Reading Rituals: Books for Travel

hollywoodLast week, I was in LA. Land of endless traffic and bad plastic surgery. Oh, and some of my favorite hiking trails, friends, and foodstuffs. (How can you not love a place featuring an eatery called “Take a Bao”?) On the one hand, I look forward to this trip every year. On the other, braving airport security, and being wedged next to perfect strangers for hours on end, and watching as an overstuffed overhead compartment pops open and threatens to dump 300 pounds of luggage on my head do make me wish that there was a way I could visit LA without having to actually travel there.

It’s true: I’m spoiled. I don’t travel often, so when I do, the quirks associated with modern-day aviation can seem like an awfully big production. Thankfully, the whole experience is made slightly more bearable with the help of my travel rituals.

* First, removable clothing is key. (Um, I don’t mean it like that.) In other words: Layers. In other words, when I’m headed out via planes and trains and airport shuttles, I start with light layers, and travel with a collection of additional layers. Clobbering your seatmate while adding or removing said layers is completely optional.

* Snacks. I will not use this as an opportunity to rant about airport food and the $12 “snack basket” for purchase on the plane. Suffice it to say, I travel with my own food, and the process of envisioning my travel picnic starts weeks in advance. (You already knew I could be a little obsessive.) For this week’s trip, I planned on a tomato/basil/feta salad, this delicious quinoa affair, and raspberries. And I always have a granola bar on hand in case delays cause an additional snack attack.

* Books. You knew this one was coming, didn’t you? Travel is the perfect opportunity for solid reading time (provided the child behind you is not kicking your seat and endlessly singing jingle bells–which really did happen to me). Solid reading time or not, however, planes are not the place for just any old book. So, without further ado, I bring you the most important portion of this post:

Reading Rituals, Part 5: Books for Travel

Ritual #1: Think very carefully about your selection. Books for travel mustn’t be slow or ponderous or require deep engagement with facts, or retention of said facts. Your reading will be interrupted. Those with whom you are sharing your teeny tiny bit of airspace will want to go to the bathroom, or stand up and do awkward airplane calisthenics, or chase after mobile children whom everyone else really wishes were immobile. You will have drinks served to you. You will watch as said drinks proceed to spill during the ensuing turbulence. Choose wisely, my friend. Books for travel must be enthralling, absorbing, and (here’s the added challenge) easy enough to dip into and out of.

Ritual #2: Bring a back-up book. You know what’s the worst? What’s the worst is bringing a book on a plane which you think meets all the criteria above, and which you think you’re going to love, and which you’re convinced will make the seven hours from Boston to LA speed by (because yes, you just happen to be flying on the day when headwinds are at their most epic)…only to find out that you hate this book, or that the book is boring, or that you’ve read so many books like this one that you’ve already figured out whodunnit and why 15 pages in. Enter the back-up book–either a book you’ve already started (and are enjoying) or an old classic that’s begging for a re-read. Trust me: The year I brought The Da Vinci Code on a pre-Christmas flight (oh, the shame), I was very grateful to have also toted along The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

Ritual #3: Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. And do not, I beg you, purchase one of those audio-challenged pairs of airline headphones for $2. You will regret trying to watch a movie. You will not be entertained by the TV. You will, however, love yourself for tumbling deep into the universe of whatever book you stuffed into one of your two airline-authorized carry-ons. I did. Though as for what books transported me this trip…well, you’ll have to wait til I’ve recovered from my travels to find out.


  1. Bruce Richardson says:

    Jenny Sawyer is amazing and funny. Great travel advice!

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