I remember the days when I was younger and sleeping in meant not seeing the world until well past noon. Now sleeping in means 7am instead of 6:30am. Thanks to my work schedule when I had a 9-5 job and my dogs, or furry alarm clocks as I lovingly call them, I am an early riser at home, which usually means I am when I travel as well. I used to feel cheated that when traveling or on vacation I couldn’t sleep in, my body well trained to my normal daily routine. But over time instead of resenting it, I began to embrace and then truly appreciate my early rising ways. Just as getting up early at home helps me have a more productive day, it means the same thing on the road. There are a number of reasons why I think it’s important to get up early when you travel, but these are my favorite.
One of the most coveted travel photos, it may be one of the hardest to capture; at least well. It seems that everyone has a red and orange tinged sunset shot to share with the world on Instagram, but where are those equally amazing sunrise photos? Get up early and they can be yours. Granted, the getting up early part might be extreme as it is somewhat rare to stay in a place where the sunrise is spectacular. If you visit Maui, you will no doubt want to see the magnificent sunrise over Haleakala volcano, even if that means a 3am wake up call. My personal favorite sunrise though is a common one, the sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Part of the experience of visiting Siem Reap, when that pre-dawn wake up call comes it’s hard to take, but believe me it’s well worth dealing with that and the hoards of other tourists to see it in person. No matter where you go though, getting up early is a great chance to get out there, see the sunrise and start your explorations early.
Food is I think the most important part of the travel experience. We learn so much about a new country and culture through the stomach and I think breakfast is the most educational. I love, LOVE seeing what breakfasts look like around the world, even if it’s a meal I rarely eat. The classic American, a full English, meats and cheeses in Germany and noodles, miso and fish in Asia, there are hundreds of unique breakfast food experiences all around the planet, each one fascinating in its own right. I keep it simple in the mornings though, which is why countries like France and Italy are so perfect for me. A strong cup(s) of coffee, some fruit and yogurt and perhaps a small pastry is all I need or want, my own perfect start to the day.
See the city wake up
We all talk about the importance of “going local” when you travel, pushing past the tourist veneer to find the “real” city. Part of that is hooey, but if you get up early and hit the town then you will indeed see a different side of whatever place you are visiting. Especially dramatic in cities, seeing folks during their rush hour commutes can be educational, if not a bit confusing at times. It’s important to stay out of the way of these commuters, this isn’t Disney World, but if you can manage to go with the flow you’ll learn a lot about the town. Of course a lack of traffic tells an equally interesting story. I remember getting up around 7am or so on a weekday in New Orleans and as I walked through the French Quarter I noticed something – no one was there. Well, that’s not quite true, there were some street sweepers and deliverymen, but that’s about it. It was marvelous to have this normally bustling part of town all to myself, enjoying the serene beauty of the neighborhood in a way impossible to duplicate later on in the day.
Everyone wants to avoid crowds when they travel and one of the easiest ways to do that is obvious – get there before everyone else. Tour groups, depending on the destination, usually target mid-morning to start their explorations, so if you can get to museums and famous sights as they open, you should be well rewarded. Of course this only works in places where the main attraction isn’t the time of day itself. The aforementioned Angkor Wat is a good example of experiencing massive crowds first thing in the morning. But while there my guide gave me a good tip that can be extrapolated to other sights. After seeing the major temple, he led me around to the other ruins but in a pattern that tour groups don’t follow. Instead of the temples closest to the main one, we went further afield and gradually worked our way back in. This meant we avoided those massive crowds, but still saw everything.
While I don’t always succeed, I do try to be healthy when I travel and getting up early helps me achieve this in nearly every way. Enjoying a well-balanced breakfast is the perfect start to the day, and helps prevent overeating on less healthy food later on. Getting out early, walking around and seeing the tourist sights is exercise, much more than those late sleepers will ever hope to get. Getting up early and going to bed at a reasonable time is also itself just a very healthy way of living. Eating not late but at reasonable hours of the day helps the body digest and metabolize more efficiently, and getting up early means I have time to add in a workout if I have the desire and inclination, something that late sleeping tourists definitely won’t have the time to do.
Do much more
This is obvious, but important I think. Travel is a limited experience and we all want to make sure that we do and experience as much as possible. You can’t achieve this if you sleep in late every day. (The caveat here is if the whole point of your trip is to sleep in late, in which case feel free to ignore this point.) Getting up early gives us more time to play tourist and to properly enjoy the destination in every way and at all of the important hours of the day. We see locals commute in to work, we join them for a quick lunch and then enjoy an afternoon or evening out and about. We adapt to the cycle of the city and in the process get to know and understand it in a much more intimate and ultimately personal way.
So there you have it. Just a few reasons why I think it’s important to get up early when you travel. Would you add anything else to the list?