Our Reading Lives

In Defense of Buying Books While Traveling

This is a guest post from Isabel Galupo. Isabel lives in Los Angeles where she works as a coordinator in the Current Series Animation Department at the Nickelodeon Animation Studio. As a kid, Isabel used to get in trouble for trying to read library books under the table during family dinners. As an adult, she reads wherever she pleases thankyouverymuch. When she’s not reading, Isabel does hot yoga, FaceTimes with her four younger sisters, and daydreams about the fat, squishy pug that she will one day adopt. She’s currently working on her first novel.

I am an over-packer.

There. I said it.

I am a firm believer in packing a “safety” purse on top of the five I already have. I have a bad habit of shoving three pairs of jeans too many into my bag last-minute, “just in case.” More often than not I find myself having to sit on top of a bursting suitcase just to be able to drag the zipper all the way across its tracks.

Knowing this, I try my hardest to reduce the amount of items that I bring back home with me when I travel. I love postcards because they are inexpensive, small, customizable, and you can send them out to your loved ones before you even leave the place that the postcard advertises. While on the road, I rarely find myself purchasing anything that I don’t eat, drink, or experience on the spot.

The only exception?


Let it be known that I start off all of my travels with three books in tow, as a rule. The first book is the one that I already happen to be reading when my trip starts. The second is the one that I anticipate starting during my travels. The genre of this second book depends largely on where I am traveling to and how I will get there. I love reading mysteries on trains, and I never get onto an airplane without a young adult romance novel. My favorite beach reads are feminist-leaning memoirs and if I’m on a work trip, I usually pack a self-help book to keep myself grounded.The third book that I bring on all of my trips is a wild card. Sometimes it’s a book that I started back home, but couldn’t quite get into. “Perhaps Big Sur is the PERFECT place to finally get into Kurt Vonnegut.” (Spoiler: it wasn’t). Sometimes this third book is a book that I’ve been meaning to re-read. Sometimes, I close my eyes and pick one off my shelf at random.

With three very diverse books guaranteed to be with me during any and all of my travels, why would I choose to add more to the equation — and, by doing so, add more volume and weight to an already stuffed and heavy suitcase?

I recently went on vacation to the San Juan Islands, which are an archipelago about three hours off the coast of Seattle. My boyfriend and I spent three glorious days hiking in nearly-empty state parks, eating fresh seafood, and trying to spot Orca whales. Toward the end of our trip, we walked around downtown Friday Harbor, which looks like it was lifted directly off of Richard Scary picturebook page — charming lattices, flowers in the windowsills, storefronts the color of Easter eggs. It started to drizzle, so we ducked into what looked like a small, unassuming used bookstore.

I gasped when I walked inside.

Every square inch of surface was covered in books. Books in haphazard piles on the floor, books in teetering stacks taller than me, books atop of chairs and ladders and window sills. Friday Harbor is, as all the San Juan Islands, a perpetually moist place. But all the pages in this bookstore were dry, water-strain-free, taken-care-of. Well-loved. We spent what felt like hours wandering around the store. Our eyes scanned up, down, and around at the immense catalog of worn-out novels, volumes of poetry, nature field guides, hardcover biographies, brightly colored comic books, and so, so much more.

Even though I knew I had no room in my bag, I went up to the counter with four books. The cashier wrote down the titles of the books by hand in a large notebook and commented on each one:

“Great choice.”

“Still haven’t gotten around to reading this one…”

“Oh, I loved this book. But the movie was crap!”

And now, when I crack open those titles, I don’t think about the way my backpack straps dug into my shoulder afterwards and made angry red marks on my body that lasted for hours. I don’t think about my mad scramble to pack my clothes into tighter folds so that I could fit all of my belongings into my bag.

I think about salty breezes on ferry decks, and the black arc of a dorsal fin at sunset that brought me to tears. About the bite of dirty martinis sipped on a dock, and a sunny afternoon spent reading in the grass. I think about getting blissfully lost in a magical hut made of books.

So many memories from my travels live on in the pages of books that I just couldn’t resist picking up while on the road.

And that, I think, is worth every penny I’ve ever had to pay in oversize baggage charges.