I have to admit, I was a little unsure about travelling with an e-reader at first. While they seemed useful, I was also hesitant about having yet one more electronic device in my travel bag. Given the chance however to ditch some weight on my world travels by reducing the number of books I was carrying, I thought I’d give it a shot. As any traveler knows, the less you carry the happier you’ll be.
Here are the top advantages and disadvantages I’ve encountered on the road, I hope they’ll help you decide if travelling with an e-reader or just sticking with paper is right for you. I’ll note that I have a Kobo e-reader myself, however there are a number of options to suit every budget and preference from Kindle, Sony, Nook, and many others. In general they all have very similar features.
Why You Should Take an E-Reader on Your Next Trip
No, they aren’t all free, but with sites like Project Gutenberg and access to your local library you can download a lot of books for free.
In the case of the Sony e-readers you can have direct access to your local library right on the device.
Its Small And Light Weight!
Consider that your average e-reader be it a Kindle, Kobo, or another e-reader, weighs about as much as a standard paperback. The dimensions are also about the same in the width and length, but they are substantially thinner. One caveat however, is that you will need some sort of case or cover to protect the screen in your backpack.
Choose your case carefully as this can add some weight. I decided to go with a Mole Skine notebook despite the weight as I also wanted a place to write my thoughts. It also had the unexpected benefit of being a stand for hands free reading.
Read 5 (or more) Books At Once
I couldn’t even imagine how much space and weight all those books would have taken up but because I was travelling with my e-reader I had them all (and many more) at hand while I was sitting in the park for an entire day.
Built In Lights
The advantages of the built in light in the Kindle Paperwhite and the Kobo Glo cannot be understated. The ability to read in a badly lit dorm, a veranda overlooking the ocean, or on a bus without working lights is fantastic.
The Web Browser
Ok, so the web browsers on e-readers aren’t blazingly fast nor brilliantly implemented. But sometimes you just need to check and see if you’ve received an email or look up a hostel in the next town. Sometimes whipping out a full-fledged computer just isn’t going to happen at the bus terminal. Some readers such as the Kindle 3G can use cell service and don’t even need a Wi-Fi connection.
If you’re carrying a smartphone or tablet however, it would trump the e-reader every time.
Access to Books Anytime Anywhere (Almost)
On my 2007 Asian trip that I had just finished a massive 1500 page book called Pandora’s Star. It was the first of two parts however; I had picked up my copy from some random used book shop on Koh Tao in Thailand. It would be 2 months before I encountered a new book retailer where I could find the sequel, Judas Unchained, I was clamouring for.
Now, while travelling with an e-reader, if I finish a book and want the sequel, I have it in less than 5 minutes, in fact, if I want nearly any book, I have it in 5 minutes so long as I have internet access.
There is also the fact that there are still some places in the world where books of your chosen language can be scarce. In cases such as these, having an e-reader can be a huge advantage.
Dictionaries and Translations
Though they aren’t going to have every dictionary you might want, the ability to look up words instantly has been a really nice touch, I’ve found my vocabulary expanding accordingly.
Even more beneficial than the regular dictionary however is the translation dictionary for when you’re learning a new language. I’m currently learning Spanish and I’ve found it generally more comprehensive and faster to use the e-reader dictionary than the pocket dictionary I have with me (so long as the device is already on however).
Why You Might Consider Leaving the E-Reader at Home
It’s an Electronic Device
Here’s the reality. It’s an electronic book and it needs power. That said, unless you’re trekking in the jungle for a few weeks or heavily using the Wi-Fi, you probably aren’t going to kill the power before you can find an outlet. Even with fairly heavy use, Wi-Fi, and using the light, I can go about a month before I need to charge my Kobo.
The other thing to consider is that water, sand, and other things can cause damage to the device rendering it an expensive hunk of dead plastic. The Nook with Glowlight is somewhat sealed, but still has an exposed port. I’ve gone so far as to buy these little rubber micro-USB port covers to keep sand out.
Side Loading Isn’t One Click
Though you can download the legal free books from Project Gutenberg and other sites using your web browser on the device (if your device has one), there’s a chance they may not be formatted properly. In that case programs like Calibre come into play. It’s a great little piece of software to let you side load books on to just about any e-reader.
There is one catch however, you need a computer, so if you aren’t carrying one, you may have some trouble benefiting from side loading while traveling with an e-reader for an extended period of time. There may be a possibility of running Calibre via a USB stick if you are tech savvy enough however.
You Like Discovering Random Books
I have to admit that there were a lot of books I read and loved on my last trip that I would have never thought to get had they not been my only options in whatever little book trade or store I encountered. Having the entire world’s worth of books at your fingertips can take some mystery away from the random finds on the hostel’s book trade shelf.
That said I’ve still been able to learn of new books through other travelers so I would call this a minor inconvenience at best. Websites like Goodreads.com is also a nice little tool for keeping track of the books you’ve read, others you want to read, and suggesting ones you might like.
E-books can be Expensive
When you can find used books in foreign countries they generally aren’t that expensive, they usually only cost a few dollars at the most. Best case scenario you can trade your paperbacks with fellow travelers or a hostel library. While travelling with an e-reader however you will be spending $10+ per book if you’re looking to get newer books. Not to mention the e-reader itself costs a fair bit to begin with.
Mind you, you would not have had access to those books at all without the e-reader, so again, this is a debateable disadvantage.
Guidebooks on E-readers Aren’t Amazing
I’m going to cover guidebooks on e-readers in another post as there is much more to be said. For the moment however I will say there needs to be some changes made before they are truly useful.
I’ve not decided at this point if I’m going to buy a dead tree copy of a Central America guidebook even though I have the e-book, but it’s starting to get a bit tempting. I only have the lonely planet e-book at the moment, I might try a different guide such as the Rough Guide to Central America before I make any further comments.
I have to say that while there are disadvantages to bringing an e-reader traveling I consider them minor nuisances at best. I consider my Kobo e-reader to be one of the best things I carry in my bag, so much so that it pretty much even has a home in my day pack.
I should note that while I have the Kobo Glo, the new Kobo Aura looks amazing and I’d have purchased that model were it availible at the time I left.
One final note, check out this New York Times article on the eco friendliness of e-readers vs. regular books. While its a different argument when you consider most books you’ll read as a traveller are used, its still an interesting analysis none the less.