The 10 oddest travel guides you’ll ever read (if you can find them)

One day in college I was combing through the library’s shelves for a book when I stumbled onto a weathered, dusty hardcover called Afloat and Ashore on the Mediterranean by a man named Lee Meriwether, first published in 1898.

I continued to thumb through it at various times that semester, liking not only the upbeat narrative but also the obscurity of both the book and the author (I have a thing for these types of travel books).

Lee Meriwether might be the most obscure American travel writer there is. He penned dozens of books in his lifetime, all seeming to be out of print, some with direct titles like Recollections of Memphis and some with decidedly clunkier ones like Carrying Civilization to Ethiopia Benefits the Whole World as well as Italy and Ethiopia.

I just love the clumsy redundancy of that title. And the best Meriwether title, almost a book in itself: Seeing Europe by Automobile: A 5,000-mile Motor Trip through France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy; with an Excursion into Andorra, Corfu, Dalmatia and Montenegro.

Anyway, when Meriwether died in St. Louis in 1966, at the age of 103, his travel tombs, apparently never big sellers, had long been forgotten — by most, at least.

But not by Slate..

The online travel magazine cites Meriwether’s A Tramp Trip: How To See Europe on 50 Cents a Day in its recent list of the 10 wackiest travel guide books ever written. It was coming across Meriwether’s name on this list the other day that rekindled memories of that discovery in those shelves years ago.

Tramp, written in 1896, could be the first shoestring guidebook ever, as well as an early backpacker narrative, and as such probably should be regarded as an important milestone. It isn’t really, no doubt because you can’t find the book anywhere.

Slate‘s list highlights nine other works all similar in their inconsequentialness, including one written solely for an audience of English roof-climbers.

The titles:

  1. The Truth About Hunting in Today’s Africa, and How To Go on Safari for $690.00, by George Leonard Herter (1963)
  2. A Guide Through the District of the Lakes in the North of England, by William Wordsworth (5th edition, 1835)
  3. Das Generalgouvernement, by Karl Baedeker (1943)
  4. Fodor’s Indian America, by Jamake Highwater (1975)
  5. Bollocks to Alton Towers, by Robin Halstead, et al. (2006)
  6. Travel Guide of Negro Hotels and Guest Houses, by Afro-American Newspapers (1942)
  7. Lonely Planet Guide to Micronations, by John Ryan et al. (2006)
  8. The Night Climbers of Cambridge, by “Whipplesnaith” (1937)
  9. A Tramp Trip: How To See Europe on Fifty Cents a Day, by Lee Meriwether (1886)
  10. Overland to India and Australia, by the BIT Travel & Help Service (1970)

You’ll have to read the story to get a brief summary of each book and what makes them odd.

The strangest travel guide I know didn’t make Slate’s cut. That would have to be A Journey Around My Room by Xavier de Maistre (1785), which is about, well, just that: A journey from a bed to a desk. It’s still in print.