The Best Time to Wander

Sunrise behind St. Mary's Church in Krakow, Poland

Sunrise behind St. Mary's Church in Krakow, Poland

The sun is just rising over the streets of Krakow.  Nuns are hurrying into side doors of churches.  A runner here or there darts down a street and up the next.  Clumps of priests, robes flapping in the wind, walk down tree lined streets.  And a few industrious delivery men are making their rounds.
But, by in large, the streets are empty.  They are empty and they are quiet.

This is my ideal wandering environment.  This is when a city comes alive for me.  It is in these quiet moments that frame the rest of of my impressions of a location.  These moments are, for me, essential.

Fog and seagulls on the coast of Oregon make it worth getting up early

Fog and seagulls on the coast of Oregon make it worth getting up early

I travel so I can have an experience with a place.  I want to feel some sense of intimacy with it.  I want to know a place in a way that is impossible in a group of people herded around by an umbrella-toting tour guide.  I need to pause.  I need to be able to breathe in a place.

To get that quiet, I have to be willing to get up just as early as the sun does.  But, that doesn’t feel like a sacrifice to me.  Those early mornings feel like the best corner table at a new restaurant reserved, just for me.

Early morning light in Baguio, Philippines

Early morning light in Baguio, Philippines

As I slip out the door, camera in hand, my dear ones are still tucked in bed.  I have a few magical hours to watch the city as it begins to stretch and yawn its way into day.  I am wandering.  I am discovering.  I am succumbing to curiosity.

By the time I return, my people are tumbling toward the day.  I am alive with everything I’ve already seen and felt and known.  I’ve got a camera full of images and a heart full of this new place that we’re exploring.  This is when I’m at my very best.

A surprise morning rainbow over the Hudson Valley

A surprise morning rainbow over the Hudson Valley

Morning exploring is my super power.  In the early morning hours I can see more clearly.  The world shows up for me in higher definition.  My delight tripwire is strung tight, and is easily set off.  

I can take the rest of the day with a greater sense of ease.  I’m not demanding anything of my experience because I’ve already been so filled.  I can go back to the same places and accept the crowds with equanimity.  I have already laid my claim to this place.  I have seen it on my own quiet terms, so sharing it with everyone else becomes easy.

The sun dawning on the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The sun dawning on the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.

I’m not suggesting that, in order to have a rich experience, you must see it at dawn.  Wandering in someone else’s way is a sure road map to discontent.  Maybe you wander best late at night, once the tourists have turned in, and the city is transformed by street lights and a big moon.  Or, maybe the crowded mid mornings are absolutely your ideal environment.  If you’re a people watcher at heart, then your best wandering may well be in the busiest moments, when you can soak up both new sites and the sea of humanity that come with them.

Know yourself.  There is no absolute best time to wander that suits every person.  But, there is a best time to wander that suits you.  Find what it is and embrace it.  Protect it.  Just a little bit of wandering in your own best way fuels the rest of the day.