Eating Alone While Traveling: How to Overcome Your Fear

Eating alone while traveling…

5 Steps to overcome your fear!

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Eating alone while traveling is one of the biggest solo travel anxieties…

Does thinking about dining out alone while traveling make you feel anxious? If so, you’re in the right place.

👋 I’m Shelley, and I’ve been traveling solo for the last two-plus years… so I’ve done the eating out alone thing once or twice. Or 66 times!

READ ON ✈️ How My First Time Traveling Alone Made Me A Hero

When I first began my travels, solo dining didn’t feel completely natural. However, now at two years in, I’m ready to share the proven mindset hacks & even a mental practice run to build your confidence for the real thing. 

Right off the bat here, I’m also going to let you in on a little secret:

Even for veteran solo travelers, eating alone isn’t always comfortable.

I know exactly what you’re thinking right now:

Then how do they do it?!

Here’s the answer…

And it’s something both those of us who have dined solo & those who haven’t (yet!) can agree on:

Practice makes perfect.

When practice doesn’t make all the way perfect, it definitely always makes things perfect-er, easier & more comfortable!

So now that we know the truth  that, Yes, even solo travelers have moments of anxiety and are sometimes uncomfortable when eating alone — Your next thought is probably this…

How can I work up to eating alone while traveling?

Well, I myself have used the 5 Tips/Steps in this blog throughout the last few years as a solo traveler. They saved me on days when my solo travel dining confidence was lacking (or worse, nonexistent).

These actionable techniques & mental hacks are going to be the game changers you need to break through your anxiety! 

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SOLOMANGERAPHOBIA: Fear of Eating Alone

Woman eating alone at a restaurant

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Solomangarephobia

To be completely clear from the start: 

Dining alone in public is a very real fear.

It induces very real anxieties. If you’re someone who identifies as a solomangarephobic, know that this is quite common & you are def not alone.

solomangarephobia: /so·​lo·​man·​gār·​pho·​bia/ (noun) the fear of eating alone in public

However, you should also know this:

Like all fears, you can work through it!

What is solomangarephobia, really?

The core of the fear isn’t actually being afraid of physically eating or consuming food in public by yourself. Rather, this fear is all about an unshakable feeling that you’re being judged by others for eating alone in public.

This makes total sense because of a common misconception that being alone is a punishment, rather than a choice. As an example, think back on childhood punishment with me for a second…

When you misbehaved, you were sent to your room, alone. The messaging is that no one willfully chooses to be alone & that it’s what happens when you’re “bad.”

So right off the bat: Let’s flip that script! Let’s rewrite this script to this…

Eating Alone While Traveling is Empowering

Some common assumptions about solo diners include these misconceptions:

  1. This person is in a bad place.
  2. They must not have friends.
  3. This is a sad person.
  4. They were stood up by a date/friend.

As someone for whom eating alone while traveling is quite common, after over two years of solo travel, I can assure you of this:

I am none of those things 🤣…and being stood up mostly happens in movies.

Something you’ll see laid out in Tip #1 in detail is “sad” people rarely go out to eat alone. You know who does though?

Empowered, self-assured & self-confident people who aren’t too concerned with what others are thinking…

By the way, strangers likely aren’t thinking anything about you! Now, this is something you knew, but we all need that reminder on occasion!

Are you ready to fall love with the empowering feeling you get from eating alone while traveling? Check out these 5 powerful tips & techniques you can use to get there.

 

STEP #1. Overcoming Your Fear Starts With You

Woman sitting alone at a restaurant
Eating Alone While Traveling

Overcoming Your Fear Starts With You

Have you ever seen a woman eating alone & thought something along the lines of “Aww, how sad. She’s in a bad place if not even one person will eat with her.” Of course you have!

In fact, that is where your own fear of eating alone while traveling comes from!

You’re judging others that way, so you assume others must be judging you that way. More than likely, though, they are not… And in order for you to stop thinking they are, you must first start by not thinking that way at all!

The reason why your default thought falls along the lines of  “Aww, how sad.” is because that’s the messaging you receive from mainstream society.

We are basically inundated with messages that no woman chooses to do anything solo. We’re taught that if we’re solo, it means no one wants to be around us. We are taught a solo women diner is an undesirable thing to be.

Yawn.

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Here’s the truth:

If this hypothetical solo woman eating alone we’ve been discussing was so sad about her own lack of dinner companion… she’d probably have just ordered take out & went home to wallow in her sadness. Realize this: Eating alone while traveling, or in everyday life, is a willful choice!

Going forward, try revising your initial “Aww, how sad” thought, to one praising the real truth about these solo dining goddesses!

Try This Exercise

Initial Thought:

Aww, how sad. She’s in a bad place if not even one person will eat with her.

Revised Thought:

Look at this Table-For-One queen. She eats when she wants, where she wants, and with who she wants. She doesn’t even have to share her delicious food with anyone 😎 She is confident and self-assured! (Quite honestly, that’s probably closer to the truth anyway.)

 

STEP #2. Stop Assuming the Worst Outcome

Happy woman eating alone at a restaurant

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Stop Assuming the Worst Outcome

When we don’t think we know how something will turn out, we assume the worst outcome. This is human nature. This is a defense mechanism that has led to the survival of our species.

There is actually a good reason for this:

The brain is a very old organ. It developed in the caveman times when the threat of physical dangers like saber-toothed tigers eating us, was actually real.

Our caveman selves had to assume the worst because, if in fact, there was a saber-toothed tiger in that bush, we would die (the worst outcome). Nowadays, this defense mechanism still functions in much the same way — to keep you alive & safe, inside of your comfort zone & away from danger.

This leads me to the point:

You’ve never eaten solo before, so you’re likely assuming the worst outcome.

Do know, however, those thoughts are normal! But, to overcome the fear you have, you have to consciously transcend those subconscious thoughts.

READ ON ✈️🌎🧳 Your First Trip Alone: How Social Distancing Prepared You

You need to essentially remember there are no saber-toothed tigers hiding in the restaurant you’re going to dine in. You must disregard any thoughts you have about how your first solo dining experience will go.

If you do nothing else recommended here: You must especially give yourself permission for this brand new solo dining experience to go any way it will go!

Allow yourself the gift of disregarding the worst-case scenario assumptions & fear-casting expectations! Better yet, revise your expectations entirely using the exercise below.

Try This Exercise

Initial Thought:

This is going to be weird. I mean, how do I act? Should I look at people? What if someone laughs at me? The server is going to feel awkward, then I’m going to act awkward, and this whole thing is going be horrible.

Revised Thought:

OMG, new experience! How exciting. It’s not everyday I get to do something for the first time… and there’s even delicious food at the end of this solo dining rainbow! If this goes well, that’s amazing. If not, I will have learned so much. I’m so proud of myself right now. 

 

STEP 3. Visualize Yourself Eating Alone

Woman eating alone at a restaurant & sipping on a glass of wine

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Visualize Yourself Eating Alone

Now, before we even get you going out to eat solo, let’s finagle as much comfort into this situation as we can.

How? You ask.

With a cute outfit, of course. Pick out something nice to wear & plan to put some effort into your appearance. When we look good, we feel good!

Also, by deciding what you’re going to wear, you’re already starting to see yourself as a solo female diner who’s also all about eating alone while traveling!

In Tip #4, you’re going to decide on a place to eat at… but before committing to that, let’s do a little self-assessment. Since everyone’s fear of eating alone is exacerbated by different conditions, identifying your deal breakers will help determine the best place for your first eating alone experience!

What are your dining deal breakers?

Some people don’t like crowded places, or loud places, or dark restaurants, or restaurants with too much light.

For some, a restaurant or cafe that only has parallel parking on the street is a hell no. For others, anywhere with tables too near to one another would be annoying… Remember, this is all valid!

Think: Location, ambiance, food type, indoor/outdoor seating, even down to the music they play.

While you’re working up to Solo Dining Champion of the World, let’s rule out what you know will get on your nerves. This way, you’re as comfy as possible by Tip #4, your mental practice run.

STEP 4. Practice Makes Perfect-er

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Practice Makes Perfecter

Exposure therapy is considered among the most successful known treatments for phobias.

Meaning, going out to eat solo is likely the fastest & most effective way to be able to comfortably go out to eat solo… so let’s pick a place already!

Lunch cafes tend to be far less intimidating for a first time solo dining experience than a restaurant, so let’s use this as our example. However, if you have your eye set on a specific dinner restaurant, just swap in those visuals for mine!

Try This Exercise

Mentally follow along with this scenario:

Select a casual’ish cafe you’ve never been to, but have been dying to try. This will help because now you have some preexisting anticipation to leverage!

Put on the cute outfit you picked out in Tip #3. If that outfit isn’t the one you want to wear to this cafe, swap it out for another… but then see yourself in that outfit instead. Imagine everything: from your headband or hat, to your jewelry, your purse and your shoes.

Before you mentally leave to the restaurant, look in the mirror & remind yourself how proud you are of yourself for doing this. If you want, recite a mantra in your head; I’ll recommend:We can do hard things;” but feel free to use your own.

Now get in your car, or start your walk! Pay extra attention to a few things you love along the way: A certain song you’re listening to, someone’s cute corgi walking by, some pretty blue flowers in a yard, a cool cloud formation, etc.

OK, Let’s (mentally) eat!

When you get to the cafe, pick out the exact table you want… if you’re more comfortable by the window, get that table; if you want to be in the back, ask for that table. For some, outdoor dining allows for the welcomed distraction of people watching.

Now, if the exact table you want isn’t available, then wait. As they say in real estate, “Location, Location, Location.”

As soon as you’re seated at your dream table, sit, and breathe.

 

STEP 5. Get Out of Your Own Head

Woman eating alone at a restaurant and drinking an orange drink

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Get Out of Your Own Head

When you mentally sit down, take a second to breathe & then remind yourself (again) of how proud you are of yourself for doing this. Repeat your mantra a few times. Get comfortable. Then, get excited!

Take a look around at the other diners. Make eye contact. Smile (if you want! I hate telling a woman to smile, but it will instantly boost your confidence if you do.)

Feel comfortable enough to ask your server for food/drink recommendations. Ask your neighbor(s) if they have ever been to this cafe before. Compliment someone’s haircut, their shoes, or book bag.

Basically, do all the things people who have no fear of solo dining do! Act like you are one of those people, because, well, you actually are as of this minute!

Amazing! Congrats. Mentally high five yourself; or even physically high five yourself if you want to! Solo diners generally give no fu+cks like that.

If at any time you start losing this high, or getting nervous, anxious, etc., recite your mantra (“We can do hard things.”) as needed.

In the event even the mantra’s not working, do this instead…

Try This Exercise

Picture everyone naked

Picture everyone naked  😳😳😳This mental technique has been employed for many years to overcome the # 1 fear there is — fear of public speaking! Seriously, more people fear this than their own death. 

The effectiveness of this technique is hotly debated, but for those who swear by it, the reason it works is this:

 It takes you out of your head, which is where fear lives. 

 If you’d rather everyone keep their clothes on, you can get out of your head in other ways!

One fun way is by making up fake lives, sordid love stories, professional scandals, etc., for the other diners. Example: That guy over there, blue shirt, he’s just taken a job in France & is planning to move with his wife. Only he’s in love with her sister. But she’s in love with his brother… 

If none of the above is working, there’s always reading a book or playing on your phone. Should you at any time feel overwhelmed, there’s no shame in just playing on your phone for a while until the moment of overwhelm passes.

In the event you played on your phone at any time: Congratulate yourself after you’re done eating. If you went through the whole meal without playing on your phone: Congratulate yourself after you’re done eating.

Really, it doesn’t matter how you got through your first solo dining experience — only that you did! 

You can do hard things.

 

 

Have Any Tips On Eating Alone?!

Comment down below with tips you’d add to this list. Also, which tip list here resonated with you most?!

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👋 I’m Shelley, a former Miami travel magazine editor, who ditched the office for the world! I have been a solo female traveler in Mexico for 2+ years, and now, I want to pass my experience & expertise on to you!

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48 Comments

  1. Nichole the Nomad

    This is such a great guide! I’m always nervous when traveling to eat alone, but I am going to use these tips to help! Thanks so much for sharing!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Hey Nichole, glad the tips were useful for you. Solo dining is definitely awkward at first, but after a few times, it gets comfortable.

      Reply
  2. Kelsey

    What a great post! This is always an issue for me, so I normally resort to a coffee house or something along those lines and my travel journal! Love this! Such a good read! :

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Thank you for the compliment… and I count the coffee shop or cafe as eating alone! Many people wouldn’t even do that.

      Reply
  3. Kelly

    Great tips! Wish I had these when I first started traveling. I definitely have gotten a lot more comfortable with eating alone but still can feel a bit awkward, especially in a formal, sit down restaurant. That’s why I like to eat in cafes, at the bar, etc. since it feels a bit less awkward. Thanks for a great read!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      I have found the nicer the restaurant I dine at solo, the more free stuff I end up getting… especially free drinks. I won’t pretend to understand why, but I think servers & bartenders end up chatting with me more since I’m solo & that leads to free things!

      Reply
  4. Polly

    This is a great article! Some of the tips are extremely useful. I love dining alone and I actually find it super refreshing.

    Reply
    • Andrea Cannon

      I used to feel so bad for people eating alone but I freaking love doing it myself now. So I totally get what they were doing. Wish I could have read this post a few years ago before I started travelling solo. Great tips!

      Reply
      • Shelley

        Yes, I think we are conditioned to believe being along is bad! I find it empowering & great for my own overall happiness.

        Reply
    • Shelley

      @Polly I do too… overall though, I cherish all my alone time.

      Reply
  5. Meghan Emcee

    I love these tips! Eating alone used to make me so anxious, but once you get out of your own head you can really enjoy it! It’s such a different experience!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Could not agree more… Freedom & happiness are found outside of our own head ❤️

      Reply
  6. Jiayi Wang

    I love this empowering post! I actually love eating alone when I travel 🙂 It sometimes also led to locals in the neighboring tables starting convos with me, and I find that it’s much easier for them to do so when I’m alone!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      I love it too!! I agree, the times I most meet people is when I’m alone, dining or just hanging out. It seems quite counterintuitive, but being alone is the easiest way to make friends.

      Reply
  7. galatia savva

    Thank you for writing this – i hate eating alone, it makes me feel so sad! Its empowering to read your tips (giggling at picturing everyone naked!)

    Reply
    • Shelley

      I’m glad you found the blog empowering 💖

      Reply
  8. Marika

    Love these tips! I actually enjoy eat alone. I always have a book or work with me.

    Reply
    • Shelley

      I love it also. We’re so rarely alone, I actually cherish the times I am… and when there’s food mixed in with that time, even better!

      Reply
  9. Elizabeth

    I remember traveling alone in London for the first time and eating dinner alone. I got all dressed up and took myself on a date. I also brought along my notebook and ended up being very inspired to write some good stuff. Eating alone can be a great opportunity to be creative without interruption.

    Reply
    • Shelley

      I love your story, it sounds so romantic 🥰

      Reply
  10. Cosette

    Great tips for eating solo anywhere.

    Reply
  11. Bisola

    Great tips! I remember the first time I went to a restaurant solo I was a littlleee nervous but once I sat down I was good and I picked a window seat so at least I could people watch!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      I think location is so important to a good dining experience, both solo & not. It’s just like the realtors say: Location! Location! Location!

      Reply
  12. Chelsea

    This is so helpful and something that I could use in general, not just for eating alone!
    For me, I really need to get out of my own head; I am constantly sabotaging the situation before it even happens!!
    Thank you so much for these much needed tips xx

    Reply
    • Shelley

      ❤️ We’re all a work in progress! I’m glad my blog helped you though.

      Reply
  13. Katie

    Some fantastic tips – eating out alone is my biggest dread when travelling on my own. I always make sure I have a kindle with me and ask to sit somewhere tucked away, like a corner or near the wall. Picturing everyone naked is a great idea – I will try that next time!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      hehe! The naked tip has been used in public speaking classes for years & years… I guess it’s stood the test of time, so it must be valid (at least for some).

      Reply
  14. Anna

    Love this post – so many people struggle with eating alone but it’s a really important part of traveling and can be such a rewarding and fun experience too!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Hi Anna: Thanks for commenting. I really had no idea how many people had anxiety over solo dining. I agree that it can be “a rewarding and fun experience”… and I hope to help others feel as empowered about it as we do.

      Reply
  15. Sharyn

    You can feel self conscious when you eat alone as I have many times. So great suggestions for solo travellers.

    Reply
  16. Katie

    I am a business traveler and have grown to love eating along! I only let myself get takeout once per trip so I don’t have an “easy way out”. Great post!!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      That is AMAZING! Love when anyone steps out of their comfort zone like that.

      Reply
  17. Rachel

    Great tips for eating solo, I’ve never been a fan but always bring a book if I do these days so I don’t feel as awkward.

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Eating while being served food is one of the best things ever!! I totally support bringing a book while solo dining.

      Reply
  18. Amanda OBrien

    Great post! Love your trips about reframing how to think about solo travel – from loser to queen!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      🙌 👑 haha, I’m always trying to achieve Queenly status in everything I do, even eating!

      Reply
  19. paula

    Great posting! I never thought about how people could be afraid of eating out alone. For me it was never an issue, but thank you for sharing!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      You’re welcome! I think it’s so cool it was never an issue for you.

      Reply
  20. MariaP

    I really enjoyed reading this post and the look forward to reading the rest. You offer much more than advice. Including exercises is a great idea and really helps. Thank you so much. I advise everyone to read this before their next trip – solo or not.

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Thank you so much for saying that! I know that practice makes perfect, so I try to incorporate some exercises or actionable items.

      Reply
  21. Katie Minahan

    Eating solo is my favorite thing, but it didn’t come naturally at first. I started off by eating out at lunch which seemed a more “acceptable” time to eat alone. And always at the bar. I still tend to prefer the bar for some banter with the bartender and to watch them make drinks. Definitely great tips here! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      ❤️ I love eating solo as well. When I feel social, I’ll sit at the bar… but if not, a table is what way to go.

      Reply
  22. Bliss

    It took me a while, but I’ve definitely grown to quite enjoy eating out by myself. Whenever my husband travels for work I’ll pick a restaurant and go. It’s quite soothing. Definitely agree with your points. Only time I got judged was in Italy “you’re eating alone!”

    Reply
    • Shelley

      …sigh! When that happens, I just assume the person is either just genuinely concerned or just a weird person. I think any person who would approach a complete stranger in a judging way, is just not someone who’s opinion I should care about 💅

      Reply
  23. Sam

    I love all these tips! Sometimes I feel nervous, but it can be empowering =)

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Glad you loved them… and so happy you find solo dining empowering.

      Reply

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