The Ultimate Traveling Companions

Why I literally can't, won't, and shouldn't leave home without a book. |

When it comes to "what to pack," this is the hardest decision:

Not what shoes to pack. Not what kind of jacket. Not how many pairs of jeans.

But this: What books will I need?

I am, possibly, the last person in the universe without an e-reader.

I just have a ridiculous fondness for the printed thing, the physical object of the book.

Even when it doesn't make sense. Even when you can fit forty thousand copies, apparently, of all the best novels in a teeny little device, therefore making it perfect for traveling. Even then.

So choosing which books I'll take: that's a major issue! There's obviously the question of weight/bulk, but far more importantly: how to cover all the possible emotional needs, the psychological issues that arise when journeying.

Whew! I spend a LOT of time thinking about this.

Because I just love traveling with books.

(Please, please, tell me someone out there still feels this way!)

I could go on and on about all the romantic and practical reasons why I love traveling with books... But Cornelia Funke describes it so beautifully in this little excerpt from Inkheart (which should be on your must-read list!! and which is, itself, perfect to travel with): 

"Take plenty to read!" Mo called from the hall. As if she didn't always! Years ago he had made her a box to hold her favorite books on all their journeys, short and long, near and far. "It's a good idea to have your own books with you in a strange place," Mo always said. He himself always took at least a dozen. ...

"If you take a book with you on a journey," Mo had said when he put the first one in her box, "an odd thing happens: The book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. ... Memories cling to the printed page better than anything else."

He was probably right, but there was another reason why Meggie took her books whenever they went away. They were her home when she was somewhere strange. 

Isn't that right? 

The books I travel with--they fill up with airline tickets and boarding passes, brochures and maps, receipts and notes and lists. Sometimes with sand, sometimes with a squashed bug or two. (It happens.)

And at the same time: they make me feel at home.

Can we just take a moment to praise the books that accompany us on our journeys? 

There are the books that were just good entertainment, ways to rest, to add flavor to the time away:

- There's the Dorothy Sayers mystery (Have His Carcase) I read in Louisiana, between playing with my nieces and my nephew... 

- I read most of So Brave, Young, and Handsome in a library on my sister's college campus, escaping the fluorescent lights for the Wild West... 

- And then I read a lot of The Mysterious Benedict Society in a guest house in Nebraska... 

- I reread The Secret Garden while reconsidering my entire life in Bermuda, and on another visit, I read Frederick Buechner's The Storm while getting hideously sunburnt. (Whoops.)

But then, there are three books that come to mind for saving in me, one way or another, in tricky places: 

- I read most of The Eyre Affair on a plane over the Atlantic--which kept me from bawling after saying goodbye to the friends I'd made during a semester abroad. It was the perfect distraction.

- I soaked up the words of The Summer Book while in England for two weeks. It is the sole reason that I am still sane after standing in a line at least two miles long in Heathrow Airport. 

- And then, there's my favorite book of E.B. White's essays (One Man's Meat). Gulping down his gorgeous sentences kept me from strangling the guy I was sharing a ride with, when he was eight hours late (!) to take me home for Thanksgiving. Honestly. Jail time averted. Thanks, E.B.

What about you? Which books on your shelves did double duty as traveling companions? Which ones hold memories of other places on their pages?

Which do you recommend for travel? What will you be reading on your next trip? It's a tough question, right? Let's pool our ideas. (Oooh. Reading at the pool...)