One of the hardest parts about being a solo traveller is building up the courage to eat out… alone. The fear of being bored, of people looking at you and thinking you are friendless, of not knowing what to order or worse having no one to share with. All very valid reasons for being afraid of eating on your own, right?
I remember doing it for the first time, I was 18 and in London on my own. I sat down at a table with my book clutched closely to my chest, my face was bright red from embarrassment causing me to order quickly. The waitress tried to smile and say something to me, but my mumbled answers sent her on her way with a bored eye-roll. When my food came out I practically inhaled it – to this day I can’t remember what I ate or if it was any good.
Ten years later, I am now a veteran backpacker and eating out no longer scares or embarrasses me. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. Eating out alone is one of my favourite things to do when I get to a new place. Often travelling on your own requires confidence and self-trust, but when you are fresh off the plane it’s hard to feel those things. When I have just landed I am usually tired and cranky (living in Australia most of my flights are long haul) and a little on edge with fear. My first confidence boost comes when I find my accommodation, check in and feel safe in the decision I have made. There is no greater buzz than conquering that small pit of fear that arrived with you off the plane.
After a much-needed shower, I grab a map and head out into the big bad world. Capitalising on the buzz I received from finding my accommodation I let my feet go in search of somewhere to eat. It’s a great way to steady yourself, build up your confidence and celebrate being in new and exciting location.
Here are my top tips for eating out as a solo backpacker.
Avoid peak meal times – go just before the dinner rush or just after the lunch rush. That way you won’t be holding up a table and feel like you need to hurry your meal. The waiters will also have more time for you because you will either be their first customer or their last.
Take a book – but don’t be afraid to put it down. We are so used to being constantly amused whether from our phones, tv or books. If you take a book put it down when the food comes and spend some time tasting and savouring every bite. You want to remember the food not the book.
Talk to the waiters – eating along doesn’t have to be solitary. Ask the waiters what their meal suggestions are, ask them about their day, ask what tourist attraction they recommend, are their any things you should know or see about the area. People in the service industry speak to hundreds of people a week and pick up loads of information in the process – and they generally love sharing it. From chatting to waiters I have been connected with great tours, got advice about other restaurants, told places to avoid, been told about unknown waterfalls – seriously, they are better than any guidebook.
Take your time ordering – find something new you haven’t had before. I have always suffered from food envy, usually because I order too quickly and safely, I order what I know. But I then have to sit and watch all of these amazing meals be delivered to other tables which slowly turns me green with envy. My strategy is to sit and watch what others get for a while before ordering. I may even ask some of my fellow diners what they are eating. That way I try to get something new and exciting as well as avoiding turning green.
TRAVEL TIP: When you are on your own people are more likely to want to chat to you – whether it’s in a bar, restaurant or on the street. Maximise on this and put your shyness to one side – people will talk back.
Order multiple starters – so you can sample more for cheap. I love sharing food, the more different flavours and textures I have in a meal the better. That’s a little hard to do on your own, especially when you are on a budget. To combat this I choose a number of different starters and skip the main.
Pick the best table – the one with the view of the street. Don’t think that because you are eating on your own you should sit and hide up the back of the restaurant – where is the fun in that. No, sit up the front with a clear view of the street and the other diners. They are your entertainment – nothing beats a good old people watching session.
Dress to impress – if only for yourself. Go all out and enjoy the full experience and that includes wearing something nice and running a comb through your hair. As a backpacker it is so easy to let those little personal appearance maintenance things slip. Well when you are taking yourself out for dinner, make sure you try to impress yourself. Your confidence will appreciate it.
Drink the house recommendation – but drink responsibly. We all have our favourite drink with food. For some its red wine and for others its sparkling water. A meal can be either enhanced or ruined by a drink, so choose wisely. Once again I recommend chatting to your waiter or seeing what other people have ordered. Each location has its own speciality that usually goes well with the cuisine you are trying. My favourite was homemade lime and lemon juice with fish tacos in Mexico!
Take your time – savour it all. You will enjoy the food and the place so much more if you take a deep breath, ignore the fact that you are on your own and just relax!