The Books I Read When Traveling

The time when I start to get serious about an e-reader is when I travel. I like the idea of having numerous books at my fingertips and the ability to change books when I lose interest or need something other than my current choice to help the time go by (like for instance when I foolishly chose to bring War & Peace on my 18 hour flight to Singapore). But then I think – perhaps impractically some might say – of the romance of having that well-worn paperback on the train, at a cafe drinking cappuccino, or sitting on the edge of an old, charming European city square and I know that I’ll continue to bring books with my luggage for the foreseeable future. One comes on the plane with me and the second in my bag in case I finish or change my mind.

There is an art form to choosing a book to bring. I want something interesting that will remain engaging, something that will make those long hours on a plane go by and, ideally, something that is either written by an author from the place I’m going or about the country. I do bring a guidebook with me and like reading their brief histories of the places I’m visiting, but stories provide that sense of place and culture.

Reading about Portugal while tasting Portuguese wine

And history is always a good option, or historical fiction. When I traveled to Gdansk two years ago, I read James Michener’s Poland, a beast of a book, as many of Michener’s books are. It was one that would give me some history and I wasn’t likely to finish it too early. Even better is that the story was engaging and the characters took me through generations of history.

Breakfast in Gdansk

And Hemingway has travelled with me a few times. I read A Moveable Feast on the plane to Paris and found across Islands in the Stream, a novel published posthumously for a trip to the Florida Keys. And of course, for a bibliophile like myself, no visit to Key West is complete without a visit to Ernest Hemingway’s house.

Other times I like to pick up books when I travel. Almost every road trip of mine to Austin, I stop at Book People to buy books, and one of my favorite memories from San Francisco was stumbling upon City Lights Books and I still have beautifully translated Spanish poetry I bought from that visit, in addition to a book that introduced me to Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Not only then do I have pictures from my trips, great memories to smile about when thinking back on, but also reading the stories I bought from the local bookstore give me great memories in a different way. I might find writers I would otherwise not have found, like in the case of the Chilean poets, or books I’ve long wanted to read.

What do you like to read when you travel?


Patricia returned to Texas after spending several years on both coasts. She's a writer, amateur photographer and traveler.

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