5am Wake-up Calls are Always Worth It

Shared by: Terry Zhang

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”

What makes travelling so rewarding? For me, it’s not about checking locations off a list, or getting the perfect pictures for social media. Doing it for the ‘gram to show all my friends where I’ve been doesn’t create an emotional connection to the place I’m exploring, and over time, my memory of that experience would eventually fade.

When I travel, I always try to achieve a meaningful connection to the location, whether it be seeing something that millions of tourists miss, or meeting a random stranger that completely resonated with my lifestyle and interests.

Back in April, I was solo-travelling through Europe, and during the third leg of my trip, I spent 3 days in Lagos, Portugal. The Algarve is famous for having some of the most beautiful beaches, cliffs, and rock formations in the world. Unfortunately, these amazing views attract millions of tourists: everyday, fleets of tour buses bring hundreds of tourists at a time to this lookout, who walk around for a few minutes, snap a few photos for social media, then hop back on the bus to go to the next beach. It was difficult to enjoy Ponte de Piedade when it was overcrowded with tourists, selfie sticks, and motorboats noisily zipping through the waters.


My solution has always been to wake up early and watch the sun rise. 5am wake-ups are tough, and I’ll admit there were many times where I wanted to hit the snooze button.

What gets me out of bed at 5 in the morning, is the allure of a beautiful, uncorrupted experience.

The sun was scheduled to rise at 7am, but because I wanted to record a time-lapse of the entire scene from darkness to light, I was already set up at 6am. I noticed another photographer near me and we struck up an unbelievable conversation. He was a Swiss professional photographer who was living the life I hope to achieve one day: travelling, climbing mountains, and taking amazing pictures. We talked about our travel ambitions, our mutual dislike of overcrowded locations, and even how we spend hours on Google Earth, looking for amazing places that no one has even heard of.

When the golden minute came, we cut our conversation and focused on capturing the moment on our cameras. Words cannot describe the scene, but seeing a golden circle slowly peek out from the horizon and rise to paint the sky with an explosion of magenta and orange light, fills the soul with inexplicable happiness.

It was a surreal moment, to be forever etched in my memory.

Before he left, the photographer tipped me off about the Benagil Caves. Later that day, I made a spontaneous trip and swam out to the cave to experience a unique and incredible view. Even though I couldn’t get a good picture, the crazy adventure of getting there for this view (story for another time) was worth it, and would not have been possible if I didn’t wake up at 5am.

Terry 3

When you wake up at 5am in the morning, you’re bound to run into strangers just as crazy and passionate as you.

And while you probably won’t see these strangers again in your life, for the brief moment in time when your lives do intersect, you are able to share some amazing stories that make travelling a truly fulfilling experience.

It takes effort to make your travel experiences more rewarding. But if you go the extra mile, I guarantee you’ll have some amazing memories and conversations that you’ll remember much longer than the picture you took.

Check out this blog for travel tips in the south of Portugal: https://www.portu-gals.com/single-post/2017/11/08/The-Algarve-Must-Dos






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