Leonard's famous malasadas

The honest guide to eating alone

So I was going to write about this a few days ago because my time in Waikiki hasn’t really gone as planned. I was supposed to be spending the week with a friend who had to work last minute, and so I find myself wandering around tourist HELL in Waikiki bouncing between sunlit euphoria and feeling depressed as shit. I’ve met some amazing people this week, and I had an INCREDIBLE weekend, but it gets a little lonely down here in Japanese family central.

So I’ve been eating out alone, a LOT. Not just cafes. I like sitting in restaurants and having a pretty menu and being waited on. But I always feel as if the waiters linger at my table longer than the others, chatting with me, oozing sympathy over my poor spinsterhood – confirmed when I talk about my three cats at home.

And then this happened on the bus yesterday.

I was on the shuttle headed to the luau. I was the only one sitting alone in a seat. The eccentric host, Georgie, was welcoming her new “family” and listing off all the places we were from. With each destination – Arizona, California, Texas – everyone raised their hands and gave a loud “WHOOOOP!”

And then it came to little ‘ol me, decked out to the nines in my $4 Forever 21 dress.

Georgie says, “We have a special guest on this bus, family. Her name is Candice and she is from Canada. She is an individual traveller. She is travelling ALONE! ALONE! Everyone make her feel WELCOME!” And there I sat with my cheeks blazing, ready to slide under the seat and wither into dust. It’s like I have #FOREVERALONE tattooed on my forehead.

eating alone sad

So fuck it. You know what? Fuck it. Alone doesn’t mean lonely. And if I sat around waiting for my friends to join me I’d never get anywhere. And since I can count the good experiences I’ve had with men in the past decade on one hand, I’d much prefer my own company at this point, thankyouverymuch.

Eating alone is actually my favourite part of the whole thing. It’s weird that it’s weird to everyone else. Here’s my honest guide to eating alone.

1. What to wear?

The other night I was determined to find a place to sit down for a few hours and enjoy a nice meal. That did not happen. The wait time in every restaurant along this hellhole strip* was minimum ONE HOUR. So I ambled along in my painful flip-flops until I found a goddamned Chili’s.

But I had dressed up nicely, because why not? I had done my hair and make-up and put on a nice long sundress, dabbled some rouge on my cheeks. Even if it’s just Chili’s, you can dress the part. Even if you’re swigging beer and mowing down on a steak like a hulking testosterone-machine (guilty!), you can still look good doing it.

dressed for success

Treat yourself grrrrrl.

2. Tell the host you want your own seat like a BOSS

I fake stunning confidence when I stroll up to a host at a restaurant. Before they can even greet me, I hold up one finger and say plainly: “One, please.” This saves them the opportunity to cock their heads slightly and ask, “Just one?” Hell yeah just one and hell yeah all those appetizers are for ME.

3. Pull out the ‘ol iPhone

While people-watching is entertaining to the extreme, I always end up pulling out my iPhone at some point so I can clearly become the too-busy-to-slow-down-douchebag you’ll find at every table, punching emails into his/her phone and having loud biz chats that you secretly want the whole restaurant to hear. “OH YAH DOLORES, THE MARRIOT IS BOOKED. TELL THEM TO BOOK THE HILTON INSTEAD. WE’LL TAKE THE TEAM THERE.”

pretending to text

Yesterday while eating alone at Duke’s I pretended to be booking travel accommodations and so I asked my waiter a dozen questions. Like clearly I’m important enough that I don’t have time to do this AFTER I eat.

4. Flirt your face off*

*This one usually works best with the opposite sex.

My cutie waiter at Chili’s must have felt overly sympathetic to me because he brought me a little present. Maybe they do that for all the Chili’s guests – a tiny pendant with “Hawaii” written on it. But maybe it was just for me, my own special little piece of Paradise that I can take home and put in my keepsakes box forever. Either way, I win.

You can also play up the sympathy thing. One of the workers at the luau (shown below) urged me to get my photo taken and I pouted and said, “I’m all alone!” So he took one with me instead. Aww.

just got lei'd

5. Lie through your teeth

It does get tiresome after awhile. “Are you alone?” or “do you always travel alone?” are well-meaning questions usually posed from the ultra-tourists outside my regular sphere of travel peers. So hell, why not just lie right through your teeth? You can have a lot of fun with it. I propose the following suggestions.

“Yes! I’m just recovering from my stint in the mental ward where I was held for being a danger to society, so I’m actually advised to eat alone.”

“Oh no, my husband – have you heard of him, Mark Zuckerberg? – he’s out condo shopping at the moment. I told him I was happy with whatever billion dollar property he decided on.”

“I’m actually in the middle of an anthropological field experiment examining the eating habits of tourists in their natural environment.”

“All my friends will join me, I’m sure. They’re only four hours late.”

That last one usually gets me a few dates.

*It’s clear I’m not a big fan of Waikiki. I set up here so I could easily hop on some tours and explore the area. But I MUCH MUCH MUCH PREFER the quieter island life. No hate.

  • February 11 2015
    Jill Kozak

    Traveling alone is not always easy. I remember one time I was swimming in Australia by myself and I looked in every direction to see happy families, canoodling couples and gaggles of friend groups. That was a distinctive moment for me where I wished I had someone to share those moments with.

    After traveling to the Big Island and living in a jungle tent alone for 6 months, I came to face a lot of my fears of being alone. Lying in bed lost in thought, wild pigs would scamper by and scare the shit out of me. Or a cockroach would find its way into my blanket and I had no one to squash it for me.

    These times were hard for me, but ultimately, I cherish them. They taught me about coming to terms with what it’s like to experience a life outside of the norm on your very own. It’s truly a brave thing and something I admire very much in people.

    Waikiki is tourist hell, too. I’m sure there’s no worse place to feel alone than there. Now on a secluded beach on the south or east shore, enjoying some peaceful serenity alone is a very different story. Place is everything.

    Enjoy your stay!



    • February 23 2015

      Tooootally agree with you. When I got to Big Island, I took a big sigh of relief. SO much more my style. I had similar experiences to yours in Europe last year. Sometimes the hardest part about traveling solo is that you really have to learn to love your own company.

  • February 11 2015

    To this day I never ate by myself in a restaurant! I know, it’s ridiculous. I’ll try with your guide now… promise :)

  • February 11 2015

    I have never minded eating alone although I don’t do it very often these days. I will be doing my first big solo trip this year so I am sure I will be doing a lot of it then!

    • February 23 2015

      Yes! That is awesome.Where are you going?

      • February 23 2015

        British Columbia, Alaska and Hawaii for 3 1/2 months then will be in Asia for 7 1/2 months although a lot of the Asia trip will be with a friend

        • February 26 2015

          Omg. That’s the best itinerary ever.

  • February 11 2015

    I love this post! I can totally relate too, I ate out several times alone in Barcelona when I travelled there solo. Yes, it felt awkward and I kind of felt like a loser. But I was so so glad I did it. I think a lot of people wouldn’t have the guts to do it, so good on us :)

    • February 23 2015

      Truth! I do think it’s more accepted in Europe than in North America, on the other hand. Maybe.

  • February 11 2015
    Michelle@The Restless Reporter

    I’ve been traveling and going to restaurants alone for as long as I can remember, not because I don’t like company – I love traveling with my friends – but because they just don’t travel as much as I do. While I’d love to say that I love traveling alone (I actually do) and that I have no problem whatsoever eating alone, I have to admit that there’s been a change, and I’m not sure I like it.

    When I first started traveling alone around Europe when I was 14-16, I felt proud when the puzzled waiter/hotel concierge/stewardess asked me if I was alone – yes, I’m that independent, brave, and mature, is what my juvenile self thought.

    These days I tend to make up excuses. When asked, I tell people that I travel alone because I’m on a reporting trip, which is usually true, I just don’t say that I’m traveling alone on a reporting trip about 75% of the year. But why don’t I feel independent, brave, and mature anymore? I actually think that it is pretty cool to break societal norms and go to the cinema/restaurant/Bahamas yourself, but somehow I feel more like a social loser than a rebellious rule breaker when I do it.

    • February 23 2015

      You started travelling solo around Europe when you were 14?!! JEEPERS girl. That’s impressive.

  • February 12 2015
    Rebekah Crabtree

    Honestly I usually avoid nicer restaurants because I feel weird eating alone, but over Christmas in Shanghai I was pretty determined to have a nice meal. I always have a book on my phone so I can read in those situations.

    • February 23 2015

      How did your fancy Christmas meal turn out?

  • February 12 2015

    Haha, this was very funny. I enjoy eating alone, but I like to read when I’m doing it! :)

    • February 23 2015

      I do too, but I’m completely uncoordinated when it comes to both eating and turn pages hahaha

  • February 12 2015

    When I first went to Europe, eating along scared the bejeesus out of me. But I REALLY love food. I needed to eat out. It was a THING.

    So, I started ordering wine with my meals and talking to my waiters (who usually knew like, 5 languages), and it was WAY FUN. I got used to it pretty quickly and got to talk to a bunch of locals and hear their stories. :) Social stigma of eating alone? OVER IT. Food is great. People are great. I like both.

    • February 23 2015

      It’s funny because on my last few days of my trip I started eating at the bar rather than at a table. SO MUCH EASIER to meet people

  • February 12 2015
    Lauren @BonVoyageLauren

    That GIF of Charlize Theron is just too perfect. I’m either on my phone or reading my kindle when I eat out alone. I should probably look up more often and try that flirting thing.

    Great post!

  • February 14 2015

    I eat alone at restaurants all the time, I’ve mastered the confidant look and I don’t absolutely need a book. However, last year in NY, I wanted to go to this very very fancy restaurant but was a bit hesitant to go by myself. I was totally sure that I’d be the only one there by myself and it was going to be a super long dinner with I don’t know how many courses… But I forced myself to go, dressed really nicely and ended up chatting with my waiter quite a bit. I was afraid that they would sit me at the worst table. On the contrary, I got one of the best ones and everyone was very friendly. I didn’t even look at my tablet, I just enjoyed eavesdropping on conversations, talked with my waiter, looked through the windows into the garden. It was a lovely evening, great food, and it sure gave me a big boost of confidence!

    • February 23 2015

      I LOVE the people watching! Prime opportunities when you’re alone. I find a lot of fancy restaurants more than accommodating when it comes to solo diners. I guess they know you’re paying.

  • February 15 2015

    “Alone doesn’t mean lonely. And if I sat around waiting for my friends to join me I’d never get anywhere. ” Preach! Or in my case my friends would want to join me and then would want to go to the same place over and over again (which usually happens when I’m at home). Eating alone, particularly when I’m traveling alone means I get to go where I want, which usually ends up being some random place I come across after walking around for 2 hours.

    Also from eating alone, when traveling and at home, I’ve found most people don’t really care that you’re alone. I think a lot of the, “oh no everyone will stare at me” mentality is usually just in your own head.

    • February 23 2015

      Hahaha truth! I was annoyed on my road trip around Maui when my friends wanted to eat at Wendy’s rather than someplace local, lol.

  • February 18 2015

    Candice, I completely adore your style. I have been reading your posts nonstop after hearing about last week! I recently traveled to Belize, and from there, I’ve fallen in love with travel! I enjoy finding inspiration in solo female travelers like yourself, especially those that are wild and fun! I’m only 17, but I wanted to let you know that I really aspire to grow the confidence that you exhibit.

    I was also motivated to start my own blog as well! It’s only in the beginning stages of course, but the link is http://www.wanderwithkim.weebly.com if you’d like to check it out :-)

    I also have a few questions for you, as well! I hope to volunteer abroad soon, and I noticed that you have spent some time doing so, in places like Iceland. Do you search for companies before you arrive? A lot of organizations are pretty expensive; what is your approach in finding service organizations abroad?

    • February 23 2015

      Awww what an awesome comment!! Thank you so much, Kim! I love that you’re only 17 and already determined to travel. Awesome. I actually didn’t volunteer in iceland, but I did volunteer with WWOOF on an olive farm in Greece. It really depends on what you want to do. With WWOOF you have to pay a small membership fee but then you have access to a directory of people looking for farm hands. You can also try HelpX, for volunteer positions that aren’t farm related.

      If you’re look for more humanitarian/environmental/wildlife opportunities, my buddy Shannon at ALittleAdrift.com knows a LOT about volunteering abroad and finding the most ethical/affordable companies. Check it out: http://alittleadrift.com/volunteer/

  • February 23 2015

    Fun post. I have felt all of these things, but as I get older, eating alone doesn’t bother me (quite) as much. You really do just need to own it. ;)

    • March 09 2015

      Same! Haha. I’ve come to enjoy it, actually.

  • March 06 2015

    Eating alone is totally a skill that takes practice to master. I still feel weird about it sometime but I’m at the point now where I can even go out to eat alone in Seattle if I feel like it.
    It’s funny you know, I DO have a husband at home, but every time I tell people that when I eat out alone I suspect they think I’m lying…

    • March 09 2015

      LOL. Maybe I’ll try that line sometime…

  • March 20 2015

    I’m so into your writing and just your whole blog. I feel so connected to you and your style! You’re awesome. I’m 16 but I graduate high school next year and I’m looking into study abroad. I want to travel and I want to learn and I want to write! I admire the fact that you’re doing these things and you’re happy doing it (I assume)! You’re just so great and I hope I get to be like you.

    • March 22 2015

      Awww!! Thanks so much, I love receiving comments like this! If you’re interested in travel writing, check out the MatadorU program (the banner to the left of my blog). It’s where I got my start!

      • March 23 2015

        I checked it out, it looks amazing! I want to write for myself for now. I can’t deal with the pressure of having to please people with what I do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come so naturally to me. I love to write and I go to an art school for creative writing, that’s how I discovered that I can’t write journalism style no matter how much I would want to. But I would love to travel and write memoirs and poetry about the places I go to! It makes me so wonderfully happy to even think about it. :)

        • March 24 2015

          I hear ya. Journalism isn’t my cup of tea either. And it’s hard to bare your soul when it’s all so raw. Good luck!