I’m not sure if my tendency to wake up early is a case of nature or nurture. My mom never permitted the sort of sleeping-in-til-noon behavior that seemed to be standard among my teenage peers, or allowed a later-than-midnight curfew. Weekend mornings were for chores, and later, for an early morning call time at the grocery store where I had my first job.
And so after all of those years where I wasn’t allowed to sleep in, I now just can’t bring myself to linger in bed—whether or not I want to. I wake up automatically around 7am, or earlier if sunlight starts to trickle through my window during long summer days. And once I’m awake, I’m instantly thinking about ways to make the most of the day. There are things to do, places to see, lattes to Instagram—err, drink.
I’ve discovered that waking up early is a blessing in disguise when it comes to travel, too—seeing more sunrises was even one of my travel resolutions back in 2012. Those early morning hours are an invitation to see another side of a place: to explore the usually-bustling streets in an almost eerie silence, to see the flower markets and coffee bars and construction sites come alive, to see the silhouette of palm trees lit from the east. People often forget that there are two golden hours every day: one right after sunrise, and one right before sunset. The joy of the one right after sunrise is that you’re rarely sharing it with the crowds that emerge for sunset.
Some of my favorite travel memories (and photographs) have come from the early morning moments, when it’s just me and the sun breaking over the horizon and the most perfect light to start the day:
There was floating over the otherworldly landscape of Cappadocia, Turkey in a hot air balloon, watching as the irregular white stone formations slowly came into focus. And in Melbourne, another hot air balloon ride at sunrise—albeit a very different landscape below. The slowly-building morning commute of cars and trains and buses, a perfectly straight city grid of skyscrapers and laneways, the gently curving St Kilda beach coastline and long stretch of grass leading to the Shrine of Remembrance and thousands of tiny early risers looking up at the balloons.
On a heavily-scheduled business trip to Texas, setting an alarm before dawn for the chance to explore Austin on my own: walking along Lady Bird Lake, as the crew boats sliced the still-as-glass surface, and up Sixth Street, chuckling as the late-night revelers stumbled home and darting down back alleys after catching a glimpse of a mural, and over to the Texas State Capitol, watching as the façade changed in the rising light from deep orange to brown stone.
On the last day of 2014 in New York City, waking up in the dark and piling on all the woolen layers and hopping on a bike in the eerily silent streets. Riding across the Williamsburg Bridge just as the pre-dawn glow started to illuminate the east side, and walking across a completely empty Brooklyn Bridge as the sun began to rise for the last day of the year. Sitting at the makeshift beach beside the carousel as the waves rolled in, and contemplating another year in the city that never sleeps.
There has been the oddity of a bird market on Île de la Cité in the shadow of Notre Dame Cathedral, the recognition that I was the only tourist in the throngs of early-morning workers in Bangkok, the thrill of seeing the sun rise over an infinity pool and the Caribbean Sea in the Dominican Republic, the quiet walk along the beach with only the birds in Avalon, New Jersey.
And I’ve never regretted saying no to another drink or missing another stop on a bar crawl in my quest to see more sunrises—because as cliché as it is, my mom taught me that the early bird really does get the worm, or at least a golden hour moment to remember.