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Dining Solo: Unexpected Experiences And Delicious Food Await You

Scaloppine all Sorentina.  Photo courtesy of Jessica Yeager.

Scaloppine alla Sorentina. Photo courtesy of Jessica Yeager.

Solo female travel can be daunting in and of itself. Couple that with the thought of eating alone in a foreign country, and some would simply not do it. But as they say, life begins at the end of your comfort zone. For those brave enough to take on independent travel, there are always creative ways to calm jittery nerves before heading out to dinner alone.

Dress For The Occasion

There is a certain level of confidence needed to walk into a restaurant and ask for a table for one. If you need an extra boost, why not get dressed up and give those curious eyes something to stare at? Who doesn’t feel confident slipping into a favorite pair heels, donning a whimsical blouse, or applying that “look at me” red lipstick? Or if you’re a man, a fresh-pressed suit, polished shoes and a nice tie. Naturally, when we feel our best, our self-confidence increases. So put on that special outfit you packed and rise to the occasion.

Partake In Aperitivo

Italian Aperitivo, in a way, is synonymous with the American happy hour. It’s a time to gather before dinner for a quick snack, a cocktail and some end of the day socializing with friends. For me, aperitivo is an opportunity to calm my nerves before embarking on a solo dining adventure. A little glass of wine goes a long way when you need a boost of confidence. Luckily, many of the hostels host an aperitivo, and I always take advantage. If your hostel doesn’t have an aperitivo, don’t hesitate to make your own happy hour. Grab a bottle of wine at the local enoteca, along with some cheese and crackers, and you’re all set.

Adopt a Mantra

While a mantra might sound silly, don’t discount it before trying. Sometimes calming your nerves is all in your state of mind. Choose something simple to say to yourself when you feel your self-confidence diminishing, like “you can do this.” If you have a favorite quote or song lyric, go for that instead. As a big Bruce Springsteen fan, I like to use his lyrics to add a little pep to my step. In one of his songs, he says “walk tall, or baby, don’t walk at all.” When needed, I repeat this over and over. Either way, positive self-talk can help you gain strength, especially when you are on the verge of turning back for your hotel.

Buona Sera.  Photo courtesy of Fabiana.

Buona Sera. Photo courtesy of Fabiana.

Tried And True: A Story From Italy

Walking up to the busy restaurant all alone, I try not to notice the curious eyes staring at me. I can almost feel them saying, “Is she here by herself?” as they look me up and down. For some reason, this bothers me, but I knew it would and have prepared myself.

Decked in my favorite dress, I walk confidently up to the hostess. A little red wine already in me from an earlier aperitivo, I nonchalantly ask for a table for one. Walking past all the curious dinner guests, I repeat in my head my favorite Bruce Springsteen lyric, “Walk tall, or baby, don’t walk at all.”

An evening passeggiata in Italy.  Photo courtesy of Fabiana.

An evening passeggiata in Italy. Photo courtesy of Fabiana.

In no time, I’m sitting down at a table for one ready to spoil my taste buds. Of course, I order a bottle of the house white wine. With a prime view of the town square, it’s time to relax and indulge in a little people watching.

Lovers walking hand in hand on an evening passeggiata (stroll), children kicking soccer balls up and down alleyways, short Italian grandmother’s peeking out of their windows at the activities below—this is people watching at it’s best.

Italian Grandmother watching evening activities below.  Photo courtesy of Fabiana.

Italian Grandmother watching evening activities below. Photo courtesy of Fabiana.

Suddenly, this beautiful moment is interrupted and a man appears beside my table. “Excuse me,” he says nervously. “Are you alone?”

Wide eyed and stunned, I stare at him for a minute before gathering myself. I have no idea what to say back to him. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him strolling by already once or twice.

He continues. “I apologize for interrupting your dinner, but there is a long wait at all the restaurants. I’ve had an incredibly tiring day of travel, would you mind if I joined you?”

Struggling to find a way out of this situation, I’m at a loss for words. A quick game of tug of war plays out in my head and after an uncomfortable pause, I decide to help a fellow traveler out and offer him the extra seat.

My decision to order a bottle of wine earlier, rather than a carafe, was a good one. I pour him a glass and fill up mine again as we awkwardly settle into conversation. Going over the basics, we realize we share some things in common. For example, both of us are writers, as well as lovers of world travel. He tells me he has just arrived all the way from Tunisia.

“You must be exhausted,” I say. “Which hostel are you staying at tonight?”

He looks grim. “Actually, I didn’t think to reserve a bed ahead of time and everything is completely booked.”

This does not surprise me, as summer in Cinque Terre is extremely busy. The towns are relatively small so rooms book up fast.

“After dinner, I’m going to grab the next train out and see where it takes me. I’m not looking for anything special—just a quiet place to finish some writing.”

Immediately, an idea pops in my head. “Mimmi’s! You have to go to Mimmi’s!”

Just a few days earlier, I was at Mimmi’s working on my own writing. I tell him about the charming bed and breakfast nestled in the hills of Tuscany. Other than a delicious home cooked meal, or the wine that beckons your name, there are relatively few distractions.

Mimmi's Bed and Breakfast.  Photo courtesy of Jessica Yeager.

Mimmi’s Bed and Breakfast. Photo courtesy of Jessica Yeager.

Without another thought, we begin making arrangements for his departure to Mimmi’s. Instinctively, as if I’m a savvy travel guide, I pull up the rail planner on my phone. Finding an evening train to Florence and an early morning train to Chiusi, I tell him he’s all set with a safe place to rest his eyes tonight and a quiet writing oasis just hours away.

We raise our glasses, smiling in satisfaction. Cin cin!

Finishing dinner, we exchange information and he says he might be able to help me with some contacts in the writing world. We both agree solo travel brings about the most interesting experiences.

“Safe travels,” I say, as he rushes off to catch the night train.

Night train.  Photo courtesy of Fabiana.

Night train. Photo courtesy of Fabiana.

And now, I am alone again, but I don’t feel lonely at all. It’s funny how meeting a complete stranger can change the course of an evening, making it so much more enjoyable.

A few days later, I receive a message. He has arrived to Mimmi’s and is getting a lot of work done. Ironically, he includes a picture of his favorite writing spot—under the trellis by the pool with a view of the Tuscan hills—the same spot I sat in just a few days earlier. For a moment, I think how coincidental all of this is and then realize it’s not at all. For there is often a positive experience waiting for us, when we push ourselves into the unknown.

Unexpected experiences await you.  Photo courtesy of Fabiana.

Unexpected experiences await you. Photo courtesy of Fabiana.

Unexpected Experiences Await You Too

Solo travel is a chance for you to enjoy your own company and do things you wouldn’t normally do—like going to a restaurant for dinner alone. Some nights you might find unexpected company, while others you might simply enjoy a decadent meal and good wine paired with some people watching. Either way, venturing out on your own opens you up to serendipitous encounters and unique experiences. If you find your nerves to be rattled, dress for the occasion, partake in aperitivo and adopt a mantra to ignite your inner strength. The only way to find out what awaits you is to take the first step.

Do you enjoy dining solo when you travel? What tricks do you use to help calm jittery nerves?

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Jessica is a Jersey girl, pure and simple. But it’s her love of world travel, meeting new people, and exploring sun-drenched elsewheres that takes her beyond state lines. A teacher by day, storyteller by night; she enjoys sharing tales of her adventures that inspire and awaken the traveling spirit in others. She loves this quote from Maya Angelou -- When you learn, teach. When you get, give. Stop by her blog, Traveling Through Life to read more from this Jersey Girl.
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10 Comments

  1. Great post Jessica! I just took my self out on my first solo date last weekend and was so proud of myself. It was a bit nerve-racking at first but I eventually got to chatting with some others in the restaurant/bar.

    Love the story of the man joining you as well. Just a small reminders of the great stories accumulated while traveling.
    Mariana Ruiz recently posted…Trading Love For SolitudeMy Profile

  2. Such a great story!
    I’m saving/prepping for my first real solo travel. I’m excited but eating alone in a real restaurant (as opposed to little cafes and street/fast food) is something I always thought would be a little awkward but I guess it could lead to an interesting moment.
    Meggie Kay recently posted…Top 10 Travel and Romance MoviesMy Profile

  3. Jess..this was great! It is so true that eating alone can be frightening but in a foreign country..well that is daring! But look what awaits those who dare to go against the grain!!

  4. Margaret Powell says:

    Well done, AP! You really nailed this! You have perfect rhythm in your writing. Traveling alone to Europe is very liberating. I loved it! I felt brave and strong and free. It was wonderful. I find eating alone is a great way to meet new people. It’s all about attitude. You got it just right. Congratulations, kiddo!

  5. Pingback: Dining Solo Abroad | Traveling through life

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