A quest to travel to 50 countries in 50 months after turning 50

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Morten Byskov

Danish born photographer currently residing in Vancouver, Canada with a passion for travel, with emphasis on street and landscape photography.

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Hi Morten! First of all, we would like to thank you for this opportunity. It is a great pleasure to count on you for this interview. We usually start by asking our guests to introduce themselves. But in your case, we would like to go a little further and also ask you to explain how in 2014 you and Diana had the brilliant idea to start this magnificent journey!
The idea to visit 50 countries in the span of 50 months came up over a coffee at Starbucks. We were empty nesters, approaching our fifties and it was time to renew our mortgage. We had a conversation about where we were in our lives; were we happy, were we doing what we wanted to be doing? The daily grind seemed never-ending and we felt trapped. We both had the desire to make a change. But what would change look like? We talked about what we had done in the past, reviewed our old 5 year plans.

Asked ourselves when were we most happy? What kinds of things did we want to be doing in the future. We had travelled earlier in life but not as much in later years as life always seemed to get in the way. We agreed exploring and connecting with friends made us happy. We challenged ourselves and knew we had to make significant changes in order to make something happen.

We threw around some ideas and 50 countries in 50 months to celebrate 50 years had a certain charm to it. Could we do it? It took a year of planning. We sold our house, donated or got rid of most of our possessions, put the remaining belongings in storage, packed the camera and off we went.

Fuji X-Pro2 . Fuji XF14mmF2.8 . f/7.1 . 1/60″ . ISO 250 – Møns Klint, Denmark
Fuji X-Pro2 . Fuji XF90mmF2 . f/4.0 . 1/640″ . ISO 200 – Isle of Skye, Scotland

You know that right now there are two types of people reading this interview: those who think you’re totally crazy and those who would like to do exactly the same! How did your family and friends react when you told them about your plans?
Our friends and family have been extremely supportive of our adventure. The most nerve-wracking was telling our children we were selling their childhood home to travel. It was indeed an emotional period with doubts and stress until everything was settled and we were on the road.

There were also a few friends who were uncomfortable with our choices. As mentioned, probably as they could not see themselves doing anything along these lines. We believe they were genuinely worried about our financial well being after undertaking such a huge challenge. A few expressed concern if the places we travel to are safe.

Fuji X-Pro2 . Fuji XF35mmF1.4 . f/1.4 . 1/250″ . ISO 640 – Marrakech, Marocco
Fuji X-Pro2 . Fuji XF35mmF1.4 . f/1.4 . 1/1000″ . ISO 200 – Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Fuji X-Pro2 . Fuji XF35mmF1.4 . f/1.8 . 1/1000″ . ISO 200 – Yangshou, China

How many countries have you visited so far? We know this question is difficult, and perhaps even unfair, but is there any that you particularly enjoyed and intend to return one day?
At this point, we have travelled to 33 countries of the 50 we set out to visit. We have 17 to go and plan to head out for four months again, starting November 1st, 2019. The list of destinations keeps changing so I would encourage you to tag along on the blog for upcoming trips this winter.

Whenever we stay in a country for a longer period of time we come to appreciate the finer nuances, culture, and beauty more so than when visiting a country for a quick two or three-night stay. This has been the case with both France and Hong Kong where we spent a couple of months each. We now reside in Canada but I have to mention my home country of Denmark. The more we travel in Denmark the more we realize what we left behind when we moved to Canada in 1993. We love it and now that our daughter lives in Copenhagen, we will visit even more.

Fuji X-Pro2 . Fuji XF35mmF1.4 . f/11 . 1/70″ . ISO 200 – Hong Kong
Fuji X-H1 . Fuji XF90mmF2 . f/5.6 . 1/160″ . ISO 200 – Iceland
Fuji X-Pro2 . Fuji XF14mmF2.8 . f/4.0 . 1/2200″ . ISO 200 – Skanör, Sweden

How was it like to let go of most of your possessions and living a life detached from material things?
Quite frankly, we were baffled how much “stuff” we had accumulated after living in the same home for 19 years. We are talking about everything from garden tools to old skis to toys no one had played with for years. It was a huge relief to sort through our possessions and it felt like a healthy cleansing.

Living our lives detached from our home was another story and after a year and a half, it also began to feel like a big loss. We were travelling without a home to return to and felt disconnected from our children especially. We decided we needed a base after all. A place where we could relax 100%, recharge and be ourselves. At this point, we decided to rent an apartment in Vancouver, Canada, where our son and his wife live.

This has proven to be the right decision and we now surround ourselves with our favorite things and have minimized considerably. Nothing is in storage and everything we own is in our small apartment. Going from being a home owner to a renter was also the right move for us. We don’t feel as tied down as we once did.

Fuji X-Pro2 . Fuji XF14mmF2.8 . f/11 . 1/125″ . ISO 200 – Kiev, Ukraine
Fuji X-Pro2 . Fuji XF35mmF1.4 . f/2.2 . 1/1000″ . ISO 200 – Rovinj, Croacia
Fuji X-Pro2 . Fuji XF5mmF1.4 . f/2.8 . 1/1250″ . ISO 2000 – Lisbon, Portugal

And of course, all trips are recorded through your camera, right? How old were you when your interest in photography began?
My first adventure into the world of photography happened in grade six documenting a school trip to the Danish island of Bornholm with a Kodak Pocket Instamatic Camera. I repeated this in high school, this time with a Canon AV-1 and a 50mm f/1.8 lens on a trip to Vienna. After the trip I sold prints to my fellow classmates at cost, and just like that, I was in the photography business.

Were you already a Fuji user when you started this journey or is it a camera system that you purposely chose to make travelling easier?
I was a primarily a Canon shooter when this journey started but I was familiar with Fuji, having used an X-Pro1 since the day it was released in 2012. I also had an X100S for a while. The 5050 Travelog project kicked off in 2015 with a trip to Hong Kong and upon returning to Canada I sold all my Canon gear in order to get a lighter kit for our trip to The United Arab Emirates in early 2016.

What’s your current cameras and lenses setup and could you explain your choices?
My current kit consists of Fujifilm X-Pro2 and X-H1 cameras. For lenses, I prefer primes and have the XF 14mm f/2.8, XF 23mm f/1.4, XF 35mm f/1.4, and XF 90mm f/2. The X-Pro2 is my overall favourite for almost everything, especially travel and street photography. The X-H1 is primarily a work camera, and first choice for video projects. The X-H1 has proven to be an asset when image stabilization is important. One example would be for landscape work, which I often do without the use of a tripod.

Given the extraordinarily varied nature of your photography, from landscape and portrait to street photography, it is inevitable that you need to cover a wide range of focal lengths. But if you really had to choose just one camera and one lens for your travels, what would it be?
I would grab my X-Pro2 with the XF 35mm f/1.4. I love the feeling of this camera and have used it in many situations. From street to travel, landscape, sports, portraits, and theatre. The lens of choice would be the XF 35mm f/1.4 giving me a fast versatile option that has a certain quality to it, which is hard to explain with words.

Fuji X-T1 . Fuji XF90mmF2 . f/2.5 . 1/1900″ . ISO 200 – Muscat, Oman
Fuji X-T1 . Fuji XF23mmF1.4 . f/5.0 . 1/300″ . ISO 200 – Villeneuve-sur-lot, France

Thinking of all the continents and countries you have visited, with their different cultures and ways of life, you have certainly noticed a different attitude of their people towards being photographed. Which two opposite ends have you encountered? And what is your usual approach to photographing strangers in the streets?
The two opposites that come to mind would be Hong Kong and Marrakech in Morocco. Hong Kong is a busy metropolis. People are completely oblivious to the fact that you are photographing them, which give you free roam to a certain degree. In Marrakech I was met by many objections: hands signaling not to take photos and people covering their faces. The Medina district is busy but the wish for privacy is apparent.

My approach to street photography is to remain respectful of cultures and people no matter where in the world I find myself. I rarely move in really closely and if I do, I ask for permission. Otherwise, I take a candid approach. I want to be the fly on the wall and my goal is to capture a moment which is genuinely natural and not forced in any way.

Fuji X-Pro2 . Fuji XF23mmF1.4 . f/2.0 . 1/250″ . ISO 200 – Hong Kong
Fuji X-Pro2 . Fuji XF14mmF2.8 . f/3.6 . 1/400″ . ISO 400 – Phnom Penh
Fuji X-T1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 . f/2.8 . 1/560″ . ISO 200 – Dubai – UAE

Since you started this way of life, have you had to adapt your workflow in terms of image editing? Could you describe what you use in terms of hardware and software?
The biggest change was moving away from a 27″ iMac to a 15″ MacBook Pro and portable back up drives. I am currently considering going even smaller with a 13″ MacBook Pro. Portability is key when you are on the road. Any extra weight gets cumbersome very quickly.

On the last couple of trips I have used my wife’s 12″ MacBook but she wants it back. The 12″ screen is on the small side for my liking and she will be using it for the work we do on the blog and for travel planning. I have been a Lightroom user for the longest time and have created personal presets based on Fuji’s film simulations. I shoot RAW only. Lately I have been using Capture One Express when I want the last bit of sharpness and colour.

For larger batches of photos I prefer Lightroom’s interface but I find myself using Capture One more and more. For selected images I will also use Photoshop. Some of the adjustments could be done in Lightroom but I am so used to Photoshop for adjustments like dodge, burn, healing and masking.

How could some of our readers learn from your experience? In between trips do you have any workshops scheduled?
I run two workshops through “Airbnb Experiences” in Vancouver. One is geared towards beginners “A Photo Walk in Stanley Park with a Travel Photographer”, where we learn about camera settings and compositions. For many beginners a primary goal is to get better holiday photos. The second is a “Photo Walk in Downtown Vancouver” street photography workshop aimed at the more experienced photographer, where we discuss tips, tricks, philosophies and the photographer’s specific goals with street photography.

We are also adding more and more photography tips long with camera and lens reviews in our travel blog. We will be updating the blog and instagram with our itinerary as we hit the road in November so we encourage your readers to reach out if we are in their neighborhood. (5050 Travelog Workshops)

Fuji X-Pro2 . Fuji XF35mmF1.4 . f/8 . 1/500″ . ISO 1250 – Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Fuji X-Pro2 . Fuji XF14mmF2.8 . f/11 . 6.0″ . ISO 200 – Hong Kong
Fuji X-T1 . Fuji XF90mmF2 . f/4.5 . 1/320″ . ISO 200 – Dubai – UAE

To conclude, if you could go back in time, would you do it all over again?
Absolutely. The goal of trying to visit 50 countries in the span of 50 months has been completely life changing. Is it a huge challenge? Absolutely. But facing the milestone of 50 we found ourselves in a repetitive pattern. We were doing the same old things year after year and knew that unless we changed something, we would continue to live life on repeat. It has been a healthy shake up. Writing and gathering material for the travel blog has proven to be very fulfilling. We often pull up old blog posts, read them again almost in disbelief; Did we really do that? Yes we did!

Fuji X-T1 . Fuji XF23mmF1.4 . f/2.8 . 1/850″ . ISO 200 – Al Ain – UAE
Fuji X-Pro2 . Fuji XF14mmF2.8 . f/8 . 1/80″ . ISO 800 – Black sand Beach, Iceland

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