I Visit Local Bookstores on Every Trip I Take—Here’s Why You Should Too

My love for reading has expanded my world, leading me to beautiful travel discoveries and allowing me to connect with other book lovers along the way

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Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had my nose stuck in a book. My childhood love for reading knew no bounds, and I made it my mission to read more books with each passing year. I started with Beverly Cleary and eventually moved on to Judy Blume, who helped me realize the depths to which good storytelling can take you. By my preteens, I was maxing out my library card and discovering some of the best books I’ve ever read.

While my love for reading started at a young age, it’s really developed into something that’s kept me fulfilled as an adult. I love getting lost in a book after a long day of work, but I also try to find ways to enjoy reading outside of my day-to-day life—including when I’m on vacation.

As someone who is obsessed with books, I can’t just abandon my passion when I jet off to parts unknown. I have to bring my love for reading on an adventure with me. I usually bring a few new books to read on a trip, no matter how long I’ll be away, but I also leave space for great reads I may find on my travels too. When I go on vacation, I go to escape and discover a new place, and for me, that means finding beloved bookstores, toting newly purchased novels in my travel book bag, looking up local Little Free Libraries and doing anything and everything bookish or creative.

In a way, reading echoes exploration. Just as I discover attractions and other wonders on my travels, I discover new worlds on the pages of a book.

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Quirky and quaint bookstores

Brianna Bell Bookstore 1 EditCourtesy Brianna Bell

On a recent road trip to Pittsburgh and Cleveland, I warned my husband and our three daughters that we’d be making some bookish stops in both cities. I had researched the coolest bookstores nearby and made a list of them in the journal I carry with me on every trip. With my husband behind the wheel as we drove from one destination to another, I’d pull up my list and the maps on my phone, checking to see if we could possibly take a bookstore detour.

In Pittsburgh, we stopped at Amazing Books and Records, a shop filled to the brim with secondhand titles—and records for the music lover too. My family and I drifted down the packed aisles for half an hour, pulling different titles to weigh our options. My eldest daughter found a few books to choose from, and I had to remind her that we only had so much space in the already packed car—and lots more souvenirs to bring home!

Besides, Pittsburgh is home to many other incredible bookstores. Consider Fungus Books, which features quirky and offbeat book genres you wouldn’t find at just any bookshop.

In Cleveland, we were on our way from Coco’s Chalky Paints, located in the historic Fifth Street Arcades, to the Cleveland Museum of Art, near the city’s Little Italy, when we stumbled upon one of the coolest bookstores I’ve ever been to. Loganberry Books is a massive, multiroom bookstore with more than 100,000 new and used titles.

Walking into each room was like slipping into a new bookstore: The classics and rare books section had the appearance of an old-world study, while the children’s book section was open and colorful. Dotted throughout were comfortable chairs, perfect for sitting and flipping through your new book.

Loganberry Books was a welcome reprieve from our jam-packed schedule, the stacks of books prompting us to stop and enjoy the moment. I discovered hard-to-find books by some of my favorite authors, and my kids each chose their own picks from the massive children’s book section.

Traveling to Little Free Libraries

Whenever I’m on a road trip, I love stopping at nearby Little Free Libraries. While visiting a museum or botanical garden allows me to get to know the history and culture of a place, driving off the beaten path as a tourist allows me to experience the locale in a completely fresh way. Not only that, but as a reader I have the opportunity to connect to the place I’m visiting on a deeper level.

Whenever I travel, I try to bring with me a couple of books that I don’t mind giving up. I’ll donate a book to a local Little Free Library in exchange for a new one.

We’ve come across some of the coolest Little Free Libraries this way, like “Steve,” built from an old bus shelter in Muskoka, Ontario. The walk-in library is stuffed floor to ceiling with new books and classics. Leaving some books behind with “Steve” made me feel like I was connecting with the community there, and knowing that someone would one day pick up my book and take it home with them felt like I was leaving a positive mark on the place I visited.

We’ve also found sweet Little Free Libraries that need some love. They sit empty or have a few musty older books, and it brings me joy to add a couple of fresh new titles for someone else to enjoy. When I visit a Little Free Library that needs some help, it’s a reminder that cultivating a love for reading takes communal effort, and we all have to come together to keep literacy and a love of reading alive.

New neighborhoods to discover

Brianna Bell Bookstore 2 EditCourtesy Brianna Bell

Maybe all readers are explorers. We open a book and wade into unknown territory: a historical battle, a family vacation ripe with tension, a land of magic, thrilling deep space. Whatever their setting, books whisk us away to places we’ve never been and help us view the familiar through new eyes. And no, a story isn’t physically transporting us to new places. But in a way, a love for reading can.

Finding bookshops and Little Free Libraries has opened up corners of the world that I would have never explored. Usually, I end up getting lost in a random neighborhood. Sometimes I’ll stop at a coffee shop and dig into my latest book—even if I was already in the middle of reading another one.

In Pittsburgh, we stopped in the beautiful Squirrel Hill area and grabbed some books, then we settled in with a fresh, housemade hot dog from Frankie Bunz. If I hadn’t stopped at the bookstore, I wouldn’t have discovered the neighborhood, and I definitely would have missed out on the hot dog shop. While in the city, we also explored some Little Free Libraries that led us to quaint neighborhoods filled with colorful row houses, cute front gardens and steep Appalachian streets. It was on one of our Little Free Library jaunts that we came across Commonplace Coffee, an adorable coffee shop near the Old Allegheny Rows Historic District.

In Cleveland, we stopped at the nearby Shaker Heights community, which is where Celeste Ng’s blockbuster hit Everything I Never Told You takes place. Having read the book shortly after it came out, I was eager to discover the town where the story unfolds. I didn’t realize Shaker Heights was in Cleveland until I was looking at a map shortly before the trip—it was meant to be!

Making friends along the way

Brianna Bell Bookstore 4 EditCourtesy Brianna Bell

One of the best parts of bringing my love for reading along with me on my travels is meeting equally book-obsessed people. We bookworms are a friendly bunch (even the introverts among us will get chatty when the conversation turns to our favorite reads), and learning booksellers’ stories when I stop in to support local bookstores is one of the biggest advantages to exploring my love for reading while traveling.

On a trip to Blue Mountain Resort in Ontario, we came across Read It Again, which is packed with both new and used books. There, I picked up one of the booksellers’ recommended books and discovered my next beach read. I kept my new book tucked in my oversize purse and stopped for a breather to read a few pages—while my kids rode the Ridge Runner Mountain Coaster and swam in the resort’s pool.

When I travel to a new destination, I know that I’ll be exploring uncharted territory and enjoying new and unique experiences. But the familiar heavy weight of a book in my bag helps ground me and reminds me to take my time. I might have a packed itinerary, but there’s always time to change the GPS route and stop in at a bookstore, no matter where I am.

The best books I’ve read on vacation

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Brianna Bell
Brianna Bell is a writer contributing all things bookish to Reader's Digest. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, the Globe & Mail, the Guardian and many other national and international publications. When she's not writing, she's reading, browsing bookstores or adding to her TBR list.