How to Build Your Vacation Book Stack

hammock reading

Vacation reading can be the best reading of the year. There’s unique opportunities and challenges. There’s pockets of time to read waiting in an airport or on the road. At your destination there’s beach sitting, hammock swinging, couch lounging, staying up late and sleeping in. Great ways to indulge your hobby. 

But if your goal is to build stack of winners to take on vacation, how do you do that? 

Just like shopping for craft supplies is a different hobby than crafting, so building that book stack is a different hobby than reading. But, it can be just as satisfying. If you enjoy browsing, finding out what’s out there, take up the mantle of a treasure hunter and enjoy the journey as much as the prize. 

There are a few key steps to take in order to build that stack of winners. 

How to Build Your Vacation Book Stack
Assess Your Present Condition
Name What Matters
Choose Escape, Entertainment or Education
Decide if You Need Some Bibliotherapy
Assess Time and Possibilities for Reading
Choose Your Genres
Tap Your Best Book Whisperers
Answer the Print, Ebook or Audiobook Question
Decide How Many Books to Take on Vacation
Consider Some Curated Lists
Find a Vehicle for Capturing Your List

Assess Your Present Condition

How are your stress levels and emotional state?

The amount of stress in my life determines how complex or heavy a book I can read. The more stressed I am, the more I need a straight forward story without a lot of confusing characters or complicated plot twists or time and setting shifts. When my stress is lower, I can take on those longer, more complex or heavier stories. 

Emotional state is important, too. Are you grieving? Healing from physical, mental or emotional trauma? Overwhelmed? Dealing with hard decisions, relationships or situations? Do you need some vicarious emotional release? Entering into someone else’s story–fictional or true–can help you express emotions that are under the surface.  

Name What Matters

I’m a big fan of Kendra Adachi’s Lazy Genius principles. Name What Matters is foundational.

According to Kendra, first you list what could matter, then what does matter and finally what matters most. When you have clarity on what matters most, you can release your expectations for what matters least. You can laser in on the top priorities. Your odds of succeeding go way up if you’re trying to do less. When you define the target you know whether or not you’re hitting it. 

What matters to you as you build your vacation book stack?

Choose Escape, Entertainment or Education

When you know your stress level and emotional state and you’ve identified what matters, you can choose broad categories of books that will meet you where you are. 

So if emotionally you need a literary escape you’ll be looking for an engaging novel. 

If you enjoy the dopamine hits of learning new things, you’ll be tracking down some non-fiction.  

My educational reading is usually driven by specific problems that I’m facing. But, sometimes it’s just curiosity. I read Columbine curious to know what precipitated that tragedy. What was the story behind the young men and their families? 

I read Into Thin Air fueled by curiosity about a true adventure, but ended up learning a lot about leadership and teamwork. 

woman in blue and white floral dress reading book on beach
Photo by Taryn Elliott on

Decide if You Need Some Bibliotherapy 

Do you need a vicarious emotional release? Do you need to borrow some courage from fictional or actual heroes? A well-written memoir or biography can be inspiring. Try Educated or Hillbilly Elegy. Sometimes you just need to join Bilbo or Frodo on a quest, face those dragons, defeat the armies and throw the ring in the fire. You can return to your life with borrowed courage. The hobbits won’t mind sharing theirs with you.

Assess Time and Possibilities for Reading

Are you traveling alone? Who are you vacationing with? How much time traveling, how much time resting, lying on the beach, partying with others? Will you spend any time reading with others? Audiobooks in the car? Bedtime stories?

The critical element when reading with others is to remember the Venn diagram and concentrate on the sweet spot where the circles overlap and everyone’s happy with the choices.  Choose the books that please everyone in the car. Of course, everyone could have their own ear buds and their own choices of entertainment, but with some extra effort, you could build some connection and good memories if everyone in the vehicle is enjoying the same audiobook together.

Another critical point is to have several options and quit anything that isn’t working for everyone. Pull out another option.  

book on white armchair
Photo by Mister Mister on

Choose Your Genres

Once you’ve determined what you need from your reading on this vacation, pick your genres. Deep dive non-fiction into an area of interest? Breezy beach read? Twisty Sci Fi? Cozy Mystery? Fantasy? Even better is a good mix of all your favorites. It could be that at the beginning of vacation all you can handle are compelling escape novels, but by the end, you’re ready to learn something that will be helpful for your life. 

Tap your Best Book Whisperers

It’s worth it to cultivate some well-read influencers who will point you in the right direction to your own best reads. How do you build your normal book stack? Pay attention to endorsements and reviews. Best seller lists are usually not the way to go. Just because a lot of people bought a book doesn’t mean it will suit your taste.  Don’t leave your reading life in the hands of algorithms. The people manipulating the algorithms do not have your best interests at heart. 

Answer the Print, Ebook or Audiobook Question

Will you have internet on the trip and at your destination? Electricity? Does the weight of your luggage matter? Or is space in your suitcase at a premium? Of course, weigh in your preferences to digital, audio or paper, but vacation is a good time to stretch your normal choices. Load up your E reader with library or purchased books to lighten your physical load. Car trips are ideal for audiobooks.

a vintage camera near the woven bag
Photo by Anna Tarazevich on

Decide How Many Books You Should Take on Vacation

Lit Hub has published an interesting book to day ratio ranging from 12 books for 5 days to 2 books for 5 days, depending on what kind of vacation you’re taking. 

What you want to avoid is running out of books or carrying too much weight. If you read mostly ebooks, that eliminates some of the problem. If you’ve loaded up an Ereader with books, be prepared for the possibility of the battery going dead, other malfunction or loss of the EReader. 

Have some print books as a back up. Slim paperbacks are a good choice if you’re flying with weight restrictions. Sometimes heavy, thoughtful reading is a good choice here rather than breezy reads that you can fly through at 100 pages an hour. 

Consider Some Curated Lists

If you’re short on time a curated list might work.

I’ve compiled book lists on my site. They provide a good jumping off place if this isn’t a good time for research. 

Clean Beach Reads: Classics, Literary Fiction and Breezy Reads might be just the ticket. 

Books Like Atomic Habits is part of my read alike series. Check this out if you love to learn about better life management from thought leaders. 

Or Can’t Miss Books for Busy Christian Women. This list has lots of non-fiction over a variety of genres as well as a little bit of fiction. 

If you’re on a road trip as a family with kids, look at Best Family Read Alouds and Where to Start

Find a Vehicle for Capturing Your List

I wrote a post about how to organize your reading list with all the options from simple to complex and analog to digital. 

Read that post here

In a nutshell, notebooks, planners and bullet journals are popular options if you prefer pen and paper. 

Digital solutions include your phone, library holds list, computer spreadsheets, Pinterest, Notion, Trello, GoodReads, LibraryThing and StoryGraph. 

Some solutions are going to work better if you want to have a To Be Read list going all the time. 

Other options might be considered if you only occasionally build a book stack, like going on vacation. 

The bottom line is the better you know yourself, the better your book stack will be. Take into account good experiences and bad from other vacations and pivot in the direction of the winners. 

Happy Reading!

Recent Posts