Reading on the Road: How Fulltime RV Families Manage Books

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Suburbia ditchers are usually curious homeschoolers who love reading. How do you feed the need to read without overloading your steed?

We are readers.

I like dystopian young adult books. Mike reads science fiction, mysteries, and business-related books. Miranda reads just about anything.

Yet we live in 300 square feet with a limited payload. I can’t stuff every nook and cranny with physical books or we’d be overweight.

What’s an RVing bookworm to do?

Let’s talk about physical books, eBooks, and audio books.

1. Physical Books

Ah, the feel. The smell. The weight. The lack of a battery that goes dead.

There’s nothing like a real book printed on real paper.

Choosing to live in an RV doesn’t mean you have to give up that reading experience. But you can’t keep dozens and dozens of books around.

You’ll have to rotate books out as you finish them and try to carry only what you are actively reading.

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And maybe a few favorites that you can’t part with. Tucked away between your bed and nightstand where no one else can see.

Or so I’ve heard.

Anyway.

Here are the ways we’ve found to enjoy physical books while traveling.

Libraries

Libraries are still great places for travelers. How you use them will depend on how long you are staying in one place.

We take advantage of libraries in three ways:

1. Day Use
If we are on the move, we’ll visit libraries in a day-use fashion. We’ll show up when the doors open and stay as long as we can.

We extend our time by packing a lunch and tailgating in the parking lot. This gives us a full day to enjoy a book without having to check it out.

Not enough time to finish a book? Just pick it up at the next library down the road.

2. Checking Out Books
If we are in an area for a couple months we’ll see about getting local library cards.

Libraries are geared towards residents, it’s true.  But what librarian can say no to a book-hungry kid hugging their favorite and wanting to take it home? They’ll usually find a way to work with you.

Our summer in Fremont, MI the local library used our address at the campground and gave us unlimited library cards.

We took a camphosting job in Durango, CO and barely setup camp before heading down to the local library. Hearing we were seasonal employees, they gave us limited-use library cards until we brought in a pay stub from the camphosting position. From there on out we had resident-level access.

Some libraries also offer library cards to non-residents for a cost. The costs do vary. 

I found:

3. Friend of the Library Stores
While at the library, check out their bookstore. Buy ‘em cheap, read them, and donate them down the road. 

You can also use BookSaleFinder.com to see if there are upcoming book sales where you are headed.

Thrift Stores

We joke that we store our stuff at Goodwill until we need it.

Books are no exception.

We often visit thrift stores as we travel. Miranda heads to the book section first thing. She rarely leaves without a new book, and usually donates an already-read book to make room for the new one.

Little Free Libraries

Have you seen any of those “birdhouses” full of books?

We came across one at one of our Great River Road stops and found a book we enjoyed. We learned that the little birdhouse was actually a Little Free Library - and the website has a locator for more of them across the country.

Campground Book Swaps

Most private campgrounds have a book exchange area - often in the laundry room. Usually the books are romance novels, but we have found a few gems.

We’ve even seen racks of books at some state parks during the summer. They’re usually around the camphost site.

Private Libraries

If you have an extensive library of books you don’t want to give up, consider storing them with friends or family. Once on the road you can ship books back and forth as needed.

Storing Physical Books

Storing books in an RV can be a puzzle.

Books can be stored in:

  • Bedside stands
  • Under beds
  • In existing cabinets (the small ones over the couch in a slide-out is a popular spot)
  • In outside/underbelly storage compartments
  • In the tow or towed vehicle

Before you choose a spot consider:

  • How often will someone want one of these books?
  • Are these books the kids can grab anytime?
  • Are these books part of everyday schoolwork?
  • Are you adding weight to an already-heavy spot?
  • If a book is dropped while getting it out of that spot is something going to get broken?

We like using clear-sided containers (like the Sterilite brand) when storing books in out of the way places. Being able to see what’s in the container without having to drag it out is nice.

2. E-books

eBooks are the obvious choice for travelers that want to be light on their feet. We’ve found several sources for good eBooks:

Kindle

During our first year of travel we purchased a basic Kindle. We added a second shortly after.

No, it’s not a “real book”. But it’s hard to argue the convenience of carrying hundreds of books on a small portable device.

We do have the Kindle App on other devices but prefer the distraction-free e-ink reading experience of our Kindle.

Overdrive

When we have an active library card we use Overdrive to check-out library books electronically.

Prime Reading

Do you have an Amazon Prime membership to get the fast shipping? It’s a lifesaver for RVing folks.

Now there’s an additional benefit to being Amazon Prime members.

Amazon recently added Prime Reading to the list of benefits. You can read an overview of the program or browse available titles.

Kindle Unlimited

Amazon also has a Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program. Currently the price per month is $9.99 + tax.

The main difference between Kindle Unlimited and Prime Reading is the number of available titles. The Kindle program has one million while Prime Reading only has around one thousand.

Other Sources

We found other source for eBooks through a recent discussion on Facebook :

World Public Library

Are you aware of the World Public Library? If you don’t mind reading a book in a PDF form, checking out books here might be a good option for you.

Site registration and $8.95 annual dues are required to download books.

3. Audiobooks

Traveling families have travel time to fill. Podcasts and audiobooks are a great way to do that.

We listen to a chapter of a book every night to help us fall asleep. It helps turn our brains off from a busy day while letting us rest our tired eyes.

Libravox

Libravox.org hosts free public domain audiobooks read by volunteers.

We use the iPhone App to choose from the 15,000+ titles available.

The Libravox app also lists selected stories from Podiobooks.com. The Podiobook offerings are usually read by the writer and feature higher production values with sound effects etc.

Reader quality varies. Some chapters sound like the final assignment in an ESL class. Other readers are professional voice artists.

Some of our favorite readers:

Some of our favorite series:

Audible

Another Amazon.com book-related offering is Audible.

We’ve never used this since it’s $14.95/month - but if you are after more recent offerings or business-related books it might be worthwhile. They are currently offering two books free for signing up.

Speaking of Reading

This blog post almost turned into a book itself!

Thanks for hanging in there.

Did we miss anything about traveling with books? Let us know in the comments below.

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2 Comments Reading on the Road: How Fulltime RV Families Manage Books

  1. Picture of Aaron ThompsonAaron ThompsonNovember 28, 2016

    I’ve recently discovered 2nd & Charles (I call them Second Hand Charlie’s). They have a HUGE selection of used books, and if you hit the sales, you can get paperbacks for $1-3 each. After I’ve read them, I peel off the price stickers and take them back for store credit.

  2. Picture of SarahSarahJanuary 09, 2017

    We were converted to Kindles when we started travelling but still have lots of (far too many for the space!) real books.  Will have to look into LibriVox - thanks for the heads up. Project Gutenberg is good too.

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