Books versus e-readers for travellers: Which do you prefer?


As I was packing up my gear for six months of travel, I was suddenly very aware of how much space books occupy in my backpack. I had encountered the same issue on other trips, never mind the addition of journals, notebooks, etc. I’m a bibliophile through and through – the physical weight of a book is just as important to me as its contents. (Sorta.)

And as I disregarded extra pairs of dr’ars in favour of more literature, for the first time ever I found myself thinking: I wish I had an e-reader.


I brought up the topic on Facebook and Twitter, and I’ve found people are extremely divided and passionate about their decisions. As quick as I am to defend physical books, the pro e-readers are equally quick in jumping down my throat about it. Or if I express my need for something travel-friendly, the bibliophiles chime in with, “BURN HER AT THE STAKE!” Anyway, it’s a fun topic to write about because people are so opinionated on the matter. I seriously love discussing it with people.

I’ve been incredibly opposed to having an e-reader for a number of reasons.

1. My life is already consumed with gadgets

As if I need another electronic in my hand while I’m trying to juggle an iPhone, laptop, and camera. There’s something reassuring about flipping open the pages of a book.

2. It just doesn’t feel like I’m reading a book

I may have had my expectations too high, because a former colleague raved about how her Kindle was just like reading a real book. I was enthusiastic to try, but nope. Where’s the book smell? The sound of pages turning? THE INSANITY. I write primarily online these days but in all honestly, I rarely read online. Digital isn’t my favourite thing in the world.

3. You can’t see what others are reading

Sure, you can ask, but it’s more fun to strike up a conversation with someone over a book when you already know the title and can relate. I once used said tactic to hit on a guy at the airport reading Mystic River. It didn’t go very far, and I’m certain I creeped him out.

Similarly, I love browsing people’s bookshelves and connecting over shared literary loves.

4. You don’t have to power down your book during a flight

I hate flying, and reading during takeoff and landing helps calm my nerves while I’m waiting for the beer and tranquilizers to be served. I’ve also never needed to recharge a book.

5. I feel good for supporting independent bookstores

There’s something wonderful about wandering into a small independently owned bookshop filled with quirkiness and book-loving people. My favourite bookstore in Montreal used to be littered with stacks of books and magazines, chipped coffee mugs, professors and teenagers crowded around tables with pages spread out around them. I am the ultimate pretentious hipster. I miss it.

6. You can’t share your e-books

I LOVE swapping books with good friends. I love sharing my reads. (Only when my friend is reliable enough to return the book, of course.)

On the other hand, I find myself desiring an e-reader more and more.

The perks of having an e-reader

-Seriously, I’d probably cut 10 lbs out of my backpack load. Although I can use book exchanges to keep me fuelled while on the road, I’m not so eager to part with a book I love.

-New books are cheaper.

-I’ll spend less time reading things I don’t particularly want to read because it’s the only option available. (I suppose the opposite is that I get to discover a lot of new literature I wouldn’t otherwise have considered.)

I’m sure when I’m not so poor I’ll eventually give in and buy an e-reader. What are your thoughts/preferences? Is there a particular e-reader you LOVE? Might as well do market research.

  • January 10 2014
    Melissa Shearer

    I absolutely love the feel, the look, the smell of real books. Not to mention I absolutely love my ‘library’. That being said though – I received a Kindle last Christmas and since starting up at the gym – I have started to really love it. I can put it on the elliptical and watch an hour fly by as I get lost in a good read. I have the Kindle Paperwhite (the one with a back light) – so I can also read it in bed and not disturb my boyfriend. From a travelling perspective – the battery life is very good on the Kindle, and it’s definitely convenient to be able to bring 1, 2, 3, 1000 books with you and it doesn’t take up precious room in your bag and weighs less than a pound.

    It’s difficult. Every time I buy a book for my kindle, I feel like I’m cheating on my real books.

    • January 14 2014

      Thanks, Melissa! You guys made me decide to go with a Paperwhite. Not sure if I can afford it just yet, but when the time comes. I’ve actually started listening to audiobooks while on the treadmill, which I rather like as well.

  • January 10 2014
    Mario Octavio Jimenez

    Well, I read a lot mainly because I need to learn about need technologies as part of my work as software developer, having a digital book makes easier to add notes, search and carrying 3 or 5 books with 600 pages into the office whenever I need it.

    On the other side when it comes to read for pleasure, thing that I also enjoy a lot, I prefer printed books! No doubt as you mention it’s all about the feeling, passing pages and holding the book itself, reading comes to us in many senses not only our sight to interpret the contents, to me it’s also about where am I sited, if it’s a big or small book, if it smell to new or if it’s an old one.

    Maybe that’s why books remain strong in this digital time, some of us still find them enjoyable!

    • January 14 2014

      Ah, yikes, definitely a factor when a book has over 600 pages! Lol. Yes, I don’t expect physical books to ever go out of style. At least, I hope not.

  • January 10 2014

    I’m glad this turned into a blog post! I agree with all the reasons you stated for preferring real books. A lot. I would have never gotten an e-reader if my parents hadn’t given me on as a birthday gift shortly before I moved to Korea. It was a lifesaver living abroad in a country where English language books are expensive and while on the road it was nice not to carry around a million paperbacks. Space and weight wise, it is invaluable for longtime travel. I would still occasionally pick up “real books” on the road, just to change it up, and now that I’m living in England I buy paperbacks often because I prefer reading actual books. But for traveling, I wouldn’t trade a Kindle for anything.

    • January 14 2014

      Awesome, Amanda, thanks! The verdict so far has definitely been Kindle.

  • January 10 2014

    Number 3 is an excellent point! One of my favorite parts of travelling is creeping what books other people are reading (and then developing a theory on who they are based on their book choice). I worked in a second hand bookstore for years and am a huge fan of REAL books. However, the convenience of an e-reader (or in my case, my ipad mini) y rules, especially for travel. You can take 10, 15, 20, or even 30 books with you if you aren’t sure what you want to read (or how much you are going to read).

    I did have a Kobo Touch but it stopped working for no apparent reason. If you google this, it is a pretty common problem. So, I definitely would not recommend a Kobo.

    • January 14 2014

      Thanks, Katie! Noted on the Kindle. And I TOTALLY judge people based on their reading choices. ;) Lol.

    • January 14 2014
      Melissa Shearer

      I had a Kobo (one of the first generation ones) – and on my first tour through Africa someone on my tour stepped on it (it was sitting on the empty seat next to me) and crushed the screen. I’d heard of people breaking their Kindles and Amazon replacing them free of charge – so when I finished my tour and returned to my then-home in New Zealand, I contacted Kobo to see if they had the same sort of deal. The email I received back was very rude and essentially told me they’re not Amazon, they don’t do replacements and that I can buy a new one myself.

      I made sure my next ebook was a Kindle.

  • January 10 2014

    I almost only read digitally now. I used to have a Sony Reader, but now I read on an iPad mini (and increasingly on my iPhone). It’s just way easier to carry around a ton of books when they’re digital, and you can always get what you want because pretty much everything is available.

    I’m actually at the point now where I find physical books rather annoying. They’re heavy, I have to physically turn the pages, I need light to read, etc. I know it sounds whiny, but it makes a big difference.

    When I’m in Canada I go into bookstores to look around, and if I see anything I like I make a note to buy it later on iBooks or add it to my list on Goodreads.

    • January 14 2014

      Hahahaha, see, I LOVE all those small annoyances. Even the sound of a page turning. Music to my ears.

      • January 14 2014

        Maybe we can find you an ereader that makes a page turn noise? Just kidding! :)

  • January 10 2014
    Melissa Hogan

    You can buy a Kobo mini now for $50 so it’s not a big investment. I like real books at home and my Kobo for travel. There’s no other way I could fit hundreds of books in my purse (and have them weigh less than my iPhone).

    Sure, with physical books you can support an independent bookstore. With an eReader you can support independent writers since it’s much easier to have a book distributed digitally.

    I don’t think it has to be one or the other decision. There’s no reason you can’t keep buying real books and also have an eReader for times when it’s more convenient.

    • January 14 2014

      That cheap?! NICE. Everything I’ve looked at has been over $100.

  • January 10 2014
    Maggie BB

    I love books. Love love love. Love their smell, love their feel, love being able to easily flip back a couple pages when I realize I’ve spaced out, or flip back to remind myself of something that I already read that’s being referred to later in the book…

    …but I carry too much stuff in my purse. I have back and shoulder problems and I know a million pound purse is not actually helpful. So I like how very very lightweight my kobo is.

    I have had the kobo for almost 5 years. I have read maybe 5 books on it. I do not like it for sitting around the house. I find it difficult to read comfortably in bed (which is actually, ridiculous, because I hurt my wrists with some books the way I read in bed… but it’s a familiar and accepted pain. The books always half hold themselves up. The kobo may be light, but I have to support it 100% when reading in bed. )

    I *do* like it for being in my purse all of the time. Unexpected hour long wait at the doctor’s office? Not a problem. Waiting for my car to get fixed? Easy peasy. My ride is held up by traffic? Lemme just pull out my book…. I never remove my kobo from my purse to cut down on weight. It’s lighter than my dayplanner. (which I would never take out of my purse either, but still.. I have finally started using google calendar, so if I HAD to leave my dayplanner out of my purse, I could..)

    The kobo was a gift, because my stepmum thought it was insane I had 7 books in my suitcase :P She found it amazing for travel because of it’s lightness. I still buy a book in the airport every time I travel (because otherwise my plane will crash. but I am not at all superstitious), but I have the kobo for if the book I bought doesn’t last the whole trip. There’s over 100 books on my kobo, and it’s super easy to buy a new one if I don’t wanna read any of the books already on it.

    (that being said, I still packed a book on my last trip. and bought 2 at the airport.)

    Anyhow, indication of how often I pick up my kobo: been reading the same book on my kobo for over a year now.
    (granted, it is Anna Karenina and it got reeeaaaalllllyyyyy boring so I had no motivation to pick it up except when stuck waiting somewhere)

    • January 14 2014

      LOL. NO desire to read that one! As I was reading this, an idea struck me: buy a Paperwhite for travel, but carry one book as well in case I find something worth swapping for.

  • January 10 2014
    Maggie BB

    (oh, and my kobo is ancient at 5 years of age. it is not touch screen, i cannot search, and it takes very noticeable seconds for a page to load every time i “turn the page”, which makes me less inclined to read it when a real book is handy… I hear the new fangled technology is much improved on this..)

  • January 10 2014

    I guess I join the throng when saying I have a Sony ereader for travel but never touch the thing at home. I prefer real books by far and am always reading – but cannot bear the thought of hauling books with me anymore. The exception being guide books – I have gotten really hooked on the DK Eyewitness Top 10 books – small and packable with loads of info – but guess that’s another post!

    • January 14 2014

      Yeah, I definitely like having guidebooks in paper form! I love tagging them and putting notes in them, etc. And the maps. But there seems to be a lot of you in the travellers club.

  • January 10 2014

    I always thought I wouldn’t like eReaders and it turns out I was right. I’ve been reading books on my Kindle for Mac lately and I’m so frustrated by it. It doesn’t feel like a real book. I hate that I’m staring at a screen even more often. And it’s too easy to get distracted. Hate it.

    • January 14 2014

      I wanna try one out. I suspect I’ll feel the same as you but it could also be due to my own stubbornness…but there’s also a difference in bibliophiles and avid readers (I’m both)

  • January 10 2014

    love books, specially hard cover!!! but, travelling, you just can’t beat the e reader.. also, cold night in bed, it is a LOT easier to keep one hand warm, and still read, flip pages etc with my e reader!!!! BUT.. I still love books!!! :(

  • January 10 2014

    I want an e-reader pretty bad. I used to like books, but they take up a lot of space, and down here in the Caribbean the pages actually MOLD. Gross. Also, with all the power outages we have, I like to read books to pass the time but after it gets dark (6pm) you’re shit outta luck.

    • January 14 2014

      LOL, that’s hilarious. Mouldy books make me sad. :(

  • January 11 2014
    Sally Thelen

    I was a big e-reader hold-out. I love everything about paper books.. In fact, I love everything about paper — just the feel and physicality of it is just so much MORE than digital. I’m that person who prints out EVERYTHING rather than read it on my computer. Trees hate me.
    But after almost 4 years in Asia of reading whatever-I-could-get-my-hands-on-in-English (including a lot of selections I’m really not proud of…) I finally caved and bought one right before I moved to China. Yeah, an e-reader is nowhere near as pleasurable as a paper book, but I could order books I actually wanted to read and get them instantly rather than resorting to the Nicholas Sparks book I found on the hostel free books shelf. (Or worse! And trust me there is worse…)

    • January 14 2014

      Hahaha, I’m the same way. I write mostly web content these days and yet I NEVER read online. Not even blogs anymore, usually.

  • January 11 2014
    donna morang

    As an author I can tell you that readers have changed in the last year. One year ago, most of my sales were book/books. This past year, my sales are 85% more Kindle books than book/books.Because I live out of the US, I’m an E-reader, but still if given the opportunity to read a new book/book, I grab it and love every moment of holding that gem in my hands, turning pages back when I don’t remember who is who, and just gazing on the cover Oh yes, I miss real books, but thank heaven for an e-reader.

    • January 14 2014

      Wow, that’s a CRAZY statistic! Interesting to read it from an author’s POV.

  • January 11 2014

    I love books and resisted e-readers for a long time, but now my kindle paperwhite is literally the most prized possession in my backpack. I can read so many books! Which, when it comes down to it, is all I really care about

  • January 12 2014

    I really didn’t want an e-reader. Like you I love the feel of a book in my hands and turning the page and the fact that you can immediately pass it along to someone else. But last year while I was traveling, I was carrying around some 10 pounds in books. Eventually I read them all and I was still traveling. So I took to trading the few I had left in book swaps at hostels or at used book stores and I always ended up with something I didn’t even want to read. At most of the hostels I was lucky if I could find a book in English, nevermind one that sounded like something I wanted to read.

    • January 14 2014

      Yeah, I think that could work both ways. You might come across something you wouldn’t normally read but discover you LOVE it, or you just end up reading a great deal of shit.

  • January 13 2014

    About four years ago I really thought about e-readers for the first time during my Spanish class in Argentina. I didn’t understand why people buy them. They are quite expensive (at least they were back then) and the books you buy aren’t often cheaper. So wtf are people thinking? Well, my opinion has changed. A year ago I got my kindle paperwhite for Christmas. I’m still reading some proper books as I haven’t read all of my bookshelf. But I can tell you that I avoid carrying books with me during my travels.I spent 7 months in Australia and always swapped books in Hostels. I don’t know if I was unlucky but it was quite hard to find readable books sometimes. So I just read anything just for reading. If I had an e-reader I could have read something of my interest.
    I get all your points, I was against e-readers a long time but there are just so practical. For example I prefer laying on the side and it’s quite to read a proper book like this but with my kindle it’s totally fine. I can read in the dark and do not disturb anyone in my hostel dorm. And of course the simple fact of the weight. But yeah it’s annoying during take-off and landing that’s true. I think you could write a whole book about the pro and cons of e-books and paper books :)

    • January 14 2014

      Thank god for airline magazines! What’s the Paperwhite like? How is it different from the normal one? I’ve been hearing that one come up a lot

      • January 14 2014

        I’m really glad that I decided to get the paperwhite cause the light is an extreme advantage especially in hostel dorms. It also has a touchscreen which the first one doesn’t have so it’s quite handy in that way. The light doesn’t hurt your eyes at all. I thought it might be like watching TV but it’s still like reading a book somehow and I really recommend this kindle. keep us updated how you end up with your book vs. e-book “conflict” :)

  • January 13 2014

    I love real physical books and I never thought I’d get into using a kindle but when I got one for my birthday I totally converted (at least 50% of the time I still like the feel of books and to support my local library/bookshop the other 50%). I love the instant downloads, the ease of traveling with it, the instantly being able to read reviews. Oh and the samples, I LOVE the samples!! Oh and I’m pretty sure there is a way of sharing kindle books with friends but I haven’t tried it yet. Apparently you can just email each other the links and then return it (obviously only with others who have kindles/e readers tho). Remember it never has to be totally e reader only, books will always (hopefully) be around when you get the urge to hold one again :)

    • January 14 2014

      Yeah, I’m trying to figure out which books to bring to Europe that won’t take up so much space + I wouldn’t mind ditching if need be. But damn, nothing like sticking to a bookmark in a good book.

  • January 15 2014

    A lot of old school readers will stick to real books to the death. I get it, I love my collection of books. Looking at them makes me happy. But at the same time I can definitely see the appeal of an e-reader. It’s portable, it’s light, perfect for reading on the go or even in bed so on and so forth. This was my major gripe with e-readers and I’ve noticed nobody else has mentioned……some of the book versions are incomplete or missing words!
    I noticed this when I downloaded the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series by: George R. Martin. I was so excited to have all five books in the palm of my hand! As I worked my way through the book I noticed a lot of the sentences didn’t make sense almost as if there were words missing. And sometimes instead of saying someone’s name it would say something completely random like Lord “Throne” etc. I looked it up on good old internet and apparently this is a major issue for the series which is why many just passed on the e-reader versions and purchased the physical books. Mind you I was not using a traditional e-reader, but a Blackberry Playbook (don’t judge me, it was free and not being used. Decided to give it a life by turning into an e-reader).
    Anyways, have you heard of this issue before? The whole experience has turned me off of e-readers for the time being. But I’m sure I will be turned on again sometime soon.

    • January 16 2014

      Interesting! No, haven’t heard of that happening at all. That’s disappointing. Did you get a refund? I finally ordered a Kindle. We’ll see how much I love/hate it. :)

  • January 16 2014

    I love books when traveling! I love when I am about to finish a book and can trade it with a traveler, a small shop(while I hunt down a new one), trudge up a hill after a day traveling to a new hostel eager to check out the used book shelf. I like deciding what stays out of my pack because the book has to go!I like writing in the margins where I found and where |I left it(been doping that for 20 years)I love looking at book covers, wondering what is inside!I love the smell, the dog eared pages and worn cover almost telling me it is a goods read!I love talking to people about the book in their hand,,,ask someone with an electronic device, well the grunt is the usual reply….lol…fred

    • January 16 2014

      Your entire comment makes me suddenly regret buying the Kindle, Lol.

  • July 13 2014
    Peggy Carlaw

    I resisted an e-reader but finally caved. I now read about 4 times more than I did before. I use the Kindle app on my iPhone and iPad. I can read on either device and my position syncs. It also save pounds when travelling not having to lug around yet more technology. Plus, my vocabulary has improved. I was reading a real book the other day and was annoyed when I tapped a word and a dictionary refused to pop up. I’m sold!

    • July 14 2014

      I took my Kindle with me to Europe for six months and I read maybe three books on it the entire time. :( Sigh. The e-reader was not built for me.

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