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?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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Allison is a full-time freelancer and travel blogger, exploring the world solo in pursuit of new and exciting adventures. She’s happiest when climbing things, snuggling any animal who will let her, and eating improbably large amounts of food.