• Packing Books for Vacation

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 13 comments

    I’ve been on vacation — a beach vacation, at that — for ten days now and I’ve read not even half a book.

    Before we left, I asked Justine to be my book sheriff: “Don’t let me bring more than two books,” I said. Because usually I get out of control when packing for a trip. I always think I’m going to do nothing but read, and so I bring the number of books that aligns with constant reading.

    Like, a book per day.

    And I like to have options; so I’ll bring a novel or two, a story collection or two, something(s) nonfiction. Half my luggage sometimes goes to books, and I lug ’em around, grunting.

    But inevitably I return home having cracked no more than one or two. And I usually end up feeling guilty about it, especially when I get back home and unpack, putting those uncracked books back in their slots.

    So this time, I was firm. Two books! No more!

    I packed two story collections, both of them “slim volumes,” as they say: Stuart Dybek’s flash collection, Ecstatic Cahoots, and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.

    I’ve read about one-third of the former and zero-thirds of the latter. And that’s OK. My back isn’t sore, for one thing. And I haven’t felt obligated to read, haven’t felt the need to force myself to do it even if I’m not in the mood. And when I am in the mood, I can read more leisurely, without trying to speed through one book so I can get to the next in order to justify its place in my suitcase.

    What’s my point? I have no idea. Maybe it’s this: From now on I’ll pack for literary reality, not fantasy.

    Your turn: What’s your decision-making process when packing books for vacation? Do you overdo it or underdo it? How do you decide which books to bring with you? Does your destination factor into which titles you choose? Beach reads, for example, or maybe a book about the history of wherever you’re going, etc.? Do you feel guilty if you don’t read as much as you meant to while on a getaway?


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written for books for the Dallas Morning News, the Iowa ReviewElectric Literature, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a writing project you’d like help with or an idea to get off the ground, check out our coaching, editing, and publication services.

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    Barbara Mealer

    I can’t go anywhere without at least one book. I take either a physical book or my kindle wherever I go. I hate waiting, so I read to keep from becoming irate with the wasted time. The physical books I save for the day trips. The kindle means I only have to take one thing to have access to my library, so I take it on longer trips. Even on my year and a half trip, I packed several books for those times when I knew I’d have to wait and didn’t want to carry the kindle with me. I… Read more »

    David Duhr

    You know, I’ve never tried an ereader. I wonder if having *all* of my books along with me would prove just as daunting as deciding which physical books to take.

    Jerry Schwartz

    There’s definitely a trade-off. If you want to refer back to something, in a paper book you generally have some idea a far into to look; with an e-reader, you don’t have that. You also miss out on the sensual pleasures. But you can’t beat it for sheer portability. You can “hide” books by removing them from your e-reader and leaving them in your library in the cloud. That makes it easier to find the new ones. Another big advantage is that I can read the same book on my phone, on an actual Kindle, or on my computer. They… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    For me as a long-term caregiver, “vacation” means sitting on my front porch or at a local park. I read ebooks almost exclusively, so “packing” is not a problem! Thanks to a lightning strike, we were recently without Internet for 16 days. Our public library is two miles from home, so I experienced a new kind of respite for a while. I could spend an hour or two at the library in-between taking my partner to medical appointments. I work out of my home and communicate with clients via email (plus do online research), so my flash drive was my… Read more »

    David Duhr

    I’m officially stealing “library turducken” and claiming it as my own creation.

    Reading during car trips with the parents! I remember that well. My lifelong obsession with Johnny Tremain began in the back of our 80s-style econoline-type van, sprawled across the bench in the third row. Just like Esther Forbes envisioned when she wrote it in 1943.

    Amber McAlister

    I have in the past packed too many books but vacations generally capture a lot of my attention with new scenery and things to do, so i learned to just bring no more than two books that i am passionate about reading or finish reading.

    David Duhr

    That’ll be my approach from now.

    The funniest part of this whole thing is that the day I wrote this post, I walked past the town’s library and saw BOOK SALE on a sign out front. It drew me in. I managed to walk away with only three more books, but still…

    Jerry Schwartz

    I used to travel with a suitcase full of reading material, but that was in olden days when they were called codices, and I went by stagecoach. It was almost all business travel, so I typically was at loose ends on nights and weekends. If the trip were particularly long, I’d hit a local bookshop.

    These days I use the Kindle app on my phone. Since my phone is always with me, so are a lot of my latest purchases. And if I decide I want something I don’t already have, it’s a couple of clicks away.

    David Duhr

    From a codex in a stagecoach to a cellphone Kindle in an airplane in one lifetime. Life is crazy.


    I definitely am an overpacker. The other day I took three books with me to an outpatient procedure. I was only going to be away from home for three hours! I think it is part of my problem in general with books and that is the “Eyes bigger than the stomach” (in this case brain, I guess) syndrome. I always have an absolutely unrealistic idea of how much time I will have to read and so I always own way too many books, want way too many books and then can’t decide which of them is most important. I usually… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Mere hours after I wrote this post, I went into the book sale at this tourist town’s library and left with three additional books. At one point I had about eleven in my hands, so I consider three a success. But yeah, ridiculous. I kept trying to remind myself that if I really wanted these books, I could order them used online and have them shipped to my apartment, for not much more money. Or, more like, if I really wanted these books I’d already have them. None of them were books I’d never heard of. Why are we the… Read more »


    I hope you don’t get this twice, David, because first time I accidentally sent it to the DO NOT REPLY that was on your response to mine. I was trying to answer why are we the way we are. Because we are awesome? Too sexy for our books? Seriously, now, today while online looking for more books to buy I found this quote on someone’s profile: “When I get a little money I buy books. If any is left I buy food and clothes.” Erasmus. Also sometime read Lous L’Amour’s autobiography. It consists only of all the books he’d read… Read more »

    David Duhr

    That L’Amour bio sounds amazing. I’m obviously going to get that. I’ve read only one of his books, and it was for a sixth grade class, which is weird. But I remember loving it. It wasn’t a Western; it was about an American pilot downed in the Soviet Union and being chased across Siberia by a tracker. I might have to reread that, too.

    I think you’re onto something: We’re too sexy for our books.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x