How I Overcame My Fears of Eating Alone
When I first moved abroad, I wasn’t nervous about flying to a new country. I wasn’t nervous about starting a new job, learning a new language or making new friends – but I was, bizarrely, nervous about eating alone in a restaurant. Not just nervous, but terrified. I couldn’t even fathom the idea of it.
On my first night alone in Italy, I bought a bag of chips, some bread rolls and cheese and locked myself in my hotel room. Please bear in mind that I had moved to Italy, home to some of the most delicious foods in the world, and I chose to sit on my bed stuffing my face with potato chips over even contemplating dining out alone. As I sat on my bed, crumbs strewn everywhere, I truly believed that only sad, lonely people ate in restaurants alone. Quite ironic, really.
It took some trial and error to master the confidence of walking into a restaurant alone. The first time I ate alone was during a weekend in Florence. I traipsed down street after street, peering into restaurants, finding it almost impossible to pluck up the courage to walk into one. In the end, I gave up and asked a local, little old man – which ended up being a wonderful stroke of luck, as he gave me directions to what turned out to be the perfect restaurant for dining alone. It was quiet, but not empty, the waiters were friendly without being invasive, the truffle pasta melted on my tongue, and the owner gave me free drinks and tiramisu. Bonus!
“UNO? SOLO? SOLO?” he shouted in horror, whilst the two other girls took a step back from me to emphasise my true solo-ness.
The second time, fuelled by the success of the first, I strode into a restaurant in Bergamo, Italy, confidently expecting the same treatment. I just so happened to walk in at the same time as two other girls. The waiter thought we were all together, so I had to explain in terrible Italian that no, it was in fact just me.
“UNO? SOLO? SOLO?” he shouted in horror, whilst the two other girls took a step back from me to emphasise my true solo-ness. After he recovered from his shock, he grumpily led me to a table literally inches from a romantic couple giggling and feeding each other. I took one look and politely asked to sit outside. There was no tiramisu during that meal, but there were a lot of pitying looks from the waiters, and the bill was practically thrown at me.
Interestingly, during that particular meal I noticed that there were about five other solo diners – but I was the only woman. And from what I saw, the waiter didn’t need to shout “SOLO” at them several times in disgust.
How I Overcame My Fears of Eating Alone
Despite this particular experience, a few years down the line – and perhaps further evidence of the healing effects of life abroad – I now love eating in restaurants alone. Whether I’m travelling or at home, if I want to go out to eat and my friends are busy, then I’ll take myself off to my favourite restaurant without batting an eyelid. It’s a luxury that I indulge in at least once a month. I eat all my favourite food, have a glass of wine, take my Kindle and bask in the solitude. No one looks at me funnily, no one whispers about how sad and lonely I must be (as far as I’m aware) and I don’t have to share my food!
So what has changed between then and now?
Basically, my attitude to the idea of solo dining changed. Before I moved abroad, I’d never needed to eat alone, and found the idea of it a little…not so much strange, as unnecessary. I’d always had my friends and family around me. I don’t think I even went to a coffee shop on my own until my twenties. When I moved, that changed. I had put myself in a position where I knew no one, and inevitably there were occasions when I was alone. It took time to meet people, or I wanted to travel alone, or my friends were all away. And of course, during these times I still needed to eat food!
Food – and more importantly, sharing food with others – is such an integral part of our culture that many people still consider the idea of going out alone, at least out of choice, a little bemusing. But food is also an important part of the travelling experience. Going out in different countries, trying different cuisines….it’s a huge part of your trip, and something you shouldn’t put off just because you happen to be travelling alone.
Just as food is part of the travel package, so is getting out of your comfort zone.
You shouldn’t have to sit in your bedroom eating potato chips on the other side of the world, just because you’re worried about what others will think of you sitting in a restaurant alone.
Stepping into a restaurant alone does take an element of courage, I’m not going to lie – particularly the first time. There is no safety blanket of another person; it’s all on you. But you owe it to yourself to try. Just as food is part of the travel package, so is getting out of your comfort zone. This is partly why I still eat out alone once a month: to remind myself of how nervous I’d felt eating alone abroad, how confident I’d felt when I’d accomplished it, and how, really, if you face your fears – however small they seem – they’re not so scary, after all.
So I urge you to treat yourself to dinner, even if it’s just for one time. Take a book, take your iPhone, take yourself – and just go. Watch the world go by, smile at passersby and savour every bite.
Besides, what else is travel for, except to take time for yourself?
How I Overcame My Fears of Eating Alone photo credits by Unplash.com.