Solo travel is one of the most rewarding things that I thought I would never do, mostly because it seemed frightening and dangerous and potentially boring. It is none of those things if done properly. However, there are some drawbacks to traveling alone, one of which is that it can seem self-indulgent or even gauche to reserve a table for one at a fancy eatery. Which is, of course, utterly wrong.
Banish the idea that dining at a fine restaurant is only appropriate (or enjoyable) for couples or groups. Treat yourself to good food and people watching, social stigma be damned. Wear that fancy top that you put in your duffle bag on a whim, buy a glass of wine – or hell, a bottle! – and spend some intimate time with yourself.
The first time I ever ate out alone, and I mean at a real restaurant, not a shameful trip to Wendy’s on a road trip, was in Italy. I found myself in Florence one evening, alone and hungry. I toyed with the idea of stopping at a grocery store for a sad, plastic-wrapped panino, before deciding that I was in Italy and I was going to eat like it.
Near my hotel, there was a little restaurant called The White Boar, so I walked in and asked for a table – for one. This was confusing to the maître d’, as apparently women in Italy don’t travel alone, much less dine alone. I ordered the least expensive item on the menu (a delicious lasagna) and drank far too many glasses of water. And I watched and listened. I was pleased to find that I could eavesdrop on all of the other diners, the Italians, the Americans, even an Argentinian couple seated near me. They asked me to take their picture. It was charming and flattering that they asked me in Spanish.
Of course, I dined alone several other times that summer, always unnerved and delighted by the experience. But once I came back to the U.S., I stopped. Tonight, I am at another Italian restaurant, this one in Miami. And for the first time since Italy, I am seated alone, sipping prosecco, and savoring my own company. The food is delicious, of course (I ordered lasagna again – my budget hasn’t changed all that much) but the real treat is embracing the silence rather than filling it.
Coco Walk is quiet, which is to be expected on a Sunday night, and a cool breeze blows through the covered pavilion, smelling of the spicy, waxy plants that grow in these jungle latitudes. The waiter asks if I’m from out of town, assuming that a local wouldn’t dine alone. He’s right. When I’m home, I am a home body. I cook, I clean, I do laundry, I never eat out, but when I travel, the world opens up. I am adventurous and bold and brave.
Perhaps it doesn’t seem brave to sit under a covered pavilion and enjoy Italian cuisine, but it takes a special kind of quiet to allow an experience to be more than the sum of your senses. To really hear, feel, smell, touch, and taste without distraction. My hair tickles the back of my hand as I write this, music and laughter spill out from the bar upstairs. My waitress’s perfume gently wafts over me as she lays the check at my elbow and I swallow the last sweet mouthful of prosecco.
How beautiful and filling it is to be alive.