How To

How to Pack Books for a Vacation

Leah Rachel von Essen

Senior Contributor

Leah Rachel von Essen reviews genre-bending fiction for Booklist, and writes regularly as a senior contributor at Book Riot. Her blog While Reading and Walking has over 10,000 dedicated followers over several social media outlets, including Instagram. She writes passionately about books in translation, chronic illness and bias in healthcare, queer books, twisty SFF, and magical realism and folklore. She was one of a select few bookstagrammers named to NewCity’s Chicago Lit50 in 2022. She is an avid traveler, a passionate fan of women’s basketball and soccer, and a lifelong learner. Twitter: @reading_while

I have been honing my packing capabilities for the last five years—since I moved to Chicago for college, and had to travel several times a year between Chicago and New Jersey. My life became a never-ending battle to pack as little and as well as possible. I went from a huge rolling suitcase for a two-week to stay to a small backpack and a purse.

There is only one thing holding me back from my true, light-packer potential. This will shock you: it’s books.

I’m a physical book snob. It’s nothing against ereaders—I think they’re a convenient marvel of modern technology—but I love owning books, and I want to hold them in my hands. It’s partially, too, because I’m terrible at remembering to charge things. Books don’t need to be charged.

For all those reasons, I generally travel with 2–3 books for a 5-day trip. That really hurts the potential of packing light. I’m shortly to leave for a two week trip around the UK, and I’m bringing the Harry Potter series, and yes, I am bringing physical copies. So how do I do it? Here are some tips for packing books without breaking your back.

Don’t be delusional.

Unless you’re the kind of person who reads and then leaves the book someplace, you will need to get these books back with you. Choose your stack, and judge wisely. Try to avoid hardcovers. Choose the smallest paperbacks on your to-read shelf, or choose the paperback that’s 600 pages but will take you the whole trip to read. You know yourself: if you’re like me, you’ll also be buying books on your trip. I know I’ll finish the Potter series before my trip is over, but I also plan to go bookstore hopping in Edinburgh and London, making it unlikely I need to bring more books.

Think about protection.

You’re carrying hard copies, and hard copies can be mussed, scratched, stained, and more. Whether you check or you don’t, at some point these books will be out of your hands—in the overhead bins of the airplane, pushed under a train seat, or being thrown into the airplane by the baggage team of the airport (possibly in the snow or rain).

I usually wrap each book in either a shirt, if it’s in a checked or roller bag, or if it’s in a carry on, I’ll wrap it in a cardigan or scarf that I might use anyway on the plane. Make sure to pack it so that it’s flat—if you pack it on the outside, it’s not only vulnerable to the weather, but also to any warping from an overpacked bag or the curved side of a duffel. Another great tip is the super-popular Kickstarter Book Beaus—she makes special pouches made specifically to protect your books. I have two on the way!

Decide what bags you’re bringing, and pack the books appropriately.

If you’re bringing a roller and especially if you’re checking the bag, put a shirt or pair of pants at the bottom of the roller, then place the stack on top of it (covers facing the top of the bag as it will be when it stands up). Now roll scarves, shirts, and the like and put them all around the books, cushioning them and ensuring they’ll stay in their stack. It’s proven for me to be the safest way to pack several books at a time without getting their covers messed up, etc., and it will also make sense in that it will anchor your roller rather than making it more unwieldy.

If you aren’t checking a bag, and you’re instead lugging multiple bags through the airport, your task is in many ways the opposite. Divide the weight as much as possible. One book—your current or airplane read—goes tucked in your purse, next to your passport. The second in your duffel, cushioned by some shirts. Another in that outside pocket of your roller. Another between some shirts in your roller. If you spread them out enough, it won’t feel as much like you’ve been carrying a stack of books around all vacation.

Do you have any tips for packing books on a vacation?