Traveling solo can be one of the most satisfying and self-indulgent travel experiences: You can skip the sights you don’t want to see and dawdle at the ones you do, bolster a sense of independence, and eat anything (and everything) you want.
But that last one — the idea of eating alone at a table, with a number of onlookers wondering why you don’t have a plus-one — can throw some solo travelers into a funk.
“Since the beginning of time, meals have been socially structured to be shared with another person — and even better because you can try out more than one dish at a time,” says Chizoba Anyaoha, founder of TravSolo, a planning app for solo travelers. “It’s more discouraging when you see other people eating together, sharing laughs, and looking like they’re having the time of their lives, while you have no choice but to eat alone.”
1. Go casual for your first solo meal.
“If you want to ease yourself into dining alone, start with breakfast or lunch in a diner or casual café, rather than dinner at a high-end restaurant,” says Skowronek. “It’ll seem less serious — and like less of an undertaking if you’re just grabbing a casual bite in daylight.”
2. Select a seat at the bar or a communal table.
Search out restaurants with ample bar seating, where you can pull up a stool by other solo travelers or those looking for conversation, suggests Anyaoha. “Every time I have done this, I have always made friends with the bartender and with people who order drinks around me,” he says, adding that those casual conversations have sometimes led to lasting friendships.
3. Try to stay in the present.
There are big pluses to eating alone: “When you’re alone, you have the ability to be far less distracted, more focused, more observant,” Skowronek points out. And you can lean into those pluses by making choices that allow you to enjoy being in the moment. “Sit somewhere that faces the street or the door so that you can people watch, if possible,” Skowronek continues. “Make an effort to notice the atmosphere of the place: what sounds you hear and what smells are wafting your way. And eat slowly — enjoy and appreciate every bite.”
4. Or bring along a distraction.
If you can’t stand the thought of being present in the moment, then be sure to bring along a distraction while you dine. “Try out different ways to occupy yourself while you enjoy your meal, like bringing that one book you have been trying to find time to finish or adding more notes to your journal,” says Anyaoha.