Reading While Abroad

Here is my problem of the year: Books weigh a lot. And it’s rather a nuisance to try to travel when you have a whole collection of “to be reads” waiting for you at home.

I’ve been away from home (and away from my book collection) for almost a year. Over the summer I was interning in Washington DC, and only brought five or so books with me. I was lucky that I ended up subleasing for a couple that had numerous books in English (and Latvian! But as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t read those), and could add on to my reading list without having to worry about how to transport books home. I also began to use my phone’s Kindle app more and downloaded some poetry books.

When I left for Poland I brought three books with me. Only three! They were Herta Müller’s The Land of Green Plums, Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita (which would be a re-read for me), and Wisława Szymborska’s poetry collection Here, which I brought to practice Polish, as it has the poems in Polish as well as the English translations. I was worried that this wouldn’t be enough books because I was sure I would have too much extra time and no friends and I would be bored … etc., etc. But I eventually took the advice of my mom and didn’t spend half of my baggage weight on books.

But between the end of September and the end of December I finished exactly one book: The Land of Green Plums (which I had started when I was still in Wisconsin). And guess what, the reason I read only one book that entire time was because I was busy, and I had friends, and I was never bored.

I began to read more after Christmas. This is usually the trend with me – I tend to read more during December and January. This is probably because I usually get quite a few books for Christmas, and have a lot of downtime. This year there were no Christmas books. In late January, missing this tradition I took myself down to the major English-language bookstore and bought myself two books: The Passport by Herta Müller and Time Bites by Doris Lessing. During this time I also had access to an actual Kindle (not just the app on my phone!). While I’m not a Kindle-or-Bust person, I did find that I really enjoyed reading on it.

Since January I have read four books. It’s not a lot, but it’s not a number I’m ashamed of. All but one of these has been in physical form. And this may be a problem when it comes to me leaving Poland, because I’m a bit of a book hoarder, and I would like to bring all of my books back with me. But that’s not going to be possible so there will have to be some culling of the herd in June.

So, with that long ramble of a tale of my reading while abroad exploits, I have a few tips on how to read while abroad:

  1. If you’re going on a short trip (up to a month), bring a paperback or two that you have no attachment to. These are relatively lightweight, and if you bought them for cheap (I recommend bringing the books you bought on clearance or at a library book sale), you won’t feel guilty leaving them in a hostel lobby once you’re done with them.
  2. If you’re travelling with friends, bring along a book to trade with each other when you each finish your book.
  3. If you’re staying in a country long-term, and are in a relatively large city, find a bookshop that caters to ex-pats. If you’re lucky the books should be relatively affordable, and there may be the possibility of selling books back when you are going to leave.
  4. If you can’t invest in a Kindle (like me), I would suggest downloading the free app on your laptop or phone. There are also a lot of resources to find cheap or free eBooks online, such as Project Gutenberg (yay classics!), this Reddit forum, and Book Riot’s “Deals of the Day.”

Happy reading, and great travels!


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