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Never Read on the Beach (and other tips for a Book Vacation)

Updated: Nov 19, 2020


You: What do you mean, a ‘book vacation’? Reading is like, my whole thing.


Me: No, no. A vacation where you bring books.


You: So like… a vacation.


Me: Not just any vacation. A Book Vacation.


You: … See, now you’re just winding me up.


Most of my friends execute vacations the way they execute their careers. Relentlessly. I’ve seen it happen more so to younger people that haven’t vacationed much, and it definitely parallels my own experience. Usually, young vacationers spend an uncommon amount of money to get to a destination and about the same on room and board. There’s pressure to make it count. Americans tend to conflate value with quantity. More unique experiences equals more value. No time to waste. They get up early, see one castle, two museums, three and half churches (one was closed for renovation) a pretzel factory, and a ball of twine, eat four-to-five meals, try all the coffees, buy gifts for Jill, Jill’s husband, and Jill’s dog, drink like fishes, go to sleep (maybe), and repeat substituting Jill for friend-x until the plane carries their slouching bodies back home.


Emmet: Well, I can’t feel my knees anymore, but I’m pretty sure we saw every public toilet in Paris.


Sydney (rolls over): Can you shut up please? I just want to enjoy this pillow for five minutes.


Emmet: Oooo. Your conference call starts in two minutes. Good news, though, I made you this barrel of coffee. All we had was Folgers.


Sydney: Screw you, Emmet; I can smell your Starbucks. You know we can’t afford that anymore.


I’ve been fortunate enough (or foolish enough, if my bank account is any indication) to travel frequently with my family. While the Disney empire has taken far too much of our money, I regret none of our decisions to travel abroad. Naturally, we got better at vacationing with each subsequent experience, but that first one was brutal.


This first vacation I thought was going to be all relaxation on the beach and piña coladas. I packed four paperback books and one hardback. This was 2003; email (or e-mail, as it was called) was hardly a thing let alone e-readers. The weight of my backpack as I slogged through that first humid airport had me teetering on the edge of regret. But no, this would be worth it.


The entire trip, airplane not included, I cracked a book once.


There I was, finally reclined in a beach lounger after two days of non-stop ‘fun’, the waves crashing not thirty feet away, and an iced coffee in my cup holder. (The beach bar was a bit pricey when I was 23).


I exhaled and let myself relax.


I propped the book up on my chest.


I opened my book.


I seared my retinas.


Have you ever tried to read a paper book in full sunlight? Sunglasses or not, it’s rough. Well, what about a sun umbrella? If you can afford one at a resort, it almost works for a minute until the servers start coming over to ask if you need something more alcoholic, kids run by and kick sand on your pages, and your chin and back and butt begin dripping sweat because it’s effing hot on a beach.

The rest of the trip we spent trying to cram-in every interesting detail of this foreign destination from historic foot paths to the open air market where every vendors sells the same cheap finger drums. I remember on the airplane home thinking, “At least I get to commute an hour to work tomorrow in my air conditioned car.”


Do you want to know the biggest problem with that first vacation? There was no scope. We were awash in choices and our guiding principals extended to: get our money’s worth. This particular pressure to make a vacation count (a hyper-American condition) is not going away. But you can take the edge off if you narrow the scope of your vacation by setting a theme.


A theme? Yes, like “Castle Vacation” or “Best-Burgers Vacation” or “History Vacation”. If you narrow your scope and stick to it, you can slow the pace of the vacation to one that doesn’t require an at-home staycation to recover from the vacation. And of course, my favorite theme is “Book Vacation”.


A Book Vacation is all about setting, and so this theme really opens up a lot of destinations. When you’re feeling safe to travel, cheap fairs are everywhere if you aren’t picky about where you’re going. And if air travel isn’t right for you, a Book Vacation lets you pick a drive-able destination. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter if a destination doesn’t offer a lot to do (unless you have little kids, in which case you should consider a different theme), because finding the setting is half the fun.


And just like those recipe blogs where the pay-off is at the end of three hundred paragraphs you don’t care about (seriously, why do these bakers think a cookie recipe requires a novella about their grandparents?), here’s my List of tips for a Book Vacation:

  1. Be prepared to compromise: You already knew this was coming. You can’t go to a place like Tokyo and skip Odaiba. (I mean, what other chance will you have of seeing a full scale mech?) And chances are, unless you’re alone or your travel companion is incredibly accommodating, you’re going to have to do someone else’s things. But those don’t have to be all-day things, and you can execute Tip 3 whilst being the accommodating one.

  2. Schedule yourself: You can’t decide where you’re doing all this reading if you don’t explore (I guess you could choose your hotel room if it’s straight baller). You’ll want to schedule that exploration and the reading that follows, even if you aren’t a scheduler. Scheduling builds-in that little external motivator and signals intent to our travel companions that this is happening. “I am reading during this trip, and not you, your pouty face, or your margaritas are going to stop me.”

  3. Ready, set, explore: Place yourself somewhere walkable, whether that’s an urban center, an ancient hill top village, or even a ski lodge, and walk around with an eye for cozy corners. Because your purpose is exploration, you may discover things about your destination that you never would have if you were just doing touristy stuff. This is likely to turn out more fun than the actual reading. Better authors know that endorphin centers operate at their relative peaks just before the climax. (Of a story). So, while you’re scouting your perfect reading nook or café table, the anticipation is building.

  4. Have a backup nook: Not every day is going to be good for outdoor reading. Not every read nook is a good choice at all times of the day. If you get to your nook of choice and discover it is not what you thought, don’t hesitate. Move to plan B and maybe consider this spot again later.

  5. Headphones = good: I have focus issues. Nothing derails my ability to read like a nearby conversation. A library might be too loud for me. But since silence is rarely a component of a public reading nook, I always have earbuds in my pocket and a white noise app on my phone. Worse, if you’re near a tourist destination, you should absolutely expect people. Lots of people. The worst people at the worst moment. Make your peace with that now, because you can’t control it, and be ready to turn up the calming binaural rhythms humming from your relaxation app.

  6. Pack a hardcopy: The world has grown very accommodating of mobile reading. On most airlines, you can read during take-off/landing. A number of mobile device chargers now accept both of the major electrical voltage standards (around 110v/220v, btw). But if your book is running on a battery, always bet on failure. That may seem pessimistic, but you know damn well that you’ll only need a paperback book if you decide not to pack one.

  7. Set a timer: This one is optional. You may have the luxury of disappearing into your book, but if you don’t, set your timer. The worst thing you can do when your travel companions leave you alone to read for a couple hours is return late. And if you’re stressing the clock, you won’t be able to live in the moment. Set a timer to relieve yourself of the burden.

  8. Read: This one seems pretty straight forward, but the tip is more about mindful release. Once you’ve found that perfect nook - a café table next to the lapping canals of Venice, on a blanket beneath a whispering baobab tree in Cape Town, the front porch swing of a New England B&B in autumn - don’t think twice about allowing yourself complete absorption. You’re not shutting out the amazing place around you. You are becoming a part of it. The book you are reading will be inexorably linked to that place, and every time you see it on a shelf, you’ll remember the day it kept you company on the most relaxing vacation of your life.

  9. Never read on the beach: But if you do, stay away from people and for the love of Twain, bring an umbrella.


Christian Andreo is an author of Young Adult novels spanning contemporary fiction, science fiction, urban fantasy, and paranormal romance. You can find his books on Amazon.

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