I like to travel and I like to read.
These two things shouldn’t be in conflict. In fact, they usually complement each other quite nicely. However, I discovered just a few month’s into my travels back in 2007 that I had a big problem….several problems
- Books are heavy. If you have ever had to move and you own a lot of books you have probably discovered just how heavy they can be when you have more than one. If you are taking a trip with just a single book, weight usually isn’t an issue because you can just carry it with you on the plane. However, if you are traveling long-term, books tend to pile up. At one point, the weight of books in my checked bag was almost 1/3 of the total weight I was carrying around. You might just say I could throw the books away or leave them somewhere, but….
- I never want to get rid of books. Perhaps its a compulsion, but I never like throwing books away or leaving them somewhere. Maybe I could do that with a novel, but I mostly read non-fiction and I liked to keep the books I’ve finished in my personal library. When I was on the road full time, that meant piling books up in my bag or shipping them back home, which wasn’t cheap.
- Books Are Expensive. In most of the world, books are very expensive. Especially English language books if it isn’t an English speaking country. Even in Canada, books are significantly more expensive than what you will find in the US. I found some English language bookstores in Asia where you would expect to pay over US$40 for a hardbound book.
- Selections Overseas Is Poor. This was really the sticking point for me. The bookstores I found overseas usually had a very poor selection of books which focused on best sellers. You could find Harry Potter books or the latest Dan Brown novel, but good luck finding a book about the history of Philippines in WWII. Often times I found myself reading what was available rather than what I wanted, because what I wanted just wasn’t there.
The answer to all my problems came in the form of the Amazon Kindle.
The first Kindle was released in November 2007, after I had been on the road for over 6 months. When it came out I was finishing up a month and a half in Japan and it just wasn’t available in that part of the world. I followed the news and reviews but didn’t jump on the Kindle bandwagon right away.
As with most products, the first few generations of the Kindle were pretty klunky. I always thought the keyboard on the kindle was rather awkward. It was like a Blackberry in a world of iPhones.
I finally make the leap in late 2011 when the Kindle Touch was released. This was finally the version that I thought was a real e-reader. I replaced it almost a year later in December 2012 with the Kindle Paperwhite, which offered a touch screen that was backlit so you could read it in the dark.
I also made sure to buy a 3G version of the Kindle. While the 3G version is more expensive than getting a plain wifi version, the 3G version has Amazon’s Whispernet built in, which lets you log on to 3G networks almost all over the world for free. I can just turn on my Kindle pretty much anywhere to sync or to buy something from the Amazon store.
The 3G functionality saved me back in 2014 when I was about to set sail from Cape Town to the island of St Helena. I was on the ship and it was pulling away from port to start a 21-day trip, 10 of which would be at sea. As we were leaving, I realized I didn’t have anything on my Kindle beyond the book I was reading at the time, and that wouldn’t last me 3 weeks. I ran up to the top deck of the ship, got a 3G signal and downloaded all of the Game of Thrones books as we pulled away! I had reading material for the entire trip in a matter of minutes.
That story encapsulates why I am such a fan of the Kindle. Whereas I once had to buy expensive, heavy books, which were usually hard to find, I now have the world biggest bookstore in my pocket with instant access to millions of discounted titles, no matter where I am on Earth.
I currently own a Kindle Voyage which about 2 years old at this point. Other than not being waterproof and some battery and size changes, it is pretty much the same is the top of the line Kindle Oasis. I have no immediate need to upgrade my e-reader at this point unless some game-changing feature is released in the future.
The wonderful thing about consuming ebooks isn’t just the low weight, low cost, and huge selection. You can also read on almost any device and pick up where you left off on a new device. As tablets and larger smartphones have become more popular, e-reader sales have plateaued because most people don’t need a dedicated device for reading if they have something else which works.
The biggest complaint I’ve heard against ebooks is that people enjoy the experience of a book and like being able to put it on a shelf. I understand why people think that, but it really marks a difference between books and reading. Historically there was never a difference. However, now that books have been liberated from paper, you can get the ideas and knowledge of a book without the physical object.
As for me, I love reading more than I love books….especially when I travel.