Does solo dining feel more like the last supper to you?
Do you feel self-conscious and out-of-place walking into a restaurant on your own?
Would you rather be anywhere else?
If so, join the crowd - thousands of other traveling women feel the same.
It is unfortunate but society has decreed that women on their own are to be pitied, suspected or avoided.
By going out on our own, we help push back these perceptions and take our place where we belong - in this case at the table.
As a solo woman on the road, you'll probably eat alone often.
If you happen to be staying in a hostel on the backpacker trail, you'll easily find dinner companions by hanging around the lobby. It's a bit harder in a guesthouse, and people will just glare if you try to approach someone in a hotel lobby (not to mention the security guy, who might think you're there for something else).
You may find yourself in a huge city like Shanghai or Rio, not knowing anyone, and hungry.
Or maybe you're in a small African town after dark, wondering whether it's safe to wander out in search of food.
Whatever your circumstances, solo dining can be daunting, even for the most adventurous.
I've watched women who climbed Everest or worked as war correspondents cringe at the thought of walking into an eatery by themselves.
No more! We need to reclaim our mealtimes.
I can't say solo dining is my favourite pastime but I'm comfortable eating alone - though I wasn't always. I enjoy my own company, and I would never consider missing a meal just because I travel by myself. A good thing, or I'd spend a lot of time starving!
Here are 14 things you can do to make solo dining - FUN!
1. Bring something to read...
This is a classic escape - not only do you mentally leave the restaurant, but you have a physical barrier between yourself and other diners. And who knows - an intriguing title might do just that, intrigue, and next thing you know, someone might lean over and strike up a conversation.
2. ...or write
Write some postcards or make an entry in your travel journal. Someone might take you for a restaurant critic... Or use your iPod to listen to music or watch a podcast. Or use the restaurant's WIFI to surf the net on your smartphone. And relax.
3. Eat earlier in the evening
Eateries are less formal in the early hours, and that's when families go out. You'll feel less out of place when the crowds are more mixed - later evenings are more crowded with couples.
4. Eat outside if you can
Sidewalk cafés are more casual than indoor restaurants. If you have a choice, sit outside. The atmosphere will be more congenial, and you'll feel more comfortable.
5. Eat at the bar
Some people are more comfortable at the bar and you may be one of them, chatting away with the bar staff and looking like you belong. I don't go to bars so I'd probably fall off the stool but if this is a familiar environment for you, go for it!
6. Learn about the food
Your self-consciousness quotient might skyrocket when confronted with an indecipherable national food. Do yourself a favour and find out about local foods and eating habits beforehand. Your guidebook should have a food section, and you can look at pictures on the Internet at flickr.com or by searching Google Images. Having an idea of what you want ahead of time will help relieve some of the pressure.
7. Do some advance work
Scope out your eatery ahead of time. While you're exploring in daytime, take down names and addresses of places that look welcoming. You'll have fewer surprises.
8. Check out prices before you go
Make sure you know how much this will cost ahead of time. You don't want a financial shock to add itself to any discomfort you might already be feeling. Chances are you're on a tight budget - make sure your restaurant matches your means.
9. Master a few basic words
Learn a bit of the language - at least enough to ask for the menu, the bill, toilet, and to say please and thank you. Take a small phrase book with you - if in need, you can just find your word or phrase and hand the phrasebook over.
10. Practise meditation
That's right, if you're into meditation you could use your meal as an opportunity to be mindful, savoring every morsel and paying attention to textures and tastes. This will distract you from your fears and worries and put your attention where it belongs: on your food.
That's right, pretend you feel at ease! You'd be amazed at how some of that acting will actually rub off, making you feel more confident. Be clear and firm and simply refuse to be seated behind the potted plant. A snooty restaurant will respect you more for it - and you'll feel more at ease as a result.
12. Dress up
Sometimes we're shy because we feel out of place. I usually carry something dressy in my backpack - something black that never wrinkles, along with some black ballerinas or sandals. I always feel I fit in better when I make a bit of an entrance.
13. Remember: you're not the center of attention
As human beings we have a tendency to think everyone is looking at us when we enter a restaurant or sit alone. They're not. Think about it: do you glare at each and every person that walks in? The only time you'll look twice at a solo woman is if she looks uncomfortable.
14. Try one of the new, hip 'meal-sharing' services
Meal sharing is becoming as common as Uber and Airbnb - meals served up by individuals in their home, at a reasonable price. If you don't want to eat alone tonight, sign up for one of these evenings and you'll have instant friends, at least for tonight.
Eating alone can actually be an ice-breaker: you may well be approached by waiters and fellow diners curious about where you're from. After all, that's what the guidebook on full display on your table is for, isn't it?
Do you ever feel uncomfortable eating on your own? What do you do about it?
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