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Five Helpful Tips For Choosing Which Books to Take on a Trip

Deciding on a small portable library

The Joy and Stress of Extended Travel

If you love to travel, but you also love your possessions, you know how hard it is to decide what to take with you. It’s even harder when you’ve got a co-dependent relationship with books.

I’ve had the many blessings of trips around the world, getting the chance to travel to China, Europe, Nevis, and destinations around the United States. But I also love my home and am comfortable working alone every day, burrowed in my office, cozied up to my computer, a happy, hibernating, homebody.

So while I’m excited to flee to warmer Southern climes and spend the winter “snowbirding” where the weather is not gray and the temperatures rise above freezing, leaving home stresses me out. Honestly, I have a hard time separating myself from my stuff, especially my books.

I can’t live without books. I need them in a physical sense. I need to touch them, use them, read them, study them. I make marginalia in every book I open. I derive satisfaction from the smell of ink, the feel of the pages, and the pattern of print on paper. Books are my daily companions and helpmates.

Campers and Books Go Together

Four months in our camper without my books — no matter how temperate the climate — would drive me insane. I need a portable library.

How do I decide which books to take when they’re all important? How do I whittle down a couple of hundred volumes to a select two dozen? How can I predict which books I’ll need in the next four months?

Lucky for me, our camper’s little back room which works as my office so I can work wherever we go is equipped with two nice bookshelves. If I’m selective about what I take, I have room for “reads” and “writes,” with a little spare shelf space for notebooks — my writer’s penchant. I’ve got to have room for notebooks — some already filled with ideas, just waiting for me to pluck one from the pages, and some empty, waiting for my overactive brain to pour ideas through my pen and onto the pages.

After a painful, prolonged debate with myself, I came up with a strategy for choosing which books get to come along. If you’re a traveler who loves books, you might appreciate these five tips, too.

1) Take Whatever You Think is “Fun”

If you’re a reader, you know you’re never caught up. New books are being published every day, and your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile never diminishes. Choose books that will bring you joy…whatever your joy may be. If you’re an accountant, you may love some treatise on numbers or an in-depth look at the major accounting firms. If you’re a musician, you might enjoy books about trends in music theory, new software for creating instrumentation, or biographies of rock stars who made it.

For me, my joy is in literary fiction and works that deal with language and writing. Pure entertainment. The top books on my TBR are coming with me, including Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore, The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd, The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins, Clanlands by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish, (a Christmas gift from my sister and devoted Outlander fan,) Recursion by Blake Crouch, and three that are not new but have remained on my TBR list: Markus Zusak’s Bridge of Clay, Colson Whitehead’s Nickel Boys, and Marilynn Robinson’s Gilead.

2) Select at least one book for visual stimulation

Visual stimulation tickles creativity. Research proves that there is a connection between color and art and creativity, so take at least one book filled with colors, shapes, and pictures.

Whether it’s a beautiful book of photography, art, fashion, crafting, decorating, or nature, take it because it’s nice to “to look at.” For your viewing pleasure only. You might be surprised at how your brain revs up and your mind latches on ideas after looking at a gorgeous picture book.

This is one of my favorite “stimulant” books: The Rainbow Atlas: A Guide to the World’s 500 Most Colorful Places.

3) Choose a couple of books for reference:

I love maps, maybe because I’m directionally impaired. A map enables me to find my way, no matter how confused I get, but it also acts as an imagination trigger. My World Atlas has to come with me. Who knows when I might need to locate a country, a city, or an ocean? I might need to check the spelling of a place, gain inspiration for a story, or spur my imagination by looking at far-flung locales around the globe and dreaming of the people there.

My newest purchase of a beautiful, illustrated book titled, The Ocean: A Definitive Visual Guide is a definite “yes.” Not only will we be near the water, but I have an idea for my next book and to write it the way I envision it, I need to know a lot about sea life.

4) Pack a few old familiar comfort-reads:

Like a comfortable old bathrobe or a pair of fuzzy, warm slippers, an old familiar book makes you feel at home no matter where you are. These small paperbacks bring much comfort without taking much space, and I can thumb through their well-worn pages looking for favorite passages to spur me on:

  • Rick Bragg’s, Ava's Man, one of my all-time favorite nonfiction books ever is a memoir of the grandfather he never knew with language so powerful, all writers should be required to read it.

  • The Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krause Rosenthal made the cut because it’s a quirky little book about writing and life. It expresses what I believe to be true: that you don’t have to be a celebrity, a victim, or a trendsetter to have a story worth telling.

  • The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson, and Mary Oliver’s Devotions — Because familiar poetry makes me feel good.

5) Something for edification

25 Great Sentences and How They Got That Way, by Geraldine Woods was a Christmas gift from a dear friend who knows me well. She, like me, is a language lover and a fellow believer that we should be learning something every day. When packing for a trip, never go anywhere without a book that gives knowledge, insights, fresh perspectives, or practical suggestions.

Word-nerds, take note! I’ll let you know what I think after I read it, but the blurbs are intriguing.

“A guide to the artistry that lifts a sentence from good to great.”

“This is a book that will be treasured by word nerds and language enthusiasts, writers who want to hone their craft, literature lovers, and readers of everything from song lyrics and speeches to novels and poetry.”

I can never know enough, be good enough, or read enough, but I’m never going to stop trying. My travel plans will always include books.


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