Despite the tourists, Ankgor Wat sunrise is still one of my favorites. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
By Matt Long for Yahoo! Travel
Back in the day, I remember when sleeping in meant not seeing the world until well past noon. Now sleeping in means 7 a.m. instead of 6:30 a.m. Thanks to my former 9-to-5 job schedule (and my dogs), I am an early riser at home, which means I am when I travel as well. I used to feel cheated when I couldn’t sleep in on vacation because my body was too 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 types of travel photos, sunrises are also 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. If you visit Maui, you will no doubt want to see the magnificent sunrise over Haleakala volcano, even if that means a 3am alarm clock. My personal favorite sunrise is a common one, the sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It’s well worth dealing with the pre-dawn wake-up call and the hoards of other tourists just 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.
In addition to being the most important meal of the day, breakfast can also be the most educational. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
Food is 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.
Watching Places Wake Up
Wake up early and you’ll get a new perspective on normally bustling places, like the French Quarter in New Orleans. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
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, you will indeed see a different side of whatever place you are visiting. The difference is especially dramatic in cities, where seeing folks during their rush-hour commutes can be eye-opening, 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. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
Tour groups, depending on the destination, usually star their explorations mid-morning, 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.
Enjoying a well-balanced breakfast is the perfect start to the day, and helps prevent overeating on less healthy food later on. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
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. Getting out in the morning, 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. Getting up early also gives me 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.
It Gives You More Time
Getting up early gives you more time to properly enjoy a destination at all of the important hours of the day. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
This is obvious, but important. 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 one.) If you rise early, you can see locals commute in to work, join them for a quick lunch, and then enjoy an afternoon or evening out and about. You can adapt to the cycle of the destination, and in the process get to know and understand it in a much more intimate and ultimately personal way.