Dining Alone: Getting Past the Discomfort

4091977889_b668d78072_zHere’s a picture I never thought I’d see: me, alone, at a nice restaurant, happy. By this I mean really alone. Without a book or device.

Dining alone is almost a sport for me because of the challenge it presents. As a major introvert, I can assure you that when I walk into a restaurant without reading material and with a commitment not to pull out my phone, I feel uncomfortable. While I’ll admit to the novice tactic of choosing a bar within a restaurant if possible, I’m beginning to get the hang of it. It’s easy to chat with the bartender. And s/he’s always doing a little something you can watch. Plus, you’re in good company with a few other lone souls, shoulder-to-shoulder–no eye contact required.

The initial discomfort pays off, I’ve found, with some stimulating conversation and being slowed down enough to really enjoy a lovely meal.

I wrote about this more extensively, with some tips, last week at TravelSkills.com. Check it out.

For now, my solo-dining expeditions occur when I travel. Who knows, though, maybe at some point I’ll try it when I’m not away from home and it’s totally optional.

How do you feel about dining alone? Do you go for it, or avoid it?

P.S. To be clear, that is not me in the photo above. No selfie sticks allowed at dinner for one.

Photo: Flickr/Alpha

How to Eat Local-er When Traveling

When was the last time you dined in someone’s home on a business trip? It’s one of the very best ways to get to know a new place and another culture. But unless a colleague invites you to his or her home, it’s hard to swing.

Enter the sharing economy. This is one of my favorite concepts when applied to meals: matching cooks with eaters. It goes like this…. A cook (home cook or professional) offers a meal on a cook/eater website. The offering includes a menu with photo, price per person (usually $25 – $50, though some are even free), information on alcohol (provided, BYOB or nada), and a general location. As an eater, you sign up for a meal and pay online. That’s when you’re sent the address. Offerings can be spotty, depending on where/when you travel, but these sites are worth checking out, pre-trip. (And if you’re an accomplished home cook, think about hosting when you’re not traveling!)

Two websites do an especially great job with helping travelers eat local: Feastly and EatWith. For both, you can browse through meals offered in your travel destination. EatWith has been at it longer, and I like the fact that besides being able to sign up for a particular meal on a specific date, you can also click on “Suggest Date” to request the same meal another time if the dates shown do not fit your travel schedule. I’m partial to Feastly because I’ve participated in a Feastly dinner in Brooklyn that was incredible.

Sharing economy companies and local governments are head-butting, usually because of the lost tax opportunity for the municipality. I wonder if this will happen with these meal sharing companies. On my recent visit to Hong Kong, I was told that the city’s “secret kitchens” were born out of an era when the bureaucracy for opening restaurants was so oppressive that chefs began to serve meals in homes.

If you enjoy dining in private homes with strangers (I do!), check out SaltShaker.net’s listing of underground dining. The next time I’m in Paris, I vow to attend one of Jim Haynes’ Sunday Dinners—he has opened his house to travelers for the past 30 years. Imagine the history of fascinating conversations in those rooms.

Take your travel dining to a deeper level of local. I dare you!

Have you ever eaten a local meal in a stranger’s new friend’s home while traveling?

Quiet Traveler

I’m an introvert.

There, I’ve said it. (If you know me, this will come as no surprise.) Introversion affects the way I travel, I’ve noticed lately. Turns out I’ve adapted to suit my social inclinations. On the other hand, I suspect many extroverts do too (in an opposite sort of way).

Here are some of my business travel practices and pleasures that have evolved because I’m an introvert. How does your travel social profile fit with or differ from this?

1. Plans A, B and C. My nature, and I think that of most introverts, is to reign in the variables. It’s important to me not to rush. I allow myself plenty of time to get to the airport. (This makes my extroverted husband crazy!) My travel plans are well organized. I know exactly what to expect when I get to the airport, when I land, and when I get to my hotel. This helps me feel grounded, even when flying.

2. Cone of silence. In an airplane seat I am shielded from the traveling masses by an invisible cone of silence. Few seatmates, by travel social convention, penetrate this invisible cone. As a result, several hours in my own little world during a flight can be incredibly restorative. I often deplane feeling fully recharged. Conversely, I’m not shy (there’s a difference!), and sometimes the vibe of a seatmate will entice me to talk a little (assuming I, too, respect their cone), which can be very pleasant and interesting. I like that I have some control/choice over who I talk to on an airplane. That is not the case in everyday work.

3. Hotel [re]charges. After a day of meetings and people, people, people, an evening alone in my hotel room is heaven. In fact, as much as I miss my family when I travel for work, it is a sweet change to have a couple hours in a beautiful room alone (after a Skype conversation with them). Quiet is good for me, and I can’t remember the last time I turned on a hotel room TV. Yes, I do email, but I like to be alone with my thoughts as much as possible when in a hotel room.

4. Big-small talk. Like most introverts, the conversations I enjoy most are one-on-one, and travel offers lots of opportunities for this. Particularly enjoyable are conversations with people whose worlds are different from mine. I have had some amazing and deep talks with drivers, flight attendants and even front desk clerks.

5. Bar none. I rarely order room service, and I’ve tired of subsisting on a small bag of almonds in the evening as I answer email. Now my preferred dining-alone experience is the hotel bar. For an introvert? Surprisingly, yes! I hesitantly tried this first a couple of years ago, nervous because of preconceived ideas from my 20s about the bar “scene.” I was pleasantly surprised at how well the bar meal suited my personality. It’s a structured environment (crucial for us quiet ones), most bartenders are skilled at starting conversations yet have a sense of when to leave you alone, and enjoying a fine meal sure beats the almonds.

6. On the run. A solo run is a lovely way to get to know a city. Leave the crowded hotel fitness room to the extroverts. I always run early in the morning and by myself. So many cities have such beautiful places to work up a sweat. Some routes I’ve enjoyed recently are along Lake Michigan in Chicago, the Embarcadero/Marina District in San Diego, the Emerald Necklace in Boston, and Central Park in New York. Similarly, I’ve discovered that where it’s hot and humid even at 6 am, swimming laps in the hotel pool instead (if outside) is a peaceful way to enjoy the sunrise: alone.

Do you know if you’re an introvert or extrovert? An easy test is whether being with friends/strangers energizes you (extrovert!) or drains you (introvert!). For insights, I highly recommend Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. While I’ve been well aware of my introversion for years, I had not put together some of the elements in the full constellation until reading this book. And introverts, we love to figure things out by reading! (And then to express by writing….)

So, when it comes to travel, how about you?  I’m curious: Does being an introvert or extrovert affect how you behave on the road?