One of my biggest anxieties about traveling solo has always been mealtimes. I suspect I’m not alone in this. There is just something about sitting down at a restaurant by yourself that is foreign and uncomfortable for most people. You get that feeling that everyone is looking at you, feeling sorry for you, judging you.
My first couple of solo trips I was too intimidated to even try to dine out alone, and I subsisted mostly on takeaway food or convinced others in my hostel to eat with me. It wasn’t until the start of my round the world trip in Japan that I finally forced myself to step out of my comfort zone and sit down to a meal of okinomiyaki by myself.
And I didn’t die of embarrassment. In fact… I had a nice time.
Since then I have eaten alone in restaurants all around the world, from Bogota to Hong Kong, Indianapolis to Negombo. I’m even known to go out for the occasional solo dinner here in Seattle. I still sometimes feel a little weird, but for the most part, I just feel free. And hungry. The way I see it, I’m not going to let being alone stand in the way of a good meal.
I think everyone should be able to eat at a restaurant by themselves for the same reason I think everyone should travel solo at least once: to prove to yourself that you can. To not be restrained by the needs of others. Most importantly, because it makes you feel freaking powerful as fuck.
So here are my tips for how to eat alone around the world:
Address Your Anxieties
A lot of times I view my fears through an ambiguous cloud of dread and anxiety. It’s not until I take the time to sit down and really break it down that I see why I was afraid in the first place. By themselves, those fears usually look silly or at least surmountable.
So ask yourself what bothers you about eating alone. Are you worried about people judging you? Afraid of feeling awkward? Concerned about being bored?
For me, I realized one of my fears is that random people are going to come over and start talking to me because I’m alone. Being bothered by people I don’t know gives me a lot of anxiety (true introvert here).
Once I started eating alone I realized that yes, this does happen sometimes, but the worry is disproportionate to the actual inconvenience. I’ve learned to deal with it. Sometimes I meet someone interesting and have a nice conversation, and sometimes I have to explain that I am just fine sitting here by myself.
Practice at Home
We live in such a social society that the idea of doing anything “social” alone is just really hard to wrap your mind around. It takes a bit of practice to really get used to the idea and feel normal.
The challenge of eating alone paired with the challenge of eating in a foreign country where you may not know the language can be a double whammy of difficulty. Start getting used to eating alone somewhere where you are already comfortable.
It may feel odd to choose to go out to eat by yourself when you probably have companions nearby who would willingly come along, but give it a shot. Take yourself on a little date to a restaurant you are already familiar with. Somewhere nice, the kind of place where you have to be seated by a waiter. Maybe pair it with going to a movie alone (another thing people get weird about).
At first, you will feel like all eyes are on you, but I assure you they are not. Eventually, with practice, that anxious voice in your head will quiet down and you may even find yourself having a nice time.
Start with Lunch
I’m not sure why, but it is way easier to sit at a restaurant alone at lunchtime than at dinner. Lunch is less romantic, maybe less social in general. So if tackling a dinner is too much, start with lunch.
Bring a Distraction
It can be weird to sit through a meal without a companion to talk to. You start to feel very self-conscious. To combat this, I like to come prepared with some sort of distraction to keep me busy. Some ideas:
- A book to read
- Your phone to play around with (although this can sometimes appear ruder depending on the fanciness of the restaurant)
- My personal favorite: a notebook to jot down observations. (bonus: if you’re dining alone and taking notes you might get mistaken for a food critic!)
Of course, sometimes it’s nice to just sit and people watch too.
One incentive to eating alone? You can eat wherever, and whatever you want, and you don’t have to share. So check out that Ethiopian place nobody else seems interested in trying. Splurge on somewhere a little bit nice. Celebrate your meal alone by ordering something special, like a really luscious dessert. You deserve it.
Fake it Til You Make It
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten was a simple one: Even if you’re scared, just pretend you’re not. Inside you may be a big ball of anxiety, but if you plaster on a big smile and act like eating alone is the most natural thing in the world for you, you may actually start to believe it.
Practice Not Caring
Ask yourself: how often do you actually notice people who are eating out alone? When you do notice them, what do you think? Do you feel sorry for them? Unless they are literally crying into their linguine you probably don’t. So why would other people feel sorry for you?
And even if they are judging you for some reason, why should you care? You don’t know them, you’re not trying to know them, you are just trying to enjoy your meal. Haters can hate.
Do you eat out alone? What’s your best tip on how to eat alone?