6 Ways Books Beat Out eReaders For Travellers

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So you’re a travelling bookworm and you’re agonising about whether to pack those three classics you for sure are going to finish any minute now, or whether to throw some of your hard earned travel budget at an eReader to cut down on the backpacking pounds.

Sure, the big draw of eReaders for travellers is the relative weight(lessness) of tablets versus books, and there’s no arguing the tech generally cuts down on size as well when compared with its papery relatives, meaning you can stuff more socks into your pack, or that Star Wars beanie you just can’t live without.

But books have a number of surprising pros for the travelling reader when compared with eReaders that may just have you reconsidering whether to ditch your paperback collection of Where’s Wally for his electronic equivalent. So read on, for six reasons books can still beat the pants off eReaders for the travelling bookworm.

1. Books take you to wonderful places

And I’m not just speaking figuratively here. While eReaders can store hundreds of stories on an object the size and weight of a small hardcover novel, searching out books in foreign lands can lead you to some wonderful places in far flung cities (and you can always check out Travel Packing Tips From The Pros, for some tips on how to cut down on your baggage).

I’d recommend second-hand bookstores as the way to go for travellers for several reasons – yes, you’ll save on costs but these little havens of peace tend to be not only run by interesting characters, but also amazing places to check out in and of themselves. There was the second-hand bookstore in Venice which featured a gondola beached inside and filled with books, as well as a staircase made of old encyclopaedias leading up to look out over the canals, run by a local who declared that the two female tourists in his shop were ‘beautiful lotus flowers’.

There was the little rabbit warren in Sydney which featured a tiny cafe and bar nestled among the fantasy fiction and the garden, badges made from old book covers and poetry slams every Tuesday night. And travellers have inspired me to visit Portland in Oregon based purely on the descriptions of the gigantic bookstore in the city which requires a map to navigate to various genres.

Finding these stores can often help acquaint you with the town you’re in, requiring navigation of sometimes confusing urban planning, and guaranteed crossing and recrossing of the same spot many times (for more on looking like a moron when navigating overseas, check out Don’t Look Like a Dork and Nine Reasons to Hire a Tour Guide). It’s also an opportunity to have a good hobnob with locals such as store owners or others perusing the shelves (or tour guides in Venice, Sydney and Portland!)

2. You don’t have to worry about charging books, or getting them wet

Yes, the bane of any backpacker’s life is the hassle of sorting out which blasted plug you need in which country. Sitting surrounded by cables, computers and various converters is never any fun, and worse is heading out for the day, only to discover the eReader your novel or travel guide is stored on has 1% battery left (or you could simply ditch both and hire a guide, or pack fewer clothes, as 10 Things You Should Never Pack in Luggage details).

If you’re the adventuring type, or just like the beach, you’ve also likely gone through the act of sealing everything electronic up in plastic bags or playing Jenga with your belongings to fit everything into an air tight container, to ensure the water from your jet boating / kayaking / canyoning /swimming doesn’t get into your electronics.

With books, you don’t have to worry about either of these. You’ll never have to silently fight off two Germans and an Australian to access the power point, and books dry out (albeit in weird shapes). Secondhand books are particularly good for the latter, since if you’ve not invested too much in the book, you could always donate it to your next hostel.

3. You discover the joys of book swapping

Depending on how much you’d shell out for an eReader, how long it takes to read a book and how long you’re travelling for, it could be cheaper for you to stick with books, given a secondhand book costs a few dollars a pop. Not only this, physical books mean in some places, such as secondhand bookstores or certain hostels, you can swap your finished novel for a different book. While eReaders allow you to download some books for free, these are generally out of copyright classics or terrible romances.  The books found at various hostels, left over by travellers from around the world, can be literary gold mines.

It’s also an opportunity to perform various ‘Pay it forward’ type gestures, like leaving an encouraging letter inside the book you’ve just left on the hostel shelf, or even just leaving your business card for future generations to find, like the mildewed card of the Dublin machinist I found in a book in Sydney.

4. You don’t have to worry about theft, or about losing books

While theft of mobile devices, including tablets, has been increasing over the years (to the point that the New York Police Department now tracks the thefts of Apple products specifically, the Wall Street Journal reports), your dog-eared copy of Cold Comfort Farm seems less likely to tempt the eye of a passing thief – Google ‘book theft’ and you’ll get stories about people stealing rare or ancient texts, or thieving from bookstores or libraries themselves, but not so much about pick pockets targeting owners of War and Peace.

And unless the book has sentimental value for you, it’s not too gut wrenching if you happen to leave your novel on a train or bus when seeing the sights – for a couple of quid, you can always pick up another, and you don’t have to cradle your bag or install a thousand and one zips and locks to ensure your peace of mind when moving through crowded tourist areas.

Credit: Sylvie Myers
Credit: Sylvie Myers
5. You don’t have to be organised

The thing with eReaders is, you have to remember to do various things before setting out from certain destinations.

To ensure you’ve got reading material, you’ve got to make sure you’ve purchased the book in a WiFi-enabled area and that you’ve downloaded the book before you set off.

Where gate to gate use of electronic devices is allowed on flights (these changes are quite recent and every airline has its own rules), you generally need to remember to switch devices to flight mode (or power them off during take off for some airlines).

For those with a memory like a particularly poorly constructed sieve (me), you can avoid the jolt of panic when you remember you forgot to download reading material, or to switch your device to flight mode, by sticking with books.

There’s no need to worry about electronic interference with books (unless you’re James Bond and your book is actually a personal communicator in disguise, in which case, you’ve got bigger problems to worry about, like laser sharks) and if you forget to bring your novel with you, you can pop into a store and buy a new one for a relatively low cost (particularly if the store in question sells them secondhand).

6. When worst comes to worst, books can start fires

Look, I’m not encouraging this, but when you’ve wandered off from your tour group in the wilds of mid-winter Siberia with no kindling to spark the handful of sodden twigs you’ve gathered, one match left and your Aunt Nora’s Christmas present of a romance novel you never wanted titled ‘The Pirate Captain’s Feisty Temptress’, you’ll be glad she didn’t get you the ebook version instead.

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