“To not needing a man!”
I shuddered as the shot of rakia hit the back of my throat, grimacing at the sudden burning sensation that was centered in my chest.
“And to Lauren’s solo travels!”
I grinned as my newfound travel friends took another shot of the potent liquor our guesthouse owner had handed out. There, in the company of four cheering girls, I began to wonder why I’d been so afraid to travel.
Earlier that morning, at 6am on the 17th July 2011, I’d reluctantly shuffled onto a plane with a one-way ticket in hand. I was flying from London to Dubrovnik and I had no idea when I’d be returning. I’d never travelled for more than three weeks before, never travelled alone. I had no idea what I was doing.
I felt liberated, exhilarated and afraid. This was it. This was me following my dreams. I’d planned on travelling the world with an ex-boyfriend but he’d gone on to break my heart. I was proving that I didn’t need a man to make me happy and I didn’t need someone to accompany me on my travels. I was looking forward to one day being able to describe myself as fiercely independent because at that very moment I felt anything but.
That night, surrounded by newfound travel friends, we toasted the start of my solo trip and they told me I was brave. I’d been surprised at how easy my first day had been — I’d made friends with four other solo females within minutes of arriving and we’d spent the day together at the beach, sunbathing and asking each other the questions every backpacker goes on to eventually despise. I’d devoured hundreds of blog posts on the tedium of seemingly forever asking and answering “where are you from?” “where have you been?” “where are you going?” but I was so stupidly excited when I finally got to experience it myself.
I was a backpacker now and travelling was so much easier than I thought it would be.
The following morning my friends took a day trip to Montenegro and I found myself truly alone for the first time since stepping off the plane. I grabbed my Kindle, a beach towel and some sunscreen and set out to prove I was capable of solo travel.
That evening, my friends still not back from their trip, I went out for my first meal alone.
My first meal alone ever.
I was determined to love eating alone — after all, I foresaw a lot of solo meals in my future — and purposefully strode down to the main strip of restaurants by the beach. I wandered along the waterfront, surprised by the sudden appearance of butterflies in my stomach. I peered in each and every restaurant, noticing that not a single person was eating there alone.
Could I really do this? Maybe I should just go to the hot dog stand instead?
I forced myself inside like I forced myself to get on the plane. Clutching at my Kindle I stood awkwardly in the middle of the restaurant until a waiter greeted me.
“Hi! Um… a table for one… please?”
“A table for one?!”
“Yep.” I met his eyes and attempted to appear confident, like this wasn’t the first time I’d ever eaten alone.
“Why are you alone? Where are your friends? Don’t you have any friends here?”
“I…” I trailed off, thinking of my friends I’d left behind in London. “I don’t… know…?”
The waiter led me to a table and handed me a menu and I did my best not to cry. My mind drifted to the goodbyes I’d racked up during my final week in the UK and how suddenly, unexpectedly, I felt so incredibly lost and lonely. My eyes darted around the room, afraid to make eye contact with any of the other diners. The couple at the next table smiled at me and I was filled with the urge to run away.
I switched on my Kindle but it was out of battery. I ate my meal in silence, watching everyone around me laughing and joking and smiling and not being alone like I was. It was depressing to be surrounded by happy couples, friends and families who were enjoying an evening out with the people they loved. I didn’t have anyone.
I felt alone and I hated it.
For the rest of my time in Dubrovnik I ate with friends, and if there was nobody around I’d go to a grocery store and buy junk food. I had been well and truly scarred by my first attempt to eat alone.
However, over the next few months, I made a conscious effort to get to the root of my solo eating-related fears.
After struggling with an eating disorder several years ago, I knew that this was where a lot of my issues stemmed from. Many months of battling to swallow food had left me uncomfortable with eating in front of people. Furthermore, existing on very little food for months at a time shrunk the size of my stomach and my appetite has never really grown back to its normal size — I’ll eat children’s portions and be full. I eat about a quarter of every meal that’s put in front of me, which then leads to somebody taking offense and asking why I hated the meal. My small appetite leads to so many questions that draw attention to the fact that I’m not that great at eating. So there’s that.
On top of that, despite my best efforts over the past year, I struggle tremendously with caring too much about what other people think of me — a negative comment on Never Ending Footsteps will ruin my week and make me feel like I should shut down my site forever — and I take everything so personally. At a restaurant I feel that other diners are judging or pitying me, even when I know that 90% of the people there haven’t even noticed me.
As an now-occasional solo traveller, this can be a challenge. I’ll sometimes skip meals or buy snacks from grocery stores because I don’t have the energy to deal with yet another meal alone. I don’t want to do this anymore.
Overall, I love the idea of eating alone. I want to enjoy it. I have a vision of sitting in a cosy restaurant, reading a book and drinking a glass of wine, enjoying the silence and having time to myself to think. I’m an introvert at heart and love spending time alone, just not when it feels like everyone else around me is having fun.
It has got better, though. I’ve learned that taking a Kindle and wrapping myself up in a good book distracts me enough that I don’t notice the people around me. I’ve learned to choose my restaurants and mealtimes carefully so that I don’t end up somewhere that’s crowded and noisy, which only acts to make me feel lonely. I’d say that after two and a half years of battling with eating alone I’m finally starting to feel comfortable with it.
However, I’m nowhere near 100% comfortable and that needs to change. My mindset needs to change. I’ve decided that 2014 is the year where I work on trying to minimise how much I worry about what people think of me. Case in point: I’ve agonised over this post for three days because I’ve been so concerned people will judge me and think I’m pathetic for not being able to eat alone!
No more! It’s time for a change!
Over the next few months I’m going to force myself out of my comfort zone repeatedly and eat at least a couple of meals alone each week until I can be well and truly at ease with eating alone. I’m hoping that by the middle of the year, I’ll be able to sit in a busy restaurant without a book and genuinely enjoy the experience of eating alone.
We’ll see how it goes.
Do you like eating alone? Do you have any tips for me to feel more comfortable?
I am not a big fan of eating alone either. I feel so conspicuous in the middle of a restaurant alone. But when traveling solo, I am determined not to miss a great meal just because I am eating alone! I also find that a book is the greatest device while eating solo… when traveling alone I get more reading done than any other time of year! It definitely gets easier the more you do it! :)
I feel more like that the longer I travel and the more I fall in love with eating — I don’t want to miss out on amazing food because I feel uncomfortable! It’s time to make a change :-)
I actually really enjoy eating out alone! I find it to be a relaxing thing to end the day and a fun way to meet and talk to people if eating at the bar!
Plus just sitting back with a beer and people watching.
I’m hoping one day I’ll feel that way! :-)
Hi Lauren, thanks for posting this – I think being uncomfortable eating alone is not just a solo traveler thing, but applicable in many places. Bringing a book or notebook (I sometimes make lists while I’m waiting for my food alone) is just fine to do. One thing that might help is to practice looking “pleasantly vacant”, which is mostly a vague hint of a smile, but without focusing too much on others.
When I was traveling alone, practicing this made me look both approachable and calm, able to enjoy my glass of wine solo, yet if someone came up to talk to me, I’d have a friendly smile all ready to go.
Thanks again for the appearance on Matt’s creativeLIVE session! I was one of the audience members in SF, so well done!
Absolutely — I know I’d feel just as uncomfortable if I was eating alone in my hometown, probably moreso! Glad you enjoyed the CreativeLive talk — it was fun :-)
Lauren I really find your honesty inspiring. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with finding it hard to eat alone. I can do it, but I think I’ll always prefer sitting down with others, and I think that’s ok. Worrying about what people think is the real difficulty in my opinion. For me it’s things like going to the gym, or doing any sort of sporty thing. I started running early in the mornings last year and one day someone pointed at me. I never did it again. No matter how much we know people have too much to care about in their own lives to really notice us, we’re only human. And not one of us is perfect.
Thanks, Clare! I’m sure I’ll also prefer eating with others but I’d like to get much more comfortable with eating alone. I know how you feel about running, too, I have an… awkward running style and people stare at me whenever I run outside! I don’t do it much anymore :-)
I know exactly what you mean and it took me the longest time to feel comfortable eating alone. I used to get the food to go and sit in my car and awkwardly eat it before sitting by myself in a restaurant. But I started small in really casual cafes and gradually worked my way up to nicer places. Then one day I was staying with a friend in SF but he had to work, so he suggested I come by the pizzeria he worked at for dinner. I thought it would be a casual joint, but I was mortified when I showed up and found out it was a fancy Italian restaurant! The guys who worked there kept staring at me and I was so embarrassed… til my friend told me later they were just checking me out. And the people sitting near me kept looking at me… til they started talking to me and they were just curious about my story and we wound up chatting and sharing food for the rest of the night. It was great! It really just comes down to not caring what others think. It’s easier said than done, but sometimes you can even make a new friend from dining alone. :)
That’s a great story! It shows that quite often you think people are judging you when it’s actually the complete opposite! :-)
oh, and that hat is totally not stupid– i love it! ;)
Thank you! I ended up growing to hate that hat after a few months — I’d always shove it in my backpack and it ended up so misshapen! :-)
I just want to let you know that you are NOT alone in fear of being judged. Honestly, even I am very subconscious in enjoying myself outside without any company. And you said something very accurate, we must learn to enjoy things out of our comfort zone. Life is too short to give a damn about what strangers think! Why would it matter? They will only see you once! ;-) Excellent post! Something that I can really relate to, thanks for sharing it!
Thanks so much, Cecilia! I definitely need to work on my fear of being judged :-)
I totally relate to this. I too have always had issues with food, and caring too much about what people think of me, and I’m still not the biggest fan of eating alone – although I have grown to feel more comfortable with it after months of forcing myself to do so in South East Asia. Yes the street food there is great but there were also some fantastic eateries recommended in my Lonely Planet book that I simply had to try. It was all part of the experience of travel, right? I just used to sit there and write my journal (which would later become my blog once I found an Internet cafe) in between taking mouthfuls and try to absorb myself in that so that I could lose the sense of feeling so very very uncomfortable.
Absolutely — I used to write in my journal while eating alone back when I actually had a journal, and it kept me distracted and focused so I didn’t notice what was going on around me.
Great post and I can truly relate to you! I feel self conscious whenever I’m eating alone and I also think too much what other people think about me. What you said about a negative comment on your blog and your reaction, that could have been me! :)
But as you said, let’s make the best of 2014 concentrate on not caring what other people think about us!
Yep, absolutely! We need to learn not to take things so personally :-)
I only enjoy eating alone if I take my computer or a book to read. But I totally feel you on how someone’s negative comment on my blog can make me be sad for a week and second guess everything! stupid trolls
Yep, some of the worst days of my life have been when a post has gone viral on Reddit and I’ve received death threats and abuse!
Thinking about eating alone makes me cringe a little. It´s not eating alone in general, it´s eating alone while solo traveling and being somewhere new. I think I need to try it out at some point as well, just to be able to get over the fear of thinking everyone thinks you are lonely, and be confident!
I think the first time is definitely the most challenging so make sure you do it more than once or you might be scarred for life — I almost was! :-)
I’ve also had anxiety (mostly resolved now, happily) and funny enough I prefer eating alone – somehow I feel more ‘safe’ potentially embarrassing myself in front of strangers, and I like having the space to read and not having to interact with people I know.
When I’m eating alone I like to bring a book (I bring a book everywhere, to be fair), dress up as much as possible and pretend I’m Beyonce or JK Rowling or Michelle Obama, and they’re fumigating my mansion/fumigating my other mansion/Barack is being really grumpy about Congress so I decided to have a solo night out. It’s like it doesn’t ‘count’ if I’m pretending to be someone else.
I love that you do that — I’ll have to try it next time! :-)
ill admit it….i love eating alone. but i think that when growing up in the US, people will chat with you if you’re alone. so i would just head to a restaurant, sit at the bar area, and never felt alone. on the other hand, when ive been in more closed off societies, like belarus, eating alone is really awkward. like realllllly awkward. and people stare. and then, more often than not, they’d come up to me and ask where i was from in broken english because they knew i was strange and not belarussian. so in the end, apparently i made friends in both situations :)
i dont really have any tips, unfortunately. maybe just bring a book, computer, magazine, or notebook and keep yourself occupied. people will think you’re important :) haha
Yes, absolutely! I know that when my US friends come to visit me in England they’ll try and chat and make friends with people they see in restaurants and bars and be confused why everyone looks terrified! It took me a long time to get used to chatting to strangers once I started travelling :-)
i can imagine! if i put my fiance (who is norwegian) in a bar or restaurant sober with strangers and told him to make friends, he’d cry. seriously.
Hahahaha! But he’d be okay if he wasn’t sober? ;-)
Eating alone is also one of the hardest parts of solo travel for me which is sad because food is such an integral part of traveling for me. I used to get such bad anxiety that, like you, I would just grab instant noodles and snack food from a convenience store and eat it in my hostel. I’ve gotten better about eating alone at restaurants just because I feel like I’m missing out if I don’t, but I still don’t really enjoy it (especially at dinner, lunch is better) and there are still times when I end up eating takeaway pizza in the hostel common room.
Good luck with your challenge! I am also trying to put myself out of my comfort zone more often. It’s hard but rewarding :)
It’s funny — when I first started travelling I had close to zero interest in food. I didn’t care whether I ate from grocery stores everyday because I wasn’t excited by eating local foods — I was scared of them!
Now, I’ve grown to love sampling local foods and it’s one of my favourite aspects of travel… which is why I decided to make a change and start forcing myself to eat alone. I don’t want to miss out on good food just because I feel uncomfortable! I struggle with getting out of my comfort zone but always feel fantastic afterwards so keep pushing myself :-)
I’ve ate alone before (last time was on a vacation in St. Thomas). It was definitely interesting. It was probably all in my head but I felt like other customers were looking at me and felt sad for me!
Yep, that’s exactly how I feel when I eat alone!
I can’t say I’ve ever actually sat in a restaurant on my own, but I do like having a coffee or some lunch in a cafe on my own. I guess actually having dinner would be a little more intimidating, but like you say, 90% of the people in a restaurant probably won’t even notice! Good luck getting out of your comfort zone, if all else fails, try imagining that everyone else in the restaurant is naked? (Though that’s never worked for me in any situation before!)
Thanks, Catherine! I’ve never tried imagining everyone naked so that’ll be the plan for the today’s meal! :-)
I have also had eating issues in the past, and feel conscious of people looking at me eat even now (when I know they don’t care!) I’ve also had waiters react with horror when I ate alone in Italy – “one? ONE? ALONE??” I still try and do it occasionally though, even now I am back in the UK and don’t really need to – I think the challenge you have set yourself is a really good idea; the more you do it, the easier it gets (from my experience at least!) good luck! :) xx
Eeep, having the waiters react in that way is never great for self-confidence! Shouldn’t they be used to people wanting to eat alone?! I’m hoping it will get easier over the next couple of weeks as I force myself to do it :-)
Yay! Glad you wrote about this, I have a half written article on the subject myself. I don’t hate eating alone necessarily but I also don’t love it. Lunch I can usually handle but dinner at a nice restaurant is a real challenge. Funny enough, the thing I hate most about eating alone is that people always come over and try to talk to me! Sometimes I don’t mind talking to strangers but sometimes I just want to eat without having to make awkward small talk.
It’s funny — I feel uncomfortable with small talk with strangers when eating but I also feel uncomfortable when everyone ignores me! I can’t win :-)
I love this article. Thank you so much. Solo traveling is great one moment and so difficult the next! It’s nice to not feel alone in having a hard time being alone
You’re definitely not alone — I think everyone who travels solo has their moments when they really struggle with being alone :-)
Eating alone can be so difficult! It doesn’t help that your first real experience was made so awkward with a waiter asking why you were alone. I would have wanted to run away if that had been my first encounter. As someone who travels alone quite a bit I will say, it does get easier! Of course there are times and certain restaurants that feel so strange to be alone in, but I think that being confident in eating alone will help get over the awkwardness or the feeling that people are judging you. I also always have something to do so that I’m not just staring around the room, twiddling my thumbs. I have a book, at least, or a notebook. That’s a great time to catch up on notes or just write anything to seem busy. I’ve also read, though this hasn’t happened to me, that at some restaurants if the wait staff sees you writing in a notebook they will think you’re a critic and want to impress you. I think that has to be in a certain type of restaurant.
Well, here’s to hoping it gets easier for you! And, as you can see from all of the comments, you are definitely not alone when it comes to feeling scared about this.
Yeah, the first experience eating alone was a little traumatising — “will everyone in every restaurant I go to think I don’t have friends because I’m alone?!”
It’s definitely made me feel less pathetic to see that others struggle with this, too, and to know that I’m not alone! I’m hoping it’ll get easier as I force myself to do it more and more :-)
Thanks for sharing! I have mixed feelings toward eating alone, and actually prefer to eat on my own sometimes. Usually I spend my breakfasts gathering my thoughts and plans for the day or maybe catching up on email with a cup of coffee, so it’s actually nice not to have social distractions. Midday, I often soak up the sunshine in an outdoor cafe while people-watching, and again, I am very comfortable with eating on my own, though I’m happy to have someone join me if they want to!
At dinner, though, I *greatly* prefer to eat with others. I think (for me) it has a lot to do with the fact that there’s usually less activity in the evening compared to daytime when there are hundreds of things to do. I don’t have that distraction and so all of a sudden, I’m more conscious of the fact I’m alone. Dinners are also usually longer and/or less casual, so I feel like I stick out. I’m sure it’s all in my head, but I do wonder if people are judging me for eating on my own.
I agree with you (and what a lot of other commenters have said) in that dinner is generally the toughest meal for eating alone. I think, as well, before I travelled or did anything solo I’d see people eating alone in a restaurant and wonder if they were lonely — now, I realise that they’re probably not, but there was a time where I’d be concerned to see somebody eating alone! I think that’s part of the reason why I think other people are staring and judging/pitying me?
Thanks for sharing this top fear of most people I know. Dining alone will never be my favorite thing to do either (on business or vacation), however, I don’t want to deny myself the opportunity to experience a new culture, view or people through food. Having worked as a server in restaurants many years ago, I am keenly aware of how people are treated (I’ve been denied a reservation for one in Lima, told I couldn’t have a table only a bar stool, etc.) but have had more positive than negative experiences. While I might long to be that couple, with friends or in that group, I try to remember how fortunate I am to be “just here” and try to stop my pity party for one (or at least feed it chocolate – there’s lots of chocolate!). I’m a fan of the communal tables that some restaurants have to meet people.
At the end of day, I can’t let others insecurities project onto me (this is hard one) -I’m just there to eat, its a basic need that everyone should be able to enjoy without judgement no matter how many seats are full at the table. What I find interesting is that men I know think I’m silly, they just go to any bar around the world alone, get a beer and food and call it a day without a second thought.
I completely agree and I need to work on just enjoying myself without always being concerned with what other people could possibly be thinking about me. Most men I’ve spoken to about this have also been confused at what I was so uncomfortable about!
I totally feel you on this one, especially having the perception that everyone is staring at you when most probably don’t even think twice about you. I don’t have any groundbreaking tips – I just always bring a book (or play on my iPhone, but then I feel sort of bad about being addicted to technology on top of feeling bad about eating alone!)
Heh, I don’t travel with my phone because I know I’d use it as a crutch in awkward situations. I don’t feel bad about a Kindle, though. And it’s true — I bet most of the people in the restaurant haven’t even noticed you but you still feel like you’re being watched!
Very interesting post! And interesting to read the other comments as well. I wasn’t aware that some people could actually have problems eating alone in a restaurant. Judging by the comments you have received so far, I wonder whether this is mostly woman issue? I eat alone in restaurants all the time when I’m travelling and have never given a thought to whether other people think it is strange or weird. To be honest, I guess it is all in your mind as I think most people couldn’t care less whether you eat alone or not. I hope you manage to get over this (irrational?) fear as it will really restrict your eating options. And, even if all the other customers really think you are weird, so what? Why should the thoughts of some random strangers be of any concern to you?
I do have more female readers than male, which skews the responses a little… but I know that when I was trying to explain why it makes me so uncomfortable to Dave he stared at me like I was crazy!
It’s definitely in my mind — I know that people couldn’t care less that I was eating alone but there’s still a small part of me that feels like I’m being silently judged! As I said, my project for 2014 is working on caring less about what people may or may not think of me :-)
The first time I ever ate at a nice restaurant alone was on a work trip to Sydney. Once I actually sat down and had my food in front of me, it wasn’t too bad!
Then on our RTW trip I ate alone a few times throughout Vietnam as my husband was sick for most of the time there. I think it DOES get easier, but it doesn’t help if the people around you make it awkward (like, I never got asked by a waiter if I didn’t have any friends!!)
Yep, the waiter asking why I didn’t have any friends was my worst solo eating experience, and it was such bad timing given that I’d just said goodbye to them all! I’m hoping it will get much easier the more I do it.
That is great that you traveled anyway. I am afraid to travel alone and usually travel with my boyfriend. I agree though that eating alone is not fun. However, with technology to fill empty space and silence, it is not as bad as it used to be. I usually take a book with me if I know I will be eating alone (usually for work related travel).
I was so frightened to travel alone but I knew that if I didn’t go alone I wouldn’t go at all, so there really was no question :-). Immersing yourself in a book definitely helps — I don’t travel with a phone so don’t have the opportunity to sit on Facebook to distract myself! Kindles are great, though :-)
Interesting post. It’s funny how people are always on a different side of the fence on this issue. Oddly, I love breakfast on my own and having morning coffee on my own.. but I find eating an evening meal, especially at a restaurant, on my own a little lonely. It’s definitely worse when you’re surrounding by others eating and drinking wine with friends/partners.
That’s a good point — I agree that dinner is probably the meal that most makes me feel self-conscious, perhaps because that’s the meal when people are less likely to be eating alone. Eating breakfast and lunch alone are usual activities for people at work but dinner always feels like the time to catch up with friends and family, and socialise.
I don’t enjoy dining alone and have even been known to introduce myself to strangers and ask if I can join them!
I’ve invited people to dine with me before but never asked others if I can join them — I don’t think I’m quite at that confidence level yet! :-)
Good job not letting your first experience stop you forever! I’ve been practising being comfortable eating alone as well, and it’s intimidating enough for me, even without having past issues with eating…
This is my personal tip: I think the best place to practice actually is in airports. Because often in airports there are many people flying alone, and I find there always seems to be at least one other person sitting in an airport restaurant by themselves, which makes me feel less strange. The past couple years I’ve made a point to save some extra cash so I can sit and have a beer, or a meal by myself in an airport restaurant…at first it was awkward, and I was secretly hoping some stranger would come join me so I wouldn’t look so lonely, but now it’s actually become a tradition for me. To the point that sometimes I go to the airport way earlier than my flight just so I can have that special time to reflect on my life, or read a book or newspaper before I head off on my next adventure somewhere! I’ve really come to treasure that alone time (which is rare for me being an extrovert), and it’s made me become significantly more comfortable with the idea of eating in a normal restaurant by myself!
Good luck with your mission this year!! :)
Thanks, Mark! If I’d let that first experience put me off I think I would have struggled for the next six months of solo travel — and would have eaten very unhealthily! That sounds great — I’ll have to give airport eating a go next time I have a flight. I usually just buy a load of crisps while I’m there! :-)
Eating alone doesn’t bother me at all, I’m happy to go out for a meal or a drink on my own. *But* I always have a newspaper or book with me. I’d be more likely to feel self conscious if I didn’t have something to read. I don’t think you need to be hard on yourself for how you feel, we all have different comfort zones and everybody has some situations which they don’t enjoy.
I’ve got a kind of weird thing about being more self conscious around other Westerners. For instance, if I have to walk into a hostel common room full of people chatting to each other I’m a bit (sometimes a lot) self conscious but if I walk into a restaurant full of locals I’m not.
Yep, everyone has different comfort zones and different things that make them feel self-conscious. I’ll be taking a book with me to every restaurant I eat at alone for a while :-)
Great post Lauren. Your honesty is awesome. I can understand how uncomfortable it can be to eat alone but please consider this. You’re a beautiful, brave, and inspiring girl. Continue to do your thing and consider the following…. when you’re eating alone and others are looking at you, perhaps they’re not judging but instead, admiring your bravery. I certainly do. Cheers!
Thank you so much for the lovely comment, Mike! I’ll try and think about that next time I’m eating alone :-)
I’ve traveled a little on my own, and I just moved far away from my friends and find myself eating alone quite a bit!
I always find the “waiting for food alone” part to be more awkward than the “eating alone.” I have a Fruit Ninja game on my phone, and every time I wait for my food, I save my score as the name of the restaurant. Spending a couple minutes on a game distracts me from the uncomfortable-ness, so I can put my phone away and I’m more comfortable sitting there while I eat.
I love that idea, Liz! Especially as you’ll find yourself with a list of restaurants and awkward moments experienced on your phone afterwards! :-)
The first time I ate alone I thought everyone in the restaurant was staring at me and pitying that I was by myself when everyone else had someone with them. It is a very disconcerting feeling, and the truth is that most people don’t even notice you. I’ve made it a point to do things by myself because I don’t want to be held back when I don’t have other people around. Just take a deep breath and remember it’s your life, your experiences, and no regrets. Don’t let not having someone else around keep you from doing what you want to do!
It’s so true — we imagine that everyone’s staring at us when really they’re just as wrapped up in themselves as we are :-). I’m looking forward to getting more comfortable with eating alone over the next few months :-)
You are most certainly not alone in feeling like you are being judged Lauren. It is something that I and I am sure a lot of other people struggle with everyday. Every year for the past 15 or so I make the resolution to try to not be so concerned with other people’s opinions of me because they are just opinions and everyone is entitled to have different ones. It has only been over the past 4 years, coincidentally when I really started travelling, that I have started to relax a bit about it. By no means am I completely comfortable but one day I will be and so will you.
I applaud you for being so open and honest on your blog. Putting it in writing is a great step towards achieving it.
That’s great to hear that you’ve started to become less worried about what other people think of you — I’m looking forward to reaching that stage :-)
The best way to overcome your fears is to tackle them head on. The more busier the restraints you go to and eat alone the easier it is going to get, sure it will be a little hard at first but if you really want to over come this it will be worth it. Not only that but if people are judging you, realise its in spite of their own insecurites and feel sorry for them. At the end of the day one of the greatest things I learnt about being offended is that; its only offensive if you take offence. I hope this year you achieve these goals, I have faith :)
Absolutely — that’s what I’ve been doing since I started travelling. I’ve lost count of how many fears I’ve faced over the past few years but it’s an awful lot! Thanks for the support, Jaryd! :-)
It took me a long time and many travels to feel comfortable eating alone. The thing is, I’m always around people as a TEFL teacher, I live with my partner and I have loads of friends. It wasn’t until a solo trip around Northern Spain where I felt like I was ready, three years after moving abroad. Even then, the wait staff couldn’t believe I was alone and eating for two and even suggested moving to the bar to eat so that the bartender could keep me company, ugh!
Do what feels right, even if that means finding someone to eat with!
It always surprises me when the wait staff seem surprised to see you eating alone — surely they must come across solo diners multiple times a day?!
Great article! I could easily put myself in your shoes and imagine how you would have felt! As for me, I have been comfortable with eating alone for as long as I can remember. Even before the time I moved out of my home country, I was never squeamish about sitting in a restaurant and eating alone. I read when I’m waiting for the order, but once I start eating I focus solely on the food. I think just way too much and my thoughts alone can keep me company ;-) But I can definitely relate to what you experienced! Recently I was in Cambodia on a solo trip and signed up for a Khmer buffet + Apsara dancing show. The restaurant was a bit fancy which I didn’t know before, so I felt totally out of place in my worn out jean and tee. Adding to this, my table for one was sandwiched between two couples. The tables were closer than they should’ve been and I ended up feeling like a total loser until the dance started. In the end, the food was great and I enjoyed the show – so worth the few minutes of awkwardness :-) Good luck with your solo eating expeditions!
I hope I can reach that stage soon, Shmruthi! I’m trying to move into writing about food so I’m hoping that concentrating on what I’m eating will allow me to pay no attention to the people around me! :-)
Definitely a book.
More importantly, a table tucked away in a corner (either facing into the restaurant or, if you’re feeling really antisocial, away from it). It genuinely does get easier. But I still feel awkward if I’m sitting in the middle of the restaurant, so can’t recommend the corner table enough…
Thanks, Lu! I’ll start in the corner with a book :-)
When I first began traveling alone for work on a weekly basis eating alone scared me to pieces. It took me a few weeks to learn to always have my iPad with me or some sort of distraction to being alone. After almost three years of eating alone I’ve grown to love the anonymity of it all. I’ve also met some great people while sitting at the bar alone, but most nights I’m not a “bar sitter” because I’ve also met some real creeps.
I wish you luck in getting to the place of enjoying solo meals. It takes time.
Thanks, Megan. I’m hoping the more I do it the easier it will be. I’m hoping I’ll be able to work up to feeling comfortable without having any distractions with me — we’ll see how that goes! :-)
I know a lot of people who are similarly afraid of dining alone, but I really struggle to get my head around it. I would never class myself as overly-confident (I’m actually quite shy when it comes to meeting people), but I’ve never had an issue with eating alone, particularly so when it’s away from home (which is probably because I’m afraid of what people will think).
I’ve done it since I was 14 or 15, but I do agree that eating in a busy, crowded restaurant can make you feel extremely lonely (particularly so at night!) I’ve had many a lonely meal in Paris wishing I’d brought along a friend.
I can’t say that I relish or even particularly enjoy eating alone, and I find it impossible to read and eat at the same time (I’m an awful multi-tasker) which would probably make it better. Hopefully after some more experiences I’ll learn to love it!
I’m hoping I can get to love it, too! It seems so appealing in theory but I can’t help but feel a uncomfortable when I’m there. I struggle to read and eat at the same time, especially if it’s a physical book and I have to try and turn the pages while putting food in my mouth!
You are not alone… I find that having a seat at the bar when alone is the best for me. There are usually others there that won’t mind starting up a conversation and if worse comes to worse, there is always the bartender. When I was younger, I often relied on a good book to get me through. The next step for you might be to go the the movies alone on a Friday or Saturday night… now that is tough!!
Yes! One of things I loved most when I was in Austin, TX was that so many of the restaurants had communal seating and chairs at the bar to sit at. It made it so much easier to chat to others and not feel so lonely :-)
Once I’m comfortable with eating alone, the cinema will be my next step!
Sure eating alone my seem a little weird but in the long run what does it matter? Especially while traveling! I find the most liberating thing about traveling is that you most likely will never see the people around you ever again. At home I am a casebook introvert; Traveling however I become extremely open and approachable. If, during the course of randomly talking to strangers things become obviously awkward for them you can laugh it off and walk away. In the long run what does it matter if people find you a bit strange. They will soon have forgotten you! Revel in the awkwardness! It is one of the joys of traveling. I find this this applies to overcoming anxiety of eating alone as well as life in general. Good luck!
Thanks! I agree with you and hope to put those thoughts into practice now :-)
I can totally relate. I never really cared about what people would think of me but for some reason, when I ate alone, I just didn’t know where to look! Sometimes I’d get fixated on a couple and their conversation, and then realize that maybe I shouldn’t be staring for so long!! The book is a good tool but sometimes you just don’t feel like reading!
I’ve gotten used to eating alone because I finally thought ‘you know what, I’m by myself all the time, and if I don’t go eat by myself, well, I’ll just be missing on many great meals!’. Even though I’m now used to eat alone in restaurants, I still had to conquer one thing: eat alone in a very very fancy restaurant. And I did it last year in New York! I made a reservation, took the tasting menu and was terrified that they would sit me in an awful corner and look at me funny and since I knew it would last at least 3 hours, I was worried! It turned into a wonderful evening, the waiter chatted with me from time to time, I didn’t need my book, I was sitting at a great table next to a window, I had a blast! I felt very powerful and independant and it was fantastic!!!
Congratulations, Isabelle! That sounds like an amazing experience :-). One day I’ll work up to eating alone in a very fancy restaurant!
I love this heartfelt post Lauren!
I’m lucky because I actually find it easier to dine alone when travelling. No awkward moment when it comes to splitting the bill!
I do remember feeling very lonely eating out sometimes on my big trip though, I would look at people chatting together and wish that I had that, at that moment. Most of the time I enjoy eating alone, people watching and enjoying exotic food when dining alone. You never know who you will meet at the restaurant :)
Yep, I feel lonely, too, but mostly just during evening meals — for some reason that always makes me feel like I’m all alone with no friends!
Lauren, I can totally relate to this! I don’t think there are too many people out there who aren’t at least sometimes made to feel uncomfortable about eating alone. It really is one of the hardest things to adjust to when you’re traveling solo. As for worrying too much about what other people think of you, story of my life. I worry about that kind of thing soooo much it gets in my way. I’m constantly trying to remind myself that either other people just don’t care, or it doesn’t matter if they do. It’s a struggle but I really think it’s worth working on. Worrying about what other people think takes up too much time and energy!
It’s true, it really does take up so much time and energy — especially as they’re probably not even thinking about you in the first place! I’ve decided it’s time to make a change and stop worrying about it so much :-)
lauren, this reminds me of a hilarious post on unbrave girl entitled “how to eat out by yourself like a boss.” read it if you haven’t!!
like you, i am a self conscious eater, also stemming from food/body issues so solo meals are not the best! but when i take some work along (or a book, kindle, whatever), i feel a real sense of purpose & freedom. the whole “i am woman, hear me roar” comes into effect!
Thanks for the link, I love the post! I usually feel confident after managing to eat a meal alone, like a “Yes! I survived!” moment :-)
I too can relate to your feelings of dining alone in a restaurant. I have done a bit of traveling by myself and when it was time for lunch or dinner I struggled too. I once went on a Caribbean Cruise by myself for a week. My fear of traveling alone started as soon as the taxi driver asked me why in the world I was going on a cruise by myself? I usually enjoy the formal dining for dinner on cruises but when I was on my own I didn’t go to the dining room at all for dinner because I as so nervous that everyone would ask why I was alone.
Good for you for working on getting out of your comfort zone this year. I hope it all works out well :-)
I imagine I’d feel quite similar if I was on a cruise on my own — especially as I don’t own any kind of formal clothes! Thanks for the support :-)
I used to hate it, too. But now, I’m actually loving it. I like the fact that nobody would interrupt talking to me—and that I can only concentrate on one thing: eating. Nowadays, it’s so hard to eat without doing another thing. So, when I travel, I love everything I do on my own. :)
I’m hoping I can start feeling like that soon! :-)
I SO understand where you’re coming from – and I’m with you. Even after years of mostly traveling solo, I still can’t truly enjoy eating alone. Sometimes I will walk up a street and peer into 10 restaurants before finally walking into one because I hate it so much. I always have either my Kindle with me, or at least my phone to play on, though, because I feel more secure with something to distract myself.
I honestly doubt I will ever love eating alone… but sometimes you don’t have another choice!
Yep, I’m also guilty of walking past dozens of restaurants and working up the courage to just pick one of them!
Thanks for sharing your experience and your fear. I found it inspiring, because I’ve been influenced by people’s judgement far too much in my life and I understand your willing for a change. I admire you a lot for trying and for your honesty :) I’m sure you’re on the good path to achieve your goal. Have a nice day :)
Thanks so much, Marta! I worry far too much about what other people think of me so I think it’s time to make a change :-)
Thank for sharing this post, it is something lots of people will relate to. I hate worrying about what other people think of me, but I can’t help it, sometimes I am so self-conscious!
I would love to make this year a year that I will stop giving a shit about it, because as you said, most of the time no one is even paying any attention anyway!
I’ve always thought that eating alone is something I should force myself to do, but I haven’t really done it yet, and I would always, always have a book with me.
It’s funny because I actually like being in a cafe on my own, having a coffee and reading. I could do that for hours, but if I was to go into a nice restaurant on my own, I would probably have a red face the whole time, imagining everyone is staring at me! It’s silly I know. I would love to be able to sit the without any distractions, but I don’t know if I could.
I can’t believe you got death threats, that is so crazy!
I think a lot of people feel the same as you, Christine. From reading through the comments on this post in seems like most people are okay with eating lunch or breakfast solo but hate the eating dinner alone part!
Hi Lauren! Good on you for facing up to this, and developing a plan to address it. I’ve been a single introvert for a long time, and I’m a reader, so I always have a book/journal with me when dining alone. Though there are (still) times when I feel conspicuous, I can truthfully say that repeated solo dining makes it a habit, which gives you a comfort level for that reason alone.
Two thoughts for you:
1. Since it is more common for people to eat lunch alone, see if some of your solo dining ventures can be done midday. Save the snack/market purchase for the evening, to take back to your room (or sit on the beach!) while you write your next lovely blog post or plan your next day’s activities.
2. Keep in mind that there can be benefits to being solo. At a crowded restaurant in Spain, I was asked if I minded having another solo traveler seated with me; I said they could, and that led not only to a lovely conversation but also the ability for both of us to try the paella, which was only served for 2 or more people. Another time in New Orleans, I was seated ahead of several groups because a two-top was available, so my wait was considerably shorter. Good memories, both times!
Thanks so much for your helpful advice, Kate! As I write this, I’ve conquered most of my eating alone barriers, and your advice is fantastic! I find it much easier to eat solo at lunchtime, for sure.
I too can relate to your feelings of dining alone in a restaurant. I have done a bit of traveling by myself and when it was time for lunch or dinner I struggled too.
Glad you could relate to the post! :-)
I have the same dilemma. If my husband would not be around, I would rather not eat and just wait for him, at least most of the time i am like that!
It can be a challenge to eat alone, but I think it’s worth pushing yourself out of your comfort zone for. I’m definitely not as worried about eating alone as I used to be.
Brilliant post. I’m traveling alone at the moment and struggle with the exact same feelings. I stumbled upon your site looking for information on Otres Beach where I’m heading to also hopefully do some work for a few weeks. Not exactly looking forward to eating alone in a ‘coupley’ place, but have to just challenge oneself and try to be social I guess!
You’ll rock it! Hope you love Otres as much as I do :-)
Happiness is only real when shared – Alexander Supertramp, Into The Wild.
How about asking someone if you could join them? I’ve had great conversations while eating with a stranger.
I usually have no problem eating alone. I’m an introvert so I’m very comfortable being alone. I just be in the moment and bask at the people and the things that surrounds me. But when I do feel on conversing mode. I approach.
There is this one time when I shared breakfast with a drunk local. We talk about politics and law, “Attorneys are king!” he always said. His face obviously red from a night of drinking binge. “Goodbye my friend,” he sad when he left walking on a zigzag motion.
Then there is this another time in a surfing paradise when I was having my brunch when a burly white guy with chest hair sprouting from his unbuttoned flowery polo joined me (this time I was the one approached). He enthusiastically amused me on how he found his wife (a local) and had an “I can live here moment” on that place. Before he left, he grab my wristwatch (for a moment I thought he was going to run away with it LOL) and put in the table. He said “Ditch the watch, time is of no essence here.”
I’ve tried to join groups, men and women alone. For groups, I’d just say, I’m travelling alone and doesn’t have anyone to share my lunch, then ask if I could join them. Normally it is positively welcomed. I just try to be picky since I figured that not all group setting wants to be joined by a complete stranger.
Well, if I used the same line for women they usually think I would hit on them or pick them up. LOL. I can sense them upping their guard a bit. Which is understandable. But I didn’t care. I had the same feeling of being cautious when someone approach me. I would just continue conversing, share stories, be genuinely interested to the female stranger, then politely leave after my meal.
And yeah, I like your new mindset too. Its really not that bad eating alone. ;)
It’s not really my sort of thing to approach strangers, so I’ve worked on feeling comfortable eating alone instead.
I find eating alone much easier if you choose a restaurant or cafe with outdoor seating! People watching, glass of wine nice food…………make the whole eating alone thing, enjoyable!
Oh….. nice weather and being in a beautiful place helps!!
I love people watching, so that’s definitely an option for me! Now, a few months on from writing this post, I’m becoming a lot more comfortable with eating alone.
I’m like you and never really relished the idea of eating alone. Years ago I just started asking others around me to join me at my table. Traveling is such a world of community that I have rarely had to eat alone again. Just a thought. Hope your feeling better and that it wasn’t dengue…believe me that’s no fun.
Thanks for the tip, Tim! I’ll work up the courage to try that this week:-)
Hi Lauren, I feel the same way as you!m :-) Before traveling, I relished the idea of going alone but during travels,people are so not used to seeing a lone female traveler that they look at you strange. I am traveling in December right now, halfway thru my last week of travels in Denmark n England, as a solo female traveler from Singapore. There were tough discriminatory experiences along the way, but Denmark young people r very friendly n people in London are very friendly too probably because I look like a backpacker. But here i am in the lake district at an Airbnb farm stay, and it’s the most uncomfortable I have ever felt. My host – the wife asked if I had any friends, and then proceeded to tell me most people go to the lake district as a family in a car, instead of coming by train. Hahaha ratcheted the uncomfortable factor up to an uunbearable high. ~~^^~~ I got the distinct feeling though that the farmer husband preferred family travellers whom they can bond with and definitely gave me the feeling that i was intruding on their private time. But I got to get comfortable with uncomfortableness and enjoy the countryside in England which I have never seen before. That was the only really uncomfortable experience that I couldn’t bear. All others are bearable. But I can’t help buying into their opinion I had no friends, when it was just not the case and I didn’t want to explain. Hahaha this’s not my first solo travel but I had developed an ugly cold sore which made me feel self-conscious. :-( I think solo-backpavking is nice but definitely you can feel run down some of the time. Xxx Thanks Lauren for sharing ~
Wow. I needed to read this today! I am on my first solo trip for three weeks. I started in Morocco and was blown away by my hostel. It instantly felt like a little family, and I loved everyone I met. Because I am a bit of an introvert (I love meeting people and am outgoing, but I also really value my alone time) I actually found myself thinking “man, I’m exhausted from running around with all of these new friends!” Well, now I am in Portugal and the hostel I had been at for the past couple of nights was not at all the same kind of experience. It felt very closed off, and I found myself wandering around alone. I had not really been worried about eating alone before, but with this being a fairly touristy area I felt like the weirdo with no one to hang out with. In fact, one night I didn’t eat at all because I just couldn’t bring myself to getting a table for one. I am now in a less touristy area, in a hostel that has much friendlier people. But today I wanted to go to the beach and stopped for lunch first. My stomach filled with butterflies. But then I saw a place with one other single woman eating alone and thought “if she can do it, I can too!” I had a good book, it’s right along the beach so great people watching…so I did it. I won’t lie..it was still a bit awkward, but also liberating!
I can’t say how much I appreciate hearing your post on this. I actually read it while sitting at my table finish in a glass of sangria :) thanks so much and happy travels!
Ah, what a great story, Angie! I’m so happy to hear you took the plunge and actually enjoyed it :-). I’m pretty much over my solo eating fears now, and it feels so good to not have that fear hanging over me every mealtime.
LOVED this post!! Thank You SSOO much for being brave enough to talk about such an emotive subject!!! IT IS hard eating alone when all around you are tables of 2 or more!!! Sometimes you just don’t want to eat out because you don’t want to be at that table for 1 but you have to be brave enough to break out of your comfort zone and just get over yourself and do it! I’m not being flippant when I say that but sometimes you have to grab life by the balls and say ‘I’m ok with eating alone! Don’t judge me!!’
I was forever grateful for all the friends I made over the 2 years I was away in Australia for being able to eat out as a group!!! It is definitely something I missed on the days I was alone!! They’re also great because you may just find a new place to eat that actually isn’t so bad!! =D On occasion I was the #2 to a new girlfriend’s #1 and that felt great too! Even if I was only having wine whilst they ate, it’s got to be better than dining alone, that’s for sure!!! =D =D
I wish you luck in getting over this and hope that dining alone doesn’t hold you back from exploring some truly wonderful restaurants around the world!! xoxox
Thank you so much for the lovely comment, Sarah! This post is a few years’ old now, and I’m pleased to say that I’ve mostly overcome my fear of eating alone. In fact, I’m almost starting to enjoy it! :-)
Thank you so much for your insight. It is exactly how I feel. I’m an introvert and love spending time by myself but would feel so self conscious eating alone in public. I went to the movies by myself once and felt so conspicuous.
I’ve been thinking about taking a trip by myself, something I have never done before and it scares me. The eating alone even scares me more than flying alone but I don’t want to miss out on all the good food/restaurants while vacationing in a new city because of my fear. Thank you for motivating me to get out of my comfort zone.
You can definitely do it, Taryn! Since writing this post, I’ve managed to overcome my fears of eating alone and even started to enjoy it! Once you’ve done it three or four times, it becomes pretty easy :-)
My favorite experience was eating with my dog in the restaurant. It was technically like eating alone but not really! She was good company and made the experience enjoyable. Maybe borrowing a dog for the day. :)