Table for One.
I’ve done a lot of risky things over the course of my life. When I was 19 I went skydiving and canyoning in Switzerland. When I was 22 I opened my own business. When I was 27 I gave it all up and moved to New York to start over. When I was 28 I picked up and went to Costa Rica for six weeks to do volunteer work. And at 29 I was ready to take one last leap of faith and try my luck in Europe.
The question I receive most often when I tell people of my travels- where I’m going and where I’ve been- is, “So you’re doing it alone?”
The thing is, it’s not as scary as it sounds. Traveling alone can actually be quite liberating. You are on your own schedule, your own budget and can pick up at a moment’s notice to head wherever you’d like. You’re also more inclined to meet new people in an effort to get to know the city you’re in and assemble some sort of a social life. I’ve made new friends from all over the world in my travels, many who I kept in touch with after the trip. It makes life more colorful and full… a beautiful combination.
Of course there are the pitfalls. Luggage can be a beast, especially since you have no one to share the packing duties with (or for women, the toiletry duties). The cost of a hotel is more expensive since you are a single traveler, so you’ll always pay full price. Or, in the case of British Airways, you only get ONE night’s hotel room free if you’re a single traveler, not two as advertised. Pure discrimination. Safety is always a concern… you need to be extra prepared and aware of your surroundings. And then of course is the issue of dining alone. An art I have sadly perfected.
Years ago I was horrified at the thought of eating alone. It seemed so desperate and sad, to sit silently at a table for one, knowing there would always be an extra chair that no one would fill, breaking the silence with small talk with your waiter and looking at your phone maniacally as though someone would be calling to tell you they were late.
Then I grew up and realized it’s really not that bad… You just need to fine tune your solo dining plan to make it work for you. For one, bring a book or a notebook along. If you’re like me, it’s rare to get 15 minutes to just clear your head without any distractions, so the forced productivity and/or escape feels great. Observe what’s going on around you. Listen to the different languages or accents, eavesdrop on a few conversations. You will be amazed at how the human condition stays consistent no matter where you are… we are all going through break ups, asshole bosses, teething children, lying husbands, career changes, dreams lingering and more. It makes you realize how a perfect stranger is still a person, and how silence can be your best friend when you are alone, and your worst enemy when you are with someone else.
Here’s a little anecdote:
The other night I came back to my hotel in Munich after a day of interviews and walking the city. I decided to just eat at the restaurant at my hotel since I had a voucher for a courtesy glass of Prosecco, so I grabbed my Kindle and headed down to dinner. It was a little on the early side, probably about 6:00pm, and there was no one in the restaurant except me and one other couple. (I should have taken this as a sign that my fettuccine with pesto sauce was going to be less than tasty, but oh well). After sitting for about 15 minutes I noticed that the restaurant was still completely silent, sans some clanging of pots and pans in the kitchen. 20 minutes pass… still no talking. It was then that I realized this couple, who were German and probably in their mid-60s, were not talking AT ALL. Not a word. I couldn’t even tell you what their voices sounded like until the bill came and the man spoke to the waiter. It actually made me sad, and it hit me that as lonely as it can be dining solo, it must be even lonelier to be sitting across from the table from someone you have nothing to say to. And with that, I paid my check, headed up to my twin bed in my single room, and went to sleep with the dream and the confidence that some day when I travel, it will be with my best friend who will want to talk to me until I take my dying breath. Poor sucker.
Table for one. Go ahead and give it a try. You’ll be surprised how much you learn.