People tend to fret over solo traveling. The main concern seems to be loneliness, and you’ll find no end of advice on how to meet people. My advice: don’t bother.
To be fair, if you’re going backpacking for weeks or months, of course you’ll want to meet people. If you’re a woman traveler going off the beaten track, you’ll be rightly concerned about safety. But for many of us a short urban break in Europe should be free of these anxieties. For me the whole point of a few days of solitary wandering around a great European city is to enjoy some alone time.
That’s simple enough when strolling the streets, but what about mealtimes? It’s easy to feel self-conscious in a restaurant, an environment apparently designed for social interactions. Can you really bring yourself to walk brazenly into a restaurant and sit among chattering diners, blissfully staring into space with a ‘I-do-this-all-the-time’ smile on your face? Of course you can, and the following simple guide will have you hogging prime restaurant real estate in no time.
Peer in the window. Sounds silly, but how else are you going to know if you’ll feel comfortable in there? Too crowded, too small, too formal — you’ll soon pick up an instinct for what kind of space and ambience you’ll feel relaxed in.
Take something to do. A book, a journal, a mobile device. You can loose yourself in a novel, or lose yourself trawling Facebook on your iPhone. Look busy and people will take you seriously. (You may want to consider a slim hardcover book, newspaper or magazine — something you can lay flat while holding cutlery.)
Casual dining. An easy way out is of course to grab something on the go. Fast-food places, low-key cafes and of course bars are also good places to get a quick bite. Less formal and often equipped with bar-style seating, these are ideal for munching a sandwich or bowl of pasta while poring over your guidebook.
Formal dining. If you’re in the mood for something fancier than a burger and fries, there are ways to do this without feeling conspicuous. It’s true that restaurant staff may begrudge you a table for two in peak times, so consider eating a little earlier when there’s plenty of free space. Avoid smaller places — getting sandwiched between couples or high-spirited groups might leave you feeling both distracted and awkward.
Finally, learn not to care. The key, of course, is not to care too much what people think. If you’re not being rude or inconsiderate, why worry? I’m writing this article in a pub in London. It might be that people have glanced over at me, wondering what on earth I’m up to. It might be the pub staff are keen for me to either order another pint or clear out and stop taking up space. These things may be the case, but the truth is I don’t know, because I haven’t paid any them any attention. I’m just not bothered.
Our guest blogger Roger Christian is a London based graphic designer, blogger and fiction writer. In his bi-weekly articles for Spotted by Locals Roger explores the pleasures and occasional challenges of solo traveling in Europe.