17 Funny Travel Books Everyone Needs to Read
If there are two things I love in this world, it’s laughing and travelling, so writing about the top funny travel books seems like a highly logical piece of content for me to put together.
When I’m talking about “funny travel books,” I’m really referring to, for the most part, satirical style travel memoirs which look back on a particular time abroad. In general, I’m much more drawn to books which portray a set of funny travel stories that tend to be somewhat self-deprecating, and where there’s a lesson to be learned or a take-away of sorts.
Personally, I have a hard time with travel books which aim to get a laugh out of criticizing the “other.” That is, funny travel books which aim to get laughs at the expense of how silly or absurd people are that aren’t like them. That, to me, isn’t far from racism or, in some cases, overtly is racism.
I’ll be honest, it’s a bit of a tricky genre. There are a ton of “funny travel books,” which really are just manifestos of an out of control western tourist doing drugs and causing anarchy in another nation. I’m just not into that whole notion of the “world being your privilege playground,” so I’ve tried not include novels which might reasonably be put in that category. At the same time, I’m trying to create a definitive list of some of the top humorous travel books, so I will include a few that are fan favourites that I’m not necessarily in love with, but do think deserve to be there as it’s likely they may connect with others more than me.
It’s also worth noting that, unfortunately, a lot of the “classic” funny travel books are written by male authors - or, at the very least, these are the books which have been canonized in the genre. I also fully admit that I haven’t read enough funny travel books by female authors, so I admit to my own bias in this case. All that to say, I wanted to write this small paragraph acknowledging that, and if you know of some books you feel should be on this list from female authors, I would love to know, and I will happily read them and consider adding them. You can add a comment on this post, or just contact me on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. I should also acknowledge as well that I’m dealing with English funny travel books, but I’d love to hear of any authors who write in other languages with translations available.
Alright, let’s get going, and remember, these are fun travel books to read on your couch at home, but I also think they’re the best books to read while travelling because I find they keep me optimistic and smiling. So many of the most humorous travel books around all deal with mishaps on the road that they’ve found a way to laugh about, and that’s a good attitude to have in travel.
This list, by the way, is in no particular order, and you should choose what aligns with you more on the basis of what topics or regions interest you.
NOTE: This post may contain some affiliate links. That means, simply, that I may get commissions from some of my recommendations. That being said, my opinions are fully my own.
Alright, Enough Chatter, Here Are the Funniest Travel Books Around: The Perfect Books to Read While Travelling
The question is, do you want to be as happy as this couple reading funny travel books from this stock image? Because, dear friends, you can be.
Alright, let’s begin!
If you haven’t read many funny travel books, but you think you might like them, this Billy Bryson classic is the perfect place to start. If you don’t know much about humorous travel writing, Bill Bryson is probably the author of the genre, and this is his most famous book (and best, in my opinion). There’s plenty of quality information here about the history of the trail and region, but there’s also rarely a dull moment, including Bill’s run-ins with a few bears. It is, simply put, arguably the best laugh out loud travel novel ever written.
It’s sort of like man vs. nature when man fully accepts that nature has a few tricks up her sleeve.
A British author moves into a two hundred year old house in rural France - what could go wrong?
Joking aside, if anything, this book confirms that his decision to move to Provence was a life-changing one very much in the positive. I’ve always felt that British authors seem to be just a touch wittier than the rest of us, and Peter Mayle beautifully fits that assumption. He brings you on a ride with him through the misery of winter in an old house, to experiencing a summer decidedly less grey than in the United Kingdom.
It’s a funny travel book that’s awfully endearing, and it’s probably one of the best books to read while travelling through France.
When a Dutch-American travel writer in his mid-twenties decides to move to Tarawa, a remote South Pacific Island, you end up with a title like this.
Troost is one of the bigger names when it comes to the publishing of funny travel stories, and I think a lot of that comes from the absurd situations he puts himself in. I give the man credit because he spent two years here getting to know this place, and, as you can imagine, he stuck out like a sore thumb. I don’t know anyone else who has done this, and that, for me, makes it a must include on my list of funny travel books. Troost is a real character, I’ll give him that.
This selection is where I fully give myself away as a biased Canadian travel writer. Hey, at least you know you won’t see this on many other lists!
In many ways, Will Ferguson has ended up with the mantle of one of Canada’s top humorous travel writers (and writers in general, to be fair), and it’s well deserved. Canada, believe it or not, is a strange place, and I think Ferguson is able to capture just how unique and bizarre our country can be sometimes throughout this novel. I also, as a biased Canadian travel writer, love to see books about Canada written my Canadian authors - it just excites me, okay?
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You’ll likely know Karl Pilkington much better these days from his show, An Idiot Abroad, but before that, he did a fair bit of funny travel writing.
I’ve got to be honest when saying that I don’t always identify with his somewhat perpetual reluctance to do anything when he’s travelling without complaining about it, but he does offer a few clever musings and this book has a fair share of wit and cynicism. He very much embodies the whole bitter British mentality, which can be hilarious at times.
It makes the list for me merely because he’s one of the big guns when it comes to producing content around funny travel stories, so I’d be remiss to at least not let you decide whether he’s for you. It’s quite well reviewed as well.
So, I haven’t personally read this book, but I’ve had a number of people recommend it, and, as such, I am passing along that recommendation. I like the premise in general, that Dom travels around the world going to lesser known places and lets the world knows what he sees, but I’m not sure, in general, I’m sold on the whole “dark tourism” thing.
Some folks say he’s hilarious and authentic, while others say he’s immature and a bit scattered, but, ultimately, you can be the judge. This list, as the title suggests, is about funny travel books everyone needs to read, not the top funny travel books period, so I thought this deserved an inclusion, then folks can decide if it’s for them. It seems people either love this one or hate it.
My guess is, the cover of this book might give away the fact that Australia is going to be at the forefront of this travel novel. So, for starters, we can just go ahead and so this is going to be one of the travel books to read while travelling in Australia.
It’s genuinely fun to follow Bill on his exploration of Australia, and I also appreciate that he manages to get well off the beaten path (which isn’t terribly hard to do in Australia, to be fair), and share unique stories that also happen to be rather hilarious. A lot of the time, funny travel stories are situational, and Bill Bryson does a remarkable job of bringing you along for the ride and sharing in that situational humour. There’s a reason Mr. Bryson is considered the world’s best when it comes to funny travel writing. As it turns out, you can get yourself in a fair bit of trouble down under, and it’s worth writing and reading about just that.
This is the grandfather of all travel books, and one of the best selling travel books of all time, let alone funny travel books.
It follows Twain’s “Great Pleasure Excursion” through Europe and elsewhere, and basically is poking fun at a lot of the lofty, romantic travel literature that was coming out at the time. With some of the remarks about other cultures and just general commentary, one could say that this was indeed written in 1869, but it’s palatable if you clearly accept it as a product of its time. I’m more just saying that you should be prepared for a few eyebrow raising moments around comments that just simply would not fly in today’s world.
If you like this genre, and funny travel stories in general, then reading The Innocents Abroad will give you a good picture of famous humorous travel writing from North America in the early days. I also firmly believe it influenced a lot the entire concept of the humorous travel writer in general.
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Mueller has always been outspoken in proclaiming that he’s not a “journalist” in the classic sense of the word, and yet he’s been an awful lot of places with the aim of covering stories and sharing them with the world. So, um, journalism.
Honestly, he’s a bit of a madman in search of stories that others simply aren’t getting. His prose is biting and humorous, and you’ll rarely be bored considering the places he intimately knows that few others would even visit. I’m honestly amazed that Andrew Mueller is still alive, but good for him.
I suppose he’s willing to risk it all for those bizarre and funny travel stories, so the least we ought to do is read them.
Before I even talk about Last Chance to See, I just need to stop and tell you that if you haven’t read The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you need to that first. However, this book is actually incredibly acclaimed in its own right, and also very different.
This is a humorous, yet also poignant and heartfelt, novel about the remarkable creatures and plants on this planet that many of us may not even take the time to understand or appreciate, and who are nearly gone (and, in some cases considering the date of publication, totally gone). The important thing to note here is that Douglas Adams inserts his classic humour into this, but is careful not to let it dominate the theme of the book, unlike with The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Carwadine, the co-author on this, is a zoologist who accompanied Adams on this round-the-world trip, and contextualized things from his side, and the result is a pretty moving text.
S.J. Perelman is, in my opinion, one of those larger than life figures. He wrote for many years for the New Yorker, but also wrote a fair few acclaimed books.
Not everyone is into his style, but that’s because it’s a style very much his own, so you’ll either love it or hate it, and most people tend to love it. In Westward, Ha, his satire is on point as he travels the world and offers his wild conclusions. He’s sometimes self-deprecating, and other times insulting, but that’s all part of the aura of S.J. Perelman, I suppose.
Funny travel stories, funny travel tips, and funny travel books - yeah, those are kind of his thing.
Alright, I’ve got to be honest here - I’m not typically a fan of anthologies. Rarely, if ever, do I feel fulfilled by anthologies or a collection of stories (David Sedaris notwithstanding), but I had a fellow travel writer here tell me that I’d be remiss not to include Holidays Are Hell.
She told me all four of these authors are hilarious in their own right and paint stories of travel and particularly times with family that are unforgettable. As I alluded to in the intro, I’m sorely lacking in my reading of female humorous and funny travel writers, so perhaps this is a good place to start! On that note, I had another friend recommend Holy Cow by Sarah Macdonald, but, having been to India and reading some excerpts of Holy Cow, I didn’t feel great about the way she portrayed the nation (a nation I very much respect), as such I haven’t included it here.
I don’t think One Year Off is a “classic funny travel book” in the sense that it’s not necessarily biting or satiric, or even humorous from an observational level. The humour in this book is more a derivative of what happens when a family decides to put aside all the distractions and be present for a year.
It’s more situational, as there are no shortage of mishaps along the way that Cohen isn’t shy in sharing. What I like about this is that, as a fellow travel writer, I see so many people who pretend like travel is just all dramatic moments and epiphanies when, in reality, travel is full of glaring mistakes and hilarious situations, and those are worth celebrating too. There’s a nice balance to this book though, which I think means it has a fairly broad appeal.
I also think, with some select travel influencers only pretending their travels are going swimmingly all the time, it’s important that books like One Year Off exist. This would be those funny books to read while travelling it you’re travelling with your family.
I’ll be honest, I was hesitant to include a book from 1992 where an American humourist travels to another country and basically talks about how poorly he fits in.
However, it was actually a Japanese friend of mine who recommended I include this in the list, as he mentioned that people are capable of dissecting what’s true and what’s not - that’s the magic of humorous literature. He’s right - Dave Barry made a career on clever, funny writing that was based on outlandish exaggeration and sarcasm, and that, of course, permeates this book. For what its worth, my Japanese friend mentions that some of his remarks about Japanese culture are spot on and literally made him burst out laughing.
I haven’t personally read this one, but, basically, my aforementioned friend told me that if you want to read about how a loud American approaches a quiet culture full of unspoken rules, you’ve got your novel.
My goodness, fans of Klosterman are seriously devoted, and, just to avoid harassment, I thought that I ought to include this novel on the list. Seriously, if I didn’t include at least one Klosterman novel, I’d have a full inbox.
Anyway, what I’ve always liked about Chuck Klosterman is that he rarely, if ever, writes about the same thing twice, and this novel is nothing if not distinctive.
It essentially follows the story of him seeking out places where rock stars died, and seeing what he finds along the way, which you might imagine is a fair bit since this book spans almost 250 pages. As far as funny travel books go, this book is really something different, and might appeal to those who are lovers of both travel and music.
It’s entirely possible that, as a former tour guide, I’m biased with this inclusion of this one, but I do think this book is filled with some legitimately funny travel stories, though some are pretty cringeworthy.
As an international tour guide, it’s fair to say that some of his tactics are a little bit, shall we say, unorthodox. I mean, feeding passengers burgers made from breakfast cereal and roosters’ testicles is a tad unusual, is it not?
It’s pretty much the story of a bitter tour guide with a penchant for humorous writing who finally sits down and asks what exactly happened during those tours he led. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few things were exaggerated, but you might find some joy in this - it is, admittedly, a touch on the immature side, but, again, just trying to provide a little variety here for everyone.
In all fairness, this entire book isn’t concerned with travel, but there’s one story that deals with opinions related to travelling on a Caribbean luxury cruise ship that are hysterical.
The man is, simply put, a prolific writer, and I think he’s absolutely hilarious because he has such definite opinions about things. It’s not a classic “funny travel book,” but it does offer a different idea of what humorous travel writing can look like, plus I just like David Foster Wallace, so you’re going to have to deal with it, for better or worse, my friend.
Why Bother Reading Funny Travel Stories, Anyway?
For that matter, why put pictures of cute cats in reading glasses? Well, these are all questions, some of which have better answers than others.
In all seriousness, sometimes it’s important to just laugh, and to do things just because of the off chance that it might bring a smile to your face and some light into your day.
If you dissect the books above with a fine tooth comb especially under the light of the current hyper sensitive climate we’re in, then you’ll fine plenty wrong with them. However, I think it’s worth remembering that the underlying purpose of the books listed is, for the most part, to show that around the world life can be ridiculous, and it can be worth chasing that absurdity sometimes. And, why not, you know?
Some of my favourite travel stories aren’t the moment I reached the summit of a mountain, but rather when I’ve found myself in the basement of a shady establishment in a foreign land with no clear exit plan. The world, at times, can be too serious, and I’ve also always stayed calm in potentially alarming situations abroad by understanding that, if only I can make it through, this will be one heck of a tale to tell.
I don’t have a funny travel book just yet, but I could certainly write one, and I respect these individuals who not only wrote their stories, but told their stories and brought them to life. I’m not one who ever would promote laughing at the expense of others, but part of humorous travel writing is understanding that it is perfectly okay to laugh at yourself in a foreign land, and share that story with the wider world.