Picking Books for Travel

What goes more hand in hand than books and long voyages? Why do you think there are bookstores in airports and train stations? But those books that you pick for those journeys will forever be entwined. When I think of driving up the California coast, I think about Sarah Dessen’s Someone Like You. When I think of Guatemala I think of Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants while lying in the grass in the courtyard of our hostel. I’ve read a lot of books in my life and been on quite a few trips, but for the most part, I always connect those two.

So the question is: how do you pick what to read on those trips? Do you find something that goes along with the trip? Do you read something that takes you away from your life even further? I think that really depends on you, and what kind of books you’re into. Can you really plan a book that will mesh with your trip, or is that just a work of serendipity?

I remember reading Roland Barthes while flying back after my first trip to Haiti; it was assigned reading that I thought I would get done during the week—I didn’t get to it till the flight home. When I think of Haiti, I don’t think about Barthes. I don’t think about literary theory when I think of hiking the Haitian countryside. This was a book pick that, honestly, I didn’t pick, and it didn’t really stick like some others.

But before that very same trip, we were supposed to read Mountains Beyond Mountains, a nonfiction book following Paul Farmer. It was so impactful being in the same town the author was writing about, seeing the hospital he was describing, walking up the same mountains. If you ever get the chance to read some nonfiction while on your trip about the place you’re visiting, I highly suggest it. It gives you this feeling like you know your terrain so much better like you’ve been there before.

On a trip to Mardi Gras last February, I read 13 Reasons Why. This book has nothing to do with Mardi Gras, or why I was going. But I was on a kick where I only read YA novels for the entire last semester of graduate school. But it took me away from the New Orleans airport for a couple of hours and that’s really what I needed at the time.

Some people enjoy light reads while on vacation—ones in which they can devour quickly or laugh at. There are others who don’t think about it, they just bring whatever book happened to be on their nightstand. Some people want to be taken far from their reality. And others just want to be entertained.

There is no perfect answer to what book you should bring with you next time you travel. There is no perfect formula for the book plus the place divided by the time traveling equals an amazing experience. But sometimes, they blend just right. Sometimes, you can’t think of that location without thinking of the pages of the book. My only advice is to take something that will keep your interest while you are sitting for hours on the plane, train, bus, long car ride, or whatever form of transportation you’ll be riding—because if the book you choose doesn’t keep your attention for the long haul, well then it seems like it’s all for naught.

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