Backpacking | How Book Swaps Saved Me From Boredom
I love to read. I’ve blogged about books I’ve loved before and writers who have fascinated me. I’ve made it more than clear that despite Kindles being so much more efficient in this day and age, that I really can’t bear the thought of losing the suspense of turning the page to find out what happens next. I love the feeling when you reach that final page, the satisfaction of slamming the book closed on the table and that temporary feeling of not knowing how you’ll fill the void now it’s over… Until you pick up the next book in the pile. Perhaps it’s something to do with studying for a degree in English that really makes me a traditionalist when it comes to reading. Whether it’s a crisp new copy from a bookshop, or a battered old classic from the library – they each have their place and are all welcome on my bookshelves. It was a pretty sad thing to say goodbye to a whole box of books before coming travelling – I sold them at car boot sales and online to pay for my trip – a worthy swap to get them a new home – but I do always feel sad to say goodbye to books. I’m a bit of a hoarder and I can’t lie, I’ve always had a dream of having a library of my own one day. A place of peace and tranquility to escape the madness of everyday life in the pages of a good novel.
The only problem is, loving books in paper form just isn’t very practical for travelling when you only have a backpack to hold all your worldly possessions. When packing I had to be realistic about how many books I could justify slipping in my bag when I knew how much I would have to carry it around in Asia – in the end I packed just three books including my Thailand travel guide. It was a heartbreaking decision for a girl who used to pack half a suitcase of books for a two week holiday, but I comforted myself in the knowledge that I would have my iPad and could read online if I became desperate. I made myself read slowly, which wasn’t hard with so much going on around me to distract me from the books, and for a while it didn’t bother me whether I had books with me or not. But once I settled into travelling life and started having all this time to fill, I dived straight back into the pages of my books for entertainment. But when I ran out of books, that was the moment I panicked.
The good thing is that there are so many other travellers out there in the same position, so, if like me you are a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to holding a good novel in your hands – don’t worry! If you’re planning a big trip to Asia you’ll find countless books piled up in hostels that have been left behind by travellers past and you’ll find book shops all over with huge collections of books available for purchase, or even for book swaps. There are lots of options for refreshing your collection and as well as picking up books from these sources, you’ll also meet lots of travellers along the way who will be looking for other travellers to swap books with, or even those who just want to give books to a new home to save from carrying them further. I found that I met several travellers along the way who were about to visit countries I had just spent weeks passing through, while they had just come from my next destination – often we swapped travel guides and provided each other with top tips and hostel recommendations to go with them.When my books came to an end, I was in Thailand and desperate for something new to read so I swapped one of my books and picked up a new one, which I later left at hostel for someone else to read. Another time, when I was in Vietnam, I spotted a book I had wanted to read for ages in a hostel and got so excited about it that the guy who ran the place told me I could have it. My best book swap actually happened when I was in Cambodia and stumbled across a tiny little bookshop attached to a cafe and couldn’t believe my luck. I struck gold and found copies of Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – both books I had been wanting to read for a while and just days after I had been reading an article about the man himself. Then after a bit more digging, I found a perfect copy of Shantaram, which is based on a true story and is one of the most beautifully written books I have read for a while. It’s my book of the moment and one I had been eager to read ever since chatting to a guy in Vietnam who was reading it and hearing his rave reviews. I’m just a few hundred pages into it and I’m gripped by the amazing use of language and imagery, and it even has me curious about what it would be like to visit India, a country which hadn’t really been on my radar before now.
Having these books has been a bit of a lifeline for me on long journeys and lazy days, and I know many other travellers who feel the same. I always feel that the mark of a good traveller comes in the form of the book he or she is reading – often it is easy to misread people at a first glance. But a look at the cover of the book they are reading tells me all I need to know about a person. While travelling it is so easy to get lost in a repetitive lifestyle of laying in the sun all day and drinking all night, but never really stretching yourself, or challenging your mind. Just like it’s important to exercise your body, it’s so important to keep your mind active and how better to do that than by reading and delving into a whole new world in the pages you hold in your hands? Other travellers are a fantastic source of book recommendations – I now have a whole list of books I need to read and will have to pick up a couple soon. I’m intrigued to see how book swaps work in Australia – or if they are even a thing out here!
What are you reading at the moment? Any good travel book recommendations? What do you prefer – a real book or a Kindle?