Reading while travelling

Someone on a travel forum that I visit often asked if people read while travelling and whether reading “all the time” didn't make them miss out on the experience of travelling. It gave me the idea for this little piece:

I read when I'm travelling
Some might say that I was missing out on something, seeing new things or meeting new people, but if you think about it, travelling actually gives you a lot of chances to read without missing out on anything really good, and smooths away much boredom.

The trick is to know when to read and when not to read.

I read when there's no-one of sense to talk with:
on flights and aboard night buses,
when the landscape passing me by is all of a sameness (ever driven through North Dakota? Flat as a pancake and nothing but fields interspersed with farmhouses and dull-dusty small towns as far as the eye can see. Gets boring after a while),
when it's too hot/cold/wet to be out and about,
when the bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere,
when I'm stuck in transit for hours (I hate airports),
when I'm stuck in no-man's land for hours or waiting for a border to open,
in the evenings before I go to sleep,
at breakfast before I go out.

Also when I don't want to talk to anyone because:
I'm homesick,
I just don't feel like it,
some idiot is bothering me (headphones with no music help as well),
I'm ill or indisposed and confined to my hotel room (everyone avoids you anyway in such a situation),
or I'm overloaded with travel experiences and need a day of quiet and rest.

I don't read:
When there's interesting conversation to make up for the dullness of a situation or place,
when there's something more interesting to see or do.

Reading can enhance a travel experience, just as travelling can enhance a reading experience. For example, it can be wonderful to be somewhere and reading about the place you're in. Reading about the Raj when I was in India enabled me to imagine the country as it was then, much better than reading about it at home, and reading stories set in London when I was there gave me ideas about places to visit that the guidebooks ignore.

Chronic Nose-in-bookitis is a different story. It often points to boredom or lack of interest in one's surroundings, which is enough to make anyone reach for a book.

However, occasionally you come across travellers who have booked their trip so they can relax in new or exotic surroundings and choose to do so by reading. I know I would do it if I had already explored all the places I wanted to see. Just imagine sitting under a palm tree in Barbados, drinking a pina colada and reading a juicy pirate novel or lounging in a hammock in a private garden in Italy on a warm, sunny day, with a glass of wine and Enchanted April to read. Maybe when I'm old and the travel bug no longer makes me itch but merely tickles me now and then.


Carmen said…
I always read when I travel. I remember my joy in Brittany when I read Remains of the Day and that same vacation, took a walk on the beach with two older women who didn't speak English but had noticed me reading and wanted to know more about me. In a youth hostel in Brittany I met a French woman who couldn't get over the fact that an American knew there was Q-Celtic and P-Celtic. She wound up telling me a most amazing story of her family and the French Resistance. In Sofia I read two short perfect Simenons. In Zagreb it was minus 25 Celsius so I spent two days in a cafe reading Joseph Roth. When you read you meet other readers. Staying in youth hostels you trade books with other travelers. How much fun to go into a book store in Santiago de Compostela, for example, with an Israeli and a Japanese you are traveling with for a day or two and just browse the shelves. In Bruges I took a room for 5 days and made daytrips from my base and the room itself was odd--odd-sized, oddly placed cobled together furnishings and the tall bookcase had several hundred books in 5 or 6 languages and I read a history of the English language and then spent an evening with the people who ran the guesthouse and what did we talk about? BOOKS. I met a young vacationing French Candadian woman in Tallinn studying to be a translator and what an interesting few hours they were. Readers unite!
Bibliophile said…
Lovely to hear from another travel reader :-)

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