One of the things I think scares people off of solo travel is the fear of eating alone. And I’m not going to lie: it can be weird. Asking a waiter at a swank, romantic restaurant for a table for one (bonus awkward points if said waiter is hot!) can feel super intimidating to the most confident person.
Hell, after two months of solo travel it still feels that way to me sometimes.
So how do I conquer this fear? And how can you do the same?
When I decided about five years ago I wanted to travel solo, I started practicing in Boston, my hometown.
That’s right: practicing eating alone.
Does that sound lame? It’s something that gets easier with time and experience, which means it’s the perfect thing to slowly get accustomed too.
Take yourself out to lunch, then to a quick dinner. Work yourself up to that swank romantic place full of couples slowly, you don’t need to dive in headfirst if you don’t want to.
Have a strategy
I like to plan my meals like a general planning to send his troops into battle. (It’s possible I am obsessed with food and also have anxiety!)
So, what do I feel like tonight? If the best restaurant in a place I’m visiting is filled with couples but I need to try it, you bet I’m going in.
But first I peep some online reviews to check the vibe. Is there a bar I can eat at? Excellent! This is the most friendly place for the solo traveler. You can meet people, like the guy sitting next to you who it turns out owns like 5 restaurants in LA and can hook you up with a table at Wolfgang Puck’s fanciest eatery tomorrow (true story). And bartenders are some of my favorite people to talk to, especially when they want to make fun of the very pretentious guy who owns 5 restaurants.
Got a table by yourself? Get comfy. If it’s a casual place, I am not above bringing a New Yorker or my latest book to chill between courses. Do try to leave your phone alone as much as possible. No one thinks “oh she must be so important”, they just think you look bored and disengaged.
Total pro move? This works best on a patio or terrace. Put on your most glamorous sunglasses, some red lipstick, and your most enigmatic smile. Never look at your phone, never pull out a book, just gaze into the distance and let everyone marvel at what a creature of mystery you are.
Advanced anxiety techniques
The non-anxious among you can stop reading here and go on living your wonderful, worry-free lives.
For the rest of us, I have a couple coping mechanisms I use when I’m feeling particularly shy or nervous or anxious.
- Take a deep breath and acknowledge how you’re feeling. Am I feeling shy as I stroll up to a rooftop bar filled with glamorous Greek people whose language I don’t speak? Cool. I note this to myself, breathe in, and continue on.
- Be a repeat visitor. If you’re staying somewhere for a while, I find it comforting to find a place or two I love with friendly servers that I can return to. I know what to expect, I know they’ll be nice, I feel at home.
- Realize almost no one is looking at you, and you’re leaving soon anyways. It’s easy to feel like the center of attention when you’re alone, but most people are too engrossed in their own meals/dates/Instagram feeds to notice you. And if they do? You’re only a temporary visitor anyways, so who cares? This is freeing once you internalize it!
Lean into the awkwardness
If we never did anything that made us uncomfortable, we’d never do anything thrilling either. Sometimes, solo dining gets a little weird (like the time I showed up to a bistro in France and the hostess snapped “You’re alone?!” and sighed like I had announced I was carrying the plague).
But you know what? That place ended up being one of the best meals I had in France. And while the hostess was rude, my server could not have been kinder and more attentive.
If I had let the anxiety and self-consciousness win and turned around? I would have missed out on my first duck fois gras and also the confidence boost that night gave me.
Try it. Try it again if it’s good. Try it again if it’s bad. Just keep trying (and eat all the duck food gras you can).