“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michener
Traveling solo is hard, traveling solo as a woman is even harder. One of the most difficult things about traveling abroad is the loneliness, especially when eating. One moment you're in your home country eating at familiar restaurants or maybe trying that new restaurant that your friends recommended last week. The next you're in an unfamiliar place, maybe the next country over or a world away, you do not speak the language nor do you know the places around you, you could be steps away from a famous restaurant or that really delicious street vendors vloggers rave about. The adjustment that you have to go through can be jarring at first, it can even make you feel as if you should just go home because it's too difficult to bear. Below are some tips and tricks to make your experiences eating abroad more enjoyable.
1. If you don't know the language well it's okay
I know what it's like to not speak the common language of the country I was visiting, in fact, most people where I was did not speak English well enough to communicate with me. The first thing I did before I left the US was to learn phrases that I could use when I was traveling so I was not in a situation where the barrier was impossible to overcome. Phrases like "juseo" (Please), "mul" (Water) and "yeogiyo" (Excuse me) went far when ordering food. Another thing you should do is learn basic numbers, like 1 (hana) or 3 (set), so you can communicate with your server what you want. While there are still issues that may arise, these alleviate some of those awkward moments. If you have allergies, make sure that you either bring something with you or learn the phrase that states your allergy so as to not experience cross contamination or a reaction.
2. Embrace the silence
Eating alone can be one of the most freeing things in the world. No one to judge you on what you decide to order, no concerns about who is going to foot the bill or what you can afford, and most importantly no need to talk to anyone other than your server. This lets you spend time doing things that you want, maybe read that book that you've been meaning to get to or watch the people on the street.
3. Tipping is not always mandatory
If you're from the USA, you know that when you go out to eat you should tip your server since they almost always rely on those tips to survive. In other countries however, this practice is not as common. Instead, servers are paid a standard wage, in South Korea especially, the servers may also be either the owner or their family. If it's not a part of the culture don't worry, just eat your food, pay, and leave.
4. Food costs may be different too
Remember, supply and demand. In a different country, they may not have the same types of cuisine or ingredients that you're used to. In the USA, a slice of melon may be worth 50 cents, but in Korea, that lush slice may be more like 4000 won, or $3.65, due to the country's import of fruit. A watermelon at a fruit stand may set you back $30. The same way, in some cases things that you may be used to eating for very little money may be more expensive and vice versa.
5. Branch out
It can be easy to seek out food that you've eaten before or chain restaurants, but you'll find more enjoyment from looking for those small mom and pop shops. I found most of the restaurants from my trip by wandering around looking for places that either served a traditional dish I was looking for or that was filled with locals. If it's filled with locals it most likely is a favorite among them and will be somewhere where the food is delicious. By doing this, I went past the streets by the subway and explored different sections of the city, sure I had to walk more, but the benefit was worth it.
6. Use social media
Pay attention to different places advertised on social media, they may just be the next best place for you to visit. While on my trip, I was followed by an Instagram account for "Cafe Lovin' Her" a flower boy cafe in Hongdae which I later visited later on. Sometimes those places, while off the beaten path, may just be what you needed. Other times, pay attention to where other people may have visited when they were in that city by checking hashtags and geotags. You never know when your next meal will be the best.
7. Enjoy yourself
Just go out and enjoy yourself, you will not regret it.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine