Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Traveling to Europe with Kindles

Elba Island, Italy at sunset

Before leaving for our one-month vacation to England and Italy, we gave our kids early birthday presents of Kindles. Since the Amazon account was in my name, all my ebooks were automatically archived on their Kindles. When I buy a new ebook, we can have it delivered to all three devices (or select just one) for no extra charge. This had the added advantage of being able to read one book simultaneously. The kids and I had many wonderful conversations over shared books, something I’d missed since they became independent readers.

Hill town of Elba Island

 Elba Island, Italy
The Kindles were great for travel! Our bags were much lighter, and we never ran out of reading material. Since the kids’ Kindles were wifi only, we had download books before leaving home. I also uploaded our itinerary and other important documents. Kindle did the conversion via email for free. Even abroad, I could download books anywhere with no surcharge via 3G on my Kindle and then transfer ebooks to the kids when we found wifi. Wifi connections in Europe were harder to come by, rarely free and often unreliable.

Beachside restaurant on Elba Island
Even my husband, who has an iPad2, covets a Kindle now. Mine was a gift from him. Kindles handle challenging light really well. Font size could be adjusted in dim light or if reading glasses were misplaced. You can even read outside without glare, just like a real book but unlike the iPad.

Figuring out how to charge our devices while abroad took some ingenuity. Kindle Help was not helpful but, I figured out that the Kindle’s charger would work in Europe with standard adapter plugs. We also got a car USB charger. The Kindle battery is meant to last a month with wifi/3G turned off, but on vacation we had to recharge about every 10 days. Reading more hours and using Amazon Kindle case reading lights ran the batteries down sooner.

Kindles should be ideal for travel guides. We could all simultaneously reference the Lonely Planet Guide to Italy without having to lug around the heavy 900-page guidebook. I used it to find affordable hotels and restaurants and to look up historical information on site. However, the maps were illegible and several links didn’t work. Then there were formatting issues: Kindles are designed for sequential reading, not for jumping around. Also, many guidebooks, like the Michelin ones, were not available on Kindle.

Only recently published books and classics (often for free!) are available. I had chosen the Kindle because it had the most titles of any ereader on the market, but it wasn’t enough. One of my favorite novels ever, A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, would be perfect for the Kindle since it’s nearly 1,500 pages, but it was not available as an ebook. My 16-year-old son bought a used paperback copy at an English bookstore in Florence and lugged that brick off camping in the wilderness too. He’s my son!

There is an educational advantage to the Kindle’s limitations. Although my son figured out how to use his Kindle to get on Facebook, it was difficult to navigate without a real web browser.  This summer was spent offline.  Usually an X-box player, my son read more novels for fun on vacation than he had all year. His favorite ebook was The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, 600-page historical fiction. To his surprise, he also liked Looking for Alaska by John Green. My son usually avoids young adult fiction, but he opened this favorite book of mine thinking it was a travel book. He got caught up in the story of a wild girl (called Alaska) and a thoughtful boy. He went on to read Paper Towns, also by John Green, but said it was too similar. On this trip, my son read more than me!

My 13-year-old daughter’s favorite ebooks were Beauty Queens by Libba Bray and the Dairy Queen trilogy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, all in young adult fiction. My daughter liked the Kindle so much that she took hers to camp. Ereaders are allowed with Wifi off, but we’ll have to charge it on visiting day. I sent her with a few real books, as a back up.

Ereaders aren’t for everyone, but I suspect their popularity will rise as the publishing world adapts to the internet age. We’re getting a Kindle for my mother-in-law for Christmas since there are limited large print books at her public library. My mother, however, didn’t like the feel of a Kindle and preferred to lug real books around Italy.  Although I love my Kindle for travel, I still buy real books from independent bookstores to read at home.

Bookstore at Portoferraio, Elba Island
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Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

Hello Sarah

Welcome back! Great information on the Kindle--I am still thinking about buying either the Kindle or Nook.

Love your pictures on Italy and I appreciate you sharing them with your readers.

Have a great day.

Tracy :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah!

I love my kindle too, I just got one recently and it definitely is very convenient for travelling.

I still like real books also! Glad to see you are well take care!


troutbirder said...

Sounds like a wonderful trip. And all the reading. I'm still with Grandma though and haven't made the jump into the 21st century. Welcome back. :)

Sarah Laurence said...

Tracy, I chose the Kindle because it had the most ebooks available.

Ryan, we are on the same page.

Troutbirder, so my mom is not alone.

All, not much online time this week in the last few days before my kids start school. I’ll catch up on blog visits this weekend.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I am a steadfast lover of the real thing when it comes to books, but I can most certainly see the benefits of e-readers when traveling. After all, I'm always the one with the ten ton suitcase, due to an overflow of books!

khaki said...

I have an iPad and I like it but have wondered about the Kindle. I don't know a lot about it but I was not aware you could do more than just books on it. That is good to know. My husband wants an iPad and I have been wondering about giving him mine and getting the Kindle. I don't mind reading on the iPad at all but still do enjoy the hard backs. Have a great trip!!!

Cat said...

I love my Kindle too and happily stash it in my purse so I can read at any opportunity! Isn't it wonderful to share the love of reading with your children? It makes me so happy to know that the love of books has been passed down another generation. There are many times when "real" books are in order too; art, photography, cookbooks...I'm not too picky about the format of reading material just so long as there is plenty of it around!

Amanda Summer said...

i was interested to learn about how well the e-reader worked for you in your travels - my husband has been encouraging me to buy one for some time now as we travel quite a bit.

however, i love the fact that you still patronize your local (and independent!) book store - even with the onset of e-publishing, may the bookstore live on!

Cid said...

My father is off to Switzerland with his Kindle, I ordered him the European adapter to take but I will tell him your other suggestions. My son and I have Kobos (as they have the most available books in Canada) and you made an interesting point about ereaders at camp. His does not allow any electronic devices and the cabins have no where to charge them. I wonder what will happen in the future as more and more kids use ereaders. I could never say no to a kid who wants to read whatever the mode.

cynthia said...

LOVE the bottom photo. And great evaluation of the Kindle--things I'd never thought about. I have both a Kindle and an iPad and much prefer my iPad for reading books so I was surprised by your husband's response. I bet an iPad would work better for jumping around in your travel books. Still, the coolest thing is you and your kids all using Kindles and sharing books. What a great idea--maybe that's why your husband felt left out.

cynthia said...

Also meant to say I hardly ever read electronically. I still prefer to lug books!

Rose said...

I agree the Kindle is great for traveling, and you've given me some extra ideas. I had never thought about downloading travel guides; it would be nice if more of that type of print material were available for the Kindle. My son bought me the case with the light last winter which I've really enjoyed. But my favorite feature has to be being able to change the font size--no more need for reading glasses:)

How wonderful that your children are such avid readers!

Donna said...

I haven't made the leap yet from paper books to e-readers. I probably will eventually, at least a little bit, like you do. My husband got a Nook a few weeks ago because he travels. He re-reads his books over and over again (he has hundreds of fantasy books) and is planning on buying many of them as e-books eventually, which seems redundant to me. He's going to buy a lot of his new books in e-book form, which does make sense.

I think it's great that your son read so much this summer and that you were all able to read the same things together too!

SG said...

Kindle seems to be the answer for the traveling book lover. I actually haven't checked the availability in India, but I know for sure, sooner or later, I will get one for myself.

Sarah Laurence said...

All, sorry not to make it back online until today. I’ve been working around the clock on a MS revision. Life is a bit easier now that the kids are back to school as of yesterday.

Pamela, the back pain on vacation gave me the shove to the Kindle.

Kacky, the best solution is having both a Kindle (for books) and an iPad (for aps).

Cat, I also keep my iPad in my purse for reading on the go. I agree that the content matters more than the format when it comes to reading.

Amanda, let’s hear for independent bookstores!

Cid, my daughter’s Kindle charge lasted for the 4 weeks of camp as there wasn’t much time to read.

Cynthia, lucky you to have both. My husband didn’t like how he lost his place when he changed font size on the iPad and also the glare outside. I don’t like the eye strain of reading a back lit screen. iPads are better for blogs and aps. At home I prefer a book.

Rose and Donna, thanks for sharing your experience with ereaders. I am lucky to have avid readers.

SG, I’d guess that a US or UK Kindle would work in India with a plug adapter.

Nikki - Notes of Life said...

Sounds like the Kindle is a perfect thing for a trip. Mine hasn't been too far... yet.

Booksnyc said...

I love your point about being able to share books with your family on Kindle. My Mom and I like to read some of the same books so I may consider the Kindle for her as a gift.

I have an iPad but don't read much on it - its the first generation one and I find it a bit heavy. I did take it to Thailand and loved how I could travel with so many books without the bulk.