Travel Technology

Free Books for Travel

This post is quite popular, so I was inspired to republish it with some updated info about book swapping

bookI love reading, and books are one of my favorite ways of passing time on long flights, train and bus rides. When I’m traveling alone a good book makes a fine dinner companion. And escaping into a book is a nice retreat after a day of exploring a new city. For years now I’ve been using sharing services to get my books free or almost free: the library and Paperback Swap.

The public library was sharing well before anyone came up with the term sharing ecoBelize librarynomy. Some libraries are fancy, and others are barely one room with a screen door to keep out flies (like the one on Caye Caulker in Belize). But they all offer the same great service: free books to read. When I’m traveling it’s tough to check out books to take along without worrying about the due date and damage to the books. Also I prefer to leave my books for other people wherever I finish them, rather than lugging them around as extra weight in my bag. Sometimes I can pick up a new book at a hostel if they have a book exchange shelf. Fortunately public libraries are now allowing people to check out books on readers like the Kindle and smartphones.

More than 11,000 public libraries in the United States offer books through the digital service Overdrive. You install Overdrive on your device and log in to your local library (you need a library card to do this) and you can check out and download books. You can create wish lists, put books on hold, and check out up to 10 at a time. When the books are due you lose access and are prompted to delete them. All you need is wifi. It’s brilliant!

I’ve been using Overdrive for years on my phone, mostly for audio books which I find very useful in situations where reading a physical book would be difficult: workouts, insufficient light, in vehicles where reading makes me motion sick, etc. With Overdrive I never worry about running out of things to read on my trips because I can just log in and check out new books at any time.

paperbackswapFor those attached to the paper form of reading I recommend Paperback Swap. They facilitate exchanges of books through the mail. You pay the postage to send your used books to whoever requests them, and then you get a credit for each book sent. You can spend your credits to order any of the almost 4.5 million books listed on the site. Even though I’m likely to give away the books I take on trips (once I’m done reading them) rather than shlep them home in my luggage, I always have an excess of credits on Paperback Swap as it’s eliminated any desire to hoard books because a book shared through the website is one more book I can read for free (really for about $2.80 in postage).

PaperBack Swap recently started charging users, so technically as of 2015 this service is no longer free. But the fees are very small, and I certainly don’t begrudge the folks behind this great site the opportunity to cover their costs. You can either pay 49 cents per swap, or you can purchase a membership. For $12 you get 30 free swaps, and for $20 you get unlimited free swaps. There are a bunch of other incentives attached to the memberships, but any way you do it this is still a bargain.

I’ve been a member of Paperback Swap for eight years and my account says I’ve sent 187 books out and received 156 books in that time. I know there are a number of book swap sites but I haven’t looked at other options since I joined Paperback Swap. Paperback Swap works well for me, but if anyone has other recommendations feel free to list them in the comments.