We expect a lot from our travel writers.
A little bit of derring-do.
But, mostly, we want them to make us laugh.
As every traveler knows, a good sense of humor is essential when facing the mysteries and miseries of a foreign culture.
That's what makes writers who can deliver fascinating stories from around the world while making us snort our cardamom chai through our noses such treasured commodities.
For the past few months the CNN Travel staff has been scouring our shelves -- and convening a panel of outside experts -- to curate the definitive list of funniest travel books ever written.
If such a task is impossible -- as several contributors have suggested -- then the joke is surely on us.
Experts weigh in
"Making a list of funny travel books is a surprisingly contentious task, because making jokes about the people you travel amongst goes against the whole purpose of travel writing which is to understand and empathize," says Barnaby Rogerson, head of the UK-based Eland Publishing and longtime chair of the Dolman Travel Book Prize.
"The only way out of this conundrum is to turn the humor against yourself, and most especially about our hidden expectations of the heroic traveler or our banal tourist industry."
That's one opinion.
Sage though it is, not everyone applies the same criteria.
Mark Twain, for one, took immense joy in making jokes about the rich and ancient cultures he encountered while writing "The Innocents Abroad": "The community is eminently Portuguese -- that is to say, it is slow, poor, shiftless, sleepy and lazy."
We couldn't raise the cantankerous Twain for his picks, but others who weighed in for us included writers Garrison Keillor, Paul Theroux, Mary Roach, Eric Weiner, Andrew McCarthy, Peter Moore, Andrew Mueller and John Birmingham, as well as industry experts such as Melissa Chessher (director of online journalism and instructor of travel writing classes at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications), Shawn Donley (book buyer for Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, the largest independent bookstore in the United States), Ed Park (editor at Amazon Publishing's Little A imprint) and Elaine Petrocelli and Luisa Smith of the California-based Book Passage Travel Writers Conference.
None of the above were responsible -- not to say culpable -- for the final list, whose contentious entries and order were determined by frequency of mentions, persuasiveness of arguments for and against and, in a couple of cases, naked autocratic preference.
Is it possible we missed a good one? What's your favorite funny travel book? Share your pick in the comments.
15. "The Sex Lives of Cannibals" (2004)
By J. Maarten Troost
At age 26, Troost leaves the cushy city life and embarks on a two-year stint in the heat-blasted "end of the world" -- in this case, the equatorial Pacific atoll of Tarawa in the Republic of Kiribati.
"Looking for a writer who can capture the hilarity of travel like the beloved Bill Bryson? J. Maarten Troost's 'The Sex Lives of Cannibals' is a comic classic of a travelogue that will completely change the way you look at the idyllic South Pacific." -- Shawn Donley, new book purchasing supervisor at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, America's largest independent bookstore