Table for One
"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” ~Anais Nin
Alone doesn’t mean lonely. Single or solo doesn’t automatically equal sad, nor unaccompanied, unhappy. When you consider that at least fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, there’s a decent chance you might end up single someday too, or perhaps you are already, and that’s perfectly okay. It’s more than okay to start over, just as it’s okay to travel life’s path on one’s own.
When I was writing my memoir Would It Kill You to Put on Some Lipstick: A Year & 100 Dates, I was often on my own. As a newly divorced mom, I vowed that every night that my daughter was with her father I’d venture out to experience life. That promise to get out the door and just show up changed everything for me, in wonderful, unexpected ways.
Working now on my second book, which I’ll probably call Drinking with Mimes, the entire premise is about traveling solo. It begins with accepting a new challenge: to go to three new places I’ve never been before, by myself. I traveled to Mexico, Denmark and Portugal and even squeezed in a bonus country, popping over to Sweden for the day, (which is where I met the mime!)
I’ve traveled with husbands and lovers or just me and my child, and also solo, just me, myself and I. Each flavor of travel experience has its advantages and disadvantages, but all have brought rich and meaningful experiences. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re going to have a terrible time on your own. For me, solo travel is the best way to meet the most fascinating of people and to reconnect with a most important person: yourself.
Both my first and second books are fervently rooted in the belief of just getting out there. If there’s something you want in life and you happen to be single, why does that matter: just go.
I’ve found that our culture, in many ways, is uncomfortable with the solo traveler, literally and figuratively. That discomfort is especially directed towards women. Often an unaccompanied woman out in the world is viewed as ‘looking for something’, as though that’s somehow a problem. Women, of course, have a right to explore, to live, just as their male counterparts. Sometimes the unease is camouflaged as a concern about “safety”. I’ve been asked many times if it’s safe for me to travel alone. The answer is yes. Anyone traveling alone needs to be careful but that doesn’t mean staying cloistered, under lock and key. You take the necessary precautions to be safe and you go. I’ve learned not to allow others’ faulty perceptions to undermine my confidence. I’m a grown ass woman who can handle it.
Once you get past that nonsense, there’s the practicalities of life on the road. There are three meals a day, which mean three opportunities to try new restaurants and meet new people. Same goes for dating. Chances are you work during the day so your best bet is lunch or dinner out. I recommend that when traveling, consult with your hotel’s concierge, ask his or her advice on what’s a happening local restaurant. Explain that you’re by yourself, that you’re looking for a lively atmosphere where you might order a full meal up at the bar or chef’s table.
Back at home, try a bunch of new restaurants and you’ll soon figure out which ones are conducive to meeting people. Each place has its own vibe and scene and don’t get discouraged if it takes you a little time to discover your new favorite spot. Don’t worry if you have some nights where no one talks to you or the people who do you’re not crazy about. It’s part of the adventure. Bring your phone and/or a book to keep you occupied if it’s really quiet, but don’t be so absorbed in reading or texting that you miss all the interesting human beings right there in front of you. Heads up, look around, connect. Establish a relationship with the bartender and when you arrive, let him or her know that it’s your intention to sit down at the bar to have a meal and usually they’ll look out for you.
Another trick I’ve discovered is if there’s a popular restaurant where it’s tough to get a reservation, never call up and ask for a table for one. Chances are, you won’t get it. Restaurants rarely give away tables for one. If you really want to play hardball (and restaurateurs will hate me for suggesting this!) call and ask for a table for two and then when you arrive, explain that it’s actually only going to be just one now and the table is yours. People assume you were stood up and feel sorry for you. (Going again on the assumption that you ‘should’ be with someone!) But I rarely do this as it’s not entirely fair to the restaurants, who are of course trying to support a business, but also too, you’re less likely to meet someone sitting at a table by yourself.
Another strategy is to just show up at a restaurant, even if you’ve called ahead and they say “we’re fully committed” because so often I’ve found, that’s not actually true once you’re standing there in front of them. There’s almost always room for one more. Somewhere. Show up, take your seat and see what happens.