Reading While Wandering: How To Make Every Trip Better With Books

Here’s what I remember best about riding the lift to the top of the Eiffel Tower: finishing Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials moments before we reached the top. My fondest memory of being on the train from Mt. Fuji back to Tokyo is of reading Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I’ve read and re-read Jane Eyre in some of my favorite cities on Earth. Sure, you could say that I’m missing out by keeping my head in a book when I travel, but every destination I’ve visited was made more exciting by the words I read while I was there.

Reading during travel expands worlds, brightens scenery, colors every memory with imagination. It makes each adventure more adventurous, because I didn’t just climb Mt. Fuji – I scaled Mount Doom with Sam and Frodo. Memory is such a flimsy, fleeting thing, but when I attach a memory to a book, it lands harder and lasts longer.

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Every trip is better with books. So how do you choose the right book for your trip?

Well, reading’s a very personal thing, and there’s no accounting for taste – but here are a few guidelines from this wandering bookworm that you can apply to your own particular preferences:

1) Location, Location, Location

Read The Paris Wife in Paris. Read your Benjamin Franklin biography in Philadelphia. Read The Midnight Assassin in Austin. Read Wildwood in Portland. And if it’s a fictional land you’re visiting on the page, it can still resemble the very real land you’re visiting on your trip. Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea looks a lot like the Philippines. Squint your eyes just right, and Lev Grossman’s Fillory turns into New Zealand. George R. R. Martin’s Winterfell could easily be any snowy place you please.

If your external surroundings match the world in your head, you’ll be transported more fully – and every time you re-read your book (if you’re an inveterate re-reader like I am), you’ll be bringing yourself back to that magical trip you once took.

2) Get A Head Start

It takes a little time to get into the rhythm and movement of a book, and those first few chapters can feel more like work than play before you get into the meat of the story. So get the boring parts out of the way before your trip! Start a couple of days before your destination date, and that way you’ll know you love your book before you’re out of the house - and it gives you a chance to trade in for something more propulsive if you’re still not engrossed by the time you head to the airport.

3) Do What You Love

But mostly, just read what you love, where you love, with those you love. Reading and travel are about opening our minds and broadening our horizons, true, but they’re also about joy. Don’t be afraid to re-read a favorite book you haven’t visited in years, or to indulge in subject matter that’s a little less than scholastic. What you read should be as fun as where you go.

What are some of your favorite memories of reading while wandering? And if you have any recommendations for the perfect excursion books, lay ‘em on us below!

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Meredith Borders is a lifelong bookworm and freelance writer and editor living in Houston, Texas. You can find her byline at LitReactor, SlashFilm, Forever Young Adult and more, or follow her on Twitter as @xymarla.