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You know that 20-hour bus ride where you suddenly realize that you forgot to turn off the wireless and the battery of your e-reader has suddenly drained out? Me too. Here’s the big discovery: this scenario will not happen if you’re reading a real book. Of course, you can always bring a portable battery, the respective chargers, the cables… But wasn’t this whole e-reader thing supposed to be about packing light?
This is sheer mathematics. How much does an e-reader cost? Around USD 150, even more in certain countries. How much does a book cost? Ten times less than that, even less in certain countries. While neither the e-reader nor the book is theft-proof, the former will clearly draw more unwanted attention than the latter. I’ve met a lot of travelers who had their e-reader stolen or who lost it and never found it back. I have yet to meet one who complained about their book having been taken away.
The mantra goes: travel like a local, eat like a local, go to the places locals go to. What about reading like a local? Nobody ever talks about that part. True, it is a bit more tricky because it requires you speak the language of the country you’re going to. But if you do, why not check out the local bookstore? Why read what you would read at home and not take advantage of the unique opportunity to discover something different? You might gain surprising insights on the place you’re visiting, you might fill your mind with new ideas, you might even discover your next favorite writer. After all, reading is one of the gateways to a culture as well.
My Spanish level at the beginning of my nine-month trip to South America: intermediate.
My Spanish level at the end of my trip, after more than a dozen books bought while I was there: advanced (and that includes my writing skills).
That difference not entirely attributable to the books, of course. But they did play a major part.
If you’re like me, chances are that the winks you get during that inevitable stage in the conversation when you boast about your nation’s drinking habits and list the craziest swear words in your native language are not exactly the types of personal connection you’re after.
What are the other ways to make local friends, then?
I once met a girl in Bolivia who had almost the same taste in literature as I had. Our bond became special once she discovered that I had read a book written by one of her friends. You can connect with people from everywhere if you share the same tastes in literature. But the likelihood of having favorite authors in common increases if you know the local book scene. And you will be greeted with a warmer smile. And no, a lot of the books around the globe are not available in an electronic format. Yet.
There are other ways you can interact with locals through books as well: asking the shopkeeper for a recommendation, taking your book to local book exchange events, visiting a local book fair, giving your book as a gift to a local host, even leaving it on a bench in a park for a serendipitous encounter. The list could go on — just use your creativity.
One of the benefits of an e-reader is that you’re not supposed to carry around all those books that you have already read until the end of your trip. And if you’re traveling long-term, this can make a difference. But who says you that if you have regular books you should carry them with you anyway?
Sometimes the most interesting part of a book’s travel life cycle is when you finished it. You cannot take all that paper in your luggage, so you have to get creative about discarding it. You can swap the book in a hostel or give it as a gift to other travelers. It’s a good reason to start a conversation. And an even better excuse to keep in touch.
In the end, travel is about moments. You may end up liking a book too much to let it go, you may want to keep it in your luggage. That’s perfectly fine. It will remind you of the moments you shared. Of the day you spent in a hammock immersed in its chapters, a warm breeze blowing from behind, of the time you had an hour-long conversation with the woman next to you on a bus who liked the author, of that moment you found the book in a hostel book exchange, realized that it had an autograph and congratulated yourself for not taking your e-reader on your trip. Because you would never have found an autograph on an e-book.