Reading For Travelers and Digital Nomads: the Libby App and Beyond

Larry Christopher
3 min readAug 10

This photo is evidence of my nerdy travel habits over the last 10 or so years. I always like to have at least one book to read and usually another to listen to. If you laud the tangible pleasures of physical books, I wouldn’t argue. However, when you’re traveling frequently, and as lightly as possible on a limited budget, buying books is seldom practical. Before I hit the road on what’s turned into a 10+ year road trip, I sold or donated my modest collection of 100 or so books.

I still sometimes pick up cheap paperbacks when I can find them at a thrift shop or used bookstore. The UK is better this way, as even smaller cities and towns usually have multiple charity shops where you can find books for a pound or so.

During stints in Mexico and Costa Rica, it was a little more challenging to find print books. Both locations where I stayed had either a bookstore or library with a good selection of English-language books. However, most of these were trade paperbacks that people, mostly tourists and retired ex-pats had donated so the selection was somewhat limited. Digital options become especially useful when you’re in a place where you aren’t fluent in the native language.

Digital Library Loans

I use the Libby app (formerly Overdrive, which was or is being phased out). You can link this free app to as many libraries as you want, and it works in multiple countries. I’ve borrowed books digitally throughout the United States as well as in Canada and the UK, as the cards pictured indicate.

Library cards remain useful even after I leave a place. I can still borrow books via Libby for as long as the card is valid, no matter where I am. Of course, library cards eventually expire (most of the ones pictured are probably expired by now). However, they often work for a couple of years or more. I can also renew an expired card if I return to a place.

I doubt if Libby was made with digital nomads in mind. It’s also useful for locals who simply want to borrow items digitally in addition to visiting the library in person. It was also convenient during 2020 lockdowns when you couldn’t visit the library in person.

At any given time, I usually have at least 3 valid library cards, which lets me borrow e-books and audiobooks that I can read or listen to on a phone, tablet, or computer. I also have Amazon Prime and Audible, so I can borrow a certain number of books on that membership. I don’t have a Kindle Unlimited membership but that’s another option.

As an aside, another library app worth getting is Kanopy, which provides free access to lots of movies and TV shows. I’m sure there are other creative ways to find reading, listening, and viewing content for free or cheap, but these are the ones I’ve been using. If you have other recommendations, I’d be glad to hear about them.