A love letter to ITN

By Jean Moss
This item appears on page 29 of the June 2020 issue.
Tour members sipping wine on the terrace of a room in the Tivoli Sintra Hotel in October 2019 — Portugal. Photos by Jean Moss

What is it about this funky little black-and-white magazine that makes people love it so much? Well, a lot! Perhaps the story leading to my personal discovery of ITN will explain what attracted me.

To go way back, after majoring in French in college in Maine, I spent a year at the Université de Caen in Normandy, France, graduating in 1973 without a clue about what to do with French besides teach, which I did not think was right for me.

What I really wanted to do was go back and live in France again. I had spent the year in Caen backpacking all over Europe, visiting as many countries as I could and rarely attending classes, which I had decided were too elementary for an advanced student.

I did not learn much French that year, but for the next two years I saved up my money and, at Middlebury College in Vermont, enrolled in the college’s graduate school of French in Paris, taking classes at the University of Paris — at the Sorbonne and the Institut d’Etudes Politiques. I had no idea what I would ever do with an M.A. in French, but it justified my living in Paris.

My passion for travel — born from my first year abroad — was stronger than ever. Christmas vacation was approaching, and I began looking for something to do that would help me avoid getting homesick.

While walking along the boulevard Saint-Germain one day in late November 1974, I saw a poster on a kiosk: “JERICHO EXPEDITIONS: 2 WEEK TOUR OF PORTUGAL.” The price translated to $499, which my parents reluctantly loaned me, and I signed up.

Those two weeks turned out to be the best experience of my life! There were 20 of us, all in our 20s and 30s, representing several different nationalities. We were either graduate students or local teachers who had two weeks’ vacation for Christmas.

This was my first “tour” experience, but even 45 years later I can still say this was NOT your usual tour. We had a big bus, a great driver, a competent, entertaining tour leader and no hotel reservations! The bus left Paris on a Saturday morning, and within an hour I remember feeling we were all friends.

We headed down the French coast, and by evening we had arrived in San Sebastián, on Spain’s northern coast. The bus pulled over on a main street, and we waited while the tour leader scouted around for 20 hotel rooms. We did this each and every day, and we never had to sleep on the bus.

Tour leader Carla (center) and tour members dining in the middle of a street in Évora, Portugal, in October 2019.

Sometimes our bus caused traffic jams in small towns, and once (maybe Christmas Eve) the tour leader couldn’t find any good deals, so we all had to chip in for upgrades. But this is what made it an expedition as opposed to an official “tour.”

When we woke up on that first morning in Spain, we unanimously shouted that we wanted to change our tour of Portugal to a tour of Spain and Portugal. Our obliging tour leader agreed, so we traded a few days of upcoming Portugal for a dreamy exploration of the northern Spanish coast.

The whole adventure was truly unforgettable. We happened to arrive in Portugal shortly after the Carnation Revolution, when the Portuguese dictator Marcello Caetano was overthrown. The mood of the people throughout the country was euphoric.

The teachers in our group explained the significance of the revolution to us, and we knew that we were very lucky to be there at that historic time of celebration. We spent New Year’s Eve in Lisbon witnessing the most incredible, emotional, fantastic outpouring of true jubilation that any of us will ever see.

By the time our fantasy voyage ended back in Paris, I had acquired 20 new friends, with whom I enjoyed spending time during my second semester in the most beautiful, fascinating city in the world. (Remember, I’m a Francophile.) And for years afterward, I kept wondering, ‘Why doesn’t the US have really cool tour companies like this, where people of any age can enjoy an experience like Jericho Expeditions’?’

My failure to find a use for my love of travel and pretty good French led to a detour of 20 years in the computer industry. After I turned 40, however, I knew I was entering a new chapter in my life. I was newly remarried, and my husband, John, and I had a precious new baby girl and a brand-new home in beautiful Ipswich, MA. It was time to pursue my youthful dream of creating my own “Jericho Expeditions,” following my instincts of what I thought Americans would love.

John believed in me and supported me all the way. I had, by this time, convinced him that travel was by far the best thing to do with vacation time.

We shared a common view of the perfect vacation: travel to a beautiful destination with a small group of congenial people; enjoy wonderful local cuisine; drink outstanding local wine; stay in gorgeous small, charming châteaux, villas and inns with local character; meet locals and really get to know them and their culture; visit villages, local museums and historic sites, and take time to relax and soak up the local scene, not rushing around or trying to do too much.

How to create the business that would bring people to these beautiful destinations was still a giant question mark. Neither of us had run a business before nor taken more than a few classes in business, accounting or marketing.

In 1994 I enrolled in a now-famous school, the International Tour Management Institute, or ITMI, based in San Francisco, where I trained to become a Tour Director, learning the many critical lessons in everything you need to know to shepherd groups of people around tourist destinations.

One day, while attending evening classes at ITMI, I came home to find a magazine in my mailbox. You guessed! Someone, to this day unknown, had sent me a sample copy of International Travel News. I devoured every page and immediately subscribed. This was the first time I had ever seen a publication devoted to exactly the kind of travel I wanted to sell. It was almost like a gift from heaven!

I don’t need to preach to the choir; every page of ITN is devoted to the subject we all are obsessed with: travel! There are no automobile ads or ads for furniture or yachts or bathroom lighting fixtures or cosmetics or politicians or anything other than TRAVEL.

I took a tour group to Caen, France, 45 years after being a student at the Université de Caen. Here, we're walking across the drawbridge of the castle that William the Conqueror began constructing in 1066. I used to walk across this bridge every day on my way to class.

John and I studied every word of every issue for months, and then we knew exactly what we wanted to do: start a tour company. We spent over a year in preparation. ITN’s Publisher, Helen Noble, tells me that our tour company’s first ad in ITN, advertising our very first tour, “Paris and the Loire Valley,” ran in the March 1996 issue.

We are still taking groups to Paris and the Loire Valley, and we have become close friends with the owners of the château bed-and-breakfast where we stay near Tours. Dominique and Pascal finally came to visit us here in Massachusetts this past fall. How our lives have changed since 1996! Our children have all grown up, and their four sons all speak English, and our daughter Nicole speaks French.

Of course! Of course, I love ITN! I could never have had the success I have enjoyed with Olde Ipswich Tours without the customers who found us through this magazine. There is no other publication like it. Not even close!

We are all in shock with the coronavirus nightmare. But no pandemic will ever permanently scare us away from travel. We will get through this, and ITN will survive, as we travel businesses will survive.

Olde Ipswich Tours is a small, family-run business that would probably not exist if it weren’t for ITN. We thank you, Helen Noble and the wonderful ITN staff, for your outstanding work. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Now go wash your hands!

Founder, Olde Ipswich Tours
Ipswich, MA