Eternal Arrival
Travel Advice

Travel and The Art of Eating Dinner Solo

One of the hardest parts of solo traveling is eating dinner by myself. Breakfast and lunch are easy. I can pretend I’m a high-powered businesswoman in a crop top and sandals (is that not what people wear to work these days?) stopping for a power lunch. I can punch away at my phone and fool the world that I’m answering emails, texting with friends, that I’m eating alone because I’m busy and on the move – not because I’m, y’know, actually alone.

But that ruse all falls apart at dinner. When I busy myself on my phone while waiting for my meal, I vividly imagine people’s mental lives. Poor girl, she got stood up. Doesn’t she have anyone to eat with? Why doesn’t she eat her shame in private like a normal person?

eating dinner alone is awesome

No friends? No problem.

The reality is that no one – except maybe that one judgy old lady in the corner tired of her ancient husband – is actually thinking that much about you. Sorry, you’re no Indiana Jones, and solo travelers have likely sat in your same seat, a death grip on their phone as it if holds the secret to the fountain of youth.

But in case you’re still nervous anyway, which I am because I’m always anxious about irrational shit, here are ten ways I combat my solo dinner anxiety.

1. I look for street food

Street food is the solo traveler’s greatest love, and if it’s not, what the hell is wrong with you? Street food doesn’t judge you. It’s there for you like a pack of Oreos after a breakup, only without the shameful blanket of crumbs in your bed after you’ve finished.

Note: I can not be held responsible for any subsequent kebab burps.

If you don't like street food, I don't like you. Probably.

If you don’t like street food, I don’t like you. Probably.

2. I remind myself that people don’t give a shit

See that family sitting in the corner? Look closer at the frantic look in the mother’s eyes as her two year old screams bloody murder because his potatoes are touching something green. Do you really think she gives a fuck?

Think of the couple on a first date. She’s probably squirming in her date-night-bra trying to suss out if he’s worth the uncomfortable underwear.

Think of the old married couple. They’re probably despairing at how many years left of these dinners they have to suffer through and dear god why won’t you die already. See, no one cares about you!

3. I look for a seat at the bar

Sitting at the bar sends a bunch of subtle vibes. It exudes confidence, the sense that you’re meeting someone, or that you’re open to it. It also has the added bonus of attracting fellow solo diners or people waiting for dining companions. Or at the very least, you can jabber at the bartender. Poor guy (tip well).

solo travel in Spain

The Basque country is the perfect place for eating solo in Spain, thanks to its bar snacks tradition.

4. I bring a book

Oh, I’m sorry, you’re judging me because I’m alone? I’m judging you because you’re not rereading Moby-Dick, the greatest American novel of all time, you prick.

5. I tell myself I’m the shit

In direct response to the imagined reprobation of the old ladies and judgy waiters, I start amping myself up like I’m a football coach and it’s the last down (my sports knowledge is absorbed via cultural osmosis so someone will have to correct me if that’s like, not a thing people say). You got this, girl.

6. I drink

I know I know. The only thing sadder than eating alone is drinking alone, right? Wrong. Drinking helps me feel more confident and actually believe the silly stories I weave for people in #2.

Beer, the nervous solo traveler's BFF since... idk when, Google it.

Beer, the nervous solo traveler’s BFF since… idk when, Google it.

7. I write in a notebook

This creates intrigue. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself.

8. I eat off peak

Perhaps it’s because I used to be a teacher, because I’m always hungry, or because I’m secretly a 70 year old, but I love having an early dinner. Some restaurants can be fussy about seating one. But if the restaurant is empty, their shade is no match for your potential dining dollars. Even the judgiest of waiters will have to seat you.

Look at all those empty tables. Just try not to seat me now!

Look at all those empty tables. Just try not to seat me now!

9. I scope it out

Even if I have an idea of a place I’d like to go, I never go with my mind fixed on going there. I always peer in the window and scope out the vibe before planting myself there. If it’s too romantic, too formal, too crowded, too expensive, and I can anticipate discomfort, I take it as a sign from the world to check out another spot. After all, that is the great benefit of traveling solo – the freedom to change your mind at a moment’s notice without inconveniencing anyone.

10. I cook at the hostel

Okay this is cheating, but I had to include it because it makes life so much easier. Hostels are a place of no shame. No one will judge you for eating a bowl of pasta in your rattiest pajamas with your elbows on the table. They’ll just be grateful you’re not snoring or rustling around with plastic bags or having sex in the bunk on top of them. Plus, if you make a little extra, it’s always nice to offer around – you may even end up with a dinner partner next time around.

I love solo traveling, but eating dinner alone can be a real challenge. Luckily for you, I've compiled a humorous and helpful guide help you master eating dinner solo - now with 90% less cowering awkwardness!

 

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26 Comments

  • Reply
    Geneva
    September 4, 2016 at 2:48 am

    Excellent! I think this is great. It has humor, reality and advice. I don’t think it gets much better than that. In fact, I like it so much I’d like to repost it on my blog, 21stCenturyNana.org because I’m writing a piece about the psychological/emotional elements surrounding traveling solo and your piece fits right in.

    I’m just starting and trying to get off the ground, but your piece substantiates and gives a more seasoned point of view (not to mention it makes me look smarter–hahaha). I think it’s an excellent piece, well written and timely for my purposes. Thanks for posting it. I’ll be following your blog.

    Geneva

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      September 4, 2016 at 12:50 pm

      Geneva, I’m so glad you found value and usefulness in this! I hope people can have both a laugh and actually walk away with a bit of confidence to eat alone – even if it’s at my expense πŸ™‚ I’ll be touch with you about using it on your blog.

  • Reply
    Jenn
    September 4, 2016 at 3:53 am

    Nice one! This is totally spot-on. It took me awhile to get used to doing stuff alone, but after awhile you just get used to it. Many of the places I’ve moved to I have moved to alone, and usually it takes a month or two to make friends, so I’m used to being Jenn-no-friend…..at the restaurant, at the movies, on the hike, even at the concert . You definitely made me chuckle a few times on this post

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      September 4, 2016 at 12:54 pm

      Jenn, thank you so much for your kind words. It really can take a while before you get settled in a new place, but it’s great that you have the confidence to do all those things solo in the meantime! I can be such a hermit at times. Sometimes we get so weird in our own heads about doing things alone. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a movie alone, which is weird because you don’t even talk during a movie, so why have we decided it’s something that needs to be done with a partner or group? So keep on rocking on, Jenn-No-Friend! I’ll be drinking to you at my next table for one! πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    Elina
    September 4, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Hi Allison! I found your blog through Like riding a bicycle… This piece is so funny I think I’d do wrong not to keep following your blog πŸ™‚ I’m big on travelling alone so that has included many a lonely dinner, but usually I don’t feel too awkward about it. Although the type of the restaurant does make a difference like you said! These are all great tips, another thing I do is pretend to myself that I’m a food critic to whom a dining partner would just be a distraction πŸ˜€

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      September 5, 2016 at 5:05 pm

      Hi Elina! I’m so happy you found my blog, I love Dani’s site! I’m really glad you enjoyed the read πŸ™‚ And good tip!! I’ll have to try telling myself that after a few glasses of wine next time. That is one really nice thing about eating alone – if I want to take a bunch of pictures of the food, no one will be annoyed with me for making them wait until I get the shot I want. I’m definitely starting to get more used to dining alone, but the awkwardness still creeps in at time, even though it’s totally irrational! Sometimes it can be such a challenge to get out of our own heads and realize we’re not as important as we make ourselves out to be πŸ˜€

  • Reply
    John
    September 6, 2016 at 2:55 am

    Terrific piece! So true and so funny. Plus, all the food looks so good, who cares what people think!

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      September 6, 2016 at 10:08 pm

      Exactly! Food is one of my favorite parts of traveling, it’d be such a shame to skip out on it just based on an inflated fear of people’s perceptions!

  • Reply
    Kirsti
    September 16, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    I LOVED this post (and your blog :))! This is one of my biggest fears because sometimes I am that old lady in the corner feeling bad for people eating alone lol. I am excited to have these tips to think about when I am the one eating alone in a couple weeks! Thanks πŸ™‚

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      September 17, 2016 at 10:02 pm

      Aww Kirsti thank you so much! That really means a lot to me πŸ™‚ I’m sure turning the tables will give you a new perspective… maybe now you’ll be more curious rather than feeling sorry for them! Enjoy your trip! I’m sure you will love traveling alone, solo meals and all.

  • Reply
    Alan, London
    February 20, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    Spot on.
    To be honest, this is the best travel blog I’ve read for a long while (I entered via your ‘Granada on $30 a day’ posting,which was super useful BTW).
    So many profess to have detailed advice and then fail to deliver, instead drifting off into clichΓ© or generalisation.
    Not only do you have a wealth of excellent tips and tell it like it really is and how people really travel and the issues they face, but you are also incredibly honest and movingly candid about the ‘other stuff’ in your life. All good wishes to you. Stay safe and keep up the great blogging please

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      March 1, 2017 at 10:56 pm

      Thank you so much, Alan! I just logged onto wifi for the first time in a week from Cuba and this comment really made my day. I’m glad that you found my article helpful and that you think that I’m adding value to the at times seemingly way too saturated travel blogging world. All the best to you and thanks so much for reading and stopping by to comment!

  • Reply
    Jessica Lawson
    May 8, 2017 at 3:58 am

    I an completely relate and I don’t care what other people think for sure!

    I solo travel, hike, and eat A LOT! I’m actually finding that other people enjoy it, too, and I’m glad to know I’m not “alone”; other women are solo travelers too!

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      May 9, 2017 at 2:32 am

      The more and more I eat alone, the more used to it I get, to the point where I actually kind of like it – or at least don’t mind it – now πŸ™‚ Funny to read this post again just a few months later and see how much more at peace I feel being alone. So cheers to us awesome solo women travelers πŸ˜€

  • Reply
    Marie
    August 25, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    Great piece, Thank You! This is REAL advice and I appreciate it. And just a small fyi, I’ve been the frantic mother in the family of 4 in the corner and it’s not that she doesn’t care, she just wants your life, for dinnertime anyway. ☺☺☺

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      August 26, 2017 at 10:05 am

      Thanks Marie! I’m glad you enjoyed the piece — and haha, true, you know I never thought of it that way! What a mom of young kids (or any kids, really) wouldn’t give for a nice romantic dinner out for 1…. πŸ˜€

  • Reply
    Mari Vivet
    August 25, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    Allison, you write with a fun bravado of provocative prose. I like your real tone of voice. I think we could be friends! Keep doing what you do, and keep me posted on when your new book comes out! You are writing one right?

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      August 26, 2017 at 10:05 am

      Aw, Mari, thank you so much!! I’m glad you enjoyed my writing style. I wish I was writing a book… maybe in the future!!

  • Reply
    Sylvia K P
    August 25, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    I can completely relate to your comments. But I began eating at great restaurants and yes, even dinners after my divorce 49 years ago. Now widowed for 11 years, I came back to solo life as a true pro!!!!

    And I must say I love it!!! I don’t have to ask anyone else where to go eat, I get to pick the place!!!! I don’t have to wait for someone and I love being spontaneous always. The best part is that no one is around to complain about anything at all!!!! I never have to listen to winers…..my lest favorite parts of dining with friends and family members…..believe me.!!!!!!

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      August 26, 2017 at 10:04 am

      You are my solo dinner role model!! I love everything that you say — now that I’ve been eating dinner solo for the better part of a year, none of these things really bother me anymore. I love that I get to pick the place, and that no one can judge me when I want to eat Thai food in Bulgaria or eat a burger for the third day in a row ;D And yes, you can just relax and enjoy the meal, and not have to worry about other people’s drama!

  • Reply
    Martha
    August 25, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    Like the humorous approach to a common issue and feeling. Not so impressed wth the treatment of older people. Seriously, we are people too. Some of us are lucky enough to be thrilled to have many meals past present and future with the same wonderful person. An traveling, alone or not, as an older person takes even more guts. Think about it and treat us with some respect.

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      August 26, 2017 at 10:02 am

      Hi Martha, sorry you feel personally insulted by this humor piece. I poke fun at everyone, myself included, and by no means should you take it personally — it’s literally just the mental ramblings of one anxious person, sitting alone at dinner, feeling judged and imagining other people’s lives to make herself feel better. It’s all in good fun.

  • Reply
    Nicole
    August 25, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    Definitely a learned skill…I travel a ton for business, alone and with others. I used to love it when I wasn’t alone. Now when I am with a group I find myself looking for windows to have a beer or a bite alone.

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      August 26, 2017 at 10:00 am

      It is a learned skill…. now, after a year of mostly solo travel, I actually really love eating dinner alone and most of what I wrote here seems almost silly to me πŸ˜€

  • Reply
    Daisy
    August 28, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    While I’m sure you’re a nice person, this is one of the most frustrating posts I’ve ever read. I travel alone and I love it. I’d never cheat myself out of an awesome 5 star meal because of what others thought. You seriously avoid experiences and pleasures because others may think your lonely or alone? Big difference between lonely and being alone. Love yourself, date yourself. You don’t need to pretend to be a high powered business woman to eat.. that is ridiculous. While I’m sure this post is all about your own anxieties, no need to write it as if every other female solo traveler shares these insecurities. Hopefully one day you make a part 2 of this article with… just eat wherever you want, whenever you want, cause it’s your life and you get to live it.

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      August 28, 2017 at 2:11 pm

      Hi Daisy, wow, this post clearly struck a nerve with you. This is a humorous, tongue-in-cheek post about my own experiences and anxieties. In no way do I pretend this is every woman’s experience… in fact, I’m pretty clear that these are all my own anxieties and insecurities as a young woman traveling alone with a mental illness. Good for you that you feel so empowered! I say that honestly. Not every woman can say the same, and there are many of us who suffer from illnesses that make us “avoid experiences and pleasure” out of fear, anxiety, or depression. I’ve been traveling alone for the better part of the past 14 months and while most of what I wrote isn’t really true for me anymore and I’m quite comfortable with eating alone now, the truth is that many solo travelers — men included — feel awkward eating dinner solo. So why not share that experience instead of yet another tired piece of how empowering it is to travel alone? That’s been done to death. Solo travel has its great parts and its not-so-great parts and it’s important for me to share both.

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