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It helped me trek through the Sahara Desert on camelback and navigate the bustling souks of Marrakech. When I spent the winter living in Portugal, it was an invaluable source of information as I sat in sidewalk cafes trying to make sense of my new home. And as I type these words, it lies on the table beside me, an unassuming key to unlocking the secrets of my current location—the mist-wreathed shoreline of Scotland’s legendary Isle of Skye.
What I’m talking about, of course, is my Kindle.
This year, I’ve spent about five months (and counting!) traveling outside of the U.S. And while I’ve long appreciated the benefits of my Kindle (countless books on a single lightweight device! The ability to purchase books immediately without going to the store!), my travels have taught me that an e-reader is its best and most useful self when you fill it with guidebooks.
I’m a firm believer that while you can plan a trip without a guidebook, you probably shouldn’t. A copy of Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, or Rick Steves will give you vital tips on how to move from place to place, where to stay, and what to do.
When you’re on the road, your guidebook works even when your internet doesn't. But guidebooks also tend to be heavy and bulky, and you can’t exactly read one in public without sending a message along the lines of, “I have no idea where I’m going! Maybe you should rob me!”
That’s where my Kindle has come in ridiculously handy over the past several months. No matter where I am, I can scour my guidebook and no one knows what I'm reading. While I don't exactly blend in, I do always want to seem like I might be familiar with my surroundings—something that's hard to accomplish if my reading material declares “The Rough Guide to Morocco” in splashy letters across the cover. Where I wouldn't always feel comfortable whipping out a fancy tablet or laptop, my inexpensive Kindle in its beat-up case hardly seems a symbol of wealth.
It's also cost-effective. Recently, when I couldn’t find an English language guidebook in Portuguese bookstores, I was able to download an e-book that worked. And just a few days ago when planning my next trip, I was able to connect to my hometown library via WiFi and borrow a new guidebook without cutting into my travel budget.
In all honesty, you should know that there are some ways in which a paper guidebook is genuinely superior. When you're using your Kindle you can't draw on any included maps, and if you want to find something specific, you have to use the table of contents, index, or search function instead of simply flipping through the pages. But I've never truly regretted the lightweight, subtle freedom of going paperless.
I’ve been traveling with a discontinued Kindle Touch, but I have my eye on the award-winning Paperwhite, which I covet for its optional backlighting that would be really useful when I’m reading in hostel dorms or airplanes. And at risk of sounding like an advertiser for Kindle (I’m not, I just genuinely love mine), I really think it’s a must-have for any world traveler.
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