I love travelling for work. Even when the locations are not great (Zelienople, PA? They are famous for their furniture fair. Archbold, OH? It is a safe town because they have a webcam! On their main street! That you can live stream on the city’s website, it refreshes every 15 seconds!!) because work travel allows me to skip behind the tourist curtain and see how people really live, their quirks and idiosyncrasies.
I’ve been fortunate to travel to some pretty fantastic places for work, in my first job in accounting: Paris, 3 weeks (2012); Lyon, 3 weeks (2012) and Chicago, 4 weeks (2014). Most of the time, I would travel with coworkers, which can make for fun times. But the trip to France, I was alone half the time. I had to overcome my fear of dining in good restaurants, alone.
I’m not particularly talented at meeting new people, so dining alone is hard. Hiding behind a book or a phone is a cop-out. In France, dining in the most beautiful, fancy, precious, delicious restaurants in the world, surrounded by people speaking the most beautiful language in the world, I fought hard to overcome my social anxiety, in order to be in the moment, people watch and enjoy the food, fully. I gave myself a rule, that eating alone should take me a comparable amount of time than had I been dining with someone I only moderately had things in common. To achieve that goal, it meant pausing and savouring the food. Looking around me. Eavesdropping. Talking to the waiters. Soaking up the atmosphere.
By the end of my 6 weeks in France, I enjoyed dining alone in restaurants. Then I went back home, and never did it again.
My latest job requires me to travel for work a lot. Every 6-8 weeks. Alone. To pretty decent locations. (I’m in San Diego now; Denver, CO in May; Europe in June.) While that sounds exotic, during the work week, I shuttle from the hotel to work and back, eating at hotel restaurants or room service: too tired and stressed to eat out. But! I’ve decided that on my last night of every trip I must always treat myself to a good restaurant (bc I am bougie. NO STRAWS.)
And that is how I found myself in San Diego tonight, walking about the Gaslight district, trying to find a place to eat alone, for the first time in 4 years. As I walked past all the crowded terraces, I felt the familiar weight of anxiety wash over me, and I considered heading back to the hotel to eat in my room. But then I saw a menu of a quaint resto, specialized in Northern Italian cuisine.
Worth every anxious second. Social anxiety cannot withstand the perfect tiramisu. Or a glass of good wine.