Recently, I spent three months on my own in Bali. During that time, I ate many meals alone, which is something I had never done before in the US.
Sure, I went to Starbucks to read or write, but I never went to a restaurant. However, when you travel solo, it becomes necessary. Even when you make friends, you don’t spend every meal with them.
Here are some things I learned from the experience:
1. You are not a loser, lame or weird.
I definitely felt a little foolish the first few times I was asked how many people were in my party, and I responded, “one.” I felt like I was being judged, and the hostess was thinking, “this poor girl doesn’t have any friends.”
But most likely, she wasn’t thinking this at all. I was assuming it without any basis. It was coming from the feelings I brought with me from home, where everyone is always broadcasting their lives on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, showing off how many friends they have and all the amazing things they do together.
I lost that sense of competition when I was traveling. I couldn’t have cared less what anyone was doing at home, with their multitude of friends. I was too busy enjoying the moment and the new world I was experiencing for the first time.
Once I realized that, I became proud of my table for one.
2. You take in your surroundings.
When I’m out with a group of friends, I’m focused on them and on our conversation. I'm not observing my surroundings, noticing the style of décor or watching the interactions between the staff. But when I traveled, I watched others interact, and found it to be fascinating. This was especially the case in Bali, where foreigners from around the world run rampant. I wanted to know how other people, particularly those different from myself, lived and interacted.
There’s a reason “people watching” is a thing.
This applies domestically as well. Everyone has lived a different life and has had different experiences. Observing them can broaden your scope and get you outside yourself.
We shouldn’t live self-centric lives. We are social creatures, and can learn a great deal about ourselves from interacting with others.
In this world, we should be constantly looking for ways to grow. Observing others in an organic setting is a great mechanism for such development.
3. You have time to reflect on your day.
No matter where you are in the world, having a meal by yourself gives you time to think about everything that’s happened that day: the good, the bad and the banal.
Life passes us all by so quickly, but stopping to reflect on what we did each day makes it more memorable.
As we age, the days blend together more and more.
Research shows it’s because, as children, most days brought activities, events and experiences we’d never had before. But as the years pass, these experiences lessen. We adopt routines and, before we know it, a week has passed with little memory of what we did.
Taking the time to look back on what made the day special and meaningful is the best way to start living a life that never becomes monotonous.
4. You get comfortable being alone.
I spent a lot of time alone in Bali. I wandered through the town of Ubud, browsed local markets and cruised around on my scooter.
While I believe there is tremendous value in going on adventures with other people, there is also value in going on adventures with yourself.
The two are not mutually exclusive. Pride swelled inside me when I had to figure out directions on my own, learn to drive my own scooter and interact with the locals at the shops.
These experiences reinforced how much I like myself.
I haven’t always been confident in who I am, particularly as a teenager who never really fit in. But since college, I’ve worked hard to develop into the person I am today, a person I am proud of. Now, I like hanging out with myself.
I think I’m pretty cool. I’m interesting. I have good ideas. I can be a pretty good time, especially when you get a couple of drinks in me.
My individual experiences have shaped me into a confident person who is comfortable with herself, and people gravitate toward those kinds of people.
There is no better way to get to know who you are than spending some time dating yourself. You don’t have to travel to do this; the concept extends far beyond just eating a meal alone.
Go to the movies. See an art exhibit you’re interested in. Take a photography class. You don’t need a buddy to do the things you want to do. You are the driver of your life, and being comfortable by yourself is the best way to discover where your true passions lie.
Isn’t that what each of us wants? To live a happy, fulfilling life, where we leave a mark on this world, where we don't let opportunities pass us by?
I know I sure do.