This is a question as timeless as it is vexing, particularly if your work life is book-adjacent. Book critic extraordinaire Kate Tuttle claims to have finally pulled it off, citing a 6-to-5 books-to-days ratio (to the shock and admiration of her followers on Twitter). There are, of course, many variables to consider, starting with the type of holiday you’re planning; for our purposes today, we’ll consider:
A) The all-inclusive poolside retreat, with family
B) The encoupled tour of large and important cities
C) The solo hike/bike through vistas beautiful and majestic.
The all-inclusive poolside retreat, with family.
This is a dangerous one, and you’d be well-served to overpack. Even if you love your family very much, the sybaritic poolside/beachside vacation can quickly turn from sun-filled leisure to stress-sodden nightmare—the combination of headphones and book can provide at least some small barrier to the incessant needling of your nearest and formerly dearest.
Pro-tip: pack a bunch of shorter novels, the easier to lay across your face as you fake sleep. Suggested ratio: 12 books for 5 days.
The encoupled tour of large and important cities.
So, let’s assume you’re in love, or some approximation of love. When you’re not having sex on beds strewn with weird-shaped pillows you’ll probably be having a lot of Before Sunrise-esque conversations as you wander assorted strasses and allees. HOWEVER. You never know when you might run into a bad case of food poisoning or a rain-soaked weekend in Ghent. I love to read fiction set in whichever city/country I’m heading to (Under the Volcano in Oaxaca was… a journey) but it’s important you not overpack on this front, as too many books sends the wrong message to your partner.
Pro tip: though you might be tempted to pack no books, and leave your reading in the hands of fate/used expat bookstores, you might end up with Leon Uris or Snow Falling in Cedars. So don’t do that. Suggested ratio: 5 books for 5 days.
The solo hike/bike through vistas beautiful and majestic.
Congratulations for finally taking this long-dreamed of journey into the wild (and into your own head); while you’re there (your head), you’ll definitely want to have some company. And while you might be tempted to bring along one of those weighty classics you’ve never gotten around to reading, DON’T DO THAT. You don’t want plot and you don’t want weight. You want poetry and aphorism, the kind of fragmentary writing that helps open up your own sense of the world, that helps you to see. And seriously, you don’t want a lot of weight, so it’s good to have two or three slim-but-deep volumes you can dip in and out of, and return to as needed.
Pro tip: bring along a slim journal of your own; as you find the words of others warming up your own observational muscles, you might just want to start writing down your deep thoughts. Suggested ratio: 2 books (plus notebook) for 5 days.