Travel books (as in, books for travel)


April 20, 2009 by Tracey S. Rosenberg

I spend a great deal of time before trips trying to decide which books to bring. There are very specific criteria:

1. I need to be as sure as possible that this book will hold my interest all the way through. I have no qualms about ditching a book at page 50 or even earlier if I Don’t Care What Happens To These People, but doing so at 34,000 feet is extremely problematic. For one thing, the flight attendants are understandably annoyed by passengers who hurl books across the cabin, and more importantly, what if I run out of reading material?? So books by authors whose work I definitely enjoy are on the top of the reading pile.

2. Paperbacks only. I carry my own luggage and I put it into the overhead luggage bin all by myself. This does not need to be any more of a challenge than it already is. Also, hardbacks take up far more space.

3. Reasonably light-hearted. Elie Wiesel’s Night and three books with ‘Auschwitz’ in the title are on my TBR pile bookshelves, but I will not be packing any of them. I also don’t ever want to be asking the flight attendants if they have a dictionary on board. However, the books must also be:

4. Reasonably fulfilling. I like to get stuck in to a longish book, as it makes the boring parts of the journey go much faster, and saves me from having to rummage around in my carry-on bags mid-flight. It’s also a good time to make a running start at a classic novel; I have fond memories of being on a National Express bus in England, giggling at Bleak House.

5. Self-contained. I don’t want to be in a random airport pining for the sequel.

6. Disposable. The primary hallmark of books for traveling with is that they can be jettisoned en route. (For trips back to the states, this has the very practical result of leaving room for the books I buy along the way.) On an extended trip with multiple stops I am usually shedding books every step of the way and in fact I occasionally schedule the reading order so that I can leave particular books with particular people. Other times I’ll leave them for random strangers to pick up. (Yes, I know about Bookcrossing.) Therefore the books have to be reasonably accessible, in case I ever do want to replace them, or nothing I ever want to see again in my life. This does have the detrimental effect that books I want to read for research are rarely able to be brought.

Now, given that my TBR collection contains a few hundred books, you’d think these criteria would be easily met, but the problem is that the books that fulfill the requirements tend to get siphoned off. Clearly the only answer is to buy more books that do, right? *looks at groaning shelves* Or maybe not.

How many books to bring? Well, for a recent four-day trip with a change of plane in each direction, I brought four books, read two, started a third and ditched it, and completed a good chunk of a fourth. Obviously a lot depends on my destination, the down time, and the general availability of English-language books for emergency replacement purposes. (For some reason I never like buying books in non-English-speaking countries. I suppose it’s because – having lived in Romania – I understand how difficult it can be to find a good selection, so I hate to take away any books.)

The selection tends to change a lot in the run-up to the trip, because packing books is far more important than packing clothing, toiletries, tourist maps…in fact, let’s just agree that the only items that trump the reading material are a) the passport and b) the emergency credit card – but at the moment, my reading stack for my upcoming trip to Japan (!!!) stands as follows:

Kyle Macdonald, One Red Paperclip. Seems entertaining.

Lauren Weisberger, The Devil Wears Prada. Ditto.

Victor Hugo, Les Miserables. In December I read about 90 pages, which isn’t even ten percent of the book, and enjoyed it enough to want to keep going, so I want to restart while I’m a captive audience.

Midge Gillies, Amy Johnson: Queen of the Air. I’m halfway through and would like to polish it off, though one could argue that a book which ends with a fatal plane crash might not be the smartest choice.

Jonathan Coe, The House of Sleep. Hope it’s as intriguing as the cover blurb promises!

Phillippa Gregory, The Queen’s Fool. I enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl so this is a good selection.

I also have a travelers’ guide to Japan which a friend gave me (and thus it will definitely be coming home with me).

Of course, I’ll probably throw in an eighth book at the last minute. Just in case.


2 thoughts on “Travel books (as in, books for travel)

  1. You could try reading books that are related to the destination you are going to (eg Tokyo, Japan). It’s hard to lose interests reading a book about a place you’re heading to. What’s great about reading destination books is that you might reading something that is out of the travel book context (because the author wrote the book on first hand experience). Could also tell you more about the culture, Memoirs of a Geisha might be a good read.

  2. tsrosenberg says:

    Jeez, I totally managed to skip that point, didn’t I! I think I felt six points were already getting out of hand….

    I definitely want to read *something* about Japan – the book I’m bringing is part of the A Traveller’s History series. One of the problems here is that I am really trying to reduce the BTR pile so I haven’t deliberately gone out to get Books About The Destination (which I did for my trip to India a few years ago), and while I have quite a few travel writing books, they’re all about other places.

    I also think that with this particular trip, I’m stepping back from other people’s experiences until I’ve had the chance to see it for myself. This trip is almost certainly going to be as far out of my comfort zone as I’ve ever been (with the possible exception of India), so I wonder how I’ll approach the country.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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Tiny bio

I live, work, and write in Edinburgh. I travel to other places as much as I can. To contact me, email writingmostly at gmail dot com.


CURRENTLY READING: The Ginseng Hunter by Jeff Talarigo.

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