Back to the future- How social media and technology has changed for expats and travellers in 2017

When I left Australia in 2006 there was no Facebook. Yes NO FACEBOOK! No, Twitter, No Instagram, no Pinterest, no snapchat. Well, they may have been in existence in the US but it was early days. I don’t even think smartphones were a thing. Pretty sure we were all still rocking the flip phones.

Gosh, I sound really old.

I remember New Years Eve 2006 my friends were talking about this new website which was coming to England and It was set to be better than Myspace. That you could upload photos to, find friends (but better than friends reunited which let’s be honest wouldn’t be hard) and to send messages to friends over the internet with no charge. There wasn’t even an app it was just a website.  I also remember when I first signed up and no one I knew in Australia was on it. I remember wondering if it would even catch on.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently just how different living away from my family was only 11 years ago to how it is now. Which in itself has had drastic changes. Then I was thinking about when my parents moved our family to England in 1992 and just how different and hard it was for them. The world has changed a lot in 25 years!

In 2017 the Harris sisters meeting up in an airport would have been a Facebook status update but in 2007 it was just emailed to the parents. Oh we were so fresh faced

For me, in 2006 I probably spoke to my parents on the phone (always on a landline!) once a month as it was extremely expensive to call. I would have emailed a few times a month but would be completely out of the loop as to what was going on at home with the family or with friends. I wouldn’t see pictures of my family as again picture messages were very expensive and it was just a bit difficult to get photos from a camera to a computer to then email. Even sending an email I would need to go to the library to use the internet there.  I always felt quite disconnected with the goings on at home and it made it really tough emotionally. I always would get jealous of my friends who would go home to see their parents at the weekend and I wanted Australia to be just that little bit closer so I could pop home for a weekend break.

In 1992 my parents must have felt like they were on the other side of the universe rather than on the other side of the world. The contact with their parents, friends and family was few and far between.  International phone calls cost the same as a small car, there was no Skype, cameras still primarily used film, mobile phones were still bricks and could only keep 10 text messages at a time and you were charged by the number of letters. Areograms were written and received often, postcards of all the places we went were sent back and took like a month to get there. Nothing was instant. To get information on either side of the globe took time and for that year they were only able to get snippets from back home. For all the amazing experiences they had they couldn’t really share them with their parents or if they were missing home they just had to suck it up and wait till they were back on Aussie soil. They wouldn’t have even been able to see their own parents faces for a whole year!

Grainy family photo due to having to scan it in from a printed picture. The challenges of 1992. They obviously didn’t have razors in 1992 by the state of dads beard

Fast Forward 25 years and now  I can face time and speak to my parents face to face and even better I can  feel like I’ve been home (especially when my parents walk me around the house or perch the iPad up at the breakfast table like I’m there in the flesh), I have a group chat group  with my parents and sisters and with my besties so we can share the goings on in our lives as it happens. I can be on the other side of the world and still feel like I’m only an hour down the road from them.  I couldn’t tell you the last time I wrote a letter or postcard home but I could tell you where in Tasmania my mum has just been, through her Instagram and blog or i could tell you what my sister did after she finished work today. I can keep up with their fitness through runkeeper, I can see what my sister is planning for her wedding from her Pinterest board and I can know town gossip at the same time if not before my mum knows. It really has made those thousands of miles in between us seem so much smaller.

It’s not only changed keeping in touch with home but it’s also hugely changed how I view travel. I can now go on a website and find the best flights for my travels and not rely on a travel agent. I can stay in someone’s home on Airbnb rather than a hotel room. If I am going somewhere new I can look on Instagram to see what it looks like or the best places to visit. I can get a guide of what to see in any given country from Pinterest. We can read reviews on trip advisors or learn from other people through their blogs about their experiences and the good, bad and the ugly parts of destinations. We can get annoyed at the Begpackers on social media asking people to pay for their ‘journey of self-discovery’ , we can tag ourselves into places on facebook to show just how fabulous and awesome our travels are. I mean can you imagine how only 10 years ago we couldn’t upload the standard ‘my Monday is better than yours’ status update accompanied with a picture of a beach or beautiful view. The horror! We get an endless supply of wanderlust worthy travel photos on Instagram and that those hidden gems of destinations are just not as hidden as they once were.  It’s opened up the world both for the good and the bad.

I’ve read about how social media can make people actually more lonely than if they were interacting with ‘real’ in the flesh people. One website even said this was higher in expats as they are in a new place, still making friends and getting used to adjustment and changes in their life. I can see how this could be true especially if you don’t know ANYONE or if there is a language barrier but I’ve never felt like that. If anything it’s given me a greater connection with home which has allowed me to interact more in my day to day life as I’m  not sat around missing home. I used to get massive FOMO as I never really knew what was happening at home whereas, with technology and social media the way it now it feels like I’m closer to home, I can get involved in family activities by face timing, social media or just a simple WhatsApp message. I’ve met and maintained new relationships and I’ve had friends in similar situation help me through the tough parts of living abroad as they have done it themselves. So whilst I agree the rise of social media and new technology does have its negatives and downfalls I’d much rather have it as it is now than what it was like in 1992 or even 2006.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it will be like in another 10 years. I’m hoping for teleportation pods but we’ll see…..

Have you noticed how social media and technology has changed for you either travelling or living abroad? Would love to hear your thoughts!

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64 thoughts on “Back to the future- How social media and technology has changed for expats and travellers in 2017”

  1. Hahaha, well that brought memories back 🙂 My first trip to the big country of Australia in the seventies required NO passport. They no longer trust kiwis now, very sad!! Funny I still prefer writing emails or messaging than face time, especially to elderly parents as they miss most of the conversation!! Don’t you notice when you do go back it’s like you never left!! Great post, Melanie!

    1. Wow no passport! That’s crazy. I love being able to face time to see their face but agree with you as my grandparents don’t always seem as comfortable with face timing. Glad you enjoyed

  2. Social media and technology has changed for me as an expat.It makes the communication and contacts very convenient, but I still prefer talk to people in person and send postcards during my travels. It is old but a handwriting postcards and snail mails is valuable than any IG and Facebook updates.

    1. I wish I could send post cards I buy them, write them and then ALWAYS forget to send them. I completely agree you’ll keep the post cards and snail mail but the Facebook updates won’t be remembered 10 years down the line.

      1. I never look back on my Facebook states updates that I did 10 years ago, and I dont remember most of them. You are right, I still keep all the postcards I received. Have you thought of giving postcards to your friends in case you forget to send them? Just draw the stamps yourself. They are precious too.

  3. Great post Melanie, I really enjoyed your comparisons and how things have changed. I remember when we lived in England, my sister sent me a cassette tape (yes an actual tape!) of her telling me all the news and she added songs as well. It might have been because she was a radio announcer at the time but it was a great way to hear her voice and all the news. She put in the song, I still call Australia home which made me cry and you girls were upset seeing me cry. Great memories ❤️

  4. I remember being in aus and using Internet cafes and phone cards ! So crazy thinking back like that…. love checking places out on insta before arriving 🙂 nice post! Love your feature pic too.

  5. This is a really interesting post and you are right technology and social media have changed travel. When I was ‘younger’ (cough cough) you simply went down Thomas Cook, asked the woman behind the counter what she thought of resort in brochure and paid for your trip (if she said it was good).

  6. I’ve been thinking about this exact thing recently. You think aloud better than me!

    Slightly different for me. I moved to Scotland with my Dad nearly 25 years ago.

    My mother and that side of the family is in New York and elsewhere. I have notes and cards we sent before Facebook happened.

    I also have friends that have become family here.

    And now I’ve moved to Skye with Neil and Isla, and miss EVERYONE.

    I’m one of those movers who finds FB depressing, but I wouldn’t be without it. If I go a day without posting about Isla my Mom phones me up for an update. There’s some kinda phone tree that happens over there if there are no new photos RIGHT NOW.

    I’m closer to my cousins since we share our lives online, but I miss them more now than I did when I was a kid.

    So lucky that your fam can Skye properly, we just get extreme close ups of Mom’s neck.

    Yes, teleporters next!

    Lorna x

  7. Yes I think modern technology is a blessing for keeping in contact. Whilst I do miss receiving letters, what you get in replacement of that is fantastic.

  8. You speak such truth here! The world is a different place, the same, yet smaller, with all these Social Media devices we have! All hail Facetime and Skype though!

  9. Social Media certainly has changed our lives, hasn’t it? It’s amazing how far we’ve come with technology in just a short amount of time. 🙂

  10. Great post Melanie; even within the last five years things have changed so much…my first trip to the USA in 2010, the only place I could get WiFi was in the middle of Yosemite! None of our hotels had WiFi, now it’s a must-have 😁

  11. How in the WORLD did people used to plan vacations? Haha. I never really started traveling until I graduated from college in 2010 so I think I have definitely been taking the power of the internet for granted. Such a crazy thing to think back on!

  12. So true! It’s so easy to stay in touch now, and share your experience with everyone you love from across the world. Or have them facetime you from London while you’re studying (thanks, mom). But I agree, there is so much information out there for us. For me it’s only a plus, and I’m sure it’ll be an even bigger one in 10 years!

  13. This was so refreshing from many of the “Technology has ruined communication” articles that I have been seeing popping up lately. While I definitely think the abundance of technology at times limits face-to-face contact, you’ve discussed so many ways in which it actually brings people closer together. The virtual communities I have been a part of, compromised of travelers and those with similar interests, has always had a positive impact on me personally. It’s always nice to feel you’re a part of something, but I have always been lucky enough to have conversations with awesome people I never would have without social media.

    1. Thank you so much for your comments. I completely agree it’s always had a positive impact for me but I do understand how for others it may not. I just really can’t believe how much it’s changed in 10 years and that we probably would never have predicted what it would be like so who knows about the next 10!

  14. Great insights here that I think a lot more people need to consider. Thanks for sharing! I’ve grown up with technology (yes, I’m a Millennial) so it’s interested to read about the changes from someone who’s seen the results of both.

    – L

  15. My first big trip was 2012, so Instagram and Facebook were definitely around, but they hadn’t taken over the world yet. 5 years later and it feels totally different.

  16. It is interesting to consider how much technology has changed the world so fast. I my lifetime I’ve seen so many changes and look forward to many more. Like you, I hope we can be beamed over in our travels. Would sure make it a lot easier and comfortable.

  17. Bringing back memories! I never really realize it anymore, but indeed! When I just look back ten years ago… Odd isn’t it? My dad was in the navy and I was uses to get airmail once in a while and a rare phone call if that was possible. How that have changed!

  18. It’s absolutely crazy how much it’s changed travel! I studied abroad in Sydney in 2005 and the difference in how I communicated with family and friends back home in 2005 versus now when I travel is so immensely different!

  19. Great post! Love the then and now comparisons. It’s absolutely mind-blowing to think how much technology has advanced in these last few years. I’m actually looking forward to have a Skype session with my family back home as I type this 😀

  20. I’ve never embarked on the expat life but someday I will! So interesting the way it’s changed over the years! Travel is so much more accessible than before x

  21. I’m from the UK and studied abroad in the US the year Facebook was launched across the college/university network so I have to admit I was one of the first converts! Back then I emailed my parents to let them know I was ok and arranged Skype chats so even though I was away from home it never really felt like I was missing out on much. Fast forward to 2017 and when I travel now everyone’s first words are “what’s the wifi password?” People just sit around in hostels on their phones and tablets not talking to each other. Technology is great for keeping in touch with home as we travel but I see so many people heavily reliant on it as a security blanket that they miss the social interactions around them. We need to remember to put down our phones and talk to people as we will feel far more connected during our travels. Great post!

  22. As an expat, I’m so happy with how easy technology has made moving abroad in recent years! I moved from the US to Australia in 2015 and could so easily keep in touch with my family back home. We iMessaged, Facetimed, snapchatted, etc so often that it didn’t even feel like I was on the other side of the world. Great post 🙂

  23. This is so interesting! I can imagine travelling with little to no contact with home could have been difficult. When I started travelling more facebook etc exisited, but I didn’t have a phone that could access the internet so I guess it was similar. I limited my contact to a text a day to my parents. It’s pretty crazy to think how far it’s come in such a short time! Teleportation Pods are next for sure! haa

  24. Oh this bring some old memories back. 🙂 I enjoyed this read, technology has encouraged people to travel more, not just the bravest ones.

  25. I was travelling around NZ and Australia in 2005. To email required going in to an Internet cafe 🙂 It was the days of Bebop and digital cameras!

  26. That was indeed a very absorbing read Melanie…..very true….social media has completely changed the way we used to look at life some years back….almost revolutionized our lifestyle and communication styles….and it is here to stay…..maybe evolve more…:)

  27. It does seem incredible that not that long ago in order to use the internet (slowly) your computer needed to be plugged into your land line. My eldest is 21 and has always been a computer geek since he could first hold a mouse. He is now an electronics & software engineer finishing his masters & applying for jobs – the time that he has grown up in has been a tech whirlwind. Social media has definitely helped keep track of his various travels during his uni years. But ……this wk he phoned home from the motorway having lost his wallet. Maybe he had left it at his partner’s home?? When I suggested phoning his partner’s parents land line you’d have thought I was telling him to fly to Venus!!!

  28. Really enjoyed this – especially the glimpse into your parents’ lives as expats in the 90s. My husband and I traveled for 13 months last year and always talked about how we didn’t think we could have done it if we hadn’t had all the same technology.

  29. I feel like there are so many “technology, social media and the internet are ruining everything” articles out there (many of which live on social media and the internet…), so your take is such a breath of fresh air. Expanding accessibility of news, services, and people through tech and the internet has its cons, but like you’ve outlined above, there are so many good things about being connected in these ways. While I still write the occasional letter to friends and send postcards, social media is such a great tool that I have not yet been convinced to go completely without it.

  30. I have so many more photos when I travel now because I don’t have the added expense of film and developing or a huge camera to lug around. I love seeing photos on Instagram of places I’d never be able to see otherwise and I love the connection of seeing what friends and family share. So yeah, for me social media is a good thing 🙂

  31. Things are so different. Since I graduated high school around the time of your family photo, I have a vivid memory of the importance of signing a yearbook. Without that signature and the final message from a peer, how would we remember them? But I imagine it’s so different now. Seeing high school friends on Facebook, watching them evolve and change, grow their families and careers. There’s a different sense of history now.
    I just listened to a TED Talk about a guy who created an app that records just one second of video. And by recording just one second from each day, he’s able to recall with much greater clarity the timeline and events of his life. I assume we’ll continue to evolve, sometimes in a good way, and sometimes not, with technology. Our travel and our how we shape our own histories will be informed by it. But, I hope, as you point out, it leads to greater connection and a better understanding of who we’ve been. Perhaps then, we’ll have a better sense of who we are today and who we want to be tomorrow.

  32. It is amazing. When I first started traveling we didn’t even have email. A long distance call was usually to tell that someone had died. Awful but true as so $$. So true we are so connected now and I enjoy Instagram and the rest seeing friends adventures.

  33. This was a really enjoyable post! And interesting! I used to write letters to my great grandmother that lived in Spain which I absolutely loved but I’m glad I have that to keep now but yes it’s much easier now keeping in touch! Great post 🙂

  34. Social Media has definitely changed the way we communicate. I still prefer the personal connection of talking with another person though. I think it has a lot to do with my personality.

  35. Oh my lord, I think my parents were amazing people for letting a teenager go abroad without any social media, cell phones or Skype! It’s AMAZING now what we can do. I never feel far away when I travel. I’m connected to all my loved ones all the time. It’s like we’re barely apart!

  36. I couldn’t agree more. As an expat myself, maintaining virtual connections with friends and family all over the world has been a boon. I also especially love being able to throw on a hat and open my iPad to start chatting. No need to get prettied up or even change out of my hoodie. Makes life for this introvert sooo much more accessible.

  37. Great post!
    I’ve never been very far from home really, but technology has changed communication so much for me as someone with a disability that can’t always travel or see people as easily. FaceTiming my nieces, receiving recordings from friends and family via WhatsApp or Facebook. Arranging parties on group chats, although I do miss the physical invites and letters too.
    I’m 32 and if 10 year old me saw what my iPhone can do today then I’d have thought it some sci-fi film!

  38. I first went to Japan in 2002 and it was sooo hard. I’d have to wait for a teacher to stop using the single computer in the staff room before I could sit and write an e-mail home! I couldn’t afford to call home much.

    But it’s funny. I think it was easier for me in 2006 than it was for you! I was back in Japan, with a long distance relationship (urgh) so we used skype all the time. It was way before smart phones, but Japanese phones were really good for e-mail and photos, so I never felt too out of touch. I joined facebook soon after I moved, so I used it to plan events in Japan AND to keep in touch with friends back home.

    I do agree that it is soooo much easier now. Whatsapp is miles better than skype used to be as I can call friends and family any time, rather than making an appointment(!) It’s interesting how quickly we can take all this for granted.

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