The case for dining alone on vacation

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It’s no secret to those who know me: food is a major source of personal happiness.

And there’s nothing more euphoric than savoring the intricacies of a dish made well in one’s homeland, like savoring a fork of fresh pasta at an osteria in Italy or devouring a cut of meat at a parrilla in Argentina. But because social conventions have taught us that dining alone is not the norm, these times are rarely experienced alone.

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The next time you’re with a dinner companion, think about what might be different if you were alone. While breaking bread together has its advantages, only eating with others means you miss out on one of the greatest joys of travel – eating alone in a restaurant.

Dining alone allows you to take a culinary journey, a journey that is often missed when engrossed in conversation.

This is especially true when traveling, when it’s easy to immerse yourself in semi-predictable dialogue at the dinner table. There’s the rehashing of the day’s events, the discussion of the details of tomorrow’s itinerary, and the lamenting of the pain in your feet from walking on the cobblestones.

This is not a diss to your mate(s); it’s just the reality of traveling with someone else.

Eating alone provides the ability to focus on the details as they happen, all in real time. You’ll be more likely to notice the intricate font on the menu or the waiter’s tricky placement of the bread basket on the table.

All the senses truly come alive. I imagine it right now, in one of my favorite restaurants in Hong Kong. My nostrils inhale the aroma of slowly caramelizing onions and my ears listen to the juicy conversation at the next table.

And finally, there is the dish itself which takes center stage, more than ever. You’ll notice the perfect presentation of a dish, like the single sprig of fresh rosemary on a New Zealand rack of lamb. Or you taste the nuanced, layered flavors of a bowl of steaming pho at a street stall in Hanoi.

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For many potential solo travelers, there is an intense fear of dining alone. And I understand. At some restaurants I tried to make reservations for one only to be told “we don’t do that”. And if you get a table, your phone can become your companion.

If there’s one thing eating out alone has done, it’s strengthened my will and my desire to be more independent. I use these moments to observe everything and make my own decisions. And that same feeling can be so empowering for the rest of life.

All I ask is that if you’re eating alone on your travels, put the phone down and look around. Talk to the server. Ask questions about the food and how the establishment came about. Or if you’re feeling daring, comment on the dish at the table next to you.

Go ahead: eat happy on your next trip. And if you do it alone, great.

Chris Dong is a New York-based freelance travel writer and credit card points expert. He writes a weekly travel newsletter.

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