At the end of last week, I took a break from my never-ending “To Do Before France” list and went to visit my grandma in Michigan for a few days.
In addition to spending time with my grandma, her aging Pomeranian, my aunt Julie who was visiting from Colorado, her hyper one-year-old dog, and various other midwestern relatives, I got to test out some of my newest travel-savvy items.
1. My Kindle
I have long been a skeptic of the whole e-book movement. For a while I even swore that I’d never jump on the bandwagon. I love the way a book feels in your hands. I love getting to a later point in a story that makes you think back on something earlier and being able to flip back through the pages to find it. I love underlining and writing notes in the margins. I love looking at how a book is physically laid out and thinking about why it’s organized the way it is and how that contributes to the whole package/experience. (I could keep going, but I’ll spare you the long, dorky ramble.)
But, this summer, as I was contemplating my upcoming year in France—eek! four days until departure!—I knew it would be infeasible to bring pounds and pounds of literature with me (or even to buy lots of it there and then have to bring it back. This will probably still happen, as I have a weakness for old books, and really for any French books, both of which are abundant in France). And so, I started entertaining the notion of purchasing an eReader.
I got really close to buying an iPad and even considered only taking that and using it as my main computing gadget for blogging, email, etc. The main thing that turned me against it is that it doesn’t have a USB port or SD card slot, so if I wanted to put any photos on it (which I did) I’d have to transfer them from my computer anyway…
At this point (this was sometime in late June), I resigned myself to not purchasing one.
Then, fate intervened. One day, while on my way to peruse the stacks at the Walla Walla Public Library, I passed a display table in the main lobby with a bunch of books of classic literature on it and a sign that said “Win a Kindle.” So I stopped and investigated. A few minutes later I’d completed a quiz in which I had to match opening lines with the correct novel and submitted it to the front desk, just for kicks and giggles.
I forgot about the whole thing until Sept. 4 when I got a call from the WWPL telling me that I’d won! Since I’m no longer in town, my friend Sara picked it up and shipped it to me, and it arrived last week just in time for my Michigan sojourn.
While reading on a screen one page at a time isn’t my favorite thing, the Kindle definitely gets the job done. And unlike some of its competitors, the screen isn’t backlit, so it’s easier on the eyes and is readable even in bright sunlight. It has a huge storage capacity and great battery life (up to a MONTH), and adding books to it is really easy. Also, pretty much any classic you could ever want (in English or French) is free because their copyrights have expired! And it even has built in dictionaries (multi-languages!) and will tell you a definition of a word if you have it selected on the page—perfect for when I start reading Les Miserables.
Verdict: It’s different from reading a physical book for sure, but definitely has its perks—plus it’s super compact and convenient for traveling.
2. My new carry-on bag
After studying abroad my junior year, I thought long and hard about the best luggage combination for my living abroad/travel purposes this upcoming year and I decided on: one large, hard shell, rolling suitcase; one large backpack for my main carry-on; and one large purse for my “personal item.” The main suitcase and purse were easy; the backpack proved much more challenging.
Should I get a gear/hiking pack? A “travel pack?” A day pack?
Should it be top-loading? Should it have hip straps? How many compartments should it have?
And most importantly: How big of a bag can I smuggle on as a “carry-on”?
When I was home for my visa appointment I did some preliminary scouting at the local REI. In the weeks that followed I did a lot of online browsing and reading of customer reviews and finally settled on the Porter 46 in black by Osprey.
I decided on a backpack because last time, my main carry-on/travel bag was a duffle with a shoulder strap. I found that for walking long distances (from a train station to a hostel), the unequal distribution of weight made this a less-than-ideal option. The remaining choices were a small rolling suitcase or a backpack. I decided against the small roller because having two rolling bags for my major journeys to and from France would have been quite unwieldy and also because rollers and cobblestones (of which Europe has aplenty) don’t mix well. I hoped a backpack would all around be more manageable, and it is.
Osprey’s Porter bags are part backpack and part duffle—which I LOVE! My main anxiety about using a backpack was the top-loading aspect; I dreaded having to fish for things at the bottom of a bag and then having to completely repack it each time. The Porter 46 loads like duffle, lying flat horizontally, and then zips and straps up to become a backpack, vertically. The shoulder straps are also easily stowed in case you’re entrusting the bag to baggage handlers and don’t want them to get in the way. There are two inner mesh pockets (great for underwear, toiletries, accessories, etc.) and two outer pockets, perfect for things like travel documents, pillows, raincoats, or anything else you’d want to have within reach during the travel process.
Once I was sold on the bag, I had to decide on the size. The Porter 46 measures 45 linear inches (the maximum legal carry-on size) while it’s sibling the Porter 65 measures 51 linear inches. In the end, I remained true to my goody-goody nature and went with the Porter 45 (just incase I run into any airlines that are super sticklery about carry-on size).
It performed admirably on it’s test run to Michigan. It packed great and I had tons of space to spare (even though I overpacked for a four-day trip). The outer pockets were perfect for stashing my sweater when I was too hot in Chicago O’Hare. It was easy and comfortable to carry. And, I felt like a confident and seasoned traveller (which I guess I am at this point).
Verdict: I love it and it does all that I hoped it would do. Added bonus: it was on sale at REI!
3. My camera
This isn’t a brand-spanking-new purchase (I got my Olympus E-PL2 earlier this summer), but I got more practice. I also think lists work better in threes than in twos, and I wanted an excuse to show off more pictures from my trip!
Verdict: Yep, I still love, love, love my camera!