FAQs

General Questions

Does this really work?

Yes, it works! Our clients report that they get a trip of a lifetime in a mere 12 days! They say that we found them activities that they wouldn’t have thought of, figured out routes and timing that they wouldn’t have known, and given them great value.

Our clients tell us that they are having great fun and are amazed and impressed with the unique ideas that we keep coming up with.

One guest said that, in all her travels, she had never met anyone who would go so far, to leave no stone unturned, to make sure her vacation was perfect.

They say Melanie’s attention to detail is impressive! One person even said that she must’ve worked for NASA in a previous career because she is so careful with details.

To hear more from our raving fans, read their testimonials.

How are you different from other travel agents?

We are different from a typical travel agent in 2 very important ways:

1. We focus exclusively on off-the-beaten-path lodging and activities.

We send guests to cave hotels and castles, treehouses and lighthouses, and to all sorts of unique, historically-relevant, boutique properties. Then we set them up with our guides for novel excursions like truffle hunting in Umbria or lobster diving in Belize. You can spend a day in Alaska’s grizzly country or pedal through hidden gardens in Key West, walk through the Pinochet years of Santiago Chile with my political history guide, or learn the art of tagine cooking –right in the riad kitchen of a Berber woman in the Fez medina!

2. We offer 100% customized trip plans.

Joe wanted to surprise his equestrian bride with a horseback ride through the Mayan ruins at sunset? Done!
Sheila wanted a special photography guide who knew the back lanes and local folks of Cinque Terre? Got it!
The Hodges’ teens are Harry Potter fans? They need to meet the Captain of the local Muggle Quiddich Team in Edinbourgh. Of course!

How long have you been doing what you do and how did you get to be a travel designer?

Melanie explains…

It all started when I was 7.

That summer, my Dad hitched a little white Shasta camper to our family’s Rambler station wagon, and took us on a road trip around the West.  We did ordinary things – chased a heifer around a Wyoming rodeo, drank warm Tang that my Mom mixed up every morning in the Shasta.  But I had extraordinary memories – the thrill of striking out to new territory every day, the warmth of feeling bonded to my family.   I thought this great adventure had lasted all summer.  I was over 40 years old before my Mom told me that it had been a mere 10 days.

As an adult, I was determined to recreate this bonding with my family, so every summer, I packed up my own 4 sons.  We logged so many miles that I used to joke that I raised them partly in our home in Princeton, NJ and partly in our Ford van as we road-tripped all over the US, Canada, and Mexico.

But unlike my own childhood trips, these roadtrips were anything but ordinary.  I buckled my sons onto bushplanes for an overnight in Alaska’s grizzly country.  I sailed with them over the Gulf Stream to gunkhole around the Bahamas.   We polar-bear-plunged into the Arctic Ocean, slept in a Caribbean treehouse, and hiked volcanoes from Maui to Santorini.

How these adventures bonded my family!  Our family developed our own argot, or dialect, with references to “the Crying Rock” and “Whoa, Bear!” that pepper our conversations even today and that only we understand.

We all kept journals:  I recorded the price of gas, the boys scotch-taped kelp from our San Juan kayak (and even the wart from Doug’s left thumb).

My sons learned not only to tolerate, but even to value, the differences in our group.  Yes, my musical son fumed in the Grand Canyon’s inferno, wishing mightily to be at music camp in the Canadian woods, but today, he has embraced backpacking and admits he’s a better person for it.

As we drove from the Yukon to Baja, we collaged the back of our Ford van in bumper stickers, eventually removing the rear doors to adorn our home.  When my firstborn went off to college, his application essay started:

“The doors to my youth are on the wall of my living room”.

As my sons graduated and started their own adult lives, my family continued to use travel to mark big moments and to reconnect our geographically-disparate lives!   I’m counting on the glue of our travel to sustain their relationships for their lifetimes.

I have since made a commitment to dedicate the rest of my professional life to creating these precious opportunities for other people.  Whether to mark a milestone birthday or a honeymoon – or even just to give yourself a rejuvenating break – I revel in creating journeys that open people’s eyes and fire their imaginations.  And I particularly like to plan for families.  We’ve only got 18 summers, after all, to create stories that our own kids will tell for decades to come.

I specialize in arranging unique events, like a Nikon-certified guide to serve as the personal ambassador for a photography club traveling to Cinque Terre.  This guide grew up along this coast.  He’s boyhood pals with the director of the national park, as well as with local wine-makers and café owners, so he will spend the week introducing the photography club to all his friends.

I’ve learned to accommodate 3 (sometimes 4!) generations on 1 trip.

I love to make dreams come true:  ride horseback on the beach or meet the captain of the local Muggle Quiddich team!

Of course, I continue to travel and build my expertise.  Since 1989 when I found myself in Tiananmen Square (on the day they declared martial law!), I have trained, helicoptered, bussed, and trekked around 5 continents.   (Look out, Antarctica!)

I’m a true foodie.  I used to always say “if it doesn’t walk off my plate, I eat it!”, but then I was served live octopus in Busan.  It DID walk off my plate, but I ate it anyway.   I’ve befriended truffle hunters in Umbria and lobster-divers in Belize.  Put it this way… I know my way around Paris via chocolate shops, not the metro!

I’m fascinated by history.  I’d love to send your kids to Gladiator school, or introduce you to Mandy who grew up in Soweto or Mohammed from the Bedouin camp in the Sahara.

I’ve sent people to dogsled, track lions, swim with whale sharks, and bathe elephants in Thailand!

I would love to design an adventure for you too.  It can be rustic or luxurious but I promise you – it’ll be unique.

How quickly can I expect results?

We start as soon as you complete your Welcome Letter and make your 50% deposit on the planning fee. If we are fully booked when you contract us, then we together will set a dependable start date that will still give us ample research time before your desired travel dates.

If I’m not sure I’m ready to get started, how can I sample your work at a low cost to see it if it’s the right solution for me?

A way to sample the Rare Finds Travel Design philosophy and offerings is to subscribe to our e-magazine, Tales of the Trip. These complimentary articles are published about twice a month, and arrive via email. They always feature one main topic, such as “7 Super Suppers without a Single Restaurant in Italy”  or “Sleepin’ in Trees around the World” or “Lighthouse Crawl down the California Coast.” They are a must for anyone curious about off-the-beaten-track adventures.

Sign Up to Receive Tales from the Trip.

Melanie, based on everything I’ve read and heard about you, I know you’re the one I want to plan my trip. What are my options?

You can choose whichever of the three Rare Finds travel design processes that best fits your lifestyle and needs:

  • Rare Finds’ Signature Custom Travel Design Service:

This full-service, highly personalized planning process creates an itinerary that is 100% customized, just for you.  We do all the work for you. All you do is “pack and go play!” It is described in our 7-Step Rare Finds Travel Design System, above. You have full access to Melanie as your personal travel designer, and you will receive a fully-concierge-d trip of your dreams.

Cost: planning fees start at $1100 for US trips and $1500 for international trips.

  • Melanie’s Favorites:

These 8-10 day itineraries offer the same off-the-beaten-track lodging and activities as our signature Custom Travel Planning, but without customization.  We have prepared for you our all-time favorite itineraries–things which I believe embody the very best of a destination and which are most universally appreciated by travelers.

Melanie’s Favorite the itinerary Melanie Tucker, RFTD owner, would take if she were going to the destination.

We want to hear your preference for:

    • 3-star or 5-star lodging
    • independent vs. guided time
    • level of physical activity

And then we organize the rest.

Cost: $599 planning fee

  • DIY Reports:

Plan your own trip using Rare Finds Travel Design owner Melanie Tucker’s book of well-vetted guides, innkeepers, and excursions.

Our concise, yet comprehensive 11-page DIY Itineraries include everything you need to plan your own trip, including:

    • reliable and easy-to-use contact information
    • a suggested day-to-day itinerary
    • ideas ranging from favorite restaurants to special excursions and cultural tips

Our itineraries have been tested by Melanie Tucker and her team, and have been proven to give you a thrilling trip that you won’t find in any other travel guide. If you’re a more budget-minded traveler who’s yearning for a novel experience and would appreciate the research done for you, this is your plan.

We’ve got DIY Itineraries for:

    • Belize
    • South Africa
    • Italy’s Rome and Amalfi coast
    • Alaska by land
    • *Alaska’s Inside Passage
    • Paris
    • … and more!

Allow 3-4 days business days for delivery.

Cost: $97

Okay, I know what program I want. How do I get started?

To get your next adventure off the ground, you may

Okay, I’m ready to start planning but I have a couple of questions. Can I call you?

Absolutely! Let’s talk! Email us at Melanie@rarefindstravel.com or call 609-923- 0304.

What exactly is the Rare Finds Travel Design system and what does it include?

Here is our 7-step Rare Finds Travel Design System that we will use to create a very nuanced, 100% customized, specialty travel plan just for you:

We…

1. Listen carefully to want you want.

We want to learn more about you, so your adventure caters directly to your dreams and interests.

2. Add my expertise and research your possibilities.

We research your requests but we always add our own secret recommendations too, which you may have not even realized were possible!

3. Review all the options with you and allow you to “cherry pick” your favorites.

4. Design an incredibly detailed, door-to-door itinerary.

Into your Trip Plan, we incorporate your selections, pace, lifestyle, budget, special needs, and personalized requests.

5. Secure all the reservations and deliver to you a comprehensive Trip Packet.

Your Trip Packet includes your At-A-Glance (your daily schedule of guides, activities, and specialty lodging), as well as a Voucher Packet (all your confirmations and receipts, in chronological order for your trip, as well as maps, dinner reservations, historical write-ups, info on customs and tipping, and more).

6. Psych you up for your adventure and get you ready!

We recommend books to read and movies to watch to get you excited to go, and we answer every last question and confirm all your reservations before you depart.

7. Support you 24/7 while you’re on the road.

What happens if I want to go someplace that you haven’t been yet?

Once in a while, people do request a destination I have not yet been to, like Australia.

If this happens to you, you can count on me to be fully transparent, to discuss your options.

My “calling card” at Rare Finds is on-the-ground experience, so without that, I often encourage people to seek a local specialist for their trip and to remember me for their next adventure.

However, many people value my creative research and meticulous planning so much that they want to hire me anyway.   In these cases, I research your trip as though it were one of my own reconnaissance trips.   I connect with locals whom I’ve befriended at the destination and I confer with various guides or innkeepers with whom I’m friendly.

In the case of Australia, for example, I’m old friends with the captain of the Aussie Olympic Rowing Team.  I know innkeepers at a few island lodges near at the GBR as well as have excellent relationships with the Australia Board of Tourism in NYC.

I massage the trip until I feel 100% confident that you are experiencing a rare and wonderful side of the country, on an itinerary that is as reliable as it is fascinating.

What is expected of me?

We provide a Welcome Letter which spells out exactly what you and I can both expect from each other over the 2-3 months of our trip planning process.

You will need to provide passport details for each traveler (if traveling internationally) as well as credit card details, since each lodge or guide or flight that you choose will be charged directly to your own credit card.

For the planning process, you can be as involved, or as hands-off, as you like, and you can select whatever method of communication is easiest for you. Many people prefer email, but some like to skype or text, and we can even meet in person if you’re local to the NJ/NY/PA area.

We will hope for you to be as open with us as possible, about both your travel history and your current lifestyle, so that we can most perfectly tailor your experience to your liking.

We will send you to our most treasured spots, and entrust you to folks whom we trust and respect. We will confirm each of your reservations before you depart and we will remain “on call” for you when you’re “on the road”.

Still, part of travel is the magic – both fantastic and challenging—that happens along the way, and you will be expected to embrace these unscripted occurrences as valuable opportunities along your journey

What results can I expect?
  • You will be presented with options that you didn’t even know existed, and you’ll be thrilled with the results.
  • You can rely on Melanie’s  20+ years of experience to guide your decisions.
  • You will enjoy delegating all the work to me.
  • You will have me as your personal resource, to ask all your questions and even to make special requests.
  • You will receive your comprehensive Trip Packet about 2 weeks prior to departure.
  • You will be in the trusted hands of my personally-vetted guides to provide everything from airport meet-and-greets to intensive days of guiding.
  • You will have your eyes opened, your imagination fired, and you will come home, hopefully loving your world more than before you left.
What type of traveler do you work best with?

Rare Finds travelers can best be described by ABOUT:

A Avid Adventurers (we’re not talking cave diving – we’re talking culture)
B Busy folks, running careers and families, who need to delegate this planning
O People who want something other than the ordinary. Remember my phrase: sometimes rustic, often luxurious, but always unique!
U Uh-oh! People have a child’s upcoming graduation, a big anniversary, their wife’s 50th birthday… and they need a plan that’ll be a WOW!
T Top-notch! These folks are exacting in their regular lives so, when it comes to travel, they want Top Notch: exquisite (even when quirky) lodging, well-vetted guides, smooth transitions.

If you like to travel independently, with only the company of your family or friends (or yourself!)…
If you yearn for a unique experience, doing things that most people only dream of doing…
If you aim to meet and interact with locals, sampling local food and participating in local customs…
If you want a vacation doing things precisely when and as you want, and you’d like all the arrangements made for you…

…Then we would love to design your next adventure!

You don’t have to be intrepid, exactly… only enthusiastic and inquisitive!

Where can I find Rare Finds Travel Design (formerly known as Tough Love Travel)?

Melanie Tucker is a professional speaker, teaching travel classes in NJ and PA, and offering 40-minute slideshows, full of her original photography and narrated with tales from “the road”.    These shows are perfect for clubs and organizations.  They make a unique agenda for office meetings or lunch hour, and even entertainment in private homes.  Some of her favorite slideshows include:

  • Luxury with an Edge!
  • Travel Where the Wild Things are (wildlife travel)
  • Trips to Savour (trips for foodies)
  • Only 18 Summers (special family trips)
  • Sleepin’ on Boats around the World
  • Alaska, like you’ve never imagined
  • Don’t get Bushwacked:  7 questions people don’t even know to ask!
  • Destination shows for Morocco, Turkey, Italy, South Africa, and Hawaii

She is a regular guest on Around The World radio out of Santa Barbara, and she sits on panels at the NYT Travel Show.

Visit our booth when we exhibit at National Geographic Adventure Travel Shows around the country.

In Winter 2014, Rare Finds’ (previously known as Tough Love Travel) trip to Belize was on CBS’ The Price Is Right!

Who are your clients exactly?

We specialize in unique trips for adventurous travelers.

You don’t have to sleep on the ground or bungie jump. But you do have to genuinely desire a more authentic, less touristy, travel experience, because we’re going to set you up in cool lodging – cave hotels and castles, treehouses and lighthouses, UNESCO properties and historic guesthouses — plus introduce you to our well-vetted guides to escort novel activities like truffle hunting, dinner in the home of a local, or a day out in grizzly country.

Trips designed by Rare Finds are “Sometimes rustic, often luxurious, always unique!”

Your trip will be 100% customized, according to your wishes, so it will be whatever you wish it to be.

We work with:

  • Families (1,2, or 3 generations)
  • Couples and Honeymooners
  • Solo travelers (who especially appreciate our well-vetted ambassadors who take care of them)
  • Clubs and Universities who seek a personal itinerary for their group
  • Businesses who want to reward a high-achieving producer or thank a special client
Will I recover the investment that I put into your design fee?

People often tell us that the value of their precious travel time is far greater than the actual money spent on their trip. They are greatly reassured to know that their journey is in the hands of a deeply-committed expert.

Although we charge a fee for our travel planning, you’ll likely end up saving money because you’ll have access to our special places that’ll cost you much less than those you could find on your own. For example, we know of locally-owned flats on the Spit in Homer Alaska, where you have your private deck as a front row seat to watch the bald eagles hunt for $145/night. We have National Park lodging in South Africa for $72/night–just 100 yards from the breaking surf of the Indian Ocean. We have a Sacred House in Fez for 646 dirham, or $80/night, where you can lodge right in the heart of the ancient medina. We have locally-owned guesthouses from Key West to Quito, and lighthouses from NY’s Hudson River to the San Francisco Bay, and even in the UK and Croatia. And that’s only a small glimpse into what is possible!