Remember that feeling of giddy disorientation when you first traveled abroad? You packed your clothes, wrote down detailed directions to find your hostel and your language school, printed a map and filled your Notebook with rough sentences in a foreign language that you’d only studied in school and never spoken for real.
Ah, the good old days, when the only way to find your way through the Parisian métro labyrinth was hoping to find a free map at the tourist shops. Such amazing, exciting confusion! Remember that? Probably only if you were traveling abroad more than a decade ago. For digital natives, navigating the Parisian métro is a simple matter of opening Google Maps.
Whether you remember traveling by your wits alone or have always had the internet to guide you, here are four reasons why being an expat now is better now than 10 years ago.
[Spoiler: they all involve a smartphone.]
1. Lost is only a TV series
When I decided to move to Paris in 2006, I was alone and my notebook was full of weird sentences such as: “À Charles de Gaulle, il devrait y avoir un homme tenant une pancarte avec votre nom au Terminal 2” (At Charles de Gaulle, there should be a man holding a board with your name at Terminal 2), and “Excusez-moi, pourriez vous m’indiquer la direction de l’auberge de jeunesse ?” (Excuse me, could you tell me in which direction the youth hostel is?).
That long preparation certainly helped me a lot, but when I finally arrived at Charles de Gaulle and realized that nobody was waiting for me, I panicked and walked around the airport looking for a shuttle heading to the city center. When I finally found the sign for the shuttle company, it was almost two hours later (Charles de Gaulle is huge) — I was exhausted and the car had already left without me.
If I imagine the same scene in a contemporary setting, I have to laugh a little bit: with my smartphone full of apps, maps and Google Translate, none of this would have happened (and all that time spent memorizing irrelevant sentences could have been spent on something else).
2. Lost in Translation? Not really
Remember poor Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray, disoriented in Tokyo in the film Lost in Translation? I won’t tell you the end of the movie, but I can assure you that none of that would have happened in a movie set in 2017.
If you’re in Japan now, and cannot understand or read the signs around you, you can point your camera phone at the written words you can’t understand and see them translated on the screen. This can help get you out of a bind, but it should be considered an emergency solution only.
The truth is that you should learn a little bit of the language before moving abroad, and your smartphone will help you, once again. Thanks to Babbel, you can freshen up the rusty foreign language you studied some years ago at school, or you can learn the basics of a new language to help you navigate your first days as an expat without becoming… lost in translation! It’s cheap and handy and you can learn in your spare time — like when waiting to board the airplane.
3. Where are my friends?
Familiarizing yourself with a new environment is difficult, but it was certainly more difficult 10 years ago. When I moved to Paris in 2006, smartphones weren’t widely used, and I didn’t even have a laptop. My life was completely offline except for the emails I used to send to my parents from the computer lab at my language school (and not very often because there was always a long line). I had a mobile phone but international calls were very expensive and I remember I had to call home from phone booths using an old-fashioned calling card. Oh, and did I mention that dinosaurs were still walking around?
Since I was completely alone in the city, my social life depended solely on my personal skills. I had to approach my schoolmates and ask them if they wanted to hang out with me. If I think about this now, it’s almost unbelievable.
It’s probably unbelievable for you too.
Nowadays, InterNations helps you feel at home abroad, make new friends and saves you a lot of time. You can go to a Renaissance theme party in Paris, join a book club in Berlin or play soccer on the beach of Copacabana. You name it! It’s easy and you can do it whenever and wherever you want, in any of the 390 cities covered by the InterNations network.
4. Find your favorites
Looking for the best bar in the neighborhood? A restaurant with vegan options? A cheap youth hostel with good reviews? Nothing is easier than that — there are thousands of apps that will help you with any of your queries. You can, for example, avoid that hostel with rats in the rooms (yup, I wish I’d known that!) and bypass the fancy bar where a beer costs 15 Euros in favor of the charming local spot around the corner. You can choose a restaurant with gluten-free options without even entering to ask the waiter. If you’re a book lover and you want to visit the spots where your favorite writer used to be a regular, you will easily find “to do” lists with the most interesting and magical places in the city you just moved to.
Just ask your smartphone and it’ll help you out.