You did it! You bit the bullet and booked your solo travel trip. But as the trip draws closer, you realize you didn’t consider all the things you normally do with other people that you’ll now have to do alone. Like going to a museum, taking a road trip, or — gasp — dining alone.
Don’t beat yourself up if the thought of a table for one causes a touch of anxiety. You’re not alone (in your feelings, anyway). The fear of eating a meal alone is so common there’s actually a word for it — solomangarephobia, the phobia of dining by yourself in public. But we don’t need to get all technical. The simple truth is, a lot of people feel discomfort when eating out alone without a pal to talk to or share the moment with. Solo travel will help you get over this — fast.
We Promise, Dining Alone is Not That Bad
Even if you have other options, like, say just eating every meal in your hotel room, you should embrace a solo dinner out on the town. For one, you’ll probably see plenty of other people in the same boat.
But the biggest bonus to dining alone (or really doing anything solo) is that it completely opens you up to meeting other people. When you’re with a friend, it’s too easy to stick together because it feels comfortable and familiar, but it also makes you less approachable and less likely to approach someone else.
And for the introverts out there who really aren't looking to socialize, dining alone is a great opportunity to soak up the atmosphere without distractions. You can truly enjoy the restaurant's specialty pasta, watch the locals going about their day past your cafe, and rest and recharge from a long day of sightseeing.
So dive in head first. You may soon find dining alone results in new friendships and discoveries that never would have happened otherwise. Follow our tips on how to grab a table for one while traveling and you’ll soon be a seasoned pro.
1. Find a Balanced Venue
A balanced place for solo diners is not too loud or rambunctious. It isn't filled with large groups of people or tucked away hidden and empty. The focus here is to find a happy medium, a place you’d be comfortable just hanging out in. Go to the swankiest joint in town and you may feel very out of place. Go to a back-alley, “locals-only” joint and you might feel more alone than ever. Choose something in the middle and keep your eyes peeled for other solo diners. Witnessing others dining alone may make you feel more at ease about the whole idea. Who knows – maybe you’ll make a new friend.
2. Saddle up to a Communal Table
Seek out establishments with communal tables if your goal is to meet new people. These long, shared tables create the perfect environment for casual chitchat with your neighbors. It’s also a lot less awkward to strike up a conversation with someone you’re sharing a table with than it is to walk up to a complete stranger in a restaurant and start a dialogue. Plus, those who don’t mind dining at communal tables are likely to be friendly and welcoming towards the person who plops down beside them.
Tip: Searching “communal tables” or “communal seating” in your favorite app (we like Yelp and OpenTable) brings back plenty of results.
3. Graze Your Way Through Markets
If you can’t stand stomach the thought of sitting at a restaurant alone, check out the local food markets, food stalls, and the increasingly-popular food truck scene. Wander through a southeast Asian street market, for example, and you’re guaranteed to see a bevy of solo backpackers looking for a cheap, easy, and authentic meal.
Food trucks and stalls offer a similar environment. This grab-and-go style of dining removes some of the weight of anxiety from eating alone. If you do need to set your backpack down or take a quick load off, you’ll probably find picnic tables or casually thrown-together tables and chairs. Less formal situations equal less stressful situations.
4. Choose Dinnertime Wisely
If you’re a foodie who truly wants to experience the best restaurant options available in a new destination, traveling alone can be tough. It’s understandable if you don’t feel 100% confident rolling up to the best restaurant in town by yourself, but you also don’t have to sacrifice your much-anticipated culinary experiences because you’re uncomfortable. Don’t toss your foodie bucket list out the window just yet. Choosing off-peak hours to dine can be helpful in avoiding awkward situations. Schedule an early dinner or hold off until the evening crowd starts to disperse. This can highly reduce the pressure of walking into a packed restaurant and claiming a table for one.
One Last Suggestion
It's tempting when dining alone to whip out your phone or bury your nose in a book for the duration of a meal. And there are times and places when this is perfectly acceptable. That street cafe or casual lunch spot by the water might be perfect for the book lover who wants to spend a leisurely afternoon reading.
But don't rely on these tempting distractions when you're out to dinner. Clinging to your smartphone like it's a life raft means you'll miss out on the experience. You might as well stay in your hotel room if you're just going to scroll Instagram the whole time you're eating. Trust us — put the phone down and enjoy the atmosphere. Bring along a journal to make notes if you really need something to do, but don't let it consume you. Soak up the experience, and we promise, it gets easier the more you practice.