How to choose a cafe when you're travelling

Here's the secret: you don't need to do anything. You don't need to achieve anything. You don't need to busy yourself with anything or be concerned that people are judging you for not doing so. When it comes to hanging around in a foreign cafe, all you have to do is be.

Just sit there. Stare out at the passers-by and enjoy a little people-watching. Take in the bustle or the peace of the place you're in. Watch as coffees are poured and tea is taken. Check out the plates going past and see what people are eating. Read a local newspaper. Pull out a book. Check the news on your phone.

Or just sit back and sip your drink and enjoy an experience that has always seemed so vital and yet for a time during the pandemic was taken away from us.

There are few pleasures more delicious than hanging around in a foreign cafe. Some might consider it time wasted but to me it's time perfectly spent, time to slow down, time to take in, time to enjoy.

There's a feeling of discomfort when you begin to do this, a feeling that people are staring at you, that the wait staff are getting grumpy with you for taking up a table, that there are all these real tourist attractions out there that you're missing out on.

But those feelings soon pass.

You just need to choose the right sort of cafe. Don't go anywhere too busy or too small. You don't want to take up a table that someone else could be using. You want a venue with space, where waiters will leave you be, leave you to nurse your coffee for an hour or two and relax.

Look for other patrons reading newspapers or working on laptops. This is a place to spend time. No one here cares.

Choose a cafe with a view, somewhere with tables that look out onto the street, a place where you can either watch the world go by or cocoon yourself in your own caffeinated universe.


Order a drink that will take some time to consume. Coffee is good, you can sit on that for a while. Maybe get a snack or two. Justify your existence.

And then, relax. Look, listen, sip, repeat. The hours slip by when you do this, when you watch foreign life take place in front of you like a film, as you spot tiny interactions between people, as you notice previously unseen local quirks, as you see life in this place ebb and flow, as customers arrive and leave, as the sun slides across the sky and your drink gets lower and eventually you decide to rejoin the slipstream of local life.

For hours you haven't done anything. And that's the secret.

See also: The 10 famous foods that don't originate where you imagined

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