1 888 370 6765
My Odyssey
1 888 370 6765
Odysseys Unlimited
Open mobile menu
12 minute read

Guest Feature: Meet Laurel Davar, World Traveler and Artist

March 26, 2024

Laurel and Saeed Davar

Late last year, frequent travelers Laurel Davar and her husband, Saeed, returned from their 13th tour with Odysseys Unlimited: Exploring Australia & New Zealand. In addition to being a loyal Odysseys guest, Laurel is also a talented artist who paints “character portraits” of people she meets on tour – particularly her tour directors. We recently spoke with Laurel about her creative process and what she enjoys about traveling with Odysseys Unlimited. Read our full conversation below.

Eric Botha | Tour Director, Southern Africa Odyssey (left)
Daniela Mendola | Tour Director, Sicily in Depth (right)


Odysseys Unlimited: We are so impressed by the paintings you create of your tour directors and other people you meet on your Odysseys tours.  Can you explain how this came about and what your creative process is like? Do you have any formal training in the arts? Do you make sketches on tour or work from a photo when you get home?

Laurel Davar: Thank you for your interest.  I did attend an art school in England for a brief time, but I have very little training in portraiture and am mostly self-taught.  As an interior designer, I do have training in illustration and so in 2002 I decided to challenge myself in painting what came to be known as my “character portraits.”  At first, they were just exercises to learn – hair, teeth, glasses, and so on.  Then one day, on about the third one in the series I became very emotionally overcome.  I could see in the face I was painting a whole life of joy, tragedy, and struggle.  After this experience, I began to select subjects to paint where I could “know” the person better.  I looked for ways the person would “say something” to me.   My husband and I are well-traveled, and I took photos of people we met along the way.  I work from these photos when I return home and now have 39 in the “character” series.  Many more have walked out the door as commissions.

OU: What excites you about travel?

LD: I have always been curious about how other people live and work, but for many years I was focused on art and architecture and recording elements of these things for use in my art and design.  Lately, and now retired, I am back to being more interested in a more immersive experience rather than as a spectator.  I don’t think of myself as a Tourist, but rather as a Traveler.

OU: You have a lot of choices when it comes to traveling and choosing a tour company. What are some of the reasons you have chosen to travel with Odysseys 13 times?

LD: In discussing travel options with friends, it became clear that we could see more with less attention on the logistics of travel if we began traveling with a group.  We had observed large tour groups and cruises and had decided not to travel that way.  Odysseys Unlimited was suggested and our first tour with Odysseys was with another couple (also very well-traveled) that we met on a Windstar cruise.  Small group travel with like-minded people seemed like the way to go.

OU: Why did you choose Provincial French Countryside as your first tour with us back in 2013?

LD: It was a mutual decision to take the Provincial French Countryside tour as kind of an “audition” for Odysseys Unlimited.  We were so impressed by the ease of travel, the immersive experience, and knowledge of the tour director that we decided to continue.  On that particular tour, there was a fellow who was blind and even though he had a companion, we all took turns helping him.  One group member had a fall and broke her shoulder, and our tour director did not skip a beat in caring for her.   All that occurred without interruption to the tour itself.  Our bus driver just took over for the day and we carried on.

OU: Describe a few of your most memorable moments while traveling with Odysseys. What has exceeded your expectations or surprised you the most?

LD: Every tour is special in its own way.  Each tour has been carefully constructed to maximize the experience but also allow for free time to add a few things of personal interest.  We loved dancing in the square in Sarlat, France, and cooking with chefs in Avignon.  We trudged through the pouring rain at Auschwitz/Birkenau to be welcomed back on the bus with local cherry brandy to warm us up.  My husband did yoga with our tour director in Jaipur, India.  We visited sites from World War II in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.

In between Odysseys tours we visited on our own Roslyn Chapel (made famous in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code) in Scotland and Chateau Lafayette, birthplace of the Marquis de Lafayette, as well as his gravesite in Paris.  We drove through the Pyrenees and saw the Lumiere exhibition of Van Gogh in Les Baux, France.  We always like to tack on something extra of our own at the beginning or end of a tour.

OU: Describe your Odysseys Unlimited Tour Directors – what have they been like? Does anyone in particular stand out and what qualities did they have that enhanced the tour?

LD: We have been impressed by their unscripted knowledge of history, and their patience with questions.  All are stand-outs for different reasons, but we were particularly impressed with Fanny Poirier, Caroline Buizza, and Girish Bakshi.  My portrait series of Odysseys Unlimited Tour Directors began with Fanny.  I took her photo and after returning home I was kind of reliving my experience through my photos and began her portrait as part of that.  After that experience, it became a tradition to take a photo of our tour directors and do a portrait for each.  The portraits are all beautifully framed and line a “gallery hall” in our home.

Fanny Poirier | Tour Director, Provincial French Countryside (left)
Caroline Buizza | Tour Director, Burgundy Barging (center)
Girish Bakshi | Tour Director, Mystical India (right)

OU: Have you had any particularly meaningful interactions or exchanges with local people on tour or unique small group experiences that were especially memorable?

LD: I particularly enjoyed speaking with people at markets and swap meets, restaurant owners, and one guy, Antonio “Nino,” on Mt. Etna who had a goat named Rosalia and was letting the kids pet her.

OU: If someone had never traveled with a small group before, what would you tell them about the benefits of traveling with an Odysseys small group?

LD: I would say, “Take an Odysseys tour and combine it front and back with independent excursions to compare the benefits and ease of travel.”  Not having to stand in lines, arrange fares, or learn history on one’s own is a big plus.  Getting around easily to less traveled places is an added benefit.

OU: What destinations are on your wish list for future travel?

LD: Greek Islands, Egypt, Vietnam, and Ireland.

OU: I’m sure you’ve gained a wealth of knowledge and tips – do you have any helpful hints for travelers on an Odysseys tour?

LD: Travel light, get familiar with taking photos before travel but stop taking them in time to savor the moment of where you are.  Learn a few phrases in a foreign language or at least how to express appreciation and “thank you” to everyone who helps you on your way.  People who serve tourists, especially in Europe and foreign countries, do not receive the thanks and recognition they deserve.  They strive to make your experience unique, but they will no doubt be serving tourists day after day for an entire season.  Eye contact, recognition, and thanks go a long way.


We hope Laurel’s story inspired you as much as it did us. To view a gallery featuring more of the paintings in Laurel’s “character portraits” series, click here.  

And if you agree that “small group travel with like-minded people seems like the way to go,” contact us today to make your travel dreams a reality.

Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET

Share your great adventures with us on social media. Tag your pictures with #myodyssey and they may be featured on our website!

Back to Top
crosschevron-down icon-angle icon-bars icon-times