The Kindle for Travellers: A Review

If you love to read, books can be a real issue when travelling. They are heavy to carry around and in many parts of the world it’s difficult to find quality, affordable books. We have really struggled with this in South America and ended up carrying around three or four novels at a time plus a guidebook, in case we ran out.

We finally had enough and decided to order a Kindle 3G from the US Amazon store while staying in Medellin for a few months. I had resisted up until now as I didn’t want to carry around more electronics, but I realised that an ebook reader is the ideal solution for travelling bookworms.

We fell for the Kindle instantly and it has made a huge difference to our travelling experience: our backpacks are much lighter and we have a massive selection of books to choose from.

Here’s why we think the Kindle is ideal for travellers:

Tiny Size – It’s incredibly slim and light, in fact it’s smaller than a paperback yet contains your complete library. It saves us lots of space and weight in our backpacks.

Huge Capacity – Although it’s small the Kindle can fit thousands of books. It has revolutionised reading the way the iPod did music listening.

Kindle compared to books

See how much space we've saved?

Paper-like Screen –  Reading on a computer is tiring for the eyes but the Kindle uses an e-ink display which is just like reading paper. It really is amazing. There is no glare so you can read it in bright sunlight. People often talk about the iPad being an e-reader but for me the LCD screen means it isn’t an option for long periods of reading.

Easy to Hold – One thing we didn’t expect is that reading on a Kindle is actually more comfortable that reading a real book. We didn’t go for the expensive leather cover which opens out like a book, but instead bought a lightweight neoprene sleeve that we slip the Kindle out of to read. As it’s so light you can easily read the Kindle in one hand – great for snuggling in bed. There are forward and back page turn buttons on each side so you can change your position and still change pages easily.

Long Battery Life – According to Amazon the battery lasts up to a month without WiFi or 10 days with WiFi  switched on. We haven’t properly tested this yet, but without WiFi it seems to last a long time. It definitely lasts a lot longer than a laptop, iPod or iPad.

Great Choice of Books – After a year faced with Dan Brown or John Grisham in hostel book exchanges it’s wonderful to have such a huge choice of books from the Amazon store. It isn’t perfect as many books still aren’t available in Kindle edition – for example there aren’t as many Latin American novels as I’d like, but there’s still a massive selection. There are also many newspaper and magazine subscriptions that will be sent regularly straight to your Kindle.

Millions of Free Books Available – There are many free books available both on the Amazon store and from sites such as Project Gutenburg. Yes, they are mostly classics but it’s a good excuse to broaden your reading habits.

Easy to Buy – Amazon stores your credit card details so you can buy books with just one click. From the Amazon website you can just choose ‘Buy now’ and the book will be delivered within a minute to your Kindle, as long as you have WiFi or 3G turned on. If not it’ll download it the next time you do. Or you can buy from within your Kindle without the need of a computer. In fact it’s dangerously easy to buy!

Sample Chapters – I love the ability to try before you buy. For any book just click ‘Send sample now’ and the first chapter or two will be sent directly to your Kindle. The samples are usually a generous length. If you decide to buy it you can do so from the Kindle with just one click.

It’s Not Just For Books – You can read many document formats on your Kindle including PDFs, DOC, HTML, JPEG and TXT files. You need to get them converted to a format readable on the Kindle but this is easily done by emailing them to the personalised Kindle email address that you are given. There is no charge for this as long as you use WiFi rather than 3G when abroad. I use the free.kindle.com version of the email address to ensure I never pay.

You can also use the free Calibre software to convert pretty much any file to Kindle format.

Reading PDF on Kindle

Most PDFs come out fine

Ability to Highlight & Make Notes – As well as bookmarking pages (although it always remembers the last page you were on), you can highlight words or passages and make notes. I find this particularly useful for guidebooks, or to highlight Spanish words I want to add to my vocab list later.

Built-in Dictionary -The Kindle comes with a built in English dictionary which you can browse and search in. Best of all if you move the cursor before a word while reading the definition pops up at the bottom of the screen.

I bought the Merriam-Webster Spanish – English dictionary and set this to my default dictionary (Press Home -Menu-Settings-Menu-Change Primary Dictionary). This has been amazing for reading Spanish books. I can easily see definitions without having to disturb the flow by stopping and flicking though a dictionary.

Kindle Screen Shot of Spanish Dictionary

Screen Shot of Spanish Dictionary In Use While Reading

Sync Across Devices – If you have the free Kindle app for your iPod, iPad, iPhone, Android or computer when you buy a book it downloads it to all of your registered devices and even saves your page. So you can start reading on your Kindle and later pick up where you left off on your iPhone. This only works for books you buy though – not personal documents or free books you’ve got from outside Amazon.

Read Blog Posts – I’ve just discovered Instapaper, a free tool for saving web pages to read later. You get given a bookmark and just click Read Later for long posts you don’t want to read right then. I have set my account up to send these posts automatically to my Kindle every day. It’s so much nicer to read them on the Kindle screen.

Free Internet – We bought the version with both WiFi and 3G as we thought it would be useful to be able to check email and Twitter when we don’t have WiFi. The 3G has no roaming charges for unlimited use so it seemed worth the extra cost for us.

The web browser is experimental so it’s not brilliant but it’s definitely good to have. I particularly like being able to download books from Project Gutenburg direct to my Kindle, follow links in books or an Instapaper article, and look things up in Wikipedia. You can even tweet quotes from a page you are reading if you set up your Twitter account.

Extra Features – There are many extra features such as games (click alt-shift-M), a basic music player, and a text to speak option. I’m not really interested in these but some people might be.

So that’s the good, but what about the bad? These are the Kindle’s downsides:

Guidebook Navigation & Maps – Guidebooks are not that easy to flick through and the maps, especially larger ones are difficult to look at. Often they are too small to read easily. We have an iPod Touch though which our guidebooks get synced to and the maps are great on this. Read more here about whether digital guidebooks can replace paper books.

Web Browser – The WiFi is slower than on a computer, so when browsing the Amazon store it can take a few seconds for things to come up. The web browser is quite difficult to navigate and not all pages work very well. To make things easier make sure you bookmark the pages you use regularly and try Article Mode or zooming in for easier reading -all these are accessed by pressing Menu when you are in the browser.

To be honest this is almost a good thing as I don’t want to be distracted by the internet when reading. It is primarily an ebook reader and it does this very well.

PDFs Aren’t Perfect – Not all PDFs read well on the Kindle. If it’s a simple one with mostly text you’ll be fine, but if there are lots of images and tables it gets more complicated. There are options to convert PDFs to the Kindle better but I haven’t bothered with that yet. I have been happy with the PDFs I’ve read so far, even if a few things end up a little out of place.

Can’t Use US Store Abroad
– You can choose any address to register your Kindle to (it’s separate from your credit card address) so as we don’t have a fixed address we chose a relative’s US address, as the US Amazon store has the biggest variety and lowest prices for books. However after downloading a few books we got an email saying they knew we were using it outside of the US and we needed to email them ID such as a passport or driving licence to prove we are US citizens. As we couldn’t do this being UK citizens we continued to download books until we were blocked from using the US store after about 10 books.

We didn’t want to use the Latin American store as many books aren’t available, including guidebooks to Latin American countries! So we changed our address to our relative’s address in the UK and switched our purchases to the UK store. I don’t mind this too much as there are some good deals there but some things are more expensive or not available.

How to get around this?

I think the problem is that we initially used 3G to buy books. It’s possible that if you just use  WiFi then they won’t notice where you are. I think it’s strange that we are able to use the UK store even though we aren’t in the UK – maybe it’s because we have a UK credit card or maybe they haven’t noticed we are in Colombia as we’ve been using WiFi for purchases.

You could also try using a VPN on your computer when buying books so it looks like you are in the US.

I know many people are resistant to giving up physical books but for the traveller the Kindle just makes sense.

Note: If you buy a Kindle through the Amazon links above we get a small commission. Thanks!

Trail Wallet

Do you have a Kindle or are you considering one? Leave a comment and let us know what you think.

57 thoughts on The Kindle for Travellers: A Review

  1. I like the Kindle a lot more than I thought I would, but I really don’t like how expensive newer books are. A lot of times the Kindle version is more expensive than the paperback version! Also, that’s strange about the Amazon store. I’m American and I haven’t had any trouble using the U.S. store in the past 6 months in Thailand (hope I didn’t just jinx myself…).

    • I do think ebooks should be significantly cheaper than paperbacks – hopefully the time will come. I find the prices very varied but so far I haven’t spent more than $8. When books over here cost at least $20 I’m happy with that.

      Did you use 3G to buy books? It’s my guess that this is what alerts them. Or it could be that your credit card is registered to a US address, as ours isn’t.

  2. Great review on the Kindle. I’m not a world traveler, but I have really enjoyed the lightness and compactness of the Kindle on my short trips. I’d not heard of Instapaper, so I’m going to check that out soon. As I’d mentioned on Twitter, I’m using the Barron’s Spanish English dictionary, but if I need to get another one, I would probably go with the MW one. Overall, I was resistant to buying an ebook reader, but now I must say that I love my Kindle as much as I do my MacBook Pro and Android phone. :-)

  3. Great review guys! It has seriously revolutionized our travels. I am just waiting for them to make a Kindle with the eInk technology in color and then we’ll be upgrading.

  4. Oh I’m sold and have been for a while now, it’s just an issue of “I don’t read enough now to justify it”–I will again eventually, but just not now. I really look forward to seeing what they’ve come up with by the time I get around to getting one.

    Also, have you tried any other e-readers? I’ve heard people say they preferred the Sony ones to the Kindle a couple of times before.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    • I think the Kindle is fantastic for language learning. I love being able to use the inbuilt dictionary in Spanish – it makes reading so much quicker.

      I haven’t tried any other readers but from what I read the latest version of the Kindle has the best screen and price. I did try a friend’s reader about 6 months ago – it was a Sony or Nook, but I found the page turning a bit slow. No problems with this on the Kindle.

  5. What a comprehensive review!! Hope you got paid to write it, because you totally sold us on a Kindle!! We so want one now. We are always carrying a few books around with us but they take up quite some space and the weight adds up. Hopefully we can afford one soon – or two, as we’d probably end up fighting about it all the time ;-)

    • Well, we get paid a bit if anyone buys through the link!

      We have so much more space in our backpacks now – it is amazing. I’d definitely recommend getting two if you both read a lot. We have an iPod Touch too, so Simon uses that for reading as well.

  6. Question for you: You have one for the two of you, right? Do you fight over it? Do you feel like you each need your own now? It seems like a slippery slope….

    • Yep we just have one, but we bought an iPod Touch at the same time. When I am reading the Kindle Simon uses this instead. If you buy a book from Amazon it syncs on both devices and saves your page. Also, Simon reads on buses but I can’t as I get sick so he has it then.

      This is working so far as Simon doesn’t read as much as me. If you are both big readers I would recommend getting one each.

  7. This review is great. It actually makes me want to get one even though I am not a reader. I am bring a book with me and maybe along the way on this trip I will become a reader since I know I will have a lot of down time. I still really want to get an iTouch but I am not, at least not yet.

    • If you aren’t a huge reader then just carrying one book around and swapping it when you can is probably the best idea. If you do decide to get the Touch though it’s not bad for reading. We are finding it particularly good for guidebooks.

    • I agree it is a life-changer for a big reader. Books are crazily expensive in South America and it’s great being able to get reasonably priced and even free books to read. I’m glad you are loving it too!

  8. Great review and nice tip about Instapaper. I have heard of it before but wasn’t sure of its relevance to me. I have ordered a Kindle (yea!) but it is traveling with a friend and I won’t pick it up for a couple more months (in Buenos Aires) so I am really looking forward to getting my hands on it. I have a long list of books that I want to read on it.

    One question: how much did you have to pay for shipping and taxes/duties? I wanted to just have it sent to me directly but everything I saw for DHL/FedEx shipping to places where I was or would be (Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina) included huge import duties so that it would cost almost as much as the Kindle itself. I did see that Amazon didn’t charge much for shipping (about US$20 if I recall) but they included a warning that it might be subject to import duties and I couldn’t find anyone to tell me how much those might be.

    • The shipping wasn’t too bad at $27 especially as it was priority and came in 4 days (including the weekend) once despatched. But the import duties were $58.56 – Amazon take a deposit for it when you order and then you are supposed to get a refund depending on how much it actually cost. I couldn’t find out what the actual charges were or if we were due a refund. On the Amazon site it said you needed to speak to DHL about it but I didn’t have a number of the office that dealt with us. Honestly it seemed like too much hassle to pursue so I just accepted it. So worth it though!

  9. I have seen a few of these around, and been very impressed. I guess the Ipad is also commonly used for reading books, along with other purposes too. Still, built in internet connections that exist without paying for it is very cool.

    Aaron

    • I think if you want something that does everything then the iPad is a good option but if your priority is a really good ereader that doesn’t strain your eyes then the Kindle is the way to go.

  10. great review – the only problem for us is we always are reading at the same time, which means we would need two, making it considerably more expensive!!! Apart from that you have totally sold it to me!

  11. Sold! what a great review. I’ve been wanting one for a while but I just love rummaging around in an old book store and discovering hidden secrets! But it looks like the Kindle is just too good to say no to, particularly while travelling. I’m like a walking library at the moment so this would be perfect. Thanks for the review.

  12. I got my Kindle for Christmas and I love, Love, LOVE IT!!! I read a lot and since my shelves couldn’t hold any more books, my parents thought of this great gift. I love everything about it (though sometimes I miss reading a “real” book). So far I’ve gotten some classic books – really recommending the Jules Verne collection.
    Oh, the battery lasts for a really long time. I charged it on Christmas day and had to charge it again just 1 week ago, so it’s a big plus…not to mention the capacity!

  13. Oh, I didn’t know it’s ‘paper like’ screen! In that case… I should consider this. I love reading, but I can’t stand read something out of screen that long. Thanks for a great review!!

  14. I am a recent convert after lugging three big books and a pdf printout around Thailand for a week long trip with one small bag. Never again. I’ve also discovered I can get e-books from my local library in Australia for limited times – a great range of newer releases and all for free! I wonder if your library at home has them (if you are still a member!) or can you finangle someone to get them to you?

  15. I love this review guys. I currently use a Sony Reader, which I love, but whilst travelling through South America recently I saw lots of travellers with the Kindle, and after handling one, I am constantly fighting the urge to go and buy.

    By the way, UK libraries are way behind our US counterparts when it comes to lending books for Kindles.

    • That’s a shame to hear that UK libraries are behind. We might be able to join the library in Jacksonville, where we are house sitting for the next month, so we’ll see if they lend kindle books.

  16. Excellent review! Im embarking on a round the world trip this July and this review has really made me want to get a Kindle as I love to read as I travel. I was just wondering do you find it draws any unnecessary attention as you travel? Are you comfortable taking it out in public? I would really love to get one but Im afraid that I would be worrying too much about it being stolen. Would love to hear your experience of it in that respect, thanks!

    • We find that the Kindle is actually very subtle, unlike a laptop or iPad. It’s quite small and dark so probably looks like a book from a distance. We never feel uncomfortable taking it out in public. The only time I worry about it more than a book is when leaving it on the beach to go for a swim. It’s worth the risk for all the benefits though.

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  19. Spot on review. I’ve been traveling with mine for about 6 months now and loved it, but it really came into its own while trekking in Nepal. In 35 days of trekking I only needed to charge it twice, and it absolutely beat buying overpriced books and then carrying them up mountains everyday!

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  23. We have been using our Kindles for over a year…at home, here in Australia, and when in Europe. My husband was sceptical at first but after trying mine, purchased one and now he uses it more than myself….mainly for articles downloaded from Browser and newspapers. He also downloads french articles and, of course, has a French/English dictionary loaded. I love the fact that depending on my mood, I can switch from fiction to non-fiction so easily. And, the ease of purchasing a book, via the 3G, while travelling south on a train in France is fantastic. I had just finished the previous novel. Yes, the choice is a little limited but if you select an author, even one you like, other recommendations are offered. And, if I wish to purchase a non-fiction book on packing light, or ‘minimalist living’, I just search, locate, review, decide and pay via Paypal Almost as good as a bookstore. Hubby has a leather ‘book cover’ but I have a beautiful embossed leather sleeve. I , like you, appreciate the lightness and the ability to hold it in one hand. Love them. And, love your site.

    • I’m glad you’ve had such a great experience Maureen. We agree with everything you’ve said. Many people are dubious at first but once they’ve tried it they love it!

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  25. I just wanted to say thank you for the information here! Being an expat in Korea, I’m grateful on my Kindle on a daily basis … but I didn’t know I could switch the dictionary to Spanish until I read this post.

    I love your website generally – your advice is very useful, your photography is amazing and your writing style is very vivid!

    Thank you again!

    Owen

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