Stylishly Solo – A Guide to Dining Solo

One of my favourite parts about travelling is the opportunity to try new foods and to learn about new cultures through food.  One glance at my Instagram and you know that I love to eat, so it should come as no surprise that dining is an integral part of my travel adventure.  While planning my first solo trip, I really didn’t give much thought to how dining solo would be.  I just assumed that it would be similar to every other dining out experience that I had previously had.  Clearly I was naive.  But because I never thought to just stay in and order room service, I strongly believe that my naivety helped me figure out how to happily dine solo. It takes practice and I don’t think that I will always get it right, especially as dining experiences vary from city to city and country to country.  But, there are a few things that I have learned that help to make the experience more pleasant.  Here are my top five tips for having a great solo dining experience:

  1. Get uncomfortable.  Normally while travelling, I like to stick to the a dining format that works for me – a light breakfast normally at a cafe where I can people watch.  Lunch is not normally a huge meal – just some place that looks decent and not too touristy, a place to rest and refresh during my sight seeing adventures.  I like to make dinner an event – I look for fun restaurants to try, I like to get a little dressed up and I take my time and enjoy my evening.  Whenever I speak with people about my solo travels, dining solo especially going out for a nice meal is what tends to surprise people the most.  The most common response that I get is “I could never do that!  I would be so uncomfortable!”  Dining solo especially at a proper restaurant requires a bit of gumption (so to speak) and it is a great way to get out of your comfort zone. The first thing to do is to really think about why it is that you don’t feel that dining solo is for you. Yes, some people might stare at you, you may get a not so great table as the better ones are left for groups larger then one person and the waiter or waitress may not give you as much attention (or forget about you altogether) as they tend to the other diners in their area. All of these things (and so much more) have occurred to me while dining solo.  I survived and I learned – like anything in life, you have to be your own advocate.  This doesn’t mean causing a scene or berating the staff.  It just means that you need to figure out how to clearly communicate when you need to and to not take the other stuff so personally (which is much harder said then done at times).  Even if your first (or second or third) solo dining experience is not the greatest, take some time to figure out what it was that you didn’t enjoy.  Was it the food?  Try another restaurant.  Was it the service?  If so, what was it about the service that you didn’t enjoy?  Did they ignore you or treat you badly?  Did they rush you or was service incredibly slow?  When I was in Madrid last year, I was really excited to try a particular restaurant where I had heard that the risotto was spectacular.  I arrived practically jumping with excitement only to be rushed thru my meal (two courses was over and done with in under 40 minutes).  While the risotto was spectacular I was a little sad that the experience was over so quickly (just to be clear – this was not a fast food place and my fellow diners were enjoying leisurely meals).  Rather then get upset and vow to never go back despite the fact that the risotto was some of the best that I had ever had, I decided to try a different approach.  I made another reservation for the next day and when I arrived I was greeted by the same server as the day before.  I explained to him that I loved the risotto and that I wanted to enjoy my meal at a leisurely pace.  He happily agreed and I had an incredible meal that I really enjoyed.  I even ended up going back again when I returned to Madrid to catch my flight home a few weeks later (yes the risotto was THAT good).  What I learned was this – since solo dining is still quite rare in many parts of the world it can sometimes be seen as something to be embarrassed about.  Hence why they thought that I wanted to rush thru my meal and get out.  The restaurant had good intentions but initially we just were not on the same page – speaking up got us on the same page and enabled me to enjoy the type of meal that I had been looking for, in a gorgeous setting with incredible food.  That is what I call a win! IMG_3730
  2. Do your research.  The majority of us have the internet at our finger tips and are frequently on social media, so there is no excuse not to do a bit of research beforehand.  Research the type of food that the region that you visiting specializes in, suggestions where you can have an authentic local dining experience, is they take reservations and the location as you want to make sure that you can get to and from the restaurant safely.  Doing a bit of research will help you to get more comfortable with the solo dining experience.  It will also get you excited about the food that you are about to eat and the environment that you will be experiencing.  This helps to make solo dining an adventure rather then just any boring forgettable meal, and it will also help you to avoid the tourist traps for a more authentic dining experience.
  3. Enlist help.  Just because you are travelling solo, it doesn’t meant that you have to figure out and do everything yourself.  Asking your hotel for help and suggestions can save you a lot of stress in the long run.  Some restaurants are inclined to give you better service if your hotel makes the reservation for you as they don’t want you go back to your hotel and complain – word of mouth counts for a lot.  Hotels are less likely to recommend a restaurant where their clients are not being treated well.  There is no harm in using this to your advantage to help to ensure that you enjoy a pleasant meal with good service.  It is also a great way to discover new restaurants that you may not have found otherwise.  While in Naples, Italy a few years ago I asked the woman at the front desk for a restaurant recommendation for dinner.  Luckily she was very honest and told me that most people enjoy a popular restaurant nearby the hotel but her favourite was another one a little further away. I decided to take her recommendation and I ended up at a little eight table restaurant where I had one of the best meals of my life!  While the hotel recommendations are not always the greatest, more often then not in my experience they have been really good.  For this reason, I am always willing to ask my hotel for help – they may just steer you to one of the best meals you will ever have!
  4. Eat at the bar.  If you feel that other diners will stare at you with pity while sitting at a table dining solo, ask to sit at the bar.  I always try to make a reservation for dinner but, when I arrive at the restaurant I don’t feel like being isolated at a table alone I ask if it would be ok to just sit at the bar.  More often then not the restaurant has no issue with this especially as it frees up a table for walk ins.  Eating at the bar can feel more social as bartenders tend to make conversation and there are always a ton of people around who you can converse with.IMG_2932
  5. Look up.  It’s really easy to just bring a book or a magazine with you or to play on your phone the entire evening but you will be missing out!  I have had some great conversations with people while solo dining.  If your nose is buried in a book or your phone you are instantly less approachable.  Look up and look around.  I love to people watch and dining solo is a great opportunity to do so.  I love looking at what people are wearing (once a fashion girl, always a fashion girl), how they interact and I especially like to see what others are eating.  Overall, solo dining is a great way to experience the local culture and to get a better understanding of the people and country that you are visiting.

Solo dining is nothing to be afraid of.  It just takes a little bit of planning and a little bit of gumption, soon you will be on your way to enjoying an incredible culinary experience regardless of where in the world you may be.

I hope that you have a beautiful day and happy dining!  XXS

Dream Design – Dexamenes, Kourouta Greece

I have always been a believer in love at first sight, and while I have yet to experience the type of happily ever after that we often see in the movies, the design projects that have stolen my  heart in an instant remain there for many many years.  Today’s Dream Design is one such design project.  The first picture that I saw of it grabbed my attention and my love continued to grow with every further picture of it that I saw, and every story that I read about it – needless to say, it is a architectural love story for the modern age.

K-studio_Dexamenes-0851Dexamenes is located on Kourouta Beach which is a beautiful stretch of coastline in the western Peloponnese.  Its history dates back to the “Era of Currents”, although it was left relatively untouched since the 1920’s.  Athen’s based K-Studio created a design that successfully respected its strong history and beauty of the site while breathing new life into the space.  The result is a modern, elegant and minimalist hotel with a raw, brutal and industrial aesthetic.  Respecting the existing buildings by leaving them relatively untouched, K-Studio updated the site using concrete, steel, timber and glass.

K-studio_Dexamenes-0529K-studio_Dexamenes-0461K-studio_Dexamenes-showerThe hotel rooms were built within two concrete blocks that are divided length wise into two rows of ten storage tanks.  The rooms are identical with the openings facing towards the beach.  Everything is connected by a raised promenade walkway that leads towards the water.  Each room has a double bed, an open wardrobe and a large double shower which adds to the sense of luxury within the minimal aesthetic.  The bathroom is separated by the rest of the room by a wall of textured glass which allows the light from the large sliding windows at the front to reach the back of the tank.

K-studio_Dexamenes-0491K-studio_Dexamenes-0145K-studio_Dexamenes-0754The entry to the hotel is from behind the tanks.  Concrete, glass partitions and a louvered plywood canopy provide a warm welcome along with the guests first view of the sea.

Phase two which will see further extensions and a garden are planned along with the addition of extra amenities such as a taverna, boutique selling local wares and a history room are planned for 2019.

K-studio_Dexamenes-0295-1The design of Dexamenes is both thoughtful and intelligent.  With a strong minimalistic design aesthetic, this hotel is a study in respecting history, restraint and brutal beauty that is often difficult to achieve.

All images via http://www.k-studi.gr

I hope that you have a beautiful day!  XXS

Stylishly Solo – An Introduction

Today I am really excited to introduce a new series here on Stylishly Zen.  As some of you may know, I love to travel but until a few years ago travelling was just a dream for me.  I had been holding myself back from going out and exploring the world because I was single and felt that I needed to have someone to travel with.  All of my friends were in serious relationships, getting married and having children while I remained single, patiently waiting (ok maybe not that patiently) to meet someone that I could explore this world with.  Finally, after a rough few years of dealing with things in my personal life I was in dire need of a vacation, but once again I was faced with the dilemma of not having a travel companion.  At my whits end, I decided that I no longer wanted to just sit on my couch dreaming about exploring far away places, I was getting on a plane and taking my first solo trip.  Having decided this, I faced another hurdle – how to plan a solo vacation.  There are a number of travel companies that cater to the solo traveller – the majority of these companies offer group trips with fellow solo travellers many of whom were in the same position as myself.  While I can see the appeal of joining a group tour, it was not the type of vacation that I had in mind.  Other solo travellers prefer to plan their own trips and stay in hostels in the hopes of bonding with other solo and like minded travellers but once again this is not what I had in mind.  I was dreaming about checking into a cool hotel in a foreign country, immersing myself in the local culture all the while enjoying a few extra luxuries along the way.  I wanted to travel on my own terms and that is exactly what I intended to do. Once I had made up my mind, the thought of being lonely never occurred to me nor did the notion that what I was doing would be viewed as strange by so many people that I met along the way.  Having spent so much time hiding out on my couch solo, I have naively failed to understand that many people still viewed being single or solo as something negative.  I thought it was just my own personal neuroses holding me back, it turns out those neuroses were deeply rooted in how society views single women.  Thankfully over the past few years things have evolved, and while there is still a stigma associated with being single in particular with solo travellers in some parts of the world, more people and businesses have become more understanding and open minded and solo travel has increased exponentially.

Here is the truth about my first solo trip – it was not perfect.  I was a nervous wreck when the time came to actually board that plane to Barcelona, but I am so happy that I did.  During that trip I made a few missteps, let my anxiety get the better of me a couple of times, had some incredible experiences and and found a new level of confidence that I never thought that I would discover within myself.  I have since taken five solo trips (and I am currently planning my sixth), each experience has made me stronger, smarter and incredibly proud of my ability to follow my explorer dreams.  I truly believe that other people can benefit from taking a solo trip, regardless of the stage of life that they are currently in.  It has nothing to do with relationship status.  The rise in solo travel is not just due to the single people wanting to get out there and explore.  People in relationships are also choosing to take a trip on their own and explore on their own terms, to challenge themselves or as a new form of self discovery.  Whatever your motivation is to take a solo adventure, I strongly encourage you to do so.IMG_0100The purpose of this series is to share my experiences and to motivate you to plan your own trip, especially if it is something that you had previously considered but had not yet taken the proverbial plunge.  I will focus on the different cities that I have travelled to, where I have stayed, places that I have eaten and the various sites that I have had the privilege to see and experience in person.  I will also give you recommendations throughout these guides for places that happily accommodated solo travellers and made my journey just a little bit more welcoming. For today though, I will leave you with what I consider the biggest benefits of solo travelling:

  • You are not obliged to stick with anyone’s itinerary but your own.  I like to have a plan and I tend to get very uncomfortable with “just winging it”, so of course on the first full day of my solo vacation I had a schedule that I felt that I absolutely had to stick to.  That is the only way to travel right? So after a couple of hours spent by the hotel pool, I dragged my exhausted self out the door and headed towards Sagrada Familia – one of Barcelona’s most famous sites.  Along the way I made a wrong turn and got completely lost.  After wandering around in the scorching heat for what felt like hours (but in reality about 30 minutes) and being too shy to ask for directions, I found myself sitting on a bench exhausted, overwhelmed and frustrated.  That was the moment that I realized that I was being ridiculous – why did I feel that I needed to sightsee immediately?  I was taking this vacation to relax and explore on my own terms, to give my health both mentally and physically a much needed break and I needed to give myself just that – a break.  Shortly after this realization, I thankfully figured out where I was and headed straight back to my hotel to continue lounging by the pool. I eventually saw Sagrada Familia and it is a magnificent building, but I will never forget the lesson that I learned on my first full day of solo vacation – to get out of my own head, stop holding myself to made up obligations and to give myself what I need in that moment.  Solo travel is about travelling on your own terms and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
  • A common question that I am asked about solo travel is if I ever get lonely.  While there are moments when I feel that I would like to have someone with me, most of the time I am to busy enjoying the experience to feel lonely.  Another cool thing that I learned about solo travel is that it is a great way to meet amazing people – you don’t have to join a travel tour group to experience this.  I have met people from all over the world in the most random situations, from airport coffee bars to culinary experiences and food tours.  While you always need to be cautious when travelling alone, don’t let your solo status hold you back from meeting new people and engaging in great conversations with truly wonderful people whom you never would have met otherwise.
  • I touched on this earlier but I truly believe that this is the biggest benefit of solo travel – confidence.  I have never been a very confident person, aside from my own personal neuroses about my physical appearance, I frequently feel less then and unfortunately put myself down more often then anyone should.  While building my confidence is still a work in progress, I owe a lot of the confidence that I do have to travelling solo.  I learned that I am brave and capable, I am able to stand on my own two feet to figure things out.  And even though I may make mistakes that doesn’t mean that I am an idiot, it just means that I am human and that I made a mistake. To figure it out and to keep it moving.  So while I never thought that solo travel would help me with an issue that I have struggled with my entire life, it has and for that I am forever grateful. We are all capable beyond our wildest dreams, so why not show that silly little voice in your head what you are really made of?1F4723A3-EB03-4141-B4FD-15374267C8E0I look forward to sharing my adventures and experiences with you through this series and feel free to share any comments, thoughts and questions that you have about solo travelling in the comments.  I look forward to hearing from you, and until then Bon Voyage!  XXS