The 10 oddest travel guides ever published.

Arts, entertainment, and more.
Aug. 4 2008 5:51 AM

"Baboons Are Simply Too Small for Leopard Bait"

The 10 oddest travel guides ever published.

(Continued from Page 1)
Travel Guide of Negro Hotels

6. Travel Guide of Negro Hotels and Guest Houses, by Afro-American Newspapers (1942) Like The Negro Motorist Green-Book, the Travel Guide captures an era when African-Americans had to be mindful of where they vacationed. Alongside bucolic listings for shoreline getaways, the Manhattan listings are an urban time capsule: Small's Paradise ("presenting Chock Full o' Rhythm Revue, starring Tondelayo and Lopez"), the Savoy Ballroom, $1 rooms at the Hotel Crescent, and Bowman's Most Ultra Bar and Cocktail Lounge over on 135th Street. The 1942 edition includes an exhortation to wartime travel—"Vacations for Victory. You can do your job better after recreation"—and to modern eyes is striking for what hotels emphasized in the early 1940s. There's no TV, of course, and rarely any AC. So what's the most common amenity promised in the hotel ads? "Hot and Cold Running Water."

7. Lonely Planet Guide to Micronations, by John Ryan et al. (2006)
This may be the only Lonely Planet guide in which armchair travel is probably assumed—for the countries themselves are about the size of an armchair. Self-proclaimed "micronations" include a kingdom of Danish schoolteachers, the spherical Republic of Kugelmugel, and the Copeman Empire—which, the guide helpfully explains, "is actually a small caravan in Sherringham, England." Amid the whimsicality—Whangamomona's combination border control/outhouse, say, or the Royal Wheelbarrow of the Kingdom of Romkerhall—the book's a meditation on just what it is that drives people to want to get away, even if only for a few square meters, from the hassles and history of the land they were born into.

Advertisement

8. The Night Climbers of Cambridge, by "Whipplesnaith" (1937)
"A game of roof-climbing remains the same, changing scarcely, if at all, from generation to generation," proclaims Night Climbers, a legendary guide by University of Cambridge students so catlike in their reflexes that their identities remain unknown 71 years later. An urban sport guidebook to what might be called rooftop tourism, Night Climbers has earned a cult following for decades from its droll narration ("Crying 'boo' at people is not consistent with good climbing") and transfixing photos of campus mountaineers ascending the O'Hara Tottering Tower, dodging police, jumping rooftops, and climbing, spring-loaded, between the columns of the Fitzwilliam Museum. A recent reprint ensures a new generation of mad climbers will bedevil the campus porters.

A Tramp Trip

9. A Tramp Trip: How To See Europe on Fifty Cents a Day, by Lee Meriwether (1886) One of the original college-dropout backpackers, Lee Meriwether figured out in 1886 how to travel across Europe on 50 cents a day: namely, by couch surfing (or, sometimes, pile-of-hay surfing). Half-starving worked pretty well, too. Meriwether possessed a brilliant knack for bizarre travel options—like his attempt in Italy to combine sightseeing with free lodging. Instead, he reports, "I was lodged in jail, and the next morning brought before an officer of justice, and charged with the heinous crime of sleeping in the dead city of Pompeii." When he died in 1966 at the age of 103, Meriwether was still writing travelogues; he retraced his old routes with a Van Winklesque view of the changes in European peasant life wrought by electricity and the automobile.

10. Overland to India and Australia, by the BIT Travel & Help Service (1970)
A century after Lee Meriwether traveled on 50 cents a day, there was the BIT—a communal crash pad/happening on London's Elgin Road that stapled together hundreds of letters from hippie travelers on where to crash cheaply, catch freak buses, and generally boogie across continents on ... well, about 50 cents a day. Fueled by 'shrooms and wine and sometimes sold as a sheaf of papers in a plastic bag, Overland to India and Australia became a hippie trail bible. Founding editor Geoff Crowther later discovered BIT "taken over by a bunch of petty crooks, speed freaks, rip-off artists, winos and cider freaks"—but from its alumni and customers grew much of the colossus that is Lonely Planet. Overland, though, is now the scarcest title in this list. Few books have a worse life expectancy than travel guides, particularly ones abandoned in Katmandu hostels or converted page-by-page into rolling papers. Even Crowther himself lacks a copy, and only one library in the world is known to have preserved this proto-hippie guide. To see it, you'll have to go—where else?—to the University of Amsterdam.

Which, come to think of it, might make for a great trip.

Paul Collins teaches creative writing at Portland State University, and his latest book is The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars. Follow him on Twitter.

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Dec. 19 2014 4:15 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? Staff writer Lily Hay Newman shares what stories intrigued her at the magazine this week.