If you’re anything like me (in other words, a nerd), travel is yet another excuse to read. It’s great to read on trains, and in airports, and by ancient ruins, and on deserted beaches, and, um, basically anywhere!
There are a few hurdles to overcome for the traveling bookworm, however. You may find yourself in a remote destination without easy access to bookstores, or in a city where there are bookstores but they have nothing in your language.
You may end up on a lengthy train or bus ride where the lights get turned off at night, or simply get through so many books you struggle to keep paying for new ones all the time.
Fortunately, there are ways to overcome all of these problems, with several digital tools that can help you out even when you’re hundreds of miles from the nearest bookstore.
From lightweight hardware to all-you-can-eat subscription services, the latest bestsellers to timeless classics and more, these are eight of the best reading apps, gadgets, services, and apps for travelers in 2021.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
Before I began seriously traveling, I saw no need for a Kindle or other e-reader. Real physical books (as in the heavy, musty things) are superior, right?
When you’re at home, they may well be. After months of reading half-torn books from hostel bookshelves and squinting through late-night bus rides with no lighting, though, I understood: Kindles are the best friend of the bookworm traveler.
As well as access to Amazon’s massive online store of books, magazines, and graphic novels, you can also read books that have nothing to do with the Amazon. In fact, you can email downloaded books to yourself, as long as they’re in the appropriate file format (Mobi.)
Unlike iPads or laptop screens, the Kindle screen is optimized to be easy on the eyes. For nighttime reading, there’s an inbuilt light that’s adjustable, from rather bright to very dim. Battery life is exceptional, typically lasting weeks between charges.
The latest version of the Paperwhite is lightweight and waterproof, with support for Bluetooth headphones if you prefer audiobooks to the written version.
Finally, while the physical Kindle device is a great travel tool, a free Kindle app is also accessible for phone, tablet, and computer users. Reading progress syncs automatically, so you can take up on one device right where you left off on another.Buy on Amazon
While Amazon’s Kindle dominates the e-reader market, there are a few alternatives. The best of these is likely the Kobo Forma, which is more of a competitor to Amazon’s pricier Kindle Oasis model than the Paperwhite mentioned above.
So, why choose Kobo? Escaping the limitations of the Kindle range, for starters. Kobo supports a much wider range of options, letting you read books in 14 separate formats including PDF and EPUB. Kindle, on the other hand, only accepts Mobi and its own proprietary format.
Kobo also lets you directly purchase books from Google Books and indie publishers, and you can also access books from some public library systems. There are many customizable features, including font sizes, background coloring, and the ability to read in landscape mode.
Kindle and Kobo both have advantages and disadvantages, so at the end of the day it really comes down to personal preference.
$249.99 for device, app is free on iOS and Android
If you’re a voracious reader when you travel, take a look at Scribd. Think of it as Netflix for books, where you pay a monthly fee to get access to an unlimited number of books, magazines, audiobooks, and documents, so long as they’re available on the Scribd platform in your country.
The service is available worldwide, with hundreds of thousands of titles including bestsellers and “buzzy” books. There are some compelling bundle options: as an example, you can purchase a Scribd + New York Times bundle for $12.99/month.
As you’d hope, you can download books for offline reading, and writers and aspiring authors can also publish their own work on the Scribd platform. You can test out the service with a 30-day free trial, and cancel your membership any time.
$8.99/month on iOS and Android
If you’re traveling with Apple devices, it’s worth taking a look at the company’s reading platform: Apple Books. Like other reading platforms, you can browse and download books and customize various features.
The main advantages are twofold: the ability to buy and consume content without leaving the Apple ecosystem, and a very attractive design. Apple even created a typeface just for the app, intended to make reading easier.
Books are in EPUB format, but it’s possible to import and read PDF files as well. Known as iBooks until quite recently, the app has a few nice features like audiobook support, personalized recommendations, and automatic switching to night mode (white-on-black text) when the light dims.
While the app and store aren’t particularly different from other book services, it can still be an appealing option for Apple devotees. Bundled with iOS, it only works on Apple devices.
Free on iOS
Google Play Books
Google’s reading service, Play Books, includes millions of ebooks, comics, textbooks, and audiobooks, which can be individually purchased and downloaded through the store.
There are many free books available as well, along with a “family library” feature that lets you share books with up to five family members for free. You can also sample books (including audiobooks) before you buy them.
Any notes you make while reading sync with Google Drive, while the “Bubble Zoom” tool identifies and zooms in on speech bubbles in comics, one tap at a time, for easier reading. The Night Light feature continually adjusts the screen color while reading at night, reducing eye strain.
Book purchases are currently supported in 75+ countries, and you can also upload ebooks in PDF or EPUB file format.
Google Play Books is compatible with many devices, including Android and iOS phones and tablets, computers, and certain e-readers such as Kobo and Nook. It’s not compatible with Kindle.
Free on iOS and Android
Just because you’re traveling, it doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the benefits of your local public library.
The Libby app lets you borrow from thousands of libraries around the world, as long as you’re a member. You can sign in to as many libraries as you’re a member of, switching between them at will.
The app lets you browse through library collections and digitally check out the materials. When you’re on Wi-Fi, the book with be downloaded to your device. On mobile data, it’ll stream pages as needed.
When the book hits its due date, the app automatically returns it to the library and deletes it from your device so you never have to worry about overdue fees. It also has a bunch of reading features like a zoom tool for reading graphic novels, and the ability to create wishlists and tag titles.
If you’re borrowing from a US library, you can also automatically send borrowed books to your Kindle and read them there.
Free on iOS, Android, and Windows
More of a fan of local, independent authors? Download the Wattpad app, which lets you publish your own written work and read titles from other community members.
While you can’t filter for writings from a particular region, you can search for topics such as “Ireland” or “India” to help track down authors from those countries. Each writer has an individual profile, which helps give a sense of their location and perspective.
Reading on Wattpad can be a nice change of pace from the content on other platforms. Books are often less polished than those from traditional authors, and the quality of writing varies quite a bit, but the content is free, fiercely independent, and global.
Free on iOS and Android
Did you know that you can access 58,000 free ebooks from Project Gutenberg? In fact, Project Gutenberg was the first provider of free electronic books, dating back to the early 1970s!
The books available on Project Gutenberg are in the public domain. They tend to be older works where the United States copyright on them has expired, and many of them are literary or nonfiction classics like Pride and Prejudice, Heart of Darkness, and Moby Dick.
The books tend to come in a variety of formats, including HTML, plain text, EPUB, and Mobi. You typically have the option to download the text directly, or to send it to Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive.
The project integrates with many e-readers, including Kindle, Kobo, and Nook, as well as tablets and smartphones. Project Gutenberg includes recommendations for free reading apps if you need them, including Stanza and Himalaya.
You may not always find the exact version or translation of a book that you’re after, but the free classic content of Project Gutenberg is an absolute treat regardless.
Images via pxhere (man with ereader at cafe), Amazon (man reading Kindle in van), quinntheislander (man with phone in hotel room), Free-Photos (reading from a Kindle), and Max Pixel (woman with phone at cafe).