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.

My Kindle Paperwhite Loading

This was not always true: I used to be a hardcore 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 bookstore 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.

My kindle 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 e-reader. Which is why mine is always the first thing I pack.

Choosing a Kindle

My Kindle on the Beach

There are several different models of Kindles (and quite a few non-kindle e-readers 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 its 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

The View From the Plane Window - My Kindle: What I Never Leave Home Without

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 What I’m Reading on the Road

Travel Memoirs to Read on the Beach This Summer


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The One Thing I Never Leave Home Without - My Kindle


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

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