Confession time: I’ve always been resistant to new technologies. It took me years to switch from my beloved SLR to a digital camera, for example, and lugged my old 90’s Discman around long after the rest of the world had embraced MP3s.
Yes, the irony that I’m now a travel tech writer isn’t lost on me.
Little by little, though, I warmed up to the tech world. I’ve gone through my share of DSLRs since I got my first one in 2005, enough to know how a newbie can make the most of one.
I fell in love so hard with my iPod Classic when I got it over ten years ago that it is still the one thing I always pack when I travel. Old habits die hard, but convenience is difficult to argue with.
There’s one technology I’ve always had trouble with, though, and that’s the e-reader. I love books, not just as holders of stories and knowledge, but also as physical objects.
I’ve always been a faithful user of the hostel book exchange when traveling, even though it was hard to part with my paperbacks. I still fondly remember the copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that kept me company during my 2010 traipse around Southern Africa.
There was something I couldn’t foresee, though: that one day I’d end up living in a country with limited availability of print books in English.
In an unexpected turn of events, I moved to Qatar in mid-2019. This relocation proved a huge change after my previous homes of Mexico City and New York, and though I am relishing the surprises, there are some aspects of Doha living that I find harder than others. One of them is definitely the scarcity of books in English.
I was fortunately told about this before leaving for the Gulf, letting me make my peace with the need for a new piece of travel equipment. Amazon had just come out with a new and improved (read: waterproof) version of its Kindle Paperwhite, so I picked one up shortly before flying out.
Six months later, I’m a convert. Don’t get me wrong, I still stock up on print books whenever I get the chance, but both at home and on the road, my Kindle has proven to be an enjoyable and (dare I say it) useful device to have around. Here’s why.
Getting to Know My New Kindle
Learning The Ropes
As above, I was a skeptic before receiving my Paperwhite, but opened it ready to give it the old college try. We got off to a good start. Setting it up was a breeze. I simply turned it on, signed in with my Amazon account, and was ready to go.
Despite not having had a physical Kindle previously, I did have a number of e-books that I’d read on my computer via the Kindle app, and they all instantly appeared in my library. Having thumbnails of the covers is a nice touch, helping me instantly recognize the book, but you can show them in a list instead if you prefer.
Connecting it to a Wi-Fi network was also easy and quick enough, and when it was time to make my first purchase through the device, it was problem-free. Actually, I prefer it to buying books via the Amazon app or website, since it can be done with just one click rather than navigating through several screens.
User Experience (Or, How Much Do I Struggle With It)
Once I started using my Paperwhite, it did take me a little time to get used to it. I found it sluggish, slow to turn on and open books. However, the caveat here is that I’d never had a Kindle before, with no previous device to compare it to.
The Paperwhite’s responsiveness is apparently a massive improvement from previous models, and while I’d still like it to start up more quickly, I got used to it after a few days.
Once the book is open, though, I find that turning pages is smooth and fast enough to not disrupt my attention. The reading experience is pretty good overall, and I now find it not all that different from reading a print book.
Moving between chapters via the menu is straightforward, and I enjoy being able to choose whether I want the page number or time remaining shown at the bottom of the screen. For someone who regularly checks how many pages are left in the book as she reads, this is priceless.
I also expected to get tired looking at a screen for hours at a time, but that hasn’t been the case at all. The integrated light is bright enough to not have me strain my eyes while reading but soft enough that it doesn’t tire them out, and I can adjust it as needed.
Not bothering anyone else while engrossed in a novel is a massive plus. I can’t count the times I was yelled at in hostel dorms to turn off my flashlight!
And Oh Yes, It’s Waterproof
And here comes the big selling point for this iteration of the Paperwhite. I’m here to confirm that yes, you can use it while close to water. Reading in the bathtub. Reading at the beach. Reading with a beverage in your other hand. All of this is possible, and I’ve tested every situation.
The latest Kindle Paperwhite is IPX8 rated, meaning that you could drop it into two meters (over six feet) of fresh water for up to an hour and it would come back intact. I’m not quite brave enough to test those limits, but if it’s meant to stand that kind of exposure, a splash of water should pose no problem.
Why Get One Instead of Reading on Your Phone (or Tablet, or Laptop)
So the Paperwhite is great, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s perfect for travel. Is there a reason to take up precious luggage space with yet another device? Why can’t you just read or listen to audiobooks on your tablet, or even your phone?
It’s a fair question, especially with today’s tablets and phones coming with more storage, nicer screens, and often water resistance as well. For occasional readers, there’s no reason why you couldn’t simply download the Kindle app and get on with your day.
If you read regularly, however, I still think a Kindle Paperwhite is a worthy addition to your carry-on.
First off, its subtle lighting won’t disturb other people around you, and is designed to not hurt your eyes. This means you can read for longer and not interfere with your sleeping patterns (or at least, not as much). Reading on a tablet or phone, even with the screen light at its lowest, won’t have the same effect.
Second, think about storage. If you don’t have much free space, do you really want to sacrifice your favorite podcasts and essential travel apps to make room for e-books? You may, and that’s a good decision, but having a separate device avoids the problem entirely.
Third, battery life. The Paperwhite’s battery lasts for a long time: Amazon claims it lasts for up to ten weeks on a single charge, assuming you read for half an hour each day with the light set at the midpoint. My experience backs this up: it takes weeks of reading before I even think of finding a power cable.
Your phone’s battery is better saved for other travel necessities, like finding the way to your accommodation or storing your boarding passes.
Fourth, and this for me is the biggest reason: uninterrupted reading. Using a Kindle lets me read without calls, texts, and notifications clamoring for attention.
Sure, you can put your phone or tablet in airplane mode, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll still be distracted by offline apps and games, or wonder if your flight confirmation has come through yet and turn it back on. No danger of that with a Kindle.
Should You Get a Kindle for Travel?
So should travelers opt for the Kindle Paperwhite? The short answer is yes. Especially if you’re into reading, but even if you’re not a total bookworm, it’ll regularly come in handy during your travels: guidebooks, newspapers, and magazines are also available in Kindle format.
Easy to set up and easier to use, you’ll be happily reading your favorite novels on your Paperwhite in no time. It’s light, compact, and relatively inexpensive, and you’ll have immediate access to all of Amazon’s book and audiobook library no matter where in the world you happen to be.
It’s worth picking up a decent case to protect your Kindle as the screen is quite easy to damage, but once you’ve done that, you’re good to go. Take it from a recent convert: you won’t regret your decision.Buy on Amazon