updated 11/17/2008 12:30:09 PM ET 2008-11-17T17:30:09

Feeling bad that you can't afford a vacation?

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Travel books with titles like "Don't Go There!" and "I Should Have Stayed Home" may make you feel better. For $15 or so, you'll get a laugh out of vacation horrors that you'll be happy to miss.

Other travel books out this year include coffee-table beauties — big books with luscious photos about places most people only dream of visiting anyway. They're the perfect fantasy escape for the armchair traveler whose budget will not permit a getaway any time soon. The big books are expensive — $40 and up — but they make nice gifts as a consolation for someone grounded by the economy. Or buy one for yourself; it's cheaper than a plane ticket.

Vacation horrors: Since 1994, a small Michigan-based publisher, RDR Books, has been publishing a series called "I Should Have Stayed Home." Two new editions were added this year: "I Should Have Stayed Home Hotels: Hospitality Disasters at Home and Abroad" and "I Should Have Stayed Home Food: Tantalizing Tales of Extreme Cuisine" ($14.95 each). "Collectively these stories have become a national archive of trouble travel," said publisher Roger Rapoport.

The latest compendium of hotel nightmares features tales of rooms afflicted with bugs, mold and sickening odors; a group of high school students who ended up lodging in a brothel on a trip abroad; and a B&B that shook all night from passing trains. The food book tells of restaurants where the diners were assaulted; Thanksgiving spent on an island where turtle, not turkey, was the main course; and food poisoning stories from around the globe.

Travel maven Peter Greenberg has a new book called "Don't Go There!: The Travel Detective's Essential Guide to the Must-Miss Places of the World" (Rodale, $17.95). The book lists which cruise ships are cited most often for outbreaks of intestinal viruses; which highways have high accident rates; which hotels are known for bedbugs; and which cities and countries are the most polluted, dangerous and diseased.

Greenberg's must-miss list includes the "Tour de Stench," sponsored by the Sierra Club, a tour of counties in Kentucky with strong odors from factory farms; as well as the summer back-ups on roads leading to the exclusive beaches of the Hamptons, on Long Island. He also shares his views on the worst times to visit places like New York (he says avoid Christmas and New Year's Eve because of the crowds), and asks other travel experts for their stay-away recommendations. One contributor suggested travelers avoid over-visited world heritage sites like Machu Picchu , because "you shouldn't go there until they figure out how to preserve and present the site properly."

Lonely Planet's new travelogue "Flightless: Incredible Journeys Without Leaving the Ground" ($15) is entertaining without necessarily making you feel that you must do these trips yourself. Indeed, some stories, like the one by a man who walked from London to Istanbul, may make you glad you weren't along for the ride (or the hike). Other tales include accounts of a tour of Italy on a 40-year-old Vespa, a group that bicycled around the world, and a trek along the Silk Road by bus and shared taxi.

Coffee table books: National Geographic's "Sacred Places of a Lifetime: 500 of the World's Most Peaceful and Powerful Destinations" ($40) takes you from the Maya temples of Guatemala to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar to Israel's Western Wall to Mardi Gras and carnivals around the world. It also includes a section on retreats and other places of contemplation from Nepal to France.

Also from National Geographic, "Visions of Paradise" ($35), offers answers from photographers to the question, "Where is heaven on earth?" The results ranged from an aerial view of New Yorkers on the grassy lawn of an urban park, to a snowy empty road in Fargo, N.D., to the watery caves of Hawaii's NaPali Coast. Around the world, photographers found paradise in the coral reefs of Papua New Guinea, the monarch butterfly migration to Mexico, and a snow-covered footbridge in Sweden north of the Arctic Circle.

Other big beautiful travel books include Eyewitness Travel's "Where To Go When The Americas: North, Central, South America & the Caribbean" ($40), Hammond's "Timeless Earth: 400 of the World's Most Important Places" ($60) and Lonely Planet's "The Europe Book: A Journey Through Every Country on the Continent" ($40).

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