In appreciation of Valentine’s Day – specifically its crappiness when you’re traveling alone – Bonappetit.com rounded up some expert advice this week on how to dine solo in foreign locales. It’s not as simple as just tucking in and chewing. There are land mines of awkwardness to navigate, emotional hurdles to leap.
“I don’t like reading when I eat so I’ll just sit there and think about people I’d like to be dining with, alive or dead. Or I’ll just think about random things, like ‘Who is the Jimi Hendrix of the tuba?’” wrote David Farley, author of An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town.
Travel writer Ya-Roo Yang advocated taking advantage of datelessness “to eat in some of the more difficult-to-get-in restaurants. Single diners can usually score that one seat at the end of the bar of the little table wedged in the corner.”
For her part, travel writer A. Christine Maxfield recommended either eating in crowded places where anonymity is easy to achieve, or if she’s feeling sociable, hitting a pop-up restaurant or supper club she’s found on PopUpRepublic.com, which draws an eclectic group of people in small venues that encourages mingling.”
(My own submission: Keep your phone in your pocket. If it’s out 1) that’s borderline rude and 2) you’ll invariably drift into looking at pictures of loved ones. Nobody wants a restaurant crybaby.)
The roundup got me thinking about traveling alone in general. Surviving a solitary meal is one thing – by my count you’ve got a dozen more hours of daylight to fill. I queried a handful of people, but the best tip came from my wife, who did a fair amount of solo traveling in her (inferior) pre-me years. Her advice: Give yourself a quest.
Specifically, she said, find an item or service that only locals seem to have, or use, and make it your goal to acquire one for yourself. Traveling around Rajasthan, she noticed that nearly every Indian woman she saw wore a certain kind of calico blouse she’d never seen before. She immersed herself in finding her own. The project gave her an excuse to go chat with strangers, to stop in local tailor shops and generally dig into the city in a real and non-touristy way. At the end of the day she had a neat and unique memento of her visit, and she’d forgotten all about the possibility of feeling lonely.
Chris Colin is the award-winning author of “Blindsight,” published by the Atavist and named one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2011. See his work at www.chriscolin.com.