Traveling with Books

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I enjoy the physical object of a book, both the feel of it as well as the smell of paper. They however are bulky and can be heavy, so the desire to travel requires some compromises. Becoming an expat in a non-English speaking country has added to those woes a bit as well. I not willing to give up on either reading or traveling so compromises ensue.

This post is in support of the opening of this year’s Passports With Purpose. They bring together a large group of the travel blogging community to raise money for a cause. This year’s cause is building two libraries in Zambia. Read more on their site about why books matter. Reading is a passion of mine and supporting helping others to have access to books is a totally worthy cause. Go to their site to donate.

Here are some options to include books and reading in your travels.

Bringing them Along

The first option and the one that I often choose is just taking books with me. I read mostly fantasy and only paperbacks, so in a reasonable suitcase I can pack a number without it being heavy. For short trips like a weekend in the Alps this is natural and easy. Flights and month long study abroad trips can make this problematic.

Pros: I love the feel of books. I enjoy having the physical article in my hand and seeing the pages turn as I read. I already have a ton of books, so it is cheap as well.

Cons: Weight and space. Even though I brought a ton of books when I moved by boat, I still had to leave a bunch at home. When we went back to to North Carolina after getting married, I brought another set. Ali brought some as well. All of this adds up weight wise and with airline baggage fees this can be expensive too.

Buying them Abroad

One friend suggested that I sell all my books at home and just re-buy them here. I looked into this, but the time to sell them at home and money to buy them here was prohibitive. Some of my favorite books are from the 80s and 90s and out of print. New books in Germany in English can cost 10-13 Euros each and used book stores here do not normally stock English. Although my German is fluent, I like reading in English. is a great thing for English books as they ship nicely to Germany. You just can’t flip though them.

I have certainly bought a number of books in both my new expat home town and on the various trips that I have gone one. Even if I choose to bring books along, I often underestimate how much I will read and buy more along the way.

Pros: The weight issue is not a problem going out, though could be if you bought a book along the way and couldn’t bear to part with it. You still end up with the physical book.

Cons: Time commitment of selling old books and the expensive of buying new ones.

Book Swap

Take a penny, leave a penny, just in book form. I have seen these in Irish pubs. They are common in hostels and even on a few of the boats that I have been on.

Pros: Dropping off a book to pick up a fresh one can be a nice way to save money and space.

Cons: There is no control over what you find. Picking up part two of a series can be annoying to start in the middle. Picking up part one can be worse as it might take a few swaps to get part two.

Expat Lending Library

An expat variation of the hostel book swap is the English Expat Lending Library. At least in our circle this comes in one of two forms. The local German-English Association, the Carl-Schurtz house, has a lending library in English that I have heard about. I have not gone to check it out, but I have heard good things. Including that they have movies. The second option is the one that I use more often and is far more informal. My kiwi friend has a large set of bookshelves. A group of us just lend books back and forth and an awful lot of them end up on her bookshelves. So when I am looking for something new to read I look there.

Pros: Free. At my kiwi friend’s house getting a new book often includes a cup of tea. This option can be great if your friends have similar tastes in books to save money. (See the price of English books here.)

Cons: If the library, or circle of lending friends, has different tastes, this kind of thing isn’t so helpful.

Electronic Options

Ebooks and their readers are increasingly popular. This seems especially true for travelers given their small weight especially in comparison with a stack of books. I have not yet taken the plunge despite my technical affinity. Most of the books that I have and love are old enough to not even be available in e-format. Nope, sorry they aren’t old enough to be on Project Gutenberg.

Pros: Light and slim for packing. You can carry your entire library with you.

Cons: Rebuying your physical library as electronic ones can be expensive. International transfer onto the devices can be annoying sometimes. I miss the ability to share books with others without paying to buy the same book. I also miss having a physical book.

Reading will always be one of my favorite things, as will travel. This means I will continue to have to make compromises.

How do you manage your reading habit with your luggage restrictions?

33 thoughts on “Traveling with Books

  1. I got my Mom a kindle in May 2010; she gave it to me in Sept. and said to learn how to use it and then teach her; i connected it with the internet in 2011. Finally in August 2013, Idownloaded a book onto it. Maybe I’ll read it in 2014. I travel a lot. I look at the kindle and decide to pack a few real books.–

  2. Just gotta bite the bullet, and ship ’em! I have hundreds and hundreds of books, my prize possessions, and have just emigrated from the UK to Australia! I took a few, but some things had to take priority – clothes, computers, chargers, my wife’s shoes for gawds sake!
    So we’re organising shipping – half a container. It’ll cost a couple of grand, which I’m currently saving up for, but books in Oz cost a fortune – like more than 3 or 4 times the equivalent back home.
    It’s the price we pay for being book junkies – mind you, I do have a Kindle. Millions of free books to ease the pain, some of them even good – I don’t think I’d ever re-buy books on it, because anything I’ve already owned and read – well, I can hold off reading it until I can ship it. There’s no shortage of new stuff coming out, so no need to duplicate a whole collection just so that it’s nearby – just rebuy the few you can’t live without, wither in paper or e-book form. You’re lucky you’ve got Amazon – over here anything I buy gets posted from the US!!

  3. I received my Kindle as a gift. Though I didn’t expect to enjoy reading on a screen, I’ve become so dependent on it that the past month without one has been painful! (My last one died after a few years and I”m picking one up in the US this week).

    If it were a short trip or a place where I could do the expat book swap, bringing books would be no issue. But for a longer trip the portability factor wins out for me.They’ve also really improved the content and I now use it for small games, foreign language dictionaries, and sometimes download a travel guide to a city for reference. And I’ve been taking advantage of many of the free books lately.

    When in the US, I do often visit the used bookstores or thrift shops and pick up a few books to take back. But buying English books in non-English speaking countries often tends to be pricey

    Hope you have a wonderful trip with Ali over the holidays (and some good reading!)

    • Thanks. I leave in just a few days. We have a few longer trips and I am determined to try to read her Kindle. I just love the feel of real books, but I get into technology too, so who knows.

      Thanks for the comment and enjoy the time in the US.

  4. I’m in the sme boat as you are: travelling and reading don’t really go together that well because of weight restrictions. I know the electronic options are great and that I should switch to one of them, but I really just don’t like reading on a screen. So, I usually buy some cheap paperbacks on before leaving for a trip and leave them as I go through them. They are usually pretty cheap and easy-reading books, so it just frees up some space for things I want to take home from the places I visit and I don’t really lose anything valuable. I try to leave books with people or in hotels that stock used books for other travellers instead of just throwing them – even though I have to admit that I have had to do that before too.

    • I have gotten used to reading on the screen through my job, though I agree it doesn’t work in the sunlight. The kindle though is pretty cool. It is one of the e-Ink devices. The screen isn’t back lit like a computer, but really is black or white like a piece of paper and just controlled electronically. I was using Ali’s for a bit at one point and they are much more readable. My problem is the lack of the older books, so maybe I’ll just add newer books to hers. Especially as my favorite book store was recently replaced by a clothing thing. is nice too. My dad uses that a lot. Used bookstores in the States are a great option too, though not as prevalent as previously.

  5. Andrew, I would have to agree that a physical book is of utmost importance when I travel. Usually my trips are short enough that two books will be enough to get me through…but combined with a book swap or buying one along the way it usually seems to be enough to fit into a backpack.

    • Seriously? Only two books per trip? Admittedly I usually like the enormously long train rides which mean good book reading time, but a trip on my own for only a week is a 1-2 book trip. What kind/length of trips do you do?

  6. I love books too -it’s so hard when travelling because if I happen upon an English-language bookstore I almost always find something I want to buy. Only the last few weeks have I allowed myself to start picking them up and suddenly people have been giving them to us too – thank goodness it’s almost time to put some things back into our storage because the bags are getting heavy! =)

    • Yeah, i always have to pack knowing that I will pick up books. This sometimes has meant sending clothing home in boxes in order to accommodate books. Are you guys nearly done and going home? Or what kind of storage do you mean?

  7. As we are preparing for our move to Freiburg, our books are some of the toughest items to part with. My husband and I found that it takes a lot of effort to sell them (and of course you don’t get much $ either) and even donating to the library is limited. Alas, many boxes of them will be going into the shipping container next summer to join us in Germany. Hope we will find room for them there!

    • Yes, it’s really sad that libraries are not keen to take donations anymore. I had a brand new edition of the Stieg Larsson trilogy to give away (so a very popular book, which was forever out on loan, so they could have done with a second copy), and they didn’t want it. I think it has something to do with copyright and lending rights paid to authors.

    • Oo oo.. Coming to Freiburg with tons of English books? You don’t happen to read fantasy paperbacks, do you? BTW have I mentioned Freiburg English club?

      Bookshelves are pretty cheap and get some tall ones. German rooms have tall ceilings.

      • Unfortunately, after tremendous editing, the books we are keeping are mostly giant art books. We gave most of our paperback novels away 🙁 I do recommend the Kindle (you can even use a Kindle App on the IPad). It is priceless for traveling. Great to be able to purchase & download English books at whim (it sucks that they are the same price of physical books though!).

        Thanks for the tips, I look forward to meeting follow all English speaking expats in Freiburg 🙂

        • Yeah I understand the editing and sorting.
          I have heard enough good things about the ebook readers, i will probably try one book on Ali’s and see if I like it. I may however start putting money away for a tablet. I love books, but even still the idea of a single-task object is less appealing if I cant get every book I want.

  8. I love the physical feel of books so much, that I can’t bear to part with one. That leaves book-swapping out for me.

    Andrew, have you tried the “Englische Bücher” bit on I find I can ger almost everything I want there. Kerryn Goldsworthy’s recent book Adelaide has been the only exception, so far.

    • I tend to like books too, although I have read enough that I have no interest in reading again that I have fodder for the swap.

      I have not looked at Englische Bücher that closely, although I have ordered a few various English things from them.

  9. I only ever take two books with me if I’m going away for a couple of weeks; longer, however, and I take a couple more and go for the book swap route (ensuring whoever I’m travelling with has a couple of good ones too!). I’ve only ever had extremely good luck finding great books to read – a couple of them were keepers and are on my bookshelf now! Plus I’ve bought books very cheaply in, for example, India, that turn out to be lovely mementos of my travels, too.

    • Two books?? I take two books on a weekend trip. Each train journey needs one and I figure one every few days. This is all when I am traveling alone though. With Ali with me as my traveling partner, I have less need to read and enjoy talking more.

  10. I’ve tried all of the above options and am currently operating with a combination of them. I do find local libraries a great way to discover new books and cultures that I may not have been considering when I had my own familiar favourites close to hand. I do wish that Amazon would shape up with its EU wide delivery, postage and VAT system – or perhaps that should be the EU shaping up?

    • I don’t seem to notice much difference between ordering on DE or UK, just that for English often the UK is just as fast and cheaper. Yeah, I imagine it is less Amazon itself and more the EU and the shipping companies.

  11. I got myself a kindle as I was spending whole 2011 traveling. I am quite the fan of books, I read a lot, and I wasn’t completely sold originally on the ebook reader. But after trying it, well it is like reading paper, and you can carry all the books you want. My reading has actually increased since I got it, as now I can easily carry with me the fiction book I am reading and all the factual books I am reading or planning on reading. Sadly my ebook reader broke a month ago, and I am back to swapping books at hostel, it’s horrible, so poor choice! I can’t live like this, I want the option of reading whatever I want. I can’t wait to get a new ebook reader, I don’t think there is going back for me!

    • I guess I need to look at what I can get for a kindle. My wife has one that I will probably play with at some point. I just like the idea of the physical book. Though the idea of having all my books at once IS appealing.

  12. I reluctantly entered the e-book world about 18 months ago, thinking I would hate it, but I don’t. When traveling, I like to take the kindle, but at home I read both paper and e-books–whatever works. I haven’t “re-bought” any books. Also, I can now borrow e-books from my local library, which has saved me tons of $$.

    • This sounds like a good mix. Books are expensive enough in whatever form. Not individually necessarily, but in the volume that I can go through reading. Are there swapping possibilities on them yet? Lend-a-book program.

  13. I love the idea of an expat lending library. The thing about travel is that there is always somewhere new you want to go, and it would be hard to get a book for every place. Maybe a travel bookmooch will materialize!

    • What is bookmooch? The lending library thing is fun, especially as it is amongst friends with similar tastes.

      BTW I love your picture of the books in the phone book from a few days ago.

      • Thanks, Andrew! is a free service that facilitates book swapping. I have used it a ton, it’s really cool. You post books that you have and are willing to part with, and you see if anyone has listed some that you are looking for. When someone mooches a book from you, you pay for the shipping, but when you are sent a book it’s completely free. It’s a really smart, economical system!

        • Bookmooch looks cool. Apparently they do have some members in Europe. No books i saw interested me in Germany, but totally cool to know abou it.

          • Yes, there are members all over, which is great. There are also a lot of people that would be willing to ship to you in Germany, so there are still more options. A lot of the books I want are not available, but the wishlist system is cool– when someone lists the title I’m wishing for, I get a notification and can jump on it.

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