Make No Mistake: Picking the Perfect Travel Read

For true word nerds, having the right book on a trip is as important as the destination itself. Inflight magazines don’t cut it, nor do we want to purchase a novel on a whim at the airport bookstore. We put thought into this. A book must be engaging and enjoyable, but not one that will dominate our thinking or color our mood. There’s good reason for coining of the term “beach read.” It signifies the balance of entertainment and content that’s well suited to travel.

When choosing your mobile library, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Skip the Downers

I’m all for a good tragedy, but depression and vacation don’t mix. Save the downer books for reading that occurs alongside your busy life at home, not when you’ll have free time to dwell on the human condition. This doesn’t mean you should skip a good thriller or murder mystery if those are the books you enjoy, but you may want to hold off on the emotionally draining and soul crushing prize winner that you’ve had on your list.

“When I think of the books I love, there’s always a little laughter in the dark.”

– Zadie Smith

Go Easy on the Guidebooks

As soon as a guidebook is published it becomes dated. Guidebooks also have the power to change the very information they report. If a guidebook recommends a fantastic restaurant, that restaurant may have an uptick in patrons as a result. By the time you get there, the place struggles to keep up with traffic and quality declines. That fantastic restaurant isn’t so fantastic anymore. While guidebooks can be great references to get an overview of a culture and area, don’t put stock in every word. If you like guidebooks, limit yourself to just one when you travel. Remember to spend more time experiencing your surroundings than reading what someone else has to say about them.

“Just ask the local people for the best food. Don’t rely on a guidebook.”

– Masaharu Morimoto

Avoid Others’ Experiences of Your Destination

Don’t read Wild while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Or Eat Pray Love as you work your way through Italy, India, and Bali. Or anyone else’s account of trekking the Camino de Santiago while you’re trekking the Camino de Santiago. Bill Bryson’s Australian experience will not resemble your own. Your experience is uniquely yours. Reading another’s version (likely to be highly embellished) can give you unrealistic expectations. Don’t view your travel experience as a competition with – or replication of – someone else’s.

“Comparison is the death of joy.”

– Mark Twain

Postpone the Classics

Maybe you’ve always wanted to read the masters of Russian literature. That’s great, but War and Peace and Anna Karenina might not turn out to be the books you want to casually enjoy while cruising the Aegean Sea. The good news is that when you are in the right time and space to dive in, Tolstoy will still be waiting for you.

“We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.”

– B. F. Skinner

Pack Sufficient Material

I once found myself working in the small Moroccan town of Sidi Bouzid. The day I realized that I’d run out of reading material long before I’d be able to access an English bookstore was a very sad day. This was before widespread digital media and as a result, a bookworm’s nightmare. If you churn through books at a decent pace, make sure you have enough content to last for the duration of your trip.

“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.”

– Elon Musk

E-book It

Even if you prefer print books to digital, consider having some capability of accessing e-books. An e-book is better than no book, and this keeps the above issue of insufficient material from ever becoming a problem. I generally read physical books, but when I travel I switch to an e-reader. My father-in-law, never to be without reading material, reads book after book on his phone. Not only does the e-reader broaden your access to books, but also frees up valuable real estate in your luggage.

“E-books had to happen.”

– Jeff Bezos

Books and travel are both important aspects of my life. Being well read and well traveled go hand in hand; both are explorations of the world beyond one’s borders. Both offer entertainment, perspective, and opportunities for knowledge and growth. Books, when chosen with care, make excellent travel companions.


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