This author traveled 9,000 miles to 21 bookstores in 3 weeks

Today I want to share the story of one author who spent 21 days visiting 21 bookstores from coast to coast across the US. This is the map of her trip, with each blue dot representing the numbered stops on her bookstore tour:

Allison Bruce bookstore map

Just look at all of these photos she took of amazing bookstores around the country:

Allison Bruce bookstores

This put her into the heart of where readers come in contact with books, and she met with so many booksellers along the way, always asking for their book recommendations.

Often, I hear writers bemoan how so much of what it means to participate in literary communities, nowadays, has moved online. They miss the days of visiting independent bookstores, and being surrounded by physical books. Today I want to highlight the choices we have in how we fill our lives with books and those who celebrate them.

The author is Allison Bruce, who called her project “21 Charming Bookstores in 21 Days.” I watched along as she shared her journey on Instagram, and chatted with her this week about the process.

I was surprised to learn that this trip wasn’t something she strategized months in advance. Rather, the idea came to her at 4am on June 8th of this year. She literally woke up to the idea if visiting 21 charming bookstores. The vision was not only so specific, but it deeply resonated with her. Thirty-three days later, she left on her trip to visit these stores.

What were her goals? She seemed to have four in mind:

  • The first, obviously, was the experience of visiting and celebrating indie bookstores across the country.
  • Next, she had published her own book last year, and was hoping more indie booksellers would consider carrying it, so she brought some along and asked.
  • She wanted to write about her journey and share the process online, so she asked permission to take photos of each store.
  • She writes a column where she reviews books, and asked each bookseller for recommendations.

How did she go from the spark of an idea to reality? Each day, she did a bit of work on it. The first day she did a few basic searches online to find beautiful bookstores. A day later, she bought a paper map to envision the trip outside of a screen. She created a spreadsheet and just started planning. She phrased it this way:

“Every day I took a couple more steps forward on this becoming a real thing.”

This is such a powerful reminder that big ideas happen one small step at a time. She wrote each day to stay motivated, capturing her process and recognizing what felt true to her as she developed this idea. She said this gave her courage to keep going, saying: “It felt so clear to me, I kept going back to that.” And now, after the trip, she envisions this writing being a part of her next book.

I asked about the practical questions that I knew would be on the minds of some of my readers. Her answers were surprising, and refreshing.

For being able to take three weeks for the trip, I asked how she justified being away from her normal work and life routine. Her answer was a single word: faith. Belief that this idea would be meaningful to pursue, and she was just going to keep going with it. She also talked about how writing and publishing her own book had been such a long journey, and felt as though this trip was an extension of it. It’s worth noting that her book her book is called Flourish, and this is the subtitle: “How to Experience More Joy, Live with More Intention, and Be True to Yourself.” I work with writers because they believe so passionately in what they write about. Seeing Allison live this has been inspiring!

I asked the question I was afraid to ask, but is a critical one that stops so many of us from pursuing big ideas: wasn’t this expensive? Again, her answer was unexpected. She described how she had this one credit card that earned airline miles for every purchase she made. For years and years, she accrued those miles, including during the pandemic years when so much was purchased online via credit card. She travelled 9,000 miles in three weeks, and applied all her accumulated United miles to save cost.

Was there an opportunity cost here? Yes. She easily could have banked those miles and taken smaller vacations with them for years. But again, this idea just felt right to her, so she pursued it.

For hotels, she described starting to book them, and then when she saw them adding up, she rebooked them at less expensive accommodations. I don’t know the final budget, but it was just amazing to hear how a lot of the practical details worked out to make this whole trip feel so accessible.

I asked if she called ahead to each bookstore, to try to ensure that the owner or manager would be there when she arrived, since one of her goals was to ask them about carrying her book. She didn’t call ahead or make appointments, and her reasoning was this: “I didn’t want to hear the word, ‘no.’” Because hearing a ‘no’ over the phone or email likely would have killed the entire trip before it started.

What were some unexpected lessons from her trip? This:

“I feel I gained strength in this journey, which was not originally in my list of intentions.”

This is the kind of thing I think about a lot. Working with writers and creators, I’m always aware of the bravery that is required. To go deep with the stories you want to tell, whether that is in fiction, memoir, nonfiction, or other forms of creative expression. It is so easy for someone to silence that creative voice inside them. To not take actions to create, to publish, to share. When I consider Allison’s journey and how it left her feeling stronger and more creative, that really resonates.

Allison made the point that so much of the trip happens outside of the bookstores. Some images from her journey:

Allison Bruce bookstore journey

And of course, she purchased a book every chance she got!

Should you travel to 21 bookstores? All I can say is that Allison did, and it was an experience that mattered to her deeply. Honestly, I can’t remember much of anything specific that I did between July 10th and 30th of this year. But Allison will have those memories and the lessons from them forever.

You get to choose what you write, publish, and share. I simply encourage you to be open to doing so, finding meaningful ways to share your voice with others, and fill your life with those who celebrate writing and creativity.

Thank you to Allison for all of the inspiration! And thanks to you for being here with me.