The Benefits of Spending Time ‘Alone’ in Public as an Introvert

An introvert sips coffee alone

Going to public places on your own honors your need to be solitary while at the same time giving you a little social boost.

I was in a sushi bar in, of all places, Italy. It was not a tourist spot — the clientele were mostly local businesspeople and some couples on dates. I probably would have stuck out like a sore thumb no matter what, being the only foreigner, but that wasn’t what got me an extra look or two. It was the fact that I was there alone. All by myself. At a restaurant. 

It should have been the absolute height of awkwardness. But actually, it felt great. 

It felt great because I was traveling and had been on the road for weeks, mostly without any company. I’m a lifelong introvert, but even so, being alone as a stranger in a strange land does take a toll on you eventually. Humans are social creatures by nature, and even we introverts need contact with other humans in order to be happy. 

And happy, I was. I wasn’t chatting with anybody, and by all appearances, was just as alone as ever — but I was near people, darn it, and for my introverted soul, that was all it took to feel like part of a group again. 

I think that being alone in public is a beautiful experience, one that introverts should do more often. It’s the perfect sweet spot between socializing and staying in: You get a change of scenery, you get a little human contact, but you’re still mainly left to your own thoughts (or book or podcast). 

Ever since that trip, going out alone has become a staple of my repertoire as an introvert, everywhere from bars and restaurants to parks and shopping malls. Far from being awkward, it’s a source of quiet joy. Here’s why. 

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Why Introverts Need (Some) People Time 

Introverts are naturally less motivated and energized by socializing than extroverts are. Instead, we find too much social time draining, and we find our energy in solitary pursuits. In fact, alone time is essential for an introvert’s well-being

But, over the decades, your “alone time” may have become a lot more, well, lonely. That’s partly because it used to be much more common to live with large extended families, whereas now, many people live with only a nuclear family, a roommate, or completely alone — especially in the West. That means that our “alone” time may have taken place against the backdrop of cousins and siblings doing other activities in the background. Yet now, we’re likely to spend it truly alone.

It’s also partly because of car culture and the way people spread out. Once, you were likely to have multiple relatives and close friends living on your block, and you and all your neighbors likely met up at a cafe or bar within walking distance of your home. This is still more common in Europe, Latin America, and much of Asia, but in the United States, it’s far from the norm. 

Instead, people tend to move far from their relatives and may live a 20-minute or more car ride from their nearest friend — often with few social hubs within walking distance. That means that when an introvert does want social time, it’s not as easy as it once was to just pop out and chat with a friend. Instead, you have to plan a get-together weeks out, with a high chance one or both of you will cancel before then

Taken together, these factors mean that people feel more isolated than ever before — not just in the blissful “afternoon to myself” introvert way, but in the crushing “why do I feel so alone” kind of way. This kind of isolation is not just sad, but it’s extremely bad for our health

Which is why introverts do need some people time — though probably not as much as extroverts think we need!

Why Going Out in Public Alone Is Good for You

Going out to public places on your own can be a happy medium if you’re an introvert. It’s not draining, it honors your natural need to be solitary, yet it puts you in close proximity to other human beings. And research suggests that just the proximity of other people, even without much social interaction, bolsters your health.)

Going out in public alone also gives you a huge degree of control over how much socializing you get to do. No one will be surprised if you’re not chatting with total strangers, and if someone does strike up a conversation, it’s easy to continue it or break it off, depending on your mood. Most social interactions are low-stakes, because they’re with strangers. When you decide you’ve had your fill, it’s easy to call it a night and go home — you won’t even seem rude. (The same cannot be said for leaving early from, say, your friend’s big birthday dinner or your cousin’s cookout.) 

Of course, the idea of going out alone can also be daunting — but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some things you can do to enjoy your alone time in public — and get the most out of it. 

Do you ever struggle to know what to say?

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7 Ways to Make Alone Time in Public Work for You

1. Own it — you have every right to be there.

The most important thing you can do before you go out on your own is to take a moment to own it. Remind yourself that you’re doing this because you enjoy it, that you have every right to be there, and the experience might be more special because you’re alone. 

That way, if someone looks at you askance for being on your own, you’ll have the confidence to shrug it off or even laugh about it. (Although this kind of judgment is actually pretty rare in my experience.) 

2. Be open to talking to strangers.

Normally, my policy as an introvert is that I don’t like it when strangers strike up long conversations with me. But I recommend opening up a bit if you’re intentionally going out on your own. You don’t have anyone you’re rushing to meet, you aren’t having a private conversation that anyone is horning in on, and you’re intentionally trying to get a little low-key social exposure — right? 

So if someone leans over and starts up a convo, keep it going for a while. Chances are, it won’t last more than a few minutes anyway. 

3. Know how to stop talking to strangers. 

The previous point notwithstanding, it’s a good idea to practice your exit strategy, because you won’t have anyone else there to bail you out (and you never know when someone will be overly chatty, a creep, or just boring). Remember that you have a right to break off a conversation and that doing so isn’t rude. In general, here’s how you can break off a conversation:

  • Avoid subtle signals or cues. The kind of person who talks too long will not notice social cues — or they will ignore them. 
  • Be polite, but direct. Try saying, “Well, this has been fun, but I’m going to get back to my book/meal.” 
  • Don’t respond to interruptions. Sometimes a person will wrap up a conversation only to start talking again a minute later. But when they start talking again and interrupt your reading/podcasting/texting/whatever, don’t respond right away. You can even start to turn your body toward them so they know you heard them, but keep your eyes on what you’re doing for a solid 10 seconds longer. This is very uncomfortable for them, and they instantly understand they’re interrupting. Then you can look up and say, half-distracted, “What was that?” This is the only subtle signal I’ve found that some people respond to. They probably won’t interrupt again. 
  • Never stay alone with creepers. If the person is drunk, aggressive, or making you uncomfortable, you need to get someone else’s eyes on the situation. For example, get up and walk over to the bar where there are more people. You can say to the bartender or a server, “I just needed to get away from that guy for a minute. He’s getting aggressive.” Or, on public transit, stand up and move to sit or stand beside other people. Do it proactively (i.e., before things get worse) and ignore any further protests from the creep. 

4. Choose places with the right ambience.

If you’re going out on your own, be thoughtful about the vibe of the place. A crowded club? Probably not a lot of fun on your own (unless you’re seriously into solo dancing). In fact, in general, you’re going to want quieter, more chill spots, like the following:

  • Restaurants after the dinner rush on a weeknight. Don’t go at 6 p.m. But at 7:30? Heaven.
  • Just about any coffee shop. But know your audience — if you’re 40, you may not enjoy a college hangout, for example. 
  • Neighborhood bars. These aren’t the quietest spots, but as long as it’s not Friday or Saturday night, they usually have a laid-back vibe, despite the noise. These spots are excellent choices if you want low-key chit-chat (in which case, sit at the bar), but not as ideal for something like reading.
  • Other bars during slow hours only. My favorite kind of place to go solo is the upscale, craft-cocktails-and-wine-list kind of place, if it’s during their slow hours. (Slow times for bars are usually afternoons before 5 p.m. and later in the evening on weeknights.) I love these spots because the lighting is soft and moody, the bartenders are always great conversationalists, and they value the regulars they get to know during slow times.
  • Old-school 24/7 diners. Really, diners are a great option during breakfast and lunch hours, too, but there’s something magical about the mix of people who wander into 24/7 places from the late evening onward. This is some of the best people-watching you’ll ever do. 
  • Public parks. These are the lowest-stakes options on this list, with the least interruptions and crowds, but they also provide the least contact with other people. 

In general, you’re going to want to avoid any bar during peak hours. You can do restaurants during the dinner rush if you’d like. But be extra polite to your server — you’re likely to be their lowest tip of the night, because a single person’s bill is never as high as a couple’s or group’s bill.

5. Bring a prop, like a book or notebook.

If you’re going out on your own, I strongly recommend you have a book, notebook, or similar prop with you. 


Well, first, it makes you look a thousand times more interesting — you’re not sitting alone because you’re bored; you’re an avid reader/artist drawing in their sketchbook/writer jotting notes/etc. But, more importantly, it gives you something to retreat into, either to avoid talking to someone or in case you actually get bored. 

6. Be flexible in your game plan.

You might think you’re only going out for an hour, only to find that you’re actually quite happy staying out. (Is this what extroverts feel like?) Or you might abruptly realize you’ve had your fill and ask for the check. 

The great thing about going out alone is, unlike going out with friends, you’re not a jerk if you suddenly switch the plan or leave early. So go with an open mind and be flexible if you decide to change things up. 

7. Let someone know where you’re going. 

I like to text with friends while I’m out alone, so multiple people have an idea where I am. It never hurts to be safe! Plus, if you decide you’d like some company you know, you can always ask a friend to come join you.

Introverts, what’s your favorite place to go to alone in public? Feel free to comment below!

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