These aren’t time travelling books, though that might make a good reading list in and of itself, but I’ve called this travel through time and place because the books featured were written as far back as 1869. (Please keep in mind the date these books were written as they will reflect the cultural norms of the day when it comes to dealing with other races, religions, cultures, and so on.) Some of the funniest books that I’ve ever read are travel memoirs. I think that is partly because being out of one’s element resonates with me (I spent most of my “growing up” years abroad) and partly because nothing brings out the extremes of life like travel – you see the best, the worst, the most absurd, the most profound , and therefore, the funniest (at least after the fact). I hope you enjoy some of these armchair journeys this summer in addition to (or instead of) your actual trips.
- The Innocents Abroad (1869) by Mark Twain. (Free on Kindle!) This is the only book on the list I haven’t read, but it is on my “Read Soon” list. I’ve had several recommendations for this book and look forward to diving into it.
- Three Men in a Boat (1889) by Jerome K. Jerome. I believe you can get a free version of this on Kindle, but please do yourself a favor and get the audiobook version narrated by Hugh Laurie. It is excellent. For the most part, you would never guess that this book was written well over a hundred years ago. It is absolutely hilarious, even more so for those of you who, like me are cursed blessed with an extremely energetic terrier (is there any other kind?).
- Come, Tell Me How You Live (1946) by Agatha Christie. This reveals a completely different side to Hercule Poirot’s creator. Funny, wry, and self-deprecating (the book starts out with Christie attempting to buy plus-sized summer clothes in 1930’s London in the winter), it shows glimpses of the life she and her husband led while on an archeology dig in Syria. I have lived in a similar part of the world myself, and it was interesting to see her take from sixty-ish years before my impressions were being formed. Cross-cultural communication attempts are always…interesting. Some things that we take for granted as being inherently important are dismissed with a shrug in other cultures, and vice versa.
- Tales of a Female Nomad, Living at Large in the World (2001) by Rita Golden Gelman. I wouldn’t classify this books necessarily as “humorous” although there are funny parts in it, but it will make you want to sell off all you possessions and hit the road. At least that was my response. There’s something both freeing and envy-inspiring about realizing that some people have actually left everything behind and just gone.
- Anything by Bill Bryson. Bryson is another contemporary writer and one of the funniest across any genre, in my very humble opinion. He’s an American who lived for several years in England. Consequently, I think some of his writing on both the US and the UK is among his best work. Some of my favorites include: Notes from a Small Island (the UK), A Walk In The Woods (his travels on the Appalachian long distance hiking trail, although the first half by far outshines the second), and In a Sunburned Country (Australia). In a Sunburned Country I don’t think is as consistently funny as some of his other works, but it does contain two of the funniest passages I have ever read. The first addresses sleeping in public, and I have never been able to read it aloud without snorting myself into incomprehensible speech and having to hand the book off to someone else, and the second deals with his crazed flight through a suburban park from a pack of dogs that may or may not be anywhere near him.
- Bonus: The Rough Guide to First Time Around the World by Doug Lanksy. I’m not sure when this was first published, but I believe they occasionally release updated versions. If you’re the type who has as much fun in the planning as the actual execution of the trip (please tell me that’s not just me), this is a book to satiate, or possibly inflame, your wanderlust. It contains practical information on how to do it as well as region guides and some anecdotes from the author. This was one of my favorite forms of escapism while I toiled away in grad school.
There are lots of great travel books out there. What did I miss?