Minimalist Living - Family Travel Lifestyle - Books

August 19, 2011

family travel lifestyle and books

If one chooses to live a family travel lifestyle like we do, then one must learn to live a minimalist lifestyle as well. Minimalism has become very popular today and I enjoy minimalists like Zen HabitsRowdyKittens and Miss Minimalist , but adding non-stop, extended international travel with a young, school-age  child and as a family, means being creative and innovative in one's approach.

If your family includes young children who need and love books, you will need to find ways to "workaround" the challenges. Our child has always been a bookworm and has a passion for reading. We also use books as a primary resource in her world schooling and self led education.

favorite activity after school in spain..reading

We are now into our 6th year of non-stop open ended travel as a family ( to 42 countries on 5 continents on just 23 dollars a day per person) so have found many creative options. We are not minimalists that count how many things we have, but we have traveled around the world ( 26 airports) over 12 months with just a small carry-on piece of luggage each. We don't own much "stuff" and love the freedom that gives us.

Because we use our small, van-sized,  older motorhome to travel Europe ( and keep it as our home/vehicle/storage unit in Europe) we can keep more books than most. We are mostly parked and use walking, biking and mass transit from this "tiny house" base so very green and cheap yet also luxurious.  With a bookaholic kiddo who taught herself to read at two, space for books is very important and we have more books than anything else.

We've now given away most of the books in this lead photo ( to the school that our child went to in Spain for four winters) , but they worked really well for the first four years of our family international journey when our child was between the ages of five and almost 10.

Minimalism. camping in europe

Finding English books in Spain and most of  Europe, tends to be very hard and very expensive. I am so glad that I sent ahead a bunch of books via boat mail ( slower and cheaper) before we arrived in 2006. We're making this up as we go, so it was a gamble and calculated risk, but absolutely worth it and one of our best decisions.

We're a family that used to spend time every week in book stores and at the library, often bringing home bags of books to devour, so books on the road with such a young child book-lover was a challenge. The hardest things to get rid of when we sold everything in 2005 to start our Location Independent lifestyle was letting go of our beloved books. We had a gigantic collection of beloved kids and adult books.

We got a Kindle last year and we have used digital libraries ( from home)  from the start, all great help, but nothing beats a real book, especially for a young child. Even an advanced reader like our child, ( who can read well in 3 languages) also needed high quality picture books in those early years.

book lover in Europe

We'd take some of these books with us in our RV to homeschool as we roam the world and we'd store some with friends until we returned in the winter. The lead photo shows one of the bookcases that we would make every year for our winter home rental in Spain because the rentals are normally more for weekly summer rentals, thus do not have bookcases.

We paid like 6 cents for each brick and we'd use them all winter then sell them back to the place down the street where we got them and repeat that process every late fall and spring as we returned and then set off to travel. If there is a will, there is always a way!

kid in a candy store..erm book store

Now that we have started wintering in tropical Asia where she is immersing in her Mandarin at a high school in Penang, and now that she is 10, things are much different. Both English and Mandarin books are easy to find and cheap in Penang. She also  has a library at her school that she loves and we can use the American school libary as well if we want.

We all share the Kindle and Ipod Touch and also still use our laptops for some book reading. We actually hardly ever use the Ipod Touch ( not one of our smartest purchases for our needs) and we mostly get free classic books for the Kindle. We will bring some Spanish books with us ( probably the Harry Potter series as she never tires of re-reading those in English and we store those books in our RV).

reading at the school library in Asia

We parents stay in "real" books mostly by the luck of the draw, but have faired quite well in that. Most campsites in Europe have a place where campers leave books once they've been read and our resort in Penang has a large supply of reading books as well. We read them and let them go. We get the rest from our library online or buy the rare ones for our Kindle.

We also all regularly all spend time reading in books stores and libraries where ever we find them. Kidlet enjoys that just as much as finding a chocolate shop! Scandinavian libararies are particularly nice and always have English books ( not found easily else where in Europe). Before the Kindle, we ALWAYS had a book for her when we go out to tour or to restaurants, still do mostly, makes meals peaceful and bus and train rides more fun.

reading in London at McDonalds

We've only kept the fat books that she loves and re-reads ( she is such a fast reader that we have refused to buy skinny books for a very long time) and the important homeschool or world school books and we store them in our RV in Europe.

It's been a lot of fun watching her joy to re-read them all this summer! I have been enjoying re-reading all of Jane Austen's books on the Kindle and a few Bill Bryson books that were left at the campsite. What do you think about books and travel and how do you handle this challenge?




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Thanks for sharing! It is very interesting. Having ebooks and Ipad at hand are very handy these days :)

Your cutie is very smart! It is really amazing when a kid loves reading :)

We don't travel too far, but I usually take a couple of books with us. Honestly try to read them while we are driving, but always find something to watch "outside the car", so I'm not able to finish a book during our travels :))


Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks Natalie for your kind words. I think it is really up to parents to raise a reader as all kids love books and that should be encouraged...IMHO. ;) One can learn so much from books and it enhances travel..even for kids.

The ipods are very popular and though they look cool, we decided against one for our least until the prices come way down. We didn't even buy the Kindle until prices came down..they always do...if one is patient. ;)

I think reading and driving can be a bit hard for anyone...but makes for a better combo on flights or trains or ships. ;)


Thanks for sharing. I agree with you on the itouch. It is a gaming device with wiifii. Not much for reading or bringing quality to the average life, IMO.

I used to own 1000 books in my home in America, mostly non-fiction that I used for constant reference in my writing, and that's not counting our children's books. I LOVE LOVE books, but books in English are VERY expensive in Thailand, more so than on the Kindle store. Addictionally, on the Kindle I don't have to cart around books with me on buses. Also, because I read so much nonfiction and reference books, I CAN'T take them with me as I travel, but Kindle allows me to access them from any place because of the 3G.

We do rent children's books from a local school library; it does not help me out with adult books, though.

Sharing books with others is also a good choice. We share books with our friends; trade books, etc.

I agree with you on pictures.. I looked at the ipad at the apple store, and we started reading a cute disney book that had kids scatter pixy dust, etc. Then I saw my little girl get all excited about the "gaming" aspect of this preschool book. Talk about a good way to get kids addicted to the visual stimuli instead of the story. I put that thing RIGHT back, and got away. There's a point that I won't corss with technology, and that's one of them.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks for the input Marlana!

Part of our problem with the ipad touch is we haven't taken any time to explore it's a very expensive "toy" for kidlet and she enjoys making little video movies on it...that we may some day put on youtube. Hubs and I don't even know how to work the darn thing yet...too much tech overload for us ungeeks. ;)

We didn't know what the situation would be in Asia and thought both the kindle and ipod touch would be useful tools to add. Turned out that we really didn't need either for our life..but the kindle has been slightly more useful. Handy addition at a good price, but not really essential for us..glad we waited for the price fall.

If one is in an area where English books are rare or expensive, the kindle makes a LOT of sense. Or if one is moving fast in travel with little luggage. Your case makes perfect sense.

I think kids today do need digital native skills, but the "gaming" and addictive quality of the internet can be harmful to young brains so should be done in great moderation IMHO and real BOOKS should be encouraged.

I think anyone can raise a reader, but it does take effort and one has to watch feeding one's kid "junk books" just like avoiding "junk food". If they only have great literature to read...then that is what they will do. ;)

All the bells and whistles on the ipad look fun, but not really practical for our family or lifestyle at this point....besides the ridiculous price.

She has played with Ninendo, wii, ipad's, iphones that others own or at Apple stores...but we don't see any reason to buy them. I'd rather she read and re-read the classics and make such things out of cardboard and use her imagination! ;)

This is a nice link about the value of picture books even for older, middle school kids:

Some of our picture books were place related and they were soo useful to help kidlet connect to some of the places we went to before and after.

We still have some of the TINTIN series that teach lots in a fun way and also connects her to France and French ( and European) culture since it's popular with kids here.

I don't mind a bit of the "gaming" style bells and whistles ( some of that on e-library things for kids) ...just not a steady diet of it.

Perhaps I am old fashion but I think reading plenty of top quality classics in regular book form is important still today as well as lots of time in nature away from all plug in things.

I don't mind if kidlet reads things like "Wimpy Kid" in a bookstore, but the ones I buy will mostly be fat classics or something that will benefit her.

Sure kids will eat sugar and candy if that is all that is available, but if just fruit and veggies and classic books/good literature are available ...THAT is what they will grow to love. ;)

One can not avoid all junk in this world, but one can monitor, educate and influence. ;)


I love reading all your posts Jeanne, and have learned a great deal from all you've shared over the years. Currently we're using the Kindle a lot and have to share it amongst us but have also brought a handful of books with us this year to France. Like you, we like to pick up books where ever we go as a keepsake.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Aw, thanks Jenn, good to hear that! We all share our Kindle too. Enjoy your time in France! We DO really love picking up special books where ever we go...I didn't mention that in this post, but you are right and they are also special souvenirs that we will keep forever and add to the good memories as well as learning! ;)


I LOVE books and really believe that nothing beats a real book for a reading experience. However, books are really hard to lug about the world and with the launch of kindles recently I am sorely tempted. Thanks for this post - interesting to hear the opinion of a fellow bookworm!


I stumbled across Ms. Mozart while browsing Lucia Popp's rendition of Laudate Dominum and who know what else and that brought me here. I'm mesmerized!

You guys are such an incredible inspiration and I thank you for sharing.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Glad you found us Roman, and what a fascinating way! So appreciate your kind words! Welcome to our blog!


At home, we already only keep the very good and loved books that I know we might re-read with pleasure (I enjoy re-reading books)... This summer, we lugged a small bag of adult and children books. Inspired by your family, I had selected books from authors of and/or about the the countries we visited as well as a few favorites. With home-exhange, we got to enjoy the books our hosts had in their home. (It helped that in Scandinavia, they always have a few english books). And even in another language picture books are accessible for children. Also, as you mentioned you can find english books quite easily in bookshops in Scandinavia and I even saw some books in French in a museum shop in Oslo.

Also, in the coffee shop attached to Trondheim's library, their was a small stack of "book crossing" books. Have you ever heard of this thing ? You go to the website (, print out labels with a free book crossing ID, stick them on the books you want to share with the world and just leave them in any public places for someone to find and enjoy. The person who finds it can log on the website to register where the book was found and you can follow your books travels and read how it has touched the lives of readers all over the world. They are also designated "official book crossing zones", wish lists and other little gimmicks that make it even more interesting. Love the concept!

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks Gabrielle! I have heard about "book crossing" and glad you mention it here. I haven't used it yet though, but the books we use are similar...those left behind at campsites or our resort in Asia..only we don't get to follow the story of each. ;)


Just wanted to stand up for "JUNK BOOKS". Just because we see no intrinsic value in a book, does not mean it can't fire imagination and the creative process for kids.
I may have read a lot of junk books as a child but they also inspired a life long love of reading!

Jeanne soultravelers3

I hear your point Steve and I discourage but don't dis-allow reading "junk books" in libraries,book stores or at friends house etc. I just don't BUY junk books.

I find that if all a kid has is good books/literature and good food around, then that is what they will read and eat. ;)

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