For me, the most intimidating challenge while traveling solo is dining alone. That’s why for the first few trips, I would grab food on the go rather than sit in the restaurant. Though I have to say that in Europe, where I travel most often to, it’s not such a big deal as here in the USA.
My first solo trip was to London and I was near a large train station which had a shopping mall attached to it. I did push myself to dine in at a pizza buffet restaurant. It was quick and I didn’t feel super self-conscious sitting alone. I usually eat on the go–tea and a muffin before taking the stairs down to the tube–to start my day. I would bring snacks–soda, water, junk, and some fruit to my room in place of dinner. McDonald’s was a favorite haunt–familiar and less fearful of a dining experience. My favorite McDonald’s treat–the apple pie I remember from childhood–fried with a bubbly, crispy outside and piping hot apple slices coated in sugary goodness. Stateside, the McDonald’s apple pies are baked and just not as good;(.
As my solo traveling routines developed–I usually bring along protein bars to use as meal replacements especially during field trips when my time in a place is limited. I’d rather walk around and take pictures than waste time sitting in a restaurant. There have a few stand-out dining experiences that I recall as boosting my solo dining confidence. In Paris, I went to the fondue restaurant next to my hotel–not a hardship as my hotel was surrounded by many good restaurants and cafes. I had a 3 course fondue meal that was delicious. I sat at a table near the front windows which were opened to the fresh and unusually warm April weather. I leisurely ate my meal, people-watched, and wrote in my journal. In Vienna, I tried an outdoor cafe for my first slice of sachertorte (rich dark chocolate cake and specialty dessert created in Vienna).
Sometimes I don’t intend to sit for a meal such as the time on a field trip during my Amsterdam trip. Two other woman were traveling solo on my field trip to the Zaanse Schans windmills and Volendam and Marken fishing villages. One woman was a teacher from western Canada and the other woman was from southern Ireland (Cork?)–they sat with each other on the bus but by the last stop in Volendam–we became field trip buddies. They asked if I wanted to join them for fish and chips. I hesitated for two reasons–1. I’m not a fish fan and 2. I wanted to walk around. But I decided to be friendly and try the fish and chips. The fish was surprisingly good–white and flaky with a delicious but very fattening dipping sauce and great french fries (chips). I took a picture for my family who would be very surprised that I ate fish. The company was good so I don’t regret missing out on my independent sight-seeing.
My first night in Brussels I had a hankering to try the waffles–it’s a must when in Belgium. I chose to sit in a tiny bistro located in the corner of the Grote Markt that served waffles with all sorts of toppings. I went for the classic–strawberries, bananas, whipped cream, and chocolate fudge sauce piled on two warm (just made) Belgian waffles. Umm, divine. I needed nothing else.
So here are some tips for the solo traveler for dining alone:
1. Bring along snacks and protein bars for days that you want to sightsee and not stop for big meals–also good for eating on trains and buses when taking day trips.
2. Scope out a small food store or convenience store to buy water, snacks, and fruit everyday. Oranges and bananas are good fruits to choose as they travel easily in your bag as well as being potassium rich to help prevent leg cramps from the extra walking you are doing.
3. Outdoor cafes are great to sit and people-watch while eating. You’ll see the culture in European cities promotes lingering at the table and just enjoying the experience.
4. Museum cafes have great international cuisine choices, tasty food, and decent prices. The best meal I had on my recent trip to London was at the Tower of London cafe–carrot and cardamon soup with homemade bread–absolutely delicious.
5. Go just before the dinner rush when the restaurant is not so full–often I do a late lunch or early dinner as my main meal and just snack the rest of the day while on the go.
6. Make friends with the server–I usually ask them to suggest a local beer or wine to try with my meal. In Prague and Seville, I tried some great red wines made locally. In Prague, the server offered a local pale ale that was different from the heavier lager/stouts made locally. He was giddy from me allowing him the beer choice.