Advances in the internet have changed so much about living or working abroad.
My wife, Suzan, and I have seen it happen before our eyes. When we first moved abroad in 2001, “instant” messaging was just taking off. If you could get a decent internet connection (which was a much bigger “if” back then than now) you could type a message to someone and get a reply in just a minute or two…which was pretty much “instant” at the time. It was truly amazing for us and for our family and friends back home.
Since then, VOIP audio and video calls have changed the game again…not to mention online resources for getting news, sharing work, even taking lessons (I’m currently trying to learn how to read music—finally—from an online tutor).
This game changing is taking place in one of my favorite pastimes as well…reading. Back in the day, Suzan and I needed to either bring our books with us or find them in whatever community throughout the Western Hemisphere we found ourselves.
Today, we not only have entire libraries of books at our disposal online, we can read them on any number of portable devices that, compared to hauling physical books around in our suitcases, take up almost no space at all. Even the book Suzan and I wrote last year came out in e-reader version at the same time it appeared in print…with an audio version in just a matter of weeks.
And speaking of audiobooks, they are now widely available and let us listen to our old favorites and new bestsellers while at the same time blocking out distractions in airports and on planes, buses, and during party nights in the village.
All this doesn’t mean we’ve given up physical books and magazines…far from it. In fact, actual printed material has become even more valuable to us for a number of reasons.
First, they just make wherever we’re living at the time feel like home. Having an actual, browsable, current issue of a magazine or new book within reach is right up there with a big batch of homemade chili on my homey comfort scale.
Second, when we have finally wrung all the pleasure out of our current batch of physical magazines and books, they can become valued items of trade and gifting. We’ve made more than a few of our expat friends happy by leaving magazines on their coffee tables, and we’ve contributed to local lending libraries of English-language books in expat communities around the world.
As I write this from Cotacachi, Ecuador, I’m looking at a desk shelf lined with some of my favorite books…while at the same time looking forward to starting a new audiobook this evening. Some people think the internet has killed the printed page, but for my money, it has simultaneously expanded my reading options and lightened my travel load.
Not to mention the fact that when we are traveling and exploring new destinations, we can pack what used to be a suitcase full of guidebooks, maps, and location-specific reading on any tablet, smart phone, or laptop we’re carrying. And my music notation lessons—or any other lessons or courses I feel like taking— are with me at all times without taking up any space and weighing absolutely nothing.
My physical books are part of what makes my house a home. My e-books, audiobooks, and e-zines have become essential parts of my travel, learning, and research kit.
For a current or potential expat, especially those far from home and constantly on the move, it’s the best of both literary worlds.
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