Reservations About Eating Alone? 5 Tips To Get Over It
Since last week started off with a dose of unbridled honesty, it only seems right that I should continue in the same vein. So here’s my confession: I love compiling helpful posts and good reads from around the web in my weekly Weekend Intelligence post and I’ve traditionally included around five posts or so each week. But the truth is that it’s not always easy to find five posts that I love. I really hate including mediocre items just to get the number up to five because it’s a waste of your time and mine.
So, that said, my weekend post is going through a bit of a metamorphosis. I don’t exactly know where it’s going but I’m fairly certain it’s going to move away from simply regurgitating information I find on the web. It may include just one really awesome post or article that makes me think and provokes a response. But I promise that whatever I include will be helpful and/or inspiring or just flat-out entertaining.
Like this piece I read last week by Jane Ganahl, author and journalist, who writes poignantly on what it means to be single and the idea of traveling alone. “All my significant travel during my single years has been in the company of someone — daughter, sister, friend, lover,” she writes. “ As a single woman, the idea of solo travel has always proven a bit daunting. I don’t mind dining alone occasionally, but that’s different than taking on an entire country.”
I got stuck on the fact the Ganahl feels perfectly content eating out alone and that her anxiety about solo travel stems from having to approach the whole “traveling alone” experience. But in conversing with people who are a bit anxious about traveling alone, one of the biggest sources of anxiety I’ve encountered has actually been about dining alone. While crossing from Sausalito to San Francisco by ferry on my West Coast trip last September, for instance, I struck up a conversation with a youngish woman who was surprised and impressed that I was traveling by myself. “It’s not that hard,” I told her. “Anyone can do it.” She said that as much as she’d like to do the same, she harbored some anxiety about eating by herself.
What I told her? Nobody cares that you’re eating by yourself. I don’t know about you, but if I’m at a really good restaurant and the food is superb, the last thing I’m thinking about is the person in the corner dining solo. If the food is bad, I’ll probably glance over at the other patrons to see what they ordered and if they’re enjoying it but the truth is most people are too consumed with their own meal and companions to think about you and why you’re dining by yourself. There are the occasional negative reactions (like on my first semi-solo trip, I went to a little Cajun restaurant in Old Sacramento where the host’s eyes bugged out this far when I told him I needed a table for one) but they’re usually isolated incidents.
Still feel uncomfortable about the thought of eating by yourself? Here are a few tips:
Enjoy your meal
Seriously. Don’t just eat–savor. Focus on the flavors, the textures, the smells. Think about how what you’re eating makes you feel. Attach pleasant memories to the experience of eating alone.
Write in your travel journal
Meals make excellent break points during the day to collect your thoughts and record your day’s activities on paper.
Read the local paper
One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the local culture is to get familiar with the local news and issues of the day. It adds an extra layer of awareness to your travels.
Plan your next move
Hunker down with your guidebook and plot your plan of attack. Sure, you made an itinerary weeks before your trip, but what sounds interesting right now?
Connect with people from home
Whether you’re writing postcards or using your smartphone to capture a photo of what you’re eating to share with friends and family back home, it’s a nice reminder that simply because you’re traveling by yourself doesn’t mean that you’re completely alone.
It’s true that solo travel offers unique opportunities for self-examination; reservations about dining alone provide perhaps one of the most telling opportunities for self-reflection. Why would you—should you—be uncomfortable dining alone? Afraid people will think you’re a lonely loser?
The real question: why do you care what other people—strangers, no less–think? Be comfortable with who you are and secure in your worth as a person, whether you’re part of a group or on your own.
Just some food for thought.