So I am finishing my MSc in Europe and it looks like I will be headed to the US for a PhD. Along the way I have collected a small set of textbooks that I find particularly useful. From my experience, most academics have a reasonable number of textbooks in their offices so I cannot be the only one in this situation. These books can be hard to find and are costly to replace.

However, textbooks are pretty awful to carry around. Even a modest number make any box very heavy.

So what I am asking is this. Is it worthwhile to transport books around the world? Is there a best way to do it? Since I an impecunious student I am hoping to do this cheaply.

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    Unfortunately I don't think this applies to international shipping, but for shipping books within the US one can use USPS "media mail" (formerly called "book rate".) Feb 7, 2015 at 18:57
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    "most academics have a reasonable number of textbooks in their offices" - I have seen that, and more often than not, those seemed to be whatever was left back from previous occupants of that office, books for which no space was left anywhere else, books that the office holder never looks into but which were distributed as "free" copies, and a few books that were actually used, but that were ordered on department funds by whoever sits in the office after they had started working there, or a combination of these. Feb 7, 2015 at 21:09
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    Don't know if this applies to shipping things yourself, but I have had books mailed to me (in western USA) from UK booksellers, for not much more than shipping within the US. You might look into freight shipping for anything you won't need immediately: it doesn't have to go by air.
    – jamesqf
    Feb 7, 2015 at 21:58
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    Of course, one can always go digital, but pdfs look way less impressive sitting in one's bookshelf! ;)
    – Azar
    Feb 8, 2015 at 3:43
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    I took a couple with me, and left most at home to pick up again once I knew where I'd be long-term. The library at your university may have a lot of them anyway (and you can probably check that before you go).
    – Jessica B
    Feb 8, 2015 at 9:27

4 Answers 4


I vote for freight (see jamesqf's answer-as-a-comment). I've got a friend who sometimes ships something like a cubic yard of stuff (maybe a third of which is books) from Canada to a land far, far away for about a hundred bucks. That's roughly US$80 or ~ €70.

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    I think you're over-estimating the volume and/or under-estimating the cost, here. A third of a cubic yard of books is going to weigh upwards of 250kg (500lbs) so you're talking about 500 large-ish books, there. Freight shipping isn't expensive but, as I recall, I paid plenty more than $80/€70 to ship maybe 50kg of books and so on from Greece to the UK nearly ten years ago. Feb 8, 2015 at 10:30
  • Thanks, I think I will look into freight shipping. I did not realise that it could be econmical for small shipments...
    – JP Janet
    Feb 8, 2015 at 10:46
  • Okay, so I was seriously overestimating the size of his boxes. They're 20.5" x 21.5" x 24" (in Canada our tape measures are in inches, sorry), which is 10 578 cubic inches. (A cubic yard is 46 656 cu in.) Thus, he's got about 3500 cubic inches of books, assuming he packs it pretty well, which I think he does. Holding 9 1/4 x 11 x 8 3/4 ~= 890 cu in. of books (about 7 - 10 textbooks) in my hands raises my weight, per the bathroom scale, by 25 lb, with about 2 lb error--the thing's not real accurate and the tick marks are too small to read.
    – Mathieu K.
    Feb 9, 2015 at 3:06
  • Thus, 3500 cu in. * (25 lb / 890 cu in.) means he's got about 98 lb of books, so 100 lb or 45 kg. It appears that books weigh more than I thought. Also, his destination is about 130th on the nominal-GDP-per-capita lists, so that might cost less than shipping between two fairly prominent European nations. Also, his shipper is a guy with a pickup truck.
    – Mathieu K.
    Feb 9, 2015 at 3:07
  • Destinations in faraway places may well be more expensive to ship to than sending stuff between European countries that are interconnected with extremely frequent and high-volume traffic. Feb 25, 2015 at 13:43

Have you considered using ebooks in situations where they're available and reasonably priced (and don't have Digital Rights Management)?

A few years ago when I went to Los Angeles for a sabbatical leave, I made it a point to get electronic copies of as many of my frequently used books as possible. I bought a few, but mostly I was able to work with freely available copies. This dramatically reduced the number of printed books that I had to take with me.

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    Taking this suggestion to extremes, you could simply cut of the spines and scan them: youtube.com/watch?v=uP4NbFaYZVI (I have a colleague who actually does this with every book he buys.)
    – JeffE
    Feb 7, 2015 at 19:15
  • If you don't have qualms about it, you can often find illegally scanned .pdf's of books online with a google search for the title. Be careful of the dodgy web sites that host this stuff... Feb 7, 2015 at 21:12
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    I don't know what it is but I don't find ebooks, and particularly scanned PDFs, to be as user friendly as paper books. Guess it is better than nothing though!
    – JP Janet
    Feb 7, 2015 at 21:51
  • I like the convenience of ebooks for indexing and searching, and printed books for actually reading extended sections of the book. I've kept the print copies of technical books that I own in my office, but really find the electronic copies to be useful when I'm travelling. Feb 7, 2015 at 21:56
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    DRM on ebooks is always a bad thing. The schemes used by Amazon and B&N are not technically difficult to break, so this is only a minor inconvenience if you want to get rid of it. Feb 8, 2015 at 15:27

I moved from Australia to the Netherlands, then the Netherlands to Belgium, then Belgium to Sweden, all the while dragging hundreds of books along with me. It's expensive. I don't even open many of them. I don't regret it.

That said, it's often easier just to buy the books again when you decide that you really really need to own them. Otherwise, just borrow them from a library or get an electronic copy.

That said, I'd drag them across the world again.

  • You don't regret it because of sentimental value, or because you could not have known which you would open, and it was worth it to open the ones you did?
    – Rex Kerr
    Feb 7, 2015 at 20:44
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    I don't regret it because I love having my books surrounding me. Sometimes I just look at the title and get reminded of the wonderful contents ... okay, now I'm not talking about science books. Feb 7, 2015 at 21:14
  • This actually sounds like me. I have already studied in 3 countries and haven't even got my MSc yet. How did you move them about?
    – JP Janet
    Feb 7, 2015 at 21:42
  • @JPJanet: First move I sent them through the post (not cheap). Second move was in a van (small move). Third move was in a moving van (subsidised). And every time I go back to Australia I bring some with me. Feb 8, 2015 at 15:26

Whether it is worthwhile doing so is something that you need to decide yourself.

As far as the best way is concerned, when the more senior people move to a different institution, they often transport lots of personal stuff with them (as they only have "one home", so all contents need to be moved). Adding a few books to the movers' workload does not cost much. Also, some books that are bought from the institution's money may actually have to stay at the institution and moves to its library, which reduces the volume of books to move.

More junior people (e.g., Phd students) often only carry few books with them when they switch continents and temporarily store the rest with friends or parents. One way of doing so cheaply is to move them book-by-book by filling the checked luggage for flights up to the maximum allowable weight. Every time they travel "home", they would take a few more books. Obviously, this strategy can take years (depending on how full your luggage would normally be) even when doing 2-3 trips a year, but it is quite cheap (if you have a sturdy suitcase - if not, it may be quite expensive). Also, it avoids trouble or fees with the custom office, which can happen when sending parcels.

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