How I Learned to Love Eating Alone

Five summers ago, I binge-watched all six seasons of Sex in the city. In one episode, Carrie voluntarily goes to a restaurant by herself and eats alone. I remember thinking, “Why would anyone want to eat alone at a restaurant? How embarrassing! I hope I never have to do that.”

Fast-forward a few years: I’m wandering through Granada, alone, and I’m starving. I keep passing a ton of delicious-looking restaurants filled with groups of people, and am too embarrassed to eat at any of them lest I have to publicly acknowledge my alone-ness. The horror! My first meal in Granada ended up being a sad-looking hamburger at an isolated café. I ate a hamburger in Spain just because I was ashamed of eating alone. Ridiculous, right?

 

The one thing I used to hate about solo travel was the awkwardness of solo meals. Read how I got over that fear and how I learned to love eating alone.

Not quite as sad as a McDonald’s burger, but a close second.

 

I’m proud to say that I’ve come a long way since then. By the end of my trip, I was eating alone all the time – even in the cities where I was visiting friends. And guess what? I ended up loving it.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy, even prefer, eating with other people. But sometimes, whether it be a conscious choice or not, I find myself hungry while I’m out and about. Now, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I relish the experience of eating alone. Experiencing these five reasons are how I learned to love eating alone.

 

1. You savor the magical flavors of your food

I’m a total foodie. In fact, I’m highly suspicious of people who don’t enjoy food. But that being said, I’m totally guilty of being at a restaurant with people and focusing more on the conversation (or you know, trying and failing to eat neatly and consequently spilling on myself) than on the actual food. And sometimes the food deserves more attention than your dinner companions (sorry friends, I still love you!). Those meals that are so good that you start contemplating going to culinary school? They definitely deserve your undivided attention.

 

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” ― Orson Welles

 

2. You do have company: yourself

You’ve already proven that you’re a strong independent woman (or man) because you’re traveling alone. That must mean you’re totally okay with the pleasure of your own company. Or you’re working on it. I’m not going to suddenly turn into a self-help guru and tell you “you is good, you is kind, you is important,” but it is true. Embrace me time. Let your thoughts wander. I don’t know about you, but most of my best ideas happen when I’m alone with my thoughts.

 

3. People-watching (and eavesdropping!) for the win

I don’t have to tell anyone that people-watching and eavesdropping are fun. Why else would those “Overheard at…” Facebook groups be so popular? Admit it – we all people-watch and eavesdrop while we eat, whether we’re with people or not. Or maybe I just need more interesting dining companions. Either way – awkward first dates, children throwing tantrums, dramatic break-ups – the possibilities are endless!

I guess if you want to turn your eavesdropping into learning, you can use it as an opportunity to practice your foreign language comprehension. But I think the drama is more fun, especially since it isn’t happening to you!

 

4. You can actually relax

A lot of us have been in this situation before. You left your hotel at 8 am and have been traipsing through the city for hours. It’s hot, you’re tired, and you cannot wait to just get to lunch and plop yourself down for a nice meal and a little rest and relaxation. Except guess what? You’re with your chatty traveling companion, and her idea of relaxing involves talking. When you’re eating alone, that doesn’t happen. You can zone out, ponder the secrets of the universe, or, if you want to talk someone, call a friend. Your meal can be as relaxing and quiet as you want it to be because you’re large and in charge.

 

5. Nobody is paying attention to you

That’s right. Hard to believe, but nobody actually cares that you’re eating alone. They’re too preoccupied with their own meal and their dinner companions. They might even be people-watching the same dramatic group you’ve taken an interest in. And even if they do care…you’re in a foreign city. Nobody knows who you are anyway!

Does this mean I’ve given up on eating with people, or that I prefer a solo meal to companionship? Of course not! I love socializing at meals! But, from time to time, a solo meal is a welcome reprieve from the constant buzz of day-to-day life. 3 months ago, I had never eaten at a restaurant alone. Now, I take the opportunity when it presents itself. Feel like trying that new restaurant and none of your friends want to go? Go alone! Just need some time with your thoughts away from a screen and other people? Eat alone! It might feel uncomfortable at first, but you may actually learn to like it.

 

What do you think? Do you like eating alone, or do you think it’s the most awkward thing ever? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

Never again will I eat a sad burger to avoid eating at a restaurant alone in public. See how i learned to love eating alone on Passport & Plates!

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  • Love this post! When I first moved to the east coast on my own, I really hated eating out alone because I thought it made me look pathetic to the people around me…and then I realized the people around me probably didn’t even care lol…the only time I wish I wasn’t eating alone is when I want to try multiple dishes and wish I had company to eat with so I could share

    • Thanks Julie! Yes sometimes that’s how I feel too! Sometimes I feel like writing a sign that says “I promise I have friends!” haha. But you’re totally right! Nobody cares. It’s just a matter of having a sharing buddy – always my perpetual problem. Thanks for commenting!

  • Lindsey Pauley

    I used to be self conscious about eating alone at restaurants, but then I got a job that involved a lot of work travel. Now when I eat alone, I figure there are hundreds of people who have eaten alone at whatever restaurant I’m in before, and the waitresses don’t care, the patrons don’t care, and I don’t need to care. If you still feel weird, bring a laptop or book and put it in front of you while you scarf down that delicious ceviche. =)

    • That’s a great way to look at it Lindsey! I’m sure when I do it enough times it will feel less like a big deal as well! And you’re right – a book is a great way to boost my confidence. Thanks for commenting and for the tips!

  • People watching is right – such an added bonus and free entertainment!

  • I like eating alone too, but usually lunch at a café, I have rearely eaten alone in the evening and I do feel odd doing so, but I’m about to embark on more travels, so I will try it again if/when I feel like eating out! Thanks 🙂

    • Sally Elbassir

      Thanks for the comment, Gemma! Yes I definitely have no problem eating at a cafe either but sometimes it’s dinner time and what is a hungry girl to do? :p. It takes some getting used to but it’s not as bad as you think! Curious to hear your thoughts once you do it!

    • Thanks for commenting, Gemma!
      I agree with you about eating at a cafe. It’s almost expected and rarely does anyone look twice – especially if you have a computer or book! I feel like dinner is the hardest for me. Or in countries (such as Spain) where lunch is more of an affair than dinner!
      I’m curious to hear your thoughts once these next travels start 🙂

  • Jessica Beck

    Great post, all of this is so true! I have learned to love eating alone! Sometimes I even grab a book and go eat alone in my own hometown!

    • Thanks for commenting Jessica! That’s awesome and I should definitely start doing that as well! That way when I travel, there’s absolutely no hesitation. We all need a little quiet time away every now and then .).

  • I’m super comfortable doing most things by myself… going to the cinema, theatre, concerts etc. and my friends and family have trouble understanding how I can do it. I always say to them “nobody else is looking at you, they don’t care”. Think about it when you go out do you ever look around and see someone on their own and think “poor them they must have no friends” of course not! The truth is everyone is so wrapped up in themselves they probably don’t even notice.

    I’ve found eating alone to be much tougher to do alone though. Like some other people have said I’m absolutely fine if it’s lunch or in a cafe. I love places that have a bar stool set up by the window which means you don’t have to sit opposite an empty chair – they’re made for solo eaters! However I still feel a bit awkward having dinner alone at a sit-down restaurant. I did actually do that for the first time last year and it turned out to be fine but I think I need to force myself to do it a few more times before I stop feeling awkward about it. As with everything the more times you do it the less you worry about it.

    • Same! I have no problem doing things alone, including things that are more commonly done with friends like what you mentioned above! But you’re right, there’s just something about eating alone in a public place that feels a lot tougher, even for independent women like us. I ended up doing it a lot over the summer since I was on an extended solo trip. The first time, I shamefully ate that sad burger at an emptyish cafe. Afterwards, I swore not to do that again and you’re right – the more you do it, the better you feel about it for sure. It’s definitely one of the hardest aspects to get used to when solo traveling (at least in my book).

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts 🙂

  • This is actually something I struggled pretty hard with until I moved to Miami as I had an awkward work-social life. Now I love eating by myself! Sometimes better than with company… Great post! 🙂

    • Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it :).
      Yes I know exactly what you mean. I had no choice when I started traveling solo, and now I’m (slowly) getting better at it. Glad you like it as well!

  • Karen Wanderlustingk

    I often enjoy while traveling. It gives me time to focus my thoughts, relax, and enjoy where I am. Initially, I was so self-conscious about it, but I own it now. I don’t mind when others strike up conversation with me since I’m often able to get great tips from them.

    • That’s awesome Karen! Honestly, I do so many things alone without a problem, but I always get a little apprehensive about eating for some reason. I’ve gotten a lot better now but it was a struggle at the beginning. And you’re totally right – it’s a great time to be alone with your thoughts!

  • Great post! I’m still a bit intimidated eating alone (especially in a new country), but I agree it’s the perfect time to people watch and take a moment to relax by yourself.

    • Thanks Julia! I definitely still get slightly apprehensive when I do it but the more you do it, the more you realize that people don’t really care what you’re doing! They’re too busy enjoying their meals, which leaves you to unwind and enjoy yours :). Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Lauren @ atipsygypsylife.com

    AH! It stresses me out SO much that people are scared to eat alone. I moved from FL to LA (state, not city) for uni when I was 18. Can’t tell you how many friends I made simply because I wasn’t afraid to eat alone out in the open, so other students felt comfortable coming up to ask me if they could eat with me. When I went on my first solo trip to Europe, it was a damn breeze.

    And I have severe anxiety! Don’t let the fear of eating alone keep you from making grand adventures 😉

    • Funnily enough I never thought twice about it while I was at university – I had no problems eating alone! I felt weird doing it a a restaurant in Europe, especially in Spain where eating is so friend and family oriented. That being said, I definitely don’t let it stop me from having adventures and I’ve gotten much better about it over time! 🙂

  • We’re a bit late commenting on this one, but such a great post! This is actually one of Frog’s favourite things to do too! We both work different hours/day so he is often eating on his own. In France it is quite normal to go to the cinema on your own, but not so much eating at restaurants. – Freckles

    • Thank you! Yeah I think in certain countries (particularly in Europe) it’s seen as less ‘normal’ to eat alone. Spain is one of those places, which is where I did my first solo trip. I’m starting to get used to it but i still prefer a companion when i can get one!