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14 minute read

Guest Feature: Touring with John and Toni Archer

June 24, 2024

John and Toni Archer embarked on their first Odysseys Unlimited tour in 2018, Paradores & Pousadas.  Since returning from that first adventure, they have taken three additional Odysseys tours (Treasures of Peru, Northern Italy, and Moroccan Discovery), with Alpine Splendor: Switzerland and Austria already on the books for July of this year. We recently sat down with John to ask him what he and Toni love about small group touring, what keeps them coming back to Odysseys Unlimited, and how their Odysseys experiences have differed from those they’ve had with other tour companies.  Check out John’s answers – and some of the photos he and Toni have taken on tour – below.

Photo Gallery: Touring with John and Toni Archer

Toni and John Archer in picturesque Morocco

Odysseys Unlimited: What excites you about travel?

John Archer: Travel for me began at a young age when my father accepted a teaching position for two years in Nigeria in the early 60s.  It wasn’t just the fascination of living in Nigeria and learning about the people and customs, but it led to visiting countries both going and returning from Nigeria to the United States. Even as a 7- to 9-year-old, I still remember our visits to England, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and France before returning to the United States. There is nothing like the excitement of hearing a new language or learning about unfamiliar customs and traditions.  Once married, I continued the travel tradition with family in tow. I caught the traveler’s virus.

 

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 four times and have a fifth tour reserved?

JA: Our first trip with a tour company was to Costa Rica.  It consisted of a large group of 40 travelers, about half Americans and the remainder Canadians. It was a well-run tour except for a hotel overbooking but the company executed plan B for those tourists affected. Meanwhile, a well-traveled gentleman in our office returned from his summer European vacation and raved about his small group tour with Odysseys Unlimited.  Well, he convinced both the office manager and me to try Odysseys Unlimited for our next vacation and we have returned year after year. From the time we arrive at our destination to departure, the entire tour is a turnkey operation. Our tour directors have all been remarkable, always attuned to our personal requirements while also managing considerable tour logistics.

 

OU: Why did you choose our Paradores & Pousadas tour to Spain and Portugal as your first tour with us in 2018?

JA: Our interests included a tour to western or southern Europe, but we didn’t have a clue as to which country.  The Odysseys Unlimited catalog and the internet helped make the final decision. As that was our first tour, we probably over-researched but it was an excellent choice. The historic lodgings and a chance to visit Spain and Portugal’s popular historic cities sold this tour. The trip was flawless thanks to our tour director, Emma Bonthorne. Her depth of knowledge, along with the local guides at each site, made the trip unforgettable. For us it was an excellent first choice.

Ronda, Spain

OU: Describe a few of your most memorable moments on tour.         

JA: The United States is so young compared to Southern Europe.  This tour took us through southern Portugal and southern Spain and included several highlights, like visits to majestic Roman ruins in Mérida dating to 25 BCE and exploring the beautiful modern city of Madrid.  Portugal’s capital city of Lisbon is also a very old and beautiful city located at the mouth of the Targus River on the Atlantic Ocean. This tour introduced us to the vast agriculture in the region – we saw countless cork trees, hundreds of acres of olive trees, and a locally owned olive oil processing plant.  The one city that stays on my mind is the quaint town of Ronda, Spain. Located on a tall cliff, the town is divided by a canyon river and connected by an old picturesque stone bridge.   Toledo was also a stunningly beautiful ancient city resting on a Spanish hilltop and partially surrounded by a river.  You can see the Catholic cathedral and fortress long before arriving in the city.

 

OU: What exceeded your expectations or surprised you the most?

JA: The impact of the Moors on Portugal and Spain over 700 years was an eyeopener. Their influence in the region contributed to architecture, art, and beautiful Mosques, along with other intellectual developments.  Odysseys Unlimited takes you to many sites including the magnificent fortress complex Alhambra, located in Granada. We were not visually prepared for the beautiful geometric art, architecture, and gardens that were left by the Muslim people.

 

OU: Describe your Odysseys Tour Directors – what have they been like? Anyone specifically stand out and what qualities did they have that enhanced the tour?

JA: All our tour directors have been awesome! The behind-the-scenes, day-to-day activities from transportation, hotels, luggage, and tickets must be stressful.  The tour directors kept the group informed of daily activities and events and executed the days flawlessly. We remember them all.

The Archers with Tour Director Hassan Rakmi

 

We must give a special shoutout to Hassan Rakmi. We intentionally wanted to experience Morocco during the Islamic holiday of Ramadan.  One of the Moroccan Discovery tours Odysseys offered last year happened to include the last 7 days of Ramadan and we jumped at the opportunity. Hassan provided the group with a wealth of knowledge about his homeland, encompassing the Islamic traditions during Ramadan, Morocco’s government, regional customs, and the people. He is a true ambassador of Morocco. The only event which he had no control over was the sandstorm in the Sahara Desert.

School visit in Morocco

OU: Have you had any particularly meaningful interactions/exchanges with a local person on tour or unique small group experiences that were memorable, and what have those experiences been like?

JA: Our most memorable small group experience involved an elementary school located in Rissani, Morocco. Located deep in a mud, straw, and timber facility was a classroom with 23 disadvantaged students and a teacher. Basic classroom essentials for the students were hard to come by.  Hassan was our interpreter as we spoke to the teacher and students.

 

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

JA: Our trip to Costa Rica with another tour operator was a group of 40.  The biggest difference between that tour and an Odysseys Unlimited small group tour is the interaction between fellow travelers.  Within the first three or four days you begin to learn most of the names of your fellow travelers and really begin to socialize.

 

OU: After Alpine Splendor: Switzerland and Austria in July, what destinations are on your wish list for future travel?

JA: We follow a simple two-year cycle for our tours.  One year will be adventurous and the next more leisurely.  An adventurous tour means we probably cannot drink the local tap water and may need additional vaccinations. For next year’s trip we are looking at Odysseys Unlimited tours in Africa.

 

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? 

JA: We learned this tip from other travelers and started the process for this trip:  Do your internet homework and make reservations for your meals and other excursions during your off time.  Odysseys Unlimited provides you with a daily itinerary which identifies the meals you are responsible for planning on your own, as well as any time off from the touring schedule.  In the past, we missed an opportunity in Spain to eat at the world’s oldest restaurant because we didn't do some of our own research in advance.

 

OU: Is there anything else about your experience with Odysseys that you would like to share?

JA: We have nothing but praise for Odysseys Unlimited.  All our interactions with the tour company have been positive, from the first call with a travel counselor to reserve a tour date to the tour director waving goodbye at the airport.  The hotel accommodations are excellent, and the transportation from one site to the next is always clean and punctual. We have never gone wrong with any of our tours and have recommended Odysseys Unlimited to many friends. We look forward to our upcoming trip and future trips.

Photo Gallery: Touring with John and Toni Archer

Click the link above to view photos John and Toni have taken on tour. And to learn more about the tours they’ve enjoyed with Odysseys Unlimited, click here.

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