Surprising Things That Happen When Drinking Alone
I remember the first time I went to a bar by myself. I was twenty-four and was meeting my sister in Portland, Oregon. Her flight got delayed, and instead of wasting my time in my hotel room I decided to go downstairs for a drink. I must have looked nervous because a woman leaned over to me and said, “Don’t worry, he’ll show”.
Since then I have become a lot more confident, as a traveler and as an individual. Now, when I find myself alone at a bar I don’t fidget and I don’t sit there looking at my phone. I order a drink and wait to see what comes. Sometimes no one talks to me, but I’ve also had some really great things happen because I was sitting alone at a bar.
When someone asks “Is this seat taken?” you never know what you are going to get.
When I first moved to Seattle in 2012 I decided to duck into a local spot for a beer. There was only one barstool open so I hopped on and ordered a draft beer. I was sitting next to a couple of guys who told me they were street performers in the nearby Pike Place Market. As I was talking to them another guy walked up to me and told me that I took his seat. I had just seen him enter, so I explained that if he had wanted the seat he shouldn’t have left the bar. Grabbing a beer himself he laughed at my response and we got to talking. He also busked in the market and seemed well connected within the city. I told him he should spend the next few weeks being my tour guide, showing me the city and introducing me to people. He called the next day, and one beer led to another. We dated for a year before we each went our own ways, but I still maintain friendships with many people I met through him and I continue to visit the bar where it all started.
From Seattle I headed East, moving all the way to Eastern Africa. At the end of a two-week trip in Ethiopia, I had arrived early to the Addis Ababa airport to ensure I didn’t get stuck in a long customs line. Inside the terminal I walked past a restaurant where a guy at the bar waved me over. I was surprised by this, gave a quick wave back and kept walking. Realizing I had nothing better to do I headed back over and told the guy that I would in fact join him for a beer. He apologized and said he only waved to me because he thought he knew me, I took it in stride and told him I was staying for a beer anyways.
A few minutes later his coworker joined us and they outlined the different types of jobs they had held contracting for the UN in Africa over the past twenty years. They showed me an airport they had just pitched in Somaliland, a country and a project I found fascinating. The more beer we drank, the more they tried to recruit me to work for the UN, and while they didn’t have the authority to hire me, they did provide me with a new perspective on how you can choose to live abroad in a very sustainable and fulfilling way.
He mentioned how fascinating it had been talking to me, with that he handed me a hundred-dollar bill, saying he wanted to help support the project I was working for. It was a drop in the bucket but it was a generous gift from a stranger.
A few months later at another African airport, I was just finishing dinner at a crowded bar and restaurant. I saw a man looking for a table, I flagged him down and told him I just needed to pay my bill, that he was welcome to sit down so he could have the table next. Feeling like he was rushing me out he invited me to stay for a coffee while he ate. I had a few hours still before my flight, so I accepted. He explained that he was working as an executive for Coca-Cola, and he told me they were scouting product placement in a nearby country whose long history of conflict was believed to be coming to an end. He said Coca-Cola is always one of the first countries to move in, and thinking about this it made sense. I had watched a film at the World of Coke in Atlanta which showed people delivering the drink by dugout canoe, I couldn’t imagine many industries were making that type of commitment. From there I explained to him that I was working in Uganda, helping kids living on the street find housing and enrolling them in schools. I explained how I had just launched a $10,000 fundraiser to purchase bed frames, mattresses, bedding and mosquito nets for a permanent house we were setting up for eighty-five kids.
As he paid for his meal he mentioned how fascinating it had been talking to me, with that he handed me a hundred-dollar bill, saying he wanted to help support the project I was working for. It was a drop in the bucket but it was a generous gift from a stranger.
Just before Christmas last year I found myself in Ireland for a weekend. I dropped my bags at the hostel and headed out for a Guinness. Walking around the streets I wasn’t sure how to pick a bar, but finally I saw a sign which contained the name of my hometown, and with that I headed in. As they were pouring my beer, the guy next to me looked around and said “And then there was one.”
With perfect timing the bartender responded, “Except for the girl sitting next to you.”
He hadn’t noticed me come in, as we got to talking it turned out we had both just landed in Ireland and somehow picked this bar to get our first taste of the famed Irish bar scene. We ended up spending the next two days together, filling our time exploring, drinking and making fools of ourselves trying traditional Irish dancing. It had been so easy traveling together we decided to meet again for a two week trip to Vietnam. We were able to provide each other with a new perspective on travel and create great memories, and while it’s possible we’ll never see each other again I like to think at some point our paths will cross.
When someone asks “Is this seat taken?” you never know what you are going to get. By talking to strangers at the bar I’ve expanded my knowledge of the world and the people in it. I’ve found love, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for the work and the generosity of strangers, and I’ve gained travel experiences. A drink at the bar may just be a drink at the bar, but occasionally you end up on a barstool next to someone that might influence your life.