Because of the nature of my job, I find myself spending quite a bit of time sitting around in airports, on airplanes, and in hotel rooms. This didn't used to bother me much as I've always rather loved those essential aspects of travel. I like being in airports and planes and hotels and trains and buses and whatever else. They aren't just a means to an end for me, they're part of the excitement. When I was a baby my parents used to get me to fall asleep by popping me in the car seat and going for a drive; I guess the sound of the motor was comforting as within a minute I would drop right off. Consequently I never was one of those horrible children to take on a long trip who was full of constant complaint and runny nose goo.
However, last year business picked up and it seemed for a while there that I was on a trip every week and even I found myself getting a bit restless with all of the free time on hand which this lifestyle provides. In the beginning my MP3 player was a huge source of comfort; it's one of the most genius inventions ever afforded to a traveler, and has been my main traveling tool for quite a number of years. All your music with you wherever you go, instead of a small envelope of cds you painstakingly had to choose out from your collection. But for constant 4 and 5 hour flights, I found myself turning it off and just reading until I passed out as much as possible. But for several day long trips, I really only could fit one or two books in my luggage and inevitably I'd finish them far too soon. And then, something wonderful happened.
For Julie’s birthday last year I gave her an Amazon Kindle. I thought that it would make a great present for a writer and avid reader. I hadn’t had much interest in one myself; I am an avid reader, however since ebooks first arrived on the scene I’ve always thought that reading a book without the benefit of paper pages and a well illustrated cover would cheapen the experience somewhat. Not to mention some of the other drawbacks: you can’t lend or borrow ebooks unless you’re willing to loan someone your $250 Kindle for the time it takes them to read it, and if you spill coffee on a real book you’re only out 5 to 20 bucks.
However, once I got to experiment with hers a little bit, when she wasn't using it of course, I found it to be pretty cool and valiantly hid my jealousy from her for about a month of pure torture, until of course she wasn't fooled for a second of it and bought me one for Christmas. Huzzah!
I like the fact that it's not backlit by computer screen light. It really does look just like a paper page and is as easy on the eyes as a normal book. I don't mind at all having to use a regular light to read by. Plus the electronic ink is extremely power saving. The Kindle is not using battery power to keep your page on the screen; it's actual ink (well, not actual ink, but tiny microcapsules about the diameter of a human hair), magnetically positioned on the underside of it to look like the book page you want it to. It only uses power to turn the page. The battery can last for weeks.
Also, page turning and bookmarking have really gone to the next level with Kindle; in fact I'd call it a major paradigm shift in how we read. I never lose my page. If I fall asleep while reading and it drops to my lap, or if something distracts me and I put it down without thinking, it of course just stays on the page you're reading and even when it turns off, it just powers back up right to your page. Even if you browse to other documents or books on your Kindle, when you open up your book again it will start right on the last page you were on. And you wouldn't think it, but page turning is a big deal. Now I can read from any position, and I never have to jink my elbow out from leaning on it to turn the page or sacrifice a comfortable station to flip to the next chapter. With whichever hand I'm holding the Kindle with, I just subtly click one of the two page turn buttons provided on each side of it. It may not sound as awesome as it is, but if you are a prolific reader you'll appreciate it when you get to try it out for a while.
But of course the best part of the Kindle is how damn many books you can bring with you wherever you go. There are thousands of free books available for it, mostly classics. So if you ever wanted to read Sherlock Holmes or Dracula or The Brothers Karamazov, but never got around to it, it's the perfect time. One of the first books I read on it was Uncle Tom's Cabin, because I never really understood why a book that was supposedly anti-slavery came to be considered a rather racist thing to call someone. Well now I get it, and it also made me see a side of the years of slavery in America I'd never really considered before and so look! The Kindle has helped to broaden my horizons and expand my mind already. Plus, I never run out of books to read now, no matter how long I'm on a trip for. It's awesome.
The downsides are there of course, though minimal. I'm not allowed to read it, for example, during takeoff and landing. Stupid. Plus the aforementioned being unable to lend or borrow books easily. But the advent of the ebook reader fills a need for readers that has been the hole in our hearts all this time that we could never identify. Anyway, it's not like you can't still pick up a real book if you want. I have plenty. Plus my Dad also got me a cool present for Christmas; justtherightbook.com sends me a book every once in a while based on specifications he gave them on my reading preferences. So the ebook is just another option, which is a good thing, I now believe.
The other essential travel tool-at-which-I-once-scoffed is the GPS. I hated the idea of those things. I always felt that part of the fun of traveling is figuring out your route yourself, and potentially getting lost, finding something you might not otherwise have found, and finding your way again. Venice, Italy is the premiere spot for this mode of travel, incidentally. Plus, you know, being suspicious of human nature in general I never liked the idea of "them" being able to pinpoint me wherever I am. But I carry a cellphone so... there's no hiding in this world any more from people who want to find you anyway.
However, my job often puts me in odd places around the US where I don't really have the time or the desire to wander about much, such as say Indiana. Ugh. And I'm always having to find my way out to odd spots in the middle of nowhere where the roadsigns make no sense and the locals have none either. (Have no sense, in case the wording of my little joke confused you) Such as say, some military base in Indiana. Or North Dakota. Ugh. And trying to read a map or directions printed out from mapquest can be quite difficult and dangerous while driving on busy highways or winding country roads. I'd of course mentioned this frustrating aspect of my job to Julie now and again, and last year for my birthday she bought me a GPS. I. Freaking. LOVE. It. And her. She's so smart and pretty and cool.
It has a little map, that shows me where I am, shows me where to go, and even talks to me and tells me when to turn. If I need to find a grocery store, or a gas station, or whatever, I can just touch the screen and it takes me to the nearest one. If I make a wrong turn, it recalculates and tells me where to go. No more driving-in-strange-scary-places-stress. Ah. The other great aspect of a GPS is for example, when you buy something on Craigslist. I've been getting quite a few deals lately from people on Craigslist. Bought a really nice desk for my new office and outfitted a home gym in the basement nice and cheap through people getting rid of old stuff. People who, incidentally, live all over the damn place. Typing their address into the GPS takes me right to their doorstep. No muss no fuss.
My traveling life at work is now stress free, thanks to these two awesome travel tools. Oh and also thanks to the Percoset my doctor prescribed for my back pain when flying in cramped little economy seats. That with a glass of wine and a good book and my flight is over before it began.