Solo Travel: A Tale or Two About…Eating Alone

What’s the big deal with eating alone? There needs to be some kind of a dining revolution, especially for solo female travellers. How is it possible that in this day and age, when a woman can do and be anything she wants, eating by yourself is still considered weird, or worse, sad? A lot of women I know would simply, point blank, not even consider eating solo…but when you’re travelling, you will miss out on one of the greatest things about the countries you are visiting if you can’t face dining alone.

Travelling Tips - Eating Alone - Da Mirko, Alghero

Enjoying my starter for one in a tiny, backstreet restaurant in Alghero

As a solo female traveller, I eat alone 90% of the time. Sometimes this is in restaurants, bars or pizzerias, sometimes it means I’m buying takeaway and sitting outside, and others I’m buying food to cook at home (or whatever place I am calling home for that evening at least). In some places, people don’t seem to bother…in others, the way that they stare, you would think a woman eating by herself was the craziest thing they’d ever seen (fact…these people need to get out more).

Trying local food when you travel is too incredible to miss just because you're eating alone...

Trying out the local food is too incredible to miss because you’re worried about eating alone…

It’s not always easy – there are times when it would be nice not to be stared at. This usually happens on the days where travelling has kicked my ass in other ways and I’m just so hungry that I want to sit down somewhere and eat until my heart’s content…without an audience. Sardinia has been a complete mixed case – in Baunei, after the first night (where I ate at one of the pizzerias and the waitress and other guests actually did just stop what they were doing and stare) the locals got used to seeing me solo, so they didn’t bother about me eating alone. In some of the bars and taverns in Santa Maria, the staring came more from the other diners than the staff. In the north of the island, where tourism has completely dried out for this year, I’m not sure if they were more shocked at me being by myself or me just being there in general.

Staring at my (delicious!) pizza in Baunei...whilst the locals stared at me...

Staring at my (delicious!) pizza in Baunei…whilst the locals stared at me…

I brush it off most of the time, but sometimes it can get to me. My recent overnight stay in La Maddalena is a perfect example. I’d had a nightmare with transport from Porto Cervo to Palau and by the time I had gotten the ferry over to La Maddalena, I was pretty done in. James, the lovely guy who runs B&B La Siesta where I was staying for the evening, had recommended his favourite pizza place and a couple of bars to try. I was starving so I headed out fairly early, following his directions to ‘Sergent Pepper’s pizzeria. The place was pretty quiet, with only three families sitting in the front.  The staff were friendly and didn’t seem phased by me asking for a table for one.  A waiter sat me at a table next to a family; by the looks of it, a teenage girl and her parents. They were busy eating when I sat down and didn’t notice me but once my food arrived and they had finished, the mother actually turned in her seat and just stared. She looked me up and down and then said something in Italian to her daughter, who burst into laughter. It didn’t feel particularly nice but I smiled defiantly at both of them anyway and went back to enjoying my pizza (which happened to be amazing!).

Pizza with an audience at Sergent Peppers in La Maddalena

Pizza with an audience at Sergent Peppers in La Maddalena

If you’re thinking of doing a bit of solo travelling and are worried about eating alone, here are some tips to make it a bit less daunting…

  1. Before You Go:

I’ve read a lot of solo travel advice that recommends you try it at home first and it’s probably a good idea if you’ve never actually eaten alone. I’d already done a lot of short term solo travelling when I was working as a journalist and during my time in America so I didn’t bother going to a restaurant near my home before I left. For the less confident travellers out there, it might be wise to start with lunch, rather than dinner and work your way up. Either way, it’ll push you out of your comfort zone (which is exactly what’ll happen when you travel) and give you a taster of what it’s like to be on a date…with yourself (I like to think of each solo meal as a date night for one!)

See how it feels to take yourself out for lunch at home before travelling

See how it feels to take yourself out for lunch at home before travelling

  1. When You Get There

If you’re slow travelling, like I was for the majority of my time in Sardinia, then you’ll probably have the chance to scope out the restaurants in the place you’re staying in during the day. This is something that I’ve always done, both on holidays and during travels – I like to have a nosey at all the menus before picking which place I want to eat at in the evening. It’s also a good time to figure out where you think you’ll be comfortable eating alone. Again, I firmly believe that you can eat anywhere by yourself but for days where you’re not feeling so great (like me in La Maddalena) you might not want to, say, eat in a romantic, candle lit restaurant, or in a busy bar when the football is on…

Explore restaurants during the day (I like to do this with alcohol) to find somewhere you'll feel comfortable eating in at night

Explore restaurants in the place you’re staying at during the day (I like to do this with alcohol!) to find somewhere you’ll feel comfortable eating in at night

  1. When You’re Getting A Table

I prefer to sit outside when I’m eating alone, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it doesn’t feel as intimate as eating inside. You’re far less likely to get wedged at a table between a couple making out on one side and a family on the other. It also tends to keep me more entertained – people watching is a great way to pass the time between courses and if you’re inside, you’ll either be looking at the staff, other guests or worse…your phone (put it down!) Also, I’m a smoker…so it kind of goes without saying I’ll always sit outside if I can. It’s not always possible to eat outside…with the weather, the time of year, the time of day etc…in which case, I try to sit near the window inside instead…that way, I can still watch the world go by!

Eating outside means you'll have plenty to keep yourself entertained in between courses

Eating outside means you’ll have plenty to keep yourself entertained in between courses

  1. When You’re Ordering

I’m not going to lie – it really, really helps to make the whole eating alone thing more comfortable if you can at least speak the basic local lingo. You’ll feel a whole lot better when you’ve managed to order exactly what you want and the waiter or waitress is giving you star service for attempting to speak to them in their language. Below are five phrases to learn (and take screen shots of on your phone to have in case you forget!) in whatever the local language is before you go:

  1. Can I have a table for one please?
  2. Can I see the menu please?
  3. I would like the “” please
  4. That was delicious, thank you
  5. Can I have the bill please?
If you at least try to order in the local language, chances are the staff will go the extra mile with service...

If you try to order in the local language, chances are the staff will go the extra mile with service…

  1. A Final Note

At the end of the day, if you want to eat whatever it is you want to eat, wherever it is you want to eat it, then just do it! I swear you will never appreciate a meal as much as you do when you’re eating solo – I actually taste each mouthful, rather than scoffing it down or talking over it like I would do at home. When you’re solo, the food is the star attraction (and if you’re trying out another country’s culture, shouldn’t that be the way?!) Saying “Don’t let what anyone else thinks bother you” is easier said than done, and I know from experience that some days, it can be tough…but for majority of the time, I happen to actually really enjoy eating alone. Go on, try it…you might even like it too!

Living local in Baunei after managing to order fresh produce in the butchers, bakers and grocers!

Living local in Baunei after managing to order fresh produce in the butchers, bakers and grocers!

Do you have any worries about eating by yourself as a solo traveller? Or maybe you have some handy tips to make dining alone less of a big deal? I’d love to your solo eating tales! Please leave a comment below!

Any thoughts?