RTW & Books

Travel author Rolf Potts is currently in the midst of a round-the-world trip in which he isn’t carrying a single piece of luggage. The No Baggage Challenge is sponsored by travel clothing company ScotteVest and the travel site BootsnAll. Potts is wearing clothing that is both flexible for the various climates he is visiting, as well as full of pockets that allow him to carry everything needs to make his trip. The blog has become a must read for me, as it’s both well-written and full of very high-level videos from the trip. For background, check out this post about why Rolf is traveling with no luggage and this one explaining how he’s managed to pack for a six week trip with no bags.

As he’s traveling without bags, it’s not surprising that Rolf is forgoing any physical books. I’ve always traveled with books. Reading while I travel is actually one of my favorite things about traveling – as I’m able to devote more attention to what’s in front of me when I’m not at my desk or in an apartment with laptops nearby. Now Rolf is still able to read digital books on his iPod, but his latest video includes an interesting comment about how he’s missing physical books (from 0:56 to 1:22 of the video):

One interesting thing that happened while I was at a safari lodge in South Africa is that I was, I walked past this giant bookshelf full of travel books. And up until that moment I didn’t really miss travel books, but there was something about the physicality of seeing those books and taking them off the shelf that and looking at them and smelling them that made me realize that I missed books, maybe in the physical sense more than the reading sense because I can read books on my iPod. But something about seeing an old school bookshelf sort of got to me.

I can relate to this. I spent 2007 and 2008 working on political campaigns. I was based first in Washington, DC and then Anchorage, Alaska. In both places I was renting furnished apartments month-to-month. Other than my computer and clothes, I had basically nothing of my own where I was living for the better part of two years. I’m a big reader and I did accumulate a pretty respectable stack of books over that time period that moved with me from the District to Alaska, but this was just a small fraction of my library. As time went on, I found myself developing a deep longing to be back in an apartment filled with not just my furniture and artwork, but especially my books. This went from being a slight twinge to, towards the summer of 2008, I’d say a pretty strong nesting desire to be surrounded by the hundreds of books I’d read for work, for pleasure and for education over the last number of years. In many ways, it was the strongest pull towards home that I’d felt in my adult life. Whether the desire to be around my books was a proxy for something larger or the real desire in itself is something I can’t answer, but the phenomenon intrigued me.

I’ve never really traveled without a physical book. On my last trip to the west coast (last week), I went on the plane with only my iPad (and a magazine for the periods of the flight when electronics were prohibited). But beyond the iPad, in my luggage I had a copy of Huey Long’s autobiography, Every Man A King. I’m traveling to New England this weekend and plan to only bring my iPad for reading, so we’ll see how it goes. I have bigger plans to rely on this alone when I go to Japan later this fall, though if I get really adventurous, I may just try going with my iPhone.

One question I have is how usable electronic versions of travel books are – I’ve never used a travel guide on a mobile device, but I have to imagine that they exist and are functional.

Of course, the natural question following Rolf Potts’ experience in South Africa is will I miss physical books if I end up traveling for a week or two without them? I doubt the time frame is long enough to really experience the sort of withdrawal he references above.

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