Traveling by yourself can be an incredibly rewarding and liberating experience, but as any solo traveler can tell you, it’s not always rainbows and sunshine. There can also be times of acute loneliness when you wonder, “Just what in the hell am I doing here alone?” From my experience, nothing on the road will cause you greater feelings of isolation than the frightening prospect of eating at a restaurant by yourself.
Before my first solo trip, dining alone seemed to me only slightly less depressing than bowling alone (which, alas, I still find rather sad). I had always imagined that those who sat by themselves at restaurants suffered from some profound personality defect. What other possible explanation could there be for their solitude? But after traveling on my own for a few weeks, I became much more comfortable with the prospect of sitting at a restaurant by myself, and I eventually saw it as something to be enjoyed rather than simply endured.
It may sound silly, but being able to dine alone is an important skill to have when on the road. Here are some tips to overcome the awkwardness of dining alone:
- Bring some reading materials to occupy your time whenever you’re faced with a table for one. Not only will this make you appear busy, you’ll also look interesting and bookish.
- Chat up your waitress, asking for her recommendations on what to see and do in the area. When ordering in a foreign country, try to avoid simply pointing at the menu. People usually appreciate when you at least attempt to speak their language, even when you inadvertently hack it to pieces.
- Take out your diary (or “journal” for guys) and do a little reflecting about your trip.
- If you see another person sitting by herself, don’t be afraid to start a conversation. No, strangers don’t bite, and they’ll probably be just as happy as you to talk to someone else.
- And most importantly, next time you’re face-to-face with the breadsticks, remember how Philip Roth describes one of the main characters in his novel Letting Go: “Though subject to his share of depressions, nightmares, and melancholy, he cannot enjoy any of it thoroughly, (and thereby feel his true and tragic worth) because of a nagging doubt that he is very lucky and ought to be thankful and shut up.” Hey, unless you’re traveling to Pity City, be thankful that you’re even getting the chance to travel. Many people are not so fortunate.
For more solo travel tips, check out Tom Johansmeyer’s post “Don’t become a hermit: eight tips for solo business travelers.”