The Wayfarer's Book

A Solo Female Traveler’s Guide to Drinking Alone

When I was twenty and really traveling on my own for the first time in England, I was devastatingly afraid of drinking alone. I’m not talking about 2am G&Ts up in the club. Nope, just a refreshing cider in a quiet local pub while I waited for my mid-afternoon train. I would walk by a pub – perhaps the most family-friendly drinking establishment in the world – three or four times, trying to eyeball a peak in through typically frosted windows. Was it busy? Deserted? Were the clientele intimidating? Would I know what to do when I walked in? Would I look weird, drinking alone in the corner and reading a book?

As I got older, the anxiety turned into frustration. I started putting more emphasis on food when I traveled and, consequently, drinks. Growing craft beer scenes, cultured wine legacies, creative cocktail bars. I knew I was missing out on all of it. I wasn’t brave enough to delve into nightlife alone, so my solo travel days tended to end at sunset.

Until one day I’d had enough of being left out. I think it was in Montreal where I started to test the waters of solo drinking. And in the trial and error of my experiments since then, I’ve crafted a personal guide to drinking alone to keep my solo drinking fun, safe, and chill. From New York to Ukraine, it’s served me well. So if you’re a solo traveler who feels a little hesitant or self-conscious about hitting up a bar alone, here’s some advice.

A Guide to Drinking Alone _ Fabrika in Kharkiv, Ukraine

0. Drink responsibly.

Let’s start the Guide to Drinking Alone here. It’s a given, but I don’t want anyone leaving me nasty comments that I’ve turned their daughters into alcoholics. That’s not the point of this guide. Here’s what I do to stay safe while drinking alone:

  • Two drinks max. I can indulge in both at one establishment if it’s really wow-ing me or break it up if I have lots of ‘research’ to do.
  • Stick to establishments in the center. If I’m going to break this rule (in Chernihiv, there was a brewery on the outskirts of town that was the main reason for my visit), then I go even earlier than typical to stay within daylight hours.
  • Know how you’re getting home beforehand. Maybe you’re within walking distance, maybe you’ll need to call a cab; regardless, plan it out in advance. And it’s always good to have a taxi number or app on your phone.
  • Watch your drink. Just like at home.
A Guide to Drinking Alone _ Beatnik in Kharkiv, Ukraine.JPG

And you will occasionally luck out and get the bar’s Instagram photographer to take your photo.

1. Sit at the bar.

At the risk of making a sweeping generalization, bartenders have a soft spot for solo female drinkers. They will take care of you with attentive service, curious but polite questions, and a protective eye. Or they will just serve you and ignore you, but even those guys I’ve been able to soften up with a little appreciation for their craft. And bartenders are great local sources if you want the inside scoop on a city.

A Guide to Drinking Alone _ Hendrick's in Kiev, Ukraine

This is one of the bartenders at my favorite Kyiv bar. She asks me very short, pointed questions about my drink preferences, always makes me something wonderful, and now I basically trust her with my life.

Sitting at the bar makes it less obvious that you’re drinking alone (people who have a tough time eating alone, I especially recommend this stealth style). It does, sometimes, make you more available for conversation – which might be what you’re looking for. But if you’d prefer to keep to yourself, consider my next piece of advice—

2. Bring something to do.

I’m not talking about a coloring book or knitting (though that would definitely work in some establishments). And I encourage you to put away your phone. Bring a book, a crossword puzzle, or a notebook. You will look less like an alcoholic if you pair that craft beer with a little intellectual activity.

A Guide to Drinking Alone _ Robata in Chernihiv, Ukraine

Intelligentsia sitting right here.

3. Know the (bar) culture you’re in.

One of the places I felt most awkward drinking alone was in Brooklyn. It was a gorgeous night, a rooftop bar was calling me, but no one was available to tag along. Determined not to let that stop me, I took a book and went anyway. I couldn’t concentrate on my book the entire time and left after one drink. I think I felt so awkward because in the States going to the bar is a social activity and I rarely see other women out for a solo drink.

A Guide to Drinking Alone _ Moskvich Bar in Kharkiv, Ukraine

Cocktail hour is a great time to get travel journaling done.

On the flip side, in Ukraine, I have mastered the art of drinking alone. While it’s still not super common to see women out by themselves at a bar here, they do dine alone and are fiercely independent anyway. I’ve also rarely been approached in a Ukrainian bar. I don’t know if it’s the overall culture or maybe I just go to classy establishments, but I don’t get the feeling of bars as meet-and-greet places. Whereas if I were to go to a more notoriously flirtatious culture, I’d alter my expectations and consider my choices more carefully.

4. I don’t go to clubs alone.

Maybe you can pull this off, but solo clubbing is where my desires end. Perhaps it’s because clubbing often is about meeting people, not cultural exploration through alcohol (swear that’s a real thing), and so I feel it’s outside the scope of the Guide to Drinking Alone. But I feel zero regrets about passing on solo clubbing.

A Guide to Drinking Alone _ The Fitz in Odessa, Ukraine

Turntables are great for decoration, less so for chill solo drinking.

5. Go early.

Girl, cocktail hour is a real thing for you. Going early solves a multitude of quandaries – fewer clients to judge you for drinking alone (the loitering staff will notice, but curiously), the comfort of choosing basically any seat you want, and less competition for the staff’s attention. You want the waiter to explain the differences between the microbrewery’s selection? Would like to ask the bartender about their specialty drink? Get there ten minutes after opening. When I travel solo, I prefer a pre-dinner drink around 6pm, dining a little later, and then meandering back to my place. Also by going earlier there are fewer drunkies around. Hopefully.

A Guide to Drinking Alone _ Microbrew in Singapore

We found this guy deep in the bowels of a parking lot structure/hawker center in Singapore’s Chinatown (yeah, not easy work but definitely worth it).

I love going out when I travel. I love learning about the manufacture of Cuban rum, being educated in the resurgence of Serbian wines by an experimental winemaker, hunting for Singaporean craft beer in hawker centers, being impressed by the creativity of mixologists in Odessa. These are the flavors of a culture.

And just because I sometimes travel solo, I don’t want to miss out on that. I’ve climbed pyramids in Mexico, navigated the metro maze of Tokyo, hiked forest parks in Oslo, spent countless nights on Ukrainian sleeper trains, and wandered the neighborhoods of Istanbul in search of local cuisine, all by myself.

So I have no problem taking a seat at the bar all by myself either.

How do you feel about adventuring into nightlife solo? Would you add any other advice to the Solo Female Traveler’s Guide to Drinking Alone?

The Solo Female Traveler's Guide to Drinking Alone

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28 thoughts on “A Solo Female Traveler’s Guide to Drinking Alone

  1. Meg

    I usually travel by myself and quickly realised that if I wanted to enjoy a drink I’d have to get over any qualms I had about drinking alone.

    I like your tip about getting to a place early when it’s quieter and you can make connections with staff or a couple of the punters. It’s much more enjoyable to perch at the bar in a cosy pub with a drink and have a natter than stand alone in the corner of a raucous club. I draw the line at clubbing by myself as I’m not interested in that when I travel, but definitely embrace a glass of wine or a beer in my own company!

    Lots of great tips that will be very inspiring to many travellers.

    1. Amy Post author

      That’s totally what happened with me too. I was all nervous about it and then decided I’d just have to get over my fears if I really wanted to experience that cool sounding cocktail bar/brewery/whatever.
      This past Friday I saw a solo woman in a cocktail bar, reading in the corner, at about 10pm. The place was packed, so I don’t know how she managed to concentrate, but I was duly impressed!

  2. Jac

    I’ve figured out dining only mostly, but drinks on my own… well baby steps I guess, kudos to you! Drinking is quite a social thing for me so even if I’m home alone, it feels weird to break out the beer or wine!

    1. Amy Post author

      I started with dining alone too. :) Part of why I go out alone when I solo travel is for the social aspect — even if it’s just a quick chat with the bartender, at least I can feel like I’m part of a social scene for an hour or two, haha. It also gives the chance to be social with locals, not just other travelers, which I think is a cool opportunity. If I spoke Russian or Ukrainian here, I bet I’d be more bold with starting conversations with other clients.

  3. Meghna Malhotra

    Such a thoughtful read! I love how your first tip starts with zero as thats the ground basic rule! Also, from personal experience I totally agree with your suggestion of sitting at the bar.. I once happened to visit a famous pub in Pune, India and was drinking alone. Needless to say, I attracted a lot of unwanted attention to the point that eventually I felt someone groping me as the club for full. Before I could even react, the bartender came to my rescue, got that man kicked out and offered me a comfortable seat inside the bar! I was so glad! =)

    1. Amy Post author

      :O Thank goodness the bartender was there to intervene! To be honest, I think I’d be a little intimidated going to a pub alone in India. I’m impressed you went for it and decided to stay even when people got awful. And I’m glad the bartender was there to back you up!

  4. Lucy

    You sound just like me! When I was in my early twenties I would never go to a bar on my own! When I started travelling for work I was on my own, so suddenly realised if I wanted a drink I had to drink alone! Now I’m in my mid thirties really do not care! Cheers!

    1. Amy Post author

      Haha, that’s like the underlying mantra of solo travel — if I want it, I’ll have to do it alone. So many people in Ukraine ask me why I travel solo, and it basically boils down to I can’t get anyone to come with me. No matter, I’m doing my best to make sure I don’t miss out. :)

  5. Jade

    Some handy tips here. I used to travel on my own a fair bit in my 20’s and never really felt that comfortable going to a bar on my own. It’s important not to miss out on experiences if you are on your own though, you don’t want to be hiding in your hotel room from 7pm every night when you’re on holiday!

    1. Amy Post author

      It’s true, knowing what to do in the evening as a solo traveler is a bit tricky! If it’s the summer, with long days, I also enjoy going for walks in parks and people watching. But if it gets dark by six of seven… Though of course, some days of travel are so tiring that being in bed by 7pm is just perfect. 😀

  6. Kristine

    For some reason I don’t feel weird about drinking alone if I’m out in a terrace bar, but I can’t drink alone in a cocktail bar or in a pub (unless it’s accompanied by a pub meal). I enjoyed reading this. I’ll try my best to overcome my fears. And I agree with you on solo clubbing. Ain’t doing it,and don’t feel like I’m missing out!

    1. Amy Post author

      Next time there’s a cocktail bar or microbrewery that you really want to visit, give it a try! Though if it’s a beautiful day, a terrace bar is the way to go anyway. :)

  7. Mimi's Migration

    This is such good advice. I often struggle with not sure how to drink alone when traveling. I want to be safe but I also want to try some of the cultural things. The only time I’ve really done it is when the christmas market or restaurant is right outside my hotel! Thanks for sharing

    1. Amy Post author

      Hot mulled wine at Christmas markets is a must! I agree, it’s super important to stay safe and be alert when traveling alone. If I was traveling in a place that was known for more petty street crime (even an overall safe place like Barcelona), I’d take other precautions — whether it’s having just one drink or making sure I don’t take my phone out of my pursue. Staying safe is always the starting point.

  8. Joanna

    Your post reminds me of the time I was in Budapest and I had a free drink voucher from the hotel. I was so shy to go by myself to the bar, but I went anyway. I ended up chatting with the bartender the entire time I was there (the bar was quite empty so not much to do for him). It was actually enjoyable :)

    1. Amy Post author

      Yes! You get it, girl. Never pass on a free drink. 😉 (Well, actually, there are lots of times to pass on a free drink, but when the hotel is giving out vouchers snap them up!) I love love love hanging out with bartenders. Which is why three or four in the afternoon is the perfect time to go to the bar. :)

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  10. Sarah

    This is great! I travel with my husband, but we split up sometimes and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed dining and drinking by myself. Your tips are perfect.

    1. Amy Post author

      Thanks, Sarah! I agree, having dinner or a drink by yourself is such a great way to unwind when traveling. I would really miss it if I didn’t do it!

    1. Amy Post author

      It’s true, this advice works for everyone! I almost titled it for the solo drinker, because solo male travelers might also find it useful. :) Though they, in general, seem more confident about this kind of thing.

  11. Mel | The Wandering Darlings

    Yas girl!! Love this solo drinking guide. So many times I’ve been tempted to stay in the hotel/hostel so I didn’t have a drink alone but it’s such a shame. 100% right on making sure you know how to get back to where you are staying.

    1. Amy Post author

      Thanks, Mel! I think part of what keeps solo female travelers back are all the unknown possibilities — what if I get lost, what if someone creepy starts talking to me, what if people think I’m weird. So I think it’s important to spread the world — like 95% of the time, everything’s just fine. :)

  12. Alouise

    Great advice. I stick to the two drink max rule myself when traveling alone. If you’re one to forget your hotel/hostel/airbnb address write it down (or take a business card) and stick it in your wallet.

    And as an aside I’ve been waitressing at a pub in Ireland for the past 6 months, and I’ve seen plenty of people come in by themselves and have a drink (sometimes something to eat, but sometimes just a drink). You might think people care if you’re there alone, but no one does. So come into a pub and have a pint or a glass of something. I would perhaps maybe check if there’s some big sports game on that day (at least for pubs). You won’t get much reading done when there’s 100 football fans in the bar ?

    1. Amy Post author

      Good reminder about the address. If the hotel/hostel has business cards, it’s also easy to grab one when you check in.

      Pubs really are the most chill establishments, aren’t they? But I could imagine how a football game would change all that. 😀

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  14. Natasha Amar

    Can I say just how much I love this post because this is also how I drink when I travel alone which is most of my travel. In the beginning, I too was apprehensive and would skip experiencing so much because of it but as I got older I am now more relaxed about drinking on my own in the places that are more suited to my style and situation. I’ve done wine tastings and gone to heritage bars and microbreweries on my own and learnt so much about the crafts of brewing and cocktail making that I am so glad I learnt how to do this.

    1. Amy Post author

      Yes! I love when other female travelers are all about the solo drinking thing. And yeah, I definitely think part of it is growing older and just knowing what I like and don’t like in drinking establishments in general. I love learning about an area’s brewing, distilling, and… wining? culture. It’s history, biology, philosophy, theology, and modernity all rolled up into one.

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