Travelling alone can be rewarding. It can also be hard.
I’ve travelled alone many times. To Europe. To South America. To any place I’ve been curious about and had no one to go with. People I meet on my travels often tell me they couldn’t travel alone. I often wonder if they mean wouldn’t.
I’m not sure what the most repelling part of solo travel is. Is it the fear of being lonely? Of being vulnerable? Of eating at a restaurant alone?
Five years ago I was reluctant to eat at a restaurant alone. This was because I hadn’t really done it and because I worried what people would think. But the fears I had of solo dining where challenged when I saw a young woman dining alone in the medieval village of Carcassonne in the south of France.
This young woman sat at the wrought iron table with a glass of wine and a book on learning French. She appeared so at ease, so content, in the quaint cobble-stone square lined with trees adorned in fairy lights. As the sun descended, I envied her, for I thought she was free, courageous, and in control of enjoying her life. I now wonder if people think the same of me.
I love stepping onto the cobble-stone lane-ways to search for a cozy table on a terrace where I can enjoy a book, a glass of wine and some dinner. Mostly I enjoy dining alone. In fact, enjoy doesn’t seem like the best word. I revel in dining alone—selecting the restaurant I want without compromise. It’s like a gift I give myself of ‘me time’. But it isn’t always easy.
The other night I stood in a touristic passageway in Paris’s Saint-Germain-des-Prés—the one where the guillotine was invented—and tears formed in my eyes. The cobblestone was shiny and smelled of rain, the heaters made everything glow red, and the football fans cheered and howled from the restaurants and bars. And there, in public, I cried.
I cried because I was tired and because my favourite sushi restaurant was closed. But most of all, I cried because the waiter at the Italian restaurant told me the tables under the heaters were only for groups.
I was turned away for being a solo diner.
I realised the reason I like solo dining is because it is a way for me to experience positivity in my day. I enjoy food and wine—they are simple pleasures. I’m happy to connect with the waiter, to smile at the woman sitting next to me who is also dining alone. And I give myself time to read books I want to read rather than have to read.
And so the key to enjoying solo dining is to find solo-dining experiences that open up opportunities for positive experiences, positive emotions, and positive connection (either in person or online), and to avoid those that don’t.
I left the passageway and found a small Greek restaurant that was relatively quiet and played traditional Greek music. I walked in, welcomed by a kind woman who I presumed was the owner. She waved her hand to a small candle-lit table.
I ordered mezethes—a mix of pastry cheese triangles, olives, taramasalata dip etcetera—and a glass of dry white wine from Crete and pulled out my book. Content. Satisfied.
The beats of Zorba the Greek sped up and a customer danced with his arms while sitting in his chair. His female companion laughed.
The lights went out in the dining room; the candles flickered. The owner tried to get the lights back on with no success.
Her husband entered the room. “Bon anniversaire, happy birthday,” he joked with the customers.
“C’est pas grave. It’s not a problem,” the dancing man said to the owners, turning to me to confirm.
“C’est romantique,” a couple said.
Everyone in the dining room started chatting across the tables. I was dining alone yet with others; as I left the restaurant, everyone wished me a good evening. “Bonne soirée. Au revoir.”
I think my experience that night holds true for many things in life: we can’t simply tell ourselves to ‘be positive’; rather, we need to accept negative emotions as far as they are useful. We need to listen to them and then change what we are doing so we put ourselves in situations that give us the opportunity to be happy.
So what do I eat in Paris while alone? Japanese and Thai food mostly. The restaurant staff provide great service, even correct my French in a polite manner, and they know my food and drink order.[metaslider id=1175]
Feature photo: Afternoon tea at Angelina at the Musée du Luxembourg, Paris