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Cutting the cord in the name of family travel

Matt Villano

Between my wife, a doctor of archaeological sciences, and myself, a journalist, we’re practically the poster family for old-school books—the kind with paper and spines.

As such, we’ve lugged a lot of reading material in our days as traveling parents. Every time we hit the road, we take 20-25 of the girls’ favorites and toss them (along with a bunch of toys) in a special carry-on. At capacity, the “fun bag” (as we call it) usually weighs about 15 pounds.

That’s not light. And after three years of this every month, yours truly decided it was time to try something new.

In anticipation for our most recent trip—we’re in Hawaii for the month of June—I decided to (join the modern era and) embrace the e-reader. After researching about a dozen different products, I opted for the Kindle Fire from (full disclosure: it's a review product), and set up the first in a series of family travel experiments that I’ll be spotlighting over the next few months.

Parameters of this particular challenge were simple: Four weeks away from home, not one physical book.

So far, the high-tech approach has sparked some significant changes to our usual travel experience—pros and cons.

The pros are easy. For starters, there’s no lugging—an incredible benefit considering that I play the role of Sherpa on every family trip. What’s more, especially when you’re catering to a toddler who can’t always decide which stories she wants to hear, it’s nice to have a library of children’s books quite literally at your fingertips.

Finally, you can even put other stuff on most of these puppies; I downloaded a Mickey Mouse movie and a few episodes of Dora to use as incentives for good behavior (and utilized both within the first few days of the trip).

Still, the eReader approach isn’t perfect.

In our house, we’re obsessed with limiting screen-time (L gets no more than 30 minutes of television a day), and, technically speaking, even when the girls are reading books on this newfangled device, they’re staring into a screen. Naturally, because I’m a neurotic man, frustration around this topic has metastasized quickly into guilt. And whenever I read an article like this one, that guilt turns to all-out panic.

Furthermore, we like our kids to get to know their books; to hold them, fold them, turn the pages and toss them in the shelves. You can't encourage any of that with a device that might break (especially when the device must be returned at the end of the month).

Maybe I'm being nitpicky. Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon. Or maybe my concerns are legit. There’s no question eReaders make the logistics of family travel (and countless other stuff) easier. But they also necessitate active parents with a strong sense of the difference between using the device and abusing it, just because it’s there.