Traveling by book is the original virtual travel experience! It’s been THE way to transport yourself to another world for centuries. Books can bring you to a different place or time period in the real world or an entirely fictional place. When reading, we use our imaginations, exercise our minds, and travel virtually (but without the involvement of a screen). We’ll discuss our early experiences reading, finding the time to read, why read at all, our favorite travel reads, and more.
Subscribe and listen to The House Sitting Travel Podcast below or on your favorite podcast app. Just search House Sitting Travel in your app of choice or click these links: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.
And now, onto the blog post!
Key Links + Resources Mentioned:
- The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
- How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny O’Dell
- All This I Will Give to You by Dolores Redondo
- Goodreads (social media platform for book recs + reviews)
- Our favorite books (on Bookshop.org – support independent bookshops!)
- Top 30 Books About Spain
- The Best Vegan Travel Books
- Travel Reading List Book Discussion (Facebook group)
What follows is an edited version of our podcast conversation, adapted for the written format for readability and clarity.
Why Read Anyway?
First off, let’s talk about some of the benefits of reading and why we advocate for reading in the first place.
Why read a book as opposed to learning things on social media? You can learn things on social media if you’re intentional about it. You can learn things from watching a documentary. What’s the difference between reading a book even versus reading an article?
Reading requires a deep focus and demands your engagement in a way that other formats don’t. You can’t be thinking about your day and reading a book. Reading requires that shuts off your brain to anything else. You immerse yourself and reflect on the words on a page.
The act of reading is a give and take. You’re comparing what’s being conveyed to your own experience, you’re drawing connections, and you’re learning. As you read, you might pause and reflect for a while on a particular passage. The built in space for reflection does not exist when you’re watching a TV show that keeps going unless you actively pause it. Reading is more mentally intensive than other forms of media.
Long form reading is a skill that’s slowly being eroded away as we all want the quickest fixes, the fastest way to gather information. There’s science behind this too. The book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, talks about how the more you practice deep thinking or any kind of deep work, the better you get at it.
You might be experiencing this if you feel like you haven’t been able to read a book in a long time or that it’s hard for you to focus mentally on things without being on your phone, but you find yourself scrolling and skimming online on a regular basis.
If you don’t practice long-form reading, it becomes more difficult to do that. Your brain is a muscle. Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of your brain to adapt. Your brain isn’t just a fixed solid state stone. It gets better at the tasks that you give it.
Of course you’ll get better at scrolling through social media quickly if that’s what you’re spending your time doing. Conversely, you’ll get worse at reading a long-form book if you aren’t doing that.
If you haven’t picked up a book in a while, it might feel uncomfortable. We’ve experienced that when we were reading less. The good news is that your brain very quickly adapts and you can pick it up again. It’s not like you’ll forget how to read if you haven’t read a book in a while!
Finding the Time to Read
We read a lot, with Sam usually reading around 50+ books a year. Often, we are met enviously with the question, “How do you read so much? I could never read that much, I just don’t have the time.”
To that we will say: everybody’s busy. It’s about priorities. Most folks who talk about being too busy to read probably spend more time on their phone than they realize. Or it could be binge watching things that are on mindlessly in the background, while also fiddling with your phone. When we say we don’t have time for something, it often means that we don’t put a priority on it or organize the way we spend our leisure time.
Often this is a result of being overworked.
We come home and we don’t want to think about anything. We default to the same behaviors, the easiest things that take the least decision making as possible. We just want and need to spend all our time decompressing. So that’s a deeper issue and is going to be harder to resolve. That’s going to be hard to get around. But that aside, often we have plenty of time. We just need to be more efficient with our use of time.
One easy way to make more time for reading is to take your social media time turn it into reading time.
Take your social media time and turn it into reading time. As our social media time decreased, our reading time increased. So put down the phone and take up the book. Or trade what you do on your phone: some people like to read books with the Kindle app or listen to audiobooks on their phones.
But all that being said, we want to note that we absolutely do all these things: we watch TV series, we love watching movies, and we (Sam) spend time on social media. None of these things are inherently bad.
It’s about using the technology, not letting the technology use you.
One can easily cycle through life for years, just coming home, turning on Netflix, and going to bed after a couple of hours. Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But most people would like to pick up a new hobby, read more, exercise more, learn a new language, etc., and it’s not going to happen if we don’t make the time for it.
Traveling by Book
Ultimately, our reading habits greatly shapes everything we do. Our love for long form content led us to start this blog and to start our podcast. As you can probably tell, we strongly believe in the great benefits of immersive long form content.
Reading also influences how we travel and where we travel. When we cultivate our leisure time, personal habits, and spend time developing yourself as a person, you’re naturally going to find connections to places in the world that you want to visit.
Reading is a great way to explore places you haven’t been but also revisit places you have been to in order to get to know them in a deeper way. It also encourages you to experience new places that aren’t necessarily just on a top ten list.
Reading While Traveling and Finding Travel Inspiration in Books
We prefer reading on Kindles for the separation from the phone and because it’s the easiest way with traveling. We can’t really travel with many books. We’re often in countries where English isn’t the language. E-books are how we are able to read no matter where we are! Often, we get these out of the library (check with your local library to see if they offer this, most do now).
We try to read a book set in the country that we’re visiting, either before or during our stay. Often we search out non-fiction historic books to give us context. Learning the history of a place is an important part of actively decolonizing your travel.
Neither of us are the biggest fans of travel memoirs where someone travels to a bunch of different places and “finds” themselves.
I don’t believe in finding yourself. I think it’s about creating yourself. It’s not like we just have some ephemeral us out there that we need to find. I think that’s just a strange concept, but that’s just me. I just don’t connect with those kinds of memoirs either.-Sam
A lot of people obviously do like those kinds of travel reads, so we’re not trying to be judgmental at all! But for whatever reason, those books don’t connect with us.
Maybe it’s that sense of the outsider coming in and creating some experience against a backdrop of a separate place. We’d rather read a book written by a native of the country. Maybe the book is not even about travel at all, but is set in the country and the setting is a big part of the book.
For example, we want to go back to places in Spain not just because we used to live there, but because we’ve read books that take place there and make us reminisce.
Related: Best 30 Books About Spain
All This I Will Give to You by Dolores Redondo is one of our favorite examples of this. The book is set in Galicia in northern Northwest Spain. It’s a very different experience than the rest of Spain that most people think of, which is much hotter and drier. Galicia is wet and green and one of the seven Celtic nations.
By cultivating a reading habit and following your natural curiosity, you’ll find yourself reading books that you might not have otherwise and indirectly get inspiration for future trips that way. This is more organic than trying to actively search out inspiration and may lead to you more off-beat places and places to which you’ve developed a personal connection. Searching out and visiting those places will make the trip that more meaningful.
Reading can also give you a deeper understanding for the place in which you already live. This can be through learning about the natural environment, as Jenny O’Dell discusses in her book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy. You could learn about different cultures present in your own city or region or dive deeper into the history. Deepening your knowledge of any particular topic – whether its a place, person, culture, or anything else – will give you a greater appreciation for that topic.
Travel inspiration can even come from fiction books, even ones set in made up worlds! Writers live in the real world, and can’t help but use the real world as inspiration for their fictional worlds. For example, one book series that Sam read recently, the Nevernight Chronicle, takes inspiration from ancient Rome and Venice.
Leave your favorite books on travel and place in the comments below, we’d love to hear them!