Guest Kathy Young of Washington state has traveled solo on two Odysseys small group tours, European Tapestry and Discovering Portugal, and is setting off on our Ancient Greece tour in May. In the following Q&A learn about her adventures and why she chose Odysseys as her travel partner to explore the world.
What excites you about travel?
Being able to immerse myself with the history and culture of a city or country and observing what “daily life” might look like to a local, whether it is the way people speak, dress, eat, work or play. I spend a few months using Duolingo to learn some basic phrases and am delighted that both in Paris and Portugal, the locals complimented me on my (basic!) skills. I love knowing that while we as a people may be very different, in so many ways, we are the same. Travel changes people and for the better is my belief. Going in to any experience with curiosity and wonder is something I adhere to.
Why do you choose to travel on your own?
My husband has no desire to travel, and “nope, sweetie, seeing Paris on a YouTube travel channel is NOT the same as actually sitting at a cafe within sight of the Eiffel Tower, sipping your delectable coffee ( yes, it really is different there!) and people watching”. Travel on my own allowed me to examine my own fears that I could not do it by myself, that something terrible would happen or that I would be lonely, or looked on a certain way for being a single in a group of couples. I like not having to go see or spend time on something a partner would want to do. My time is my time and I can see where I end up each day. I can make spontaneous decisions, “Oh, what is THAT?!?! Better check it out!”. There is no time wasted discussing where to go for lunch or dinner. Nothing detracts from my experience. Even though I have the safety and comfort of being with a tour, it is still incredibly freeing to travel this way.
Why did you chose Odysseys Unlimited as your travel partner?
I researched a LOT of companies, some of which my friends highly recommended, but none really drew me in like Odysseys. I LOVED that you take care of flights. The only other tour group I traveled with you had to book your own flights and I almost withdrew because it was such a nightmare trying to ensure I could coordinate my flights with the group itinerary. When I received my catalog from Odysseys, looked at the website and reviews, and noted so many people had taken multiple trips, that definitely prompted me to take the plunge. Your customer service (team) is outstanding and responsive as well. Even on my two tours with Odysseys, some couples had traveled with you up to 10 times. That says a lot in my book.
If someone was hesitant about traveling solo and had never traveled with a small group before, what would you tell them the benefits are of traveling solo with Odysseys?
For me, the convenience of having everything taken care of – the flights, transfers, ticketing, staying in hotels ( or even castles!) where I felt safe and confident exploring on my own. As terrified as I was to travel on my own, I was astonished at how my confidence in my own abilities grew by the day. From wanting to stay within sight of a hotel, to “see you later!” and just going off on my own during free time was a real breakthrough. I did not need the hand holding I thought I would! Challenge your own self-limiting beliefs and go for it!
Why did you choose European Tapestry and Discovering Portugal as your first two tours with Odysseys?
I chose European Tapestry for my first Odysseys tour because I felt it might be a “one and done” and that perhaps travel on my own was not going to be in the cards and European Tapestry covered several countries that I felt would be interesting, and provide more “bang for my buck”. I chose Portugal because living on the west coast and within a short drive to the Pacific Ocean, I thought it might be interesting to see the Atlantic. I did not know much about Portugal, but I loved the way it was described in the catalog – the idea of seeing old monasteries and castles sounded fabulous.
Can you describe a few of your most memorable moments on tour?
Oh wow, tough one! As I went through my photo books for each trip, I was intrigued to notice several of the highpoints included times I had wandered off. For example, when we entered Luxembourg, there was a carnival we spotted in the distance. I felt I needed to find my way there during free time, not because I am a carnival fan, but because they had a “ridiculous flying machine” offered. I told myself if I found it and if I had exact change in my pocket, I would do it. I found it, had exact change, and before long I was HUNDREDS of feet in the air, having a bird’s eye view of Luxembourg and absolutely grinning from ear to ear. It was exhilarating.
I never have access to a swimming pool, so I vowed to swim in any and all pools that were available. The one outdoor pool in Portugal was surrounded by heavily laden lemon trees. Floating on my back, having the fragrance of lemons, blue sky, sunshine…ahhhh. My travel companions were in fleece jackets and thought I was nuts, but it was exhilarating and wonderful!
Another highlight was the Limestone coast tour, Ponta da Piedade. It was absolutely stunning with blue sky, sunshine, and a salty warm breeze all while gazing in wonder at these majestic cliffs. The charming walled city of Obidos…Pena Palace…oh my!
Seeing works of the masters like Rembrandt and van Gogh gave me a whole new appreciation for art. I wish I could have spent all day at the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum.
The Anne Frank house was so moving – a must see in my opinion. Walking up the creaky narrow hidden stairway to the attic was very emotional.
What have your Odysseys Tour Directors been like?
There are not enough adjectives to describe Luisa ( Portugal) or Ingrid (European Tapestry). They were engaged, friendly, welcoming, encouraging, kind, caring, well-prepared and professional. Luisa deserves extra recognition because despite all the precautions, three of us tested positive for COVID the day before we left Sagres for Lisbon and then home. She was phenomenal in springing into action to help sort out the (at the time) VERY confusing protocols with the country, the airlines and more. Although she had the rest of the tour group to take care of and get back to Lisbon, she continued to call and email to check on me even when I returned home.
Have you been able to interact with local people on tour?
Yes, I really enjoyed a lace-making shop in Bruges that I stumbled upon. The owner was quite chatty and shared her thoughts on tourists (many roughly handle the delicate laces with sticky or dirty fingers!). Shop keepers can be quite eager to share information about their shop and their wares. I try to engage and smile, and ask questions. There is always something to learn and I hopefully leave a good impression for the guests that visit their country.
Have you made friends with fellow travelers on OU tours?
Absolutely! We formed a private Facebook group to share photos and are also Facebook friends, send Christmas cards and letters, and even held a reunion in West Virginia. I was unable to attend in person, but they called me and we face-timed! I have open invitations to visit at least four couples.
What are you most looking forward to on your upcoming Ancient Greece tour?
As someone who still has vivid memories of exactly when I heard my first Greek mythology stories (7th grade social studies classroom!) the idea that I will walk the grounds where so much history happened is still mind boggling to me. As incredible as it will be to tour places like the Acropolis and Parthenon, I can’t WAIT to have that free time and see what I “discover” on my own! Hmmm…does this sound like the same person before I went on European Tapestry?! I’m also looking forward to Santorini and seeing those beautiful blue and white buildings. I have already started my packing list!