Missed connections

Alex de Panama
3 min readMar 16, 2024


Image: DALL·E 4

Or: how a moment from 7 years ago still sticks with me in 2024.

It was March 2017. The time was 2AM.

I had just landed in Dubai, a layover on my journey to Japan. It was my first flight ever, around 6–7 hours long.

I was exhausted, but excited. This was my first ever solo journey. I felt in control of my life, my destiny, and everything that lay beyond was a new chapter.

Dubai airport is huge. As someone who had barely found my way around London Gatwick, it was a completely different experience. All leather items off (still not sure why this rule existed), bags checked. The security staff didn’t mess around.

I was excited and alone. Fresh from a breakup, licking my wounds, I wanted to get as far away from everything as I could.

After security, I arrived at a massive concourse. Multiple escalators and gateways leading to other planes landing and taking off. Shops, signs and bright lights. Hundreds, thousands of people walking around me, all looking to get to their destination. Thousands of fresh adventures. Thousands of people I’d never meet.

I was lost. I had several hours to kill before my flight boarded. I wanted to find my gate and pass out on a chair for a bit. Sleeping on the plane was not a skill I had learned.

I found the departure boards. A long list of destinations all different to mine. Turns out it’s hard to find what you need when you’re overtired.

Beside me was a girl around the same age as me, looking for where she needed to go.

We turned to each other and smiled.

“Where are you headed?” she said.

“Tokyo, what about you?”

I forget where she was going.

We chatted briefly about our flights and what our plans were. She was traveling around Asia and planning to travel more and meet some friends.

The way she smiled at me felt like we had made a genuine connection. This complete stranger made the people, sounds and everything around me slow down, if only for a little while.

Our chat is effortless, a moment of calm in the storm.

She finds her departure gate. She helps me find mine. Our time together is over.

We say goodbye, good luck, and go our separate ways.

This moment stuck with me for years. Even in 2024, it pops into my head. It’s a memory I hold on to as proof that you can find connection and meaning in the most unlikely of places.

It’s also proof, to me, that I can find a connection (and not just the airplane kind). I can create memorable moments that go beyond a photo or Instagram post.

All you have to do is be open to it. It’s a mindset thing. If you’re not open to it, it won’t happen, because your brain won’t be looking for those moments.

You’ll see people as obstacles and not opportunities.

Lately, I have been guilty of facing the world with aggression and defence. I have behaved like everything is out to get me. My guard is up, and I am not receptive to new experiences. I feel shut off.

Then I remember the girl in Dubai airport: the smile, the kind words, and knowing I would never see her again. A quick moment, but a moment I won’t forget.

I don’t want to close myself off from everyone and everything.

I want to be open to taking chances, risks, and putting myself out there. Sure, you won’t spark a connection with everyone. But I feel trying 99 times and succeeding on the 100th makes it worth it.

We might be 25% through 2024 already, but you don’t need to wait until new year to make promises to yourself.

Everyone’s a stranger until they’re not, after all.



Alex de Panama

An ex-primary school teacher on a journey of career fulfilment and self discovery.