Don’t you just love exploring the local food scene when you travel? I mean, Chile really has some amazing food to offer, and I love trying all the different local dishes. However, if you travel on a budget (and who isn’t?), there comes the point when eating out every day is just not going to cut it. Not even if you go for the cheap, non-touristy restaurants and value-for-money lunch menus (which, by the way, are pretty amazing in Chile). Good thing there is an easy solution: hostel community kitchens, where you can cook your own meal on only the fraction of the cost you would pay eating out. Okay, your cooking skills may not be comparable to that of a professional chef, but you can feed yourself sufficiently. No problem at all.
Except, of course, if you’re an introvert with occasional bouts of social anxiety, which seem to be triggered especially by common rooms in hostels. And yes, that includes the kitchen.
When the kitchen isn’t your kitchen
I’m not even going to go into the issue of only having a limited supply of kitchen utensils when you cook at a hostel. I can deal with that. I have even learned by now to always carry some matches with me, as all the stoves here are electrical and lighters are not always provided. The technicalities are not the problem.
No, the problem is, that there are potentially other people in the kitchen. And this may sound completely stupid to you, especially if you have never suffered from social anxiety, but believe me, people can be a problem. Not the individual people themselves, but just their presence in general. Will they be watching me while I cook? Will they be making judgments? Oh god, what if they think I’m the worst cook ever?
Are these irrational fears? Well, yes. Of course, they are. Like a lot of fears. But, also like a lot of fears, they won’t just go away, only because I know that they are irrational.
I have always hated it when people watch me do something. Anything. Like in school, when the teacher walked around during a written test and looked over your shoulder what you’re writing. I always had to stop my work and wait for them to move past. It’s the same for almost any activity really. I don’t mind if people get to see the end result, but when they watch me while it’s still in progress – or even if I just think they might be watching – I can’t do it. It’s like I’m frozen on the spot, my mind blank, no idea how to do even the simplest task.
Thus, to make my own dinner in a community kitchen it takes a ridiculously high amount of will-power to overcome those fears.
Are there ways to make it easier?
In Santiago, my first stop on this Chile trip, I think it took me about two weeks before I first used the kitchen. And then, it was together with my two roommates. One of them wanted to cook and asked if we cared to join her. We said yes, went out to shop, and ended up making a delicious stir-fry for the three of us.
Being in the kitchen with these other two didn’t bother me half as much as if I had been on my own. While being around strangers and people, in general, is anxiety-inducing in this kind of situation, being around friends made it easier. It takes some of the responsibility of my shoulders. At least, if someone now thought that our cooking was horrible, I wouldn’t have to face that criticism alone.
No one did, of course.
After that first positive experience, I found a bit easier to use the kitchen on my own as well. The next day I had stir-fry leftovers that just had to be heated up. After that, I actually progressed to cook a meal on my own. I had eased my way into it.
So my advice is: if you have a chance to cook together with someone from the hostel, use it. It will make it just that little bit easier to also do it on your own afterward.
Does it ever stop to be a pain?
Okay, so now you’ve conquered this kitchen. You have cooked there. All on your own, like a big girl. Everything was fine, no one complained, and the food wasn’t even all that bad. Well done.
But then, you move to a different place. A different hostel. A different kitchen.
You should think it doesn’t make a difference, and I wish that were so. But unfortunately, sometimes, with a new hostel, all the old fears come back.
Interestingly, though, there were places where it didn’t bother me so much to use the kitchen. And then others, where I decided it’s worth spending the money to eat out, only to avoid having to cook there. Unfortunately, I couldn’t possibly explain what exactly distinguishes the one from the other.
Some of it is surely how much I like the hostel in general. How nice the staff is, and whether or not I have made friends with my roomies and other guests. But sometimes, I do like the place, and I still struggle to make myself use the kitchen. Sometimes it has to do with how many people are already in there, which means I might also be perfectly fine with using it one day and completely failing the next. It’s really a new fight every time, the difference is only how big of a fight it ends up being.
There’s still hope
It’s one of those challenges you face when travelling solo as a socially anxious introvert. I still hope that I get to the point when I’ve used enough kitchens, that it will, in fact, get easier. Or that I’ll have made enough money that I can splurge at restaurants every day without worrying about my budget – though that might not be any more likely to happen then the first option. Until then, I’m just going to struggle on and celebrate every single time I dare to use a kitchen. You should too. You’ve just won a fight with yourself, and you deserve it.
Have you ever faced these kinds of fears while travelling? Do you have any tactics that help you overcome them? Share in the comments!