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 on my first solo trip, 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?
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.
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1. You savor the magical flavors of your food
I’m a total foodie and think that good food is one of the most important parts of travel. 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. Another bonus – you don’t have to worry about anyone else’s dietary restrictions, just your own.
“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 slow, 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!