eating alone while traveling

Eating Alone While Traveling: Overcoming Solo Dining Fears


Is the thought of a “Table for One” daunting?

Does even just thinking about eating alone while traveling make you feel anxious? Then you’re in the right place — and you’re also not alone.

👋 Hi, I’m Shelley, and I’ve been traveling solo through Mexico since April 2018, so I’ve done the eating alone at a restaurant thing once or twice (or 66 times). Right off the bat, I’m also going to let you in on a little secret:

Even veteran solo travelers (like me!) aren’t always comfortable eating alone… and that is totally normal!

When I first began traveling alone, solo dining didn’t always feel so comfortable. However, after many years of solo travel, and many solo dining experiences along the way, I now love going to a restaurant alone. Since you might be wondering how I did this, the answer is simple: practice.

While practice necessarily doesn’t make perfect, as the saying goes, practice definitely makes perfect-er and also makes you feel more comfortable. In short, eating alone gets easier and more enjoyable the more times you eat alone.

In this article I’m going to 1) share my proven mindset hacks to help you feel comfortable with the thought of solo dining, 2) give you a mental practice run you can do to build your confidence for dining alone as a woman, and 3) share some of the best eating alone in a restaurant quotes for inspiration.

Ready to get started? Let’s dive in by exploring what the fear of eating alone is all about.

Fear of eating alone is a very real fear

To be completely clear from the start, and address the eating alone psychology aspect of things — Dining alone in public is a very real fear, and it’s called solomangarephobia (pronounced so-low-man-gar-pho-bee-uh).

solomangarephobia: (noun) the fear of eating alone in public

It induces very real solo travel anxiety, and in fact, holds some women back from solo travel altogether. If you’re someone who identifies as a solomangarephobic, know that this is quite common and you are not alone. However, you should also know this: Like all fears, you can 100% work through this one.

WHAT IS SOLOMANGAREPHOBIA, exactly?

The core of the fear isn’t actually being afraid of physically eating or even going to restaurants alone. Rather, this is a phobia of eating in public caused by the unshakable feeling that you’re being judged by others for dining solo. For most women, this is the #1 reason why eating alone in public is so difficult.

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 and recall how when you misbehaved, you were sent to your room, alone. The message is that being alone is a punishment, reserved only for bad people who did wrong.

So right off the bat, rewrite that messaging for yourself to Eating alone while traveling is empowering!

Woman eating alone at a restaurant

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EATING ALONE WHILE TRAVELING IS EMPOWERING

Some common assumptions about solo diners include these misconceptions: This person is in a bad place; They must not have friends; This is a sad person; and They were stood up by a date/friend.

As someone for whom eating alone while traveling is quite common, I can assure you I am none of those things. Also, I’m pretty sure being stood up mostly happens in movies.

Something you’ll see laid out in Tip #1 is sad people don’t go out to eat alone. You know who does? Empowered, self-assured and self-confident people who aren’t too concerned with what others are thinking. (By the way, strangers likely aren’t thinking anything about you at all! This is something you knew, but we all need a reminder on occasion.)

Woman sitting alone at a restaurant

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EATING ALONE WHILE TRAVELING: Solo Dining Tips

1. Start Believing Eating by Yourself is awesome

Have you ever seen a woman out alone and 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.

Truth be told: This is where your own fear of dining alone comes from. Since you’re judging others that way, you assume others must be judging you that way. More than likely, though, they aren’t — and a great first step to stop thinking they are, is for you to stop thinking that way at all.

The reason why your default thought of a solo diner is “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, that solo dining is a sad thing to do.

Yawn.

Happy woman eating alone at a restaurant

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Someone who can eat alone is someone who can be alone. Many of us will resort to eating in bad company rather than no company. Yet, someone who is eating alone [has] achieved a feat many will never reach. They’ve learned to be comfortable in their own company. ~Lauren Martin, founder of Words of Women

Here’s the truth: If this hypothetical solo woman eating alone we’ve been discussing was so sad about her lack of a dinner companion, she’d probably have just ordered Uber Eats and went home to eat dine solo.

The sooner you change your own thinking to “Eating alone is a choice, not a punishment,” the sooner you’ll be able to do it in a way where you’re not judging yourself harshly for doing it. Going forward, try revising your initial “aww, how sad” thought, to one praising the real truth about yourself and your fellow solo dining goddesses!

Eating Alone While Traveling: thought Exercise

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

🟢 Revised Thought: Look at this table for one dining 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 to be eating dinner alone. (Quite honestly, that’s probably closer to the truth anyway.)


2. Start Assuming the Best Outcome, Not the worst

When we don’t think we know how something will turn out, we often assume the worst outcome. Psychologists call this catastrophizing, and it actually does serve a very practical purpose — it helps you stay alive. Since you’re new to going out to eat alone, and you have no mental picture of how it looks, you might be doing this.

catastrophizing: to view or talk about (an event or situation) as worse than it actually is, or as if it were a catastrophe

The brain is a very old organ. It developed in cavewoman times when the threat of physical dangers were much more real. Since our ancestors lived in three-walled caves and had no guarantee of safety in their shelter, like we do in our homes, they had to constantly assume the worst outcome — ie. a saber-toothed tiger is about to enter and eat me 🐅

This catastrophizing defense mechanism still functions today in much the same way — to keep you alive and safe, in your comfort zone and far away from danger. Now, being alive physically and actually living your best life are two very different things, which is why you must retrain yourself to not think in catastrophizing terms so often!

Woman eating ice cream alone at a cafe
It me! Going out for lunch solo, enjoying a gelato, and overall, giving zero fu+ks in beautiful Guanajuato City, Mexico.

Since you’ve never EATEN SOLO BEFORE, YOU may be ASSUMING THE WORST OUTCOME

Before getting to how to overcome a phobia of eating alone, know that your adverse reaction to the thought of solo dining is very normal! However, to overcome the fear you have, you have to consciously transcend your subconscious thoughts.

Essentially what this means is, you need to remind yourself there are no saber-toothed tigers hiding in the restaurant you’re about to dine in. You must be OK with the unknown, with not knowing how you’re going to feel about eating alone while traveling, and with no0t knowing how your first solo dining experience will go.

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 your worst- case scenario assumptions, and the space to actually enjoy the experience. To take it one step further, you can revise your expectations entirely using the exercise below.

Eating Alone While Traveling: thought 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 will 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. 

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

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EATING ALONE WHILE TRAVELING: SOLO DINING TIPS

3. Getting Yourself ready for Eating Alone

As mentioned in the intro to this article, the best way to get comfortable with eating along while traveling is to practice, Tips #3 is about just that. Before traveling, you’ll want to practice dining alone in your hometown, so it’s easier when you’re in a new city or country.

If you’ve never eaten alone before, you’ll want to build your confidence by doing a mental practice before the big day. For this, you’ll find an exercise below on how to run through some mental prep before you actually go out to eat solo.

I prefer eating alone, and there is nothing wrong with that. ~Samantha Proctor

Start with a cute outfit: Pick out something nice to wear and plan to put some effort into your appearance — because when you look good, you feel confident. 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.

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Identify your deal breakers: Since everyone’s fear of eating in public is exacerbated by different conditions, identifying your deal breakers will help determine the best place for your first eating alone experience.

  • For some women, avoiding crowded places and or loud places is necessary.
  • Other women will feel more comfortable sitting outside to be able to distract themselves by people watching, while someone else may prefer an indoor place with low lighting.
  • Still for some, a restaurant or cafe that only has parallel parking on the street is a hard no because they aren’t comfortable with parallel parking.
  • For others, anywhere with tables too near to one another would be annoying.

Remember, that every single one of these things is valid! The point with this is to identify what you don’t want and what makes you feel anxious, so you’re as comfortable as possible during your first time eating out alone.


EATING ALONE WHILE TRAVELING: SOLO DINING TIPS

4. Solo dining Practice Makes Perfect(er)

Exposure therapy is considered among the most successful known treatments for phobias. Meaning that going out to eat solo is likely the fastest and most effective way to be able to comfortably go out to eat solo… so let’s pick a place already.

Eating lunch alone at a cafe tends to be far less intimidating for a first time solo dining experience than a dinner 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.

Woman eating alone at a restaurant and drinking an orange drink

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Follow these steps as you get ready for eating alone:

  1. Now that you identified your deal breakers in Tip #3, select a cafe you’ve never been to, but have been dying to try. This will help because you have some preexisting anticipation and feelings of excitement for the place.
  2. Look at their menu online and see what catches your eye; to further get excited.
  3. Put on the cute outfit you picked out in Tip #3.
  4. Before you leave to the restaurant, look in the mirror and 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;” (from Glennon Doyle’s book, Untamed) but feel free to use your own.
  5. Now get in your car, or start your walk to the cafe. Pay extra attention to a few things you love along the way: A certain song you’re listening to, someone’s cute corgi in a sweater walking by, some pretty blue flowers in a yard, a cool cloud formation, etc.

🍷🍽 LET’S 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, and for some an outdoor table sounds just plain awful!

Now, if the exact table you want isn’t available, then wait. As they say in real estate, Location, Location, Location, so know that your cafe real estate is worth waiting a big for, if necessary. As soon as you’re seated at your dream table, sit, and breathe.


EATING ALONE WHILE TRAVELING: SOLO DINING TIPS

5. Get Out of Your Own Head

When you sit down, take a second to breathe and then remind yourself (again) of how proud you are of yourself for doing this. Repeat your mantra a few times; We can do hard things. Get comfortable… then, get excited!

Take a look around at the other diners; make eye contact; smile — it has been scientifically proven to instantly boost confidence and happiness. When the server comes, ask for food and 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. Congrats! Mentally high five yourself; or even physically high five yourself if you want to, because 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 We can do hard things mantra as needed. In the event even the mantra isn’t working, do this instead…

Woman behind a "Censored" sign

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EATING ALONE WHILE TRAVELING: SOLO DINING TIPS

Picture Everyone Naked 😳 😳 😳

You read that right… 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, ie. That guy over there, blue shirt, he’s just taken a job in France and is planning to move with his wife. Only he’s in love with her sister. But she’s in love with his brother… 

Play on Your Phone or Read a Book

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 ❤️

woman in a blue tank top sitting at a cafe outside near a park is holding a coffee cup in one hand and croissant in the other in a gesture offering them both to you | eating alone while traveling

Final Thoughts: Eating Alone While Traveling

Like most things, after eating alone just once, the next time will be 1,000 times easier 🤣 The mental hurdle or roadblock is in thinking it will be a terrible experience — and quite frankly it might be. There’s no way to know if you’ll like, love off hate eating alone unless you try it out and see.

On a personal note, until I started traveling alone, I had never eaten out in a restaurant alone. I can’t say I was afraid of it, just that I never had. However, once I started doing it, I quickly embraced it.

For me, I do whatever my mood calls for to keep my comfort level high: Sometimes I bring a book or journal; sometimes I sit outside or at the bar; sometimes I enjoy the silence and listening to my thoughts, while sometimes I put on a podcast… and sometimes I order two desserts!

There’s no right or wrong way to do solo dining, but there is a way for every woman to enjoy her experience. The reason I was able to figure out how I most enjoy it, was by eating alone in a restaurant a few times. Remember, that if there was any way to get good at something other than by practicing, we’d all be doing that instead.

EATING ALONE WHILE TRAVELING: SOLO DINING TIPS

Eating alone quotes for inspiration

  • I know people take pity on me when they see me eating alone. They think I have no friends. The truth is, I have friends, and I love them dearly. But that time alone is valuable to me. ~Samantha Proctor
  • I like being by myself and the peace that it offers. And when it comes to food there are no compromises or sharing. I like being able to order exactly what I want… ~Martha de Lacey
  • …it takes strong and self-assured people to eat alone. They aren’t socially perverse, but socially enlightened. ~Lauren Martin
  • I love the independence of traveling alone and eating on my own doesn’t bother me — it’s not something I do [at home], so I enjoy it when I’m away. ~Holly Pratt Kelly
  • I know what I bring to the table, so trust me when I say I’m not afraid to eat alone. ~Kevin Hart

Be alone. Eat alone, take yourself on dates, sleep alone. In the midst of this you will learn about yourself. You will grow, you will figure out what inspires you, you will curate your own dreams, your own beliefs, your own stunning clarity, and when you do meet the person who makes your cells dance, you will be sure of it, because you are sure of yourself. ~Bianca Sparacino

Have questions about eating alone while traveling?

If there was anything I didn’t cover, please join the conversation and ask away in the comments down below! I’d be thrilled to chat with you about this subject 💗