My first trip to Frankfurt as a flight attendant surprised me, an intrinsically valuable experience that taught me strategies for combatting loneliness both at home and abroad.
I’d worked the flight overnight, finding myself in the German city for the first time. The rest of my crew was busy, leaving me alone for the day. This fine day in Europe, I learned that while loneliness is an epidemic in our modern era, it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few tricks I now regularly use no matter where I am in the world.
5 Tips to Avoid Loneliness
1. Talk to people. People are the greatest resource on the planet! I’d already started my “research” on the aircraft crossing the Atlantic. During the flight, when a passenger came back to the galley, I asked if they were from Germany, asked questions about their hometown, favorite foods, favorite things to do, etc. One Lufthansa crew member became a lifelong friend, telling me his favorite local spots, giving me a tour of the German air carrier’s facilities, and meeting me for lunch whenever our schedules aligned in Frankfurt. Learning of nearby historic Romerberg from our conversation, a public square surrounded by medieval buildings and filled with hundreds of years history, I gleaned an itinerary for this day.
Talking to people costs us time but is a worthy skill we can craft at home. It’s so simple it sounds silly. Collecting a few extra details about the life of your barista or grocery store clerk might open the surrounding community. Is there a live music venue they know, a great restaurant, or some other local gem they can share? The best way to find out is ask.
2. Be vulnerable. While acting as inconspicuous as possible to avoid unwanted attention during our travels, we crew also know the value of being open with the right people. I’ve approached many a shop owner or business staff member as a resource when I’ve been lost.
Lost in Brussels on a different trip, I found myself in a sketchy part of town with the sun setting. The recent bombings on the Brussels airport meant their military was on high alert and out in force. Rather than pretending I knew where to go, I approached a soldier standing near his tank. It was scary, approaching the tank, but this was just the man to ask. His directions perfect, I made it back to the hotel before nightfall.
At home, being vulnerable looks different. Maybe the roadmap we need to ask about isn’t a literal one, but a mental, emotional, or spiritual one. Is there a “safe place person” in your life you can ask about confusing decisions, stressors, or other conflicts? Being vulnerable with the right people requires quiet contemplation, observation, and mindfulness of ourselves before we can approach others, but is so valuable when we take that leap.
3. Be brave. It takes a brave person to connect with others cross-culturally. It also takes a brave person to apologize when they’ve done something culturally offensive. Travel is intimidating. We face new foods, new sleep schedules, new time zones, all while navigating new cultural queues and possible faux pas.
In Tokyo, I learned to mimic the cultural norms around me. It took additional bravery to finally ask someone within the culture to explain what I was missing. One friend explained, for example, having my prepaid rail pass in hand at the ticket gates during Tokyo’s rush hour was more than a courtesy—it prevented a traffic jam for the hundreds of scurrying Japanese salarymen queuing behind me amid their clockwork-like commute.
All the bravery, humility, and open-mindedness needed for a great trip translates back home. On the ground in our town, we can identify the people needing apologies from us, the people we can forgive, or who would be great life teachers. Bravery at home forces us to recognize it is more valuable to be humble than to be right. Is there someone we can directly be brave with right now?
4. Be observant. So much is learned through observation, including what action to take next. Take some time to be quiet and just observe. My itinerary morphed as I listened and observed during my Frankfurt adventure. Deep in Sachsenhausen, a 12th century neighborhood full of bakeries, flea markets, and traditional cider houses, I saw a huge line waiting outside one of the cider houses. Deciding it must be worth a try, I found my way in the cacophony of clanking beer steins and live music.
Somewhere in the sea of German, I heard English. At the end of the communal table was a couple, elbows deep in what looked like a roasted chicken in a green sauce with veggies. I asked the waitress for what they were having. When the plate came out, the English-speaking woman commented I’d made the right choice.
“I have to admit, I told her to give me what you were having!”
The conversation launched. I scooted closer at their invitation, enchanted by their travel tales within Germany. They told me about the apple wine, the history of the neighborhood, where they were going next, and where they recommended for my quick trip.
After that encounter, I realized being observant back home looks similar: keeping eyes and ears perked for opportunities. Are there fliers we pass or ignore at the local coffee shop worth reading? Is someone near you in line at the store discussing a new, hip brunch spot? Valuable information is everywhere, whenever we are ready to start looking.
5. Be informed. A simple Google search about a city shares great places to start, but let’s face it, nothing beats good ole’ human conversation. While my day in Germany whet my curiosity, inspiring a virtual walking tour on the internet of the places I’d seen, it also inspired me to contact people who’d visited the city before me.
Later, I even made a blog post for future visitors compiling my own findings. While flight attendants get their trip details mere hours before departure, most people have time to ask around about their destination before leaving. Think of someone who has been where you’re wanting to go. Opening a dialogue about a destination instead of just researching alone is a great way to forge meaningful connections. Physical and metaphorical locations alike.
Back home, being informed can look like joining community groups or direct messaging someone about what is happening in your area. There are so many MeetUp groups, volunteer opportunities, and Facebook pages offering information on “plugging in” to our communities. There are also groups connecting us with people headed toward the same goals, ideas, or hobbies, with destinations as diverse as the individuals involved.
When we take the time to observe, learn and communicate both at home and abroad, we open a whole new world for ourselves. A less lonely one. My first trip to Germany ended back under the twinkling fairy lights of the beer garden back at my hotel, a full day of people, places, and experiences I’d never anticipated. My belly was full of recommended local dishes. My phone was full of new contacts from around the world. My heart was full of an intrinsically valuable experience I’ll never forget.
If you’re feeling alone in this season of life, you need to listen to this podcast episode: How Do I Connect With Friends When I Feel Alone? With Katie Cress – 165