A woman once told me when you are traveling alone, it’s best to sit at the bar for dinner. You’ll get the right balance of ability to talk to someone nearby if you so wish, or the ability to keep to yourself.

Unfortunately I can’t really attest to this, because I never heeded the advice. However I can say that after my own experiences, it’s probably a good idea. I’ve now eaten alone in foreign cities and at home multitudes of times–and am quite comfortable doing it. In fact, it’s helped me grow.

Eating dinner alone is different from eating lunch or breakfast. Oftentimes dinner in a sit-down establishment is done in the company of others; it’s a social and communal event. When we invite people to eat with us, we are inviting them to share in a close experience. So the first time I went to a restaurant to eat alone, I felt a little strange and a little awkward.

I was in London for the summer. I had just spent a month living in close quarters with my peers and professors, and making a healthy habit (if fried food, potatoes and libations are healthy) of going to the pubs with them. But at the end of June they all had to leave, while I was staying for the next few months. I had to move out of the old flat, but I couldn’t move into the new one for another day. So I found myself a nice boutique hotel in Earl’s Court.

Getting out of the hotel and wandering the area wasn’t difficult – I’d done plenty of solo wandering — but upon the grumbling in my stomach, finding a place to eat was. I thought pubs would be easy. They generally have a decent number of customers inside, and they were in my price range.

But I had a hard time entering some of the more crowded pubs. I was just flat out uncomfortable. I was nervous I would stand out or look sad. I was pushed out of my comfort zone having to go in alone, knowing no one would come to meet me.

That night I ended up at a Taylor Walker, which was not crowded at all. It only had a few patrons inside and was quiet. I sat at a high table next to the bar, and about two bites into my meal, an older man wandered my way. He talked and talked and talked, and kept asking me personal questions, and due to my already cautious and green nature, I was not comfortable from the get-go.

He made me incredibly nervous. Why would anyone want to talk to me? What could they want? I had this fear that no one would help if he were actually someone to be nervous about. Eventually, by my clear disinterest and lack of response, he got the hint and walked away. And when I left, I remember thinking “I hate eating alone!”

That one experience got me over the solo-dinner hump. I had been uncomfortable, but I had to do it. It actually became a really amazing learning experience. 

Those 24 hours were the first that I had ever been in a foreign country completely alone — without anyone I could immediately contact. Like most children, I was always told not to talk to strangers.

Society puts an emphasis on how dangerous the world is for women in the first place, let alone when we are traveling to foreign areas. I was doing as I was told by avoiding contact with everyone I didn’t know.

By the end of the summer, that all changed – I had eaten a fair share of solo dinners. And it became exciting. If I wanted to be alone with my thoughts, I could. If I wanted to talk to someone, I could, and I could do it safely. All of a sudden, being alone at dinner was perfectly manageable.

Leaving the Castle in Search of Food
Leaving the castle in search of food. Image courtesy of Hannah Schaffer.

A few weeks ago I found myself hungry and alone in Edinburgh.

I went into a rather nice restaurant that advertised Bailey’s hot chocolate (who would turn that down?) and ended up sitting with two women at the table next to me who invited me to eat with them. I welcomed it, because it offered me the chance to meet other people. But I also missed the feeling of eating alone – because sometimes it’s nice to indulge in a dinner just by yourself.

Looking back, I know now that it’s ok to talk to people. Trusting your gut instinct is incredibly important, but so is pushing your comfort zone. Once I learned that dinner alone isn’t so scary, I also learned that people generally are OK to talk to. I grew as a person in confidence and in self- trust.

My advice?

Relax.

Sit at the bar, or sit at a small table.

Go somewhere that you want to eat and that is bustling enough that you won’t be completely alone, or feel shaken if someone who spooks you tries to communicate.

Be confident and assertive. Bring work or a pen and paper to take notes or look busy. Otherwise, just focus on your food and learn to get comfortable with yourself.

Part of the travel experience is learning how to be comfortable with you and you alone.

Hannah Schaffer
A dreamer and planner, Hannah caught the travel bug at sixteen and has been adding trips to her list of places to see ever since. She spent 10 days in Italy, a month in Granada, Spain, and a short 48 hours in Paris. Most recently, she spent the summer studying and working in London. Born outside of Philadelphia, but she moved to New York at the first chance she got. She attends university there and is about to graduate with a degree in Media. Like most people living in NYC, she finds it to be one of the best places in the world. Her goal in life is to make every day an adventure, and always learn something new -- wherever she is.

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    1 Comment

    1. I’m glad you pointed out that although eating alone can be uncomfortable, it’s good to push past your comfort zone because it can lead to some amazing experiences. I’ll be going on a solo business trip next month, and I was going to avoid eating out because it sounds a bit awkward to do it alone. I’m glad you shared your story; I’ll definitely take your advice and find some restaurants to eat alone at!

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