How Many Books Should I Bring When I Fly?

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Dear Literary Lady,

I never know how many books to bring when I fly. What’s your recommendation for how many books to bring on board?

—BooksOnAPlane, New York, NY

Dear BooksOnAPlane,

Great question! This is an exacting and demanding science into which I’ve done a lot of research. My tried-and-true algorithm is: Bring 100 pages of reading per hour of travel.

Let me explain. The number of books you bring depends on the length of your flight. For flights around three hours long, one book of around 300 pages will do nicely. Most books are about this length and they all weigh less than 1 pound. That will keep your carry-on light and keep you entertained during pre-boarding time at the gate, during the flight itself, and while waiting for luggage.

For travel over four hours, you will need two average-size books to hold your attention—and if you have a layover, you’ll need to tack on some pages. Aim to have at least 600 pages total so you don’t end up browsing souvenir keychains for forty minutes between delayed flights.

For international flights, be sure to tack on some extra pages because you have to check in early. For a twelve-hour international flight, bring about 1300 pages.

Also, if you’re going to a country where you can’t easily get reading material, always bring extra and always prepare for the flight back. I regularly fly to Japan with 1,300 pages in my carry-on and 1,300 pages in my checked bag. Yes, that’s about 8 pounds of books on board. That’s not crazy, that’s PREPARED.

Now if you don’t have the suitcase space or the inclination to travel with a miniature library, travel with one gigantic, dense book. Something like David Foster Wallace’s thousand-page Infinite Jest or James Joyce’s 700-page masterpiece Ulysses. Traveling with just one literary magnum opus can reduce your luggage and you can conquer a personal reading milestone.

So remember: Hrs of Travel x 100 = Total Number of Pages to Bring So You Don’t Have to Read SkyMall.

Love and Paperbacks,
Literary Lady

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  • Simi

    I always have this problem! Friends keep telling me to get eReader, but they don’t understand, it’s not the same. And I have flown to foreign countries and sought out bookstores and books written in English, if I haven’t brought enough.

  • vannest

    Uh, B&N, don’t you think you should mention the Nook? Simi, have you tried an e-reader? I used to poo-poo them, too, but now I love them! Have my books with me no matter where I go!

  • Joel Cunningham

    Famous last words: “Oh, I’m sure we’ll find a good book exchange in Costa Rica.”

  • ElaineReads

    Take twice as much as you think you might need. I ran out on a flight once and was reduced to reading the on flight magazines.

    I agree with the eReader suggestion. You’ll never run out of books with one.

  • Heather Scott-Penselin

    I would take my nook.

  • Heather Scott-Penselin

    When I didn’t have a nook. I did take a bunch of books but still ended up buying another one at the airport for the flight home.

  • Helen Gaskins Washington

    While I agree that there is nothing like reading an actual book, my nook has saved me so much crucial packing/carry-on space. Plus I never know what mood I will be in for reading and the nook saves my propensity to change my mind. But I do love your algorithm…I will remember it and use it! Thanks!

  • pcdiva1964

    2 – one for 1st take off and landing stupid no electronic zone and one for 2nd take off and landing etc. The rest of the time you use your e reader so you don’t have to haul around your precious books and can also save your precious back! I realize an e-reader isn’t the same as a real book but it is so much better for travel. I was anti electronic for years until I took an e reader on a plane. Sold!

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