The One Thing I Never Leave Home Without

There are travel questions that are hard to answer. What’s your favorite country? For example, always leaves me sorting through a plethora of choices (Vietnam, no… Italy, no… Mexico, no…). Then there are some really easy questions like What Do You Never Leave Home Without?

It’s my kindle. My kindle is my most valued travel possession by far.

This was not always true: I used to be a hard core kindle skeptic. My generous father tried to gift me one for christmas back in 2010 and I pretty much made him return it (what a brat I was). See, while I am a prolific reader, I was strongly committed to the concept of “real books,” made of “paper.” I detested the idea of electronic books.

One year backpacking around the world changed my mind on that pretty decisively. Travel gives you so much time to read. So much downtime on planes, trains, and in waiting rooms. So many long days on the beach, and evenings in guesthouses without a tv. So much time to whip through books.

And yet, so much scarcity. Traveling through non-english speaking countries, with a decided lack of english-language bookstores, I was relegated to whatever paperbacks I could swap for in hostels. More than once I hopelessly looked over a shelf with eight copies of The Beach and one of Shantaram and went away empty handed.

When I did come across a book store or a decent stash of books I hadn’t yet read, I stocked up. As I lugged an enormous backpack across Thailand, weighed down by three or four or five hoarded books, I thought that there must be a better way.

And of course, there is. It’s this marvelous piece of technology that lets me have access to an entire library with the touch of a button. Now I can read what I want, when I want, without a worry. I can read more than one book at a time (I like to alternate between fiction and non-fiction). I never even lose my place.

This was a huge lifesaver when we were living abroad in Buenos Aires and in Mexico. I read something like 50 books in the 7 months we were in Mexico, which I could never have done if I had to hunt them down by hand instead of just picking them out online.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love paper books. Now that we are settled in Seattle, I’ve started shipping myself boxes of books from the three full bookshelves I left at my Mom’s house. Despite living in Amazon’s hometown, I have no desire to give them ALL my money, and I think that local bookstores need our support.

When it comes to travel though- you simply can’t beat the practicality and convenience of an ereader. Which is why mine is always the first thing I pack.

Choosing a Kindle

There are several different models of Kindles (and quite a few non-kindle ereaders out there that are probably great but I don’t have the expertise to review them. While Mike has the basic model and likes it just fine, my personal pick is the Paperwhite, for one major reason:

The backlight. The Paperwhite’s screen has an internal white light with adjustable brightness. This means that you can read on dimly lit buses, planes and trains without bothering people around you. You can even read in dark hostel rooms when everyone else is sleeping.

The Paperwhite is front-lit, which makes it easier on the eyes when you are staring at it for a long time. I’ve never used the Kindle Fire but I know it has a backlit screen which can cause eyestrain the same way as an ipad or computer monitor.

Other Kindle Tips

  • I definitely advocate buying a cover for your kindle for a couple of reasons (I have this one). One it protects your Kindle against damage from banging around in your bag (a real danger). Secondly, it acts as a bit of camouflage against would be thieves. When closed, my Kindle in it’s case looks like a leather notebook, not a tiny supercomputer.
  • The battery life of Kindles is insane- I usually charge mine once or twice a month. This is great for getting lost in a book on loooong plane rides. I always pack my charger though, just in case.

How to Read Kindle Books for Free

Kindle books can be pricey, especially when you consider they are basically intangible. Sometimes Amazon has good sales (I always check their Daily Deals) but I generally go out of my way to buy as few books as possible. Here are some of the ways I get around this:

  • My local library has a Kindle lending library with a great selection of books that I can read for free. If it’s a popular book there is usually a waiting list, but I still save hundreds of dollars a year this way. Check your local library to see if they offer a similar deal.
  • Another way to save money on books is by taking advantage of Amazon’s Family Library function. This allows you to share your Kindle books between two adults and up to four children. Mike is my trade partner (he just “lent” me Ready Player One), but you could theoretically choose anyone with similar taste to your own.
  • If you are a Prime member Amazon lets you “borrow” one free book a month from the Kindle Lending Library. Unfortunately I have not found their selection to be very good, but once in awhile there is something interesting.
  • If you’re planning to use your Kindle to catch up on the classics, you are in luck! Many classic books considered to be public domain are available for free. Amazon rotates their offerings which include lots of Charles Dickens and other goodies. Project Guttenberg also has over 50,000 public domain books.

What to read?

With an entire world of books at your fingertips, where do you start?

Here are a few great books I’ve read this year:

Euphoria– Lily King- Loosely based on the life of Margaret Mead, this is a book about love and death among anthropologists in Papua New Guinea.

How NOT to Travel the World– Lauren Juliff– Written by my friend Lauren, this is a funny, entertaining and realistic look at what long-term travel is actually like.

In the Heart of the Sea– Nathaniel Philbrick– The tragedy of the whaleship Essex was a real life horror story that inspired Moby Dick. Don’t read this one on a boat.

The Royal We– Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan– What if the prince of England married a girl from Wisconsin? This re-imaging of Will and Kate’s story is bubbly, fun and a great plane read.

Delancey– Molly Wizenberg– Because sometimes you just want to read a book about pizza. This memoir about a couple who opens a pizza place (in Seattle!) is all about marriage and good food.

And here are some past book recommendations from this site:

Road Reads Volume 1

Road Reads Volume 2

Road Reads Volume 3

Road Reads Volume 4

Road Reads Volume 5

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. All book nerd opinions are my own.


14 Responses to The One Thing I Never Leave Home Without

  1. Lisa November 10, 2015 at 2:57 AM #

    I always thought about buying a Kindle but currently I’m still reading my books on my ipad mini…

    Have a nice Day 😉

  2. Pandaonavespa November 10, 2015 at 4:37 AM #

    You are right: the Kindle really is a lifesaver! I have been very skeptical too – and I still am a little – but when traveling it absolutely is the best thing ever!

    Thank you for the reading advice: I have been willing to read the book by Lauren Juliff for quite some time, but now I am definitely going to make it mine!

  3. tink jayne November 10, 2015 at 8:49 AM #

    I love reading books too, like actual books. And I was in a similar sitiation, my parents got me one a Kindle, which I accepted happily but never really used because I liked my books and I kept buying them.
    But then when I went backpacking it was my saviour! Hundreds of books in one little light toy 🙂

  4. Courtney! November 10, 2015 at 1:45 PM #

    I just bought my Kindle last month and I am already OBSESSED. For me it was absolutely worth it to spring for the new paperwhite with the backlight. After lugging 4-5 novel in my backpack through Thailand and then trying to find one really long book for Peru (and finishing it on the plane there anyway), I’m super excited for my first big trip with the Kindle next week 🙂 🙂

  5. The Journey Journal (@thejourneyjrnl) November 10, 2015 at 2:50 PM #

    I 100% agree and I also have Kindle Paperwhite. I couldn’t finish listing reasons why I think it’s as important as a passport when travelling. And along my walet and phone it’s a permanently in my bag whenever I leave home 🙂

  6. Mike Sowden (@Mikeachim) November 10, 2015 at 5:17 PM #

    Because I’m a massive old-stuff nerd (comes from being an ex archaeology student), I love The Internet Archive for stuff to put on my Kindle – for example, the amazing Harvard Classics:

    When I learned Kindle handles PDFs as well, that really sealed the deal for me.

    Well, that and that fact I’m going to be writing serialized books on Kindle. That too. 😉

    • Steph November 12, 2015 at 11:08 AM #

      Please let me know when your books are done, I will read the heck out of them!

  7. Erin November 10, 2015 at 9:10 PM #

    Steph, I’m with you! I said no to a Kindle until my parents mailed me one when I had my gallbladder removed. Let me tell you, it was a lifesaver to have something so lightweight that I could lay completely flat and hold it above my face with no sore arms. I read like 6 books and watched hours and hours of Royal wedding coverage that week. I thought I’d never use it again because I love real books.

    But I was wrong. You’re right, real books are heavy. My Kindle stays on the shelf when I’m home, but it comes on every trip with me, no matter what.

  8. Restless Worker November 16, 2015 at 9:57 PM #

    I used to be the same way – and I have the piles upon piles of books to prove it! I still haven’t been able to make the jump to owning a kindle but … who knows maybe someday soon 🙂

  9. Tinne - elsewhere blog November 17, 2015 at 12:36 AM #

    I’m travelling at the moment, swapping my paper books with pain in the heart at bookstores for books of which I’m not even sure I want to read them… I never thought of this part of the kindle-book-thing before! Might consider it after all 😉

  10. Lauren November 21, 2015 at 10:02 AM #

    I have a really great title on my Kindle that I’d highly recommend called, “A Year Without Make-up” 😉

    • Steph November 23, 2015 at 12:02 PM #

      I recommend it too!!! 🙂

  11. Get Jaunty November 21, 2015 at 12:39 PM #

    Funnily enough I left my Kindle at home on my last big trip but ended up getting the app on my phone and reading on there – one less thing to carry. It worked well but not the same as the kindle screen as it did make my eyes tired every so often!

  12. partnier January 10, 2016 at 10:00 AM #

    I like Kindle!
    Sometimes, when I am traveling, I just want to relax without doing so many things.
    I would bring my kindle to fill those time.

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