
The trilogy that inspired ITV’s television series The Durrells. Three classic tales of childhood on an island paradise – My Family and Other Animals, Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods by Gerald Durrell – are available in a single edition for the first time in The Corfu Trilogy. Just before the Second World War the Durrell family decamped to the glorious, sun-soaked island of Corfu where the youngest of the four children, ten-year-old Gerald, discovered his passion for animals: toads and tortoises, bats and butterflies, scorpions and octopuses. Through glorious silver-green olive groves and across brilliant-white beaches Gerry pursued his obsession . . . causing hilarity and mayhem in his ever-tolerant family. Durrell’s memories of those enchanted days gave rise to these three classic tales, loved by generations of adults and children alike, which are now available in one volume for the first time.