Travel Blogger Tom Bartel on Favorite Places, Photography and Life After 50

Why my wife and I decided to take the plunge into full-time travel

We’ve always been travelers. We hitchhiked around western Europe for three months after graduating from college. And after we were married, we moved to Spain for two years. Even in the interim, when we had our careers and family, we traveled frequently out of the country. So, when the opportunity presented itself in 2010 to sell our house and business and hit the road full-time, it was just sort of a natural for us.

One place that’s more special than others

That would be Spain where we lived for two years, and went back to visit multiple times–sometimes by ourselves, and sometimes with our children. We pretty much love everything about Spain – from the cafe culture, to the food, to the friendly people, the art, and the climate. We’re probably going to end up living there one day. I’d also put Rome pretty high on my list. Italy is a very close second to Spain.

The aqueduct in Segovia, Spain

The aqueduct in Segovia, Spain

A flamenco dancer in Spain

A flamenco dancer in Spain

A couple in Verona, Italy

A couple in Verona, Italy

My approach to travel photography

My approach varies depending on where we are. In some places I concentrate on trying to make the “golden hour” of dawn and sunset for landscapes. In others, it’s being on the street and shooting interesting people. Sometimes these are candid shots; at other times I ask permission to make portraits. I am also always intrigued by churches or temples, especially because they so often are the best repositories for art in a location. The connection between places of worship and artistic and didactic endeavor has always fascinated me. We also tend to be attracted to battlefields. Seeing the locations of great battles is informative, and sad, at the same time.

One piece of advice I would give travel photographers is to take your time and look at your subject from every angle. I’ve sometimes spent an hour making shots of one thing, and then moved 50 meters down the road and seen a much better shot.

St. John Lateran Church in Rome

St. John Lateran Church in Rome

The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey

The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey

My system for photo organization and storytelling

I use Adobe Lightroom, both to organize photos and develop them. I create collections within Lightroom that are largely based on location. This works, because 99 percent of our blog output is about specific locations. And I have a file naming convention that helps me find things. I also output most of my “keepers” to Smugmug and organize them there – both by country and by a few broad categories such as churches, people, landscapes, and cityscapes.

What I’ve learnt about the world as a result of all the travel

The biggest thing I’ve learned is that people are people, wherever you go. Every place has a majority of friendly, helpful folks, and a minority of disagreeable individuals. That’s not to say there aren’t cultural differences. There are plenty of differences between Ecuador and Japan, for instance. There’s rampant street crime in the one place while in the other, a person will drive across a city to return a purse you left on a bus. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is which.

Here’s a tip for travelers: When you meet people on your travels, ask a question and then stop talking in order to really listen as they answer. You can’t learn anything yourself by talking.

A fortune teller in Cuba

A fortune teller in Cuba

A group of women in Seoul, South Korea

A group of women in Seoul, South Korea

Other thoughts on life and travel after 50

Just do it. I have a t-shirt that says, “You don’t stop hiking because you get old. You get old because you stop hiking.” Substitute any activity you like for hiking and you’ve got our philosophy. Keep moving. It’s so much more healthy and fun than sitting around.

Tom and Kristin in Giza, Egypt

Tom and Kristin in Giza, Egypt

Kristin Henning and Tom Bartel changed their lifestyle in 2010 when they sold their home, business and possessions to travel the world. After visiting more than 60 countries on six continents, Kris and Tom still fall back to their annual road trip in North America for pure pleasure. They spent their careers in Minneapolis/St. Paul as newspaper and magazine publishers. Today, they keep up their writing and photography chops by producing their own award-winning blog, TravelPast50.com, and contributing to other travel and lifestyle publications.

Photos help us capture moments in time. We pride ourselves on the work we do in digitizing photos and preserving memories. This interview is part of an effort to highlight unusual photography and memory projects around the globe.

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