Traveling with Books

I’m headed to South Africa and Botswana in a week, and while I’ve been packing for this three-week-long research trip, I’m realizing that my biggest worry is what I will bring with me to read!

I don’t like e-books, so I am planning to bring actual physical copies of books, but I also have to carry those books. And my goal is to pack everything into a carry-on suitcase and a backpack. (And will I even have time to read anything?)

So my question for all of you is this: should I pack one or two big books OR five or six small books? How do you travel with books?

Pictured below are the books I would like to read soon. Which ones should I pack? Do you have any book suggestions that aren’t in this stack?


How do you travel with books?


82 thoughts on “Traveling with Books

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  1. I love to bring shorter length novels that are not too specific in topic so that when I am finished i can hand it off to a new traveling acquaintance. Summer reading is a time of pleasure so longer dense novels are heavy to bring to the corner coffee house. Also, bedtime, no matter where I am Is always a time to read. Enjoy your vacation! I also leave in a month on a 3 week work/play trip to Europe to visit 6 cities. I am bringing one novel. And then when I am finished I am going to search out a used book store. Can’t wait to see what I buy.

    1. These are such great ideas! I hope you have a wonderful time on your trip. I can’t wait to see what used bookstores await me on mine.

  2. I also pack physical books. I usually have two for the plane and one in my suitcase. I travel a lot and typically find I don’t read as much on vacation if I am with others or doing something. If it is a relaxed beach type trip with just my hubby, I read more. Thus, I pack books accordingly. I agree that lighter reads are better for vacation. And no hardbacks in you can avoid, they are heavy!

    1. Yes, lighter books (and paperback) are better for traveling for sure! I will probably only have a chance to read at night before bed, not on the beach. I may just take a few…

  3. I started taking my iPad for reading while traveling, although it is cumbersome. Sometimes books are actually easier to hold on the plane. I used to pack physical books, though, and I usually just brought what I was reading, regardless of size. But you might try weighing the books to see if several small ones weigh less than two big ones. You’ve got some good ones on that pile but also a couple I didn’t really enjoy.

    1. I like weighing them as a way of deciding! That’s smart. Also, which ones in the pile did you not enjoy? I’d like to avoid them if possible!

      1. I didn’t really like Outline or Midnight’s Children. However, I really enjoyed His Bloody Project and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, and I remember The Agony and the Ecstasy as being good, although I think I was only 13 when I read it.

  4. Books are the first thing I consider when packing. I always take my Kindle as well as a couple of books. Definitely smaller paperbacks of lighter fare because my vacation head doesn’t want to deal with heavy issues. Sometimes I even read the first chapter of a few to give me a feel of the book before I choose to take it – sometimes covers can be deceiving. 🙂

    1. I’m totally going to read the first chapter to decide. What a good idea! Thanks for the suggestion, and I like the idea of lighter subject matter. Those are always easier to concentrate on, especially in public or on an airplane.

  5. I usually bring 2 to 3 and the lighter the better. Sometimes I have been lucky to find a free community library or an inexpensive book shop to stop in and explore when traveling too. Happy Traveling and Happy Reading 🙂

  6. I would advise definitely smaller books, travelling light is a joy. I try to take books I expect I can part with en route, but often bring one home after reading! Difficult to let a good book go. Often guesthouses/hotels have a book exchange shelf, but you know that already I guess. Botswana…land of Mma Ramotswe….are u familiar? Alexander McCall Smith….light fun reading, he gets inside a woman’s psyche so well, and achieves the rhythm of Africa in his diction. Happy travels Emily :o)

    1. Yes, traveling light is the goal, so smaller books are ideal. I hate to part with books. I have read all of the Mma Ramotswe books! I love Alexander McCall Smith. That’s partly why Botswana is on the agenda. I just want to be there instead of having to always imagine it. It should be magical.

  7. I think you should take several shorter books. That way, you can bring one with you everywhere you go and it won’t be too big, and the ones you’re not reading yet can be left in your room with your luggage.
    Good luck, have fun, and I hope you get some time to read! 🙂

    1. Very smart thinking, Naomi! I didn’t even consider having to lug it around during the day in case I need something to read. Great idea!

    1. This is so smart! I do like to read before bed to make my eyes tired, but I suspect that jet lag and research will take care of that, so audio books are definitely doable!

  8. The pain of choosing! Oh yes, it’s also my biggest problem because we travel a lot. I have a Kindle but a physical book bring a new different joy. If it was me, I’ll bring six small books instead of the big ones.

    1. I love physical books! And I don’t have a Kindle, but given how many people have mentioned it to me, I may need to get one. I like the small books idea!

      1. I have my Kindle paperwhite for years now. I love it feel in love with it at first hold. It’s space effective. But… it can never replace the feeling of flipping the print pages.

  9. Midnight’s Children is so very good but it’s not light reading. I don’t think I’d take it on vacation. I’d read it in late Autumn on dark evenings cozy at home where I have time to think about everything it brings up. I do recommend The Art of Racing in the Rain for travel. It’s a pure delight and easy to get into and put down but still a great story. Enjoy your trip!

    1. Thank you for telling me this about Midnight’s Children. I’ve wanted to read Rushdie for a while but I suspected it would be heavy. I will take more fun reads!

  10. Happy travels, Emily!
    This question is a toughy😂! I, too like to travel with physical books – even though I know they add extra pounds. Having choices feels important. If I’ve been reading “heavy” non-fiction then I would want to take a 200-400 page novel that feels cozy yet substantial…..however, how do you know this unless you’ve begun to read it? Occasionally I’ve taken a book that was such a page-turner that between reading it en route to places and prior to going to sleep at night, I finished it and had a bunch of days left without a fresh book to read! (The flip side to that is taking a big book and discovering that you don’t like it). Since you’ll be scouting out some bookshops, you should be good!

    1. Right?!?! That is another problem: that we don’t know if we like the book before we take it, and we don’t want to start before we leave or then we won’t have enough pages to read on the trip! It is a whole thing. I think I’ve settled on 3 middle-sized books that aren’t heavy. We’ll see how it goes.

  11. I look forward to learning what you chose to bring and what you thought about your choices. I have Calvino on my TBR list; I use his essay about why we read the classics as an intro to an on-line lit course, and students really respond to him. I need to read what he’s done to talk about his work intelligently!

  12. Hi, I have to agree with you when it comes to ebooks. I much prefer actual physical copies. When I travel I usually bring 2-3 for a weeks trip. Your trip to South Africa and Botswana sounds amazing! Hope its going well for you!

    1. Thank you! The trip is going well. I have already read the 3 books I ended up bringing so I have bought more. My bag is getting too heavy! 😂

  13. I like to bring one or two shorter books with me when I travel. Mostly to keep my bag not too heavy! Especially for international travel when there’s baggage weight restrictions.
    I figure if I finish the books I’ve brought with me I can pick up another on my travels (depending on what language the country you’re traveling in speaks of course). If travelling with other bookworms I take only one book and we all swap part way through our trip! Great fun. Thanks for this post, I hope your trip is fantastic!

    1. What a fun idea when traveling with other readers! I ended up packing 2 short books and 1 longer one. And I’ve already bought more books! I am going to invest in a Kindle as soon as I get home.

  14. I’ve never traveled with physical books, but I think I would pick shorter length books.

  15. The idea of travelling with books is amazing. What I generally do is buy books only when I am planning to hit on them soon. On travel I would suggest to take one or two books and buy new books at destination itself (if possible) once you are done with the books you have carried with you. This saves packing space and unnecessary weight while travel.

    1. This is great advice. I have ended up leaving a few books behind…but then I purchased more! I am definitely carrying too much weight now.

  16. This is such a great list! I am reading now “His Bloody Project” and am loving it, kind of. The book set in Botswana I recommend (if you have not yet read it) is Bessie Head’s “When Rain Clouds Gather”.

    1. Oh my goodness! I ended up buying that book by Bessie Head in Botswana and I’m reading it now! Good recommendation. I love it so far.

  17. I usually carry 2 fat books which will keep me busy for a long time till the trip. But if I am going for a long one, then I suggest you to carry 5-6 short books. Also take care of the measurements because you don’t want anything coming in the middle of your books! 🙂

  18. I think I just might add those books from your picture to my “to read” list, because now I am carrying more books than I should. No less than 3 books in my bag every day, can’t go anywhere without them..

  19. I often travel with just one physical book in hand and a KINDLE. just to travel lighter and more free.
    Are you back from South Africa yet? if not, how’s your trip coming up? do you have plans on visiting another Country(s) outside South Africa? There are like a thousand other Countries in AFRICA and I’m sure you will love them. I’m AFRICAN myself.

    Have GOOD ONE.

    1. I am back, and I carried way too many books! I bought a Kindle when I got home for my upcoming travels to Germany. I did get to visit Botswana and Lesotho. I’m hoping to see more of Africa in the future. It was amazing! Which country are you from?

      1. Kindle is always the best travel buddy for all readers. I’m Glad you had a nice time and there are lots of beautiful places to see in Africa. You should definitely visit again. I’m Nigerian. Have a nice time in Germany and safe travels.

  20. this read brought up so many nostalgic memories! I use to pack at least 2 or 3 books per trip, but lately Ive defaulted to audiobooks and podcasts or reading on my phone. My eyes just get so tired 😓

    1. Oh yes, tired eyes! I had that problem on my last flight from San Francisco to SLC. The book I was reading was so sad and I cried a little and then after that, my eyes just hurt and I couldn’t read!

  21. My Dad has been picking out a book for me on each new adventure. I think it’s super meaningful and I appreciate it more!

  22. Interesting choice of books 😅 idk what I’d do if I were you, seems like a tough decision :))

  23. I travel with physical books too. I generally get three -depending on the length of stay. One – a book based in the place I am visiting, two – an easy reading book, three – a difficult, complex novel.

  24. I’m all about big paperbacks if I need to travel with a physical book. Plenty of trilogies or bigger books come in thick paperback. I know romantic novels are known for this, each GoT is pretty thick, and my favorie trilogy (the Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop) comes with all three in one big thick paperback.
    I think with hardcovers you’re adding unnecessary weight. plus, if something happens to you book, a softcover is usually cheaper to replace.

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