I’m Melanie.

Here’s how it all started…

Melanie age 7 In Camper

It all started the summer when I was 7.

That summer, my dad hooked a Shasta camper up to our blue Rambler station wagon and drove my family around the American West. I remember peering into the Grand Canyon and chasing a baby heifer at a Wyoming rodeo. I sketched oil wells in my journal and looked forward to the Tang my Mom mixed up for breakfast each morning.

We just did ordinary things, but I came home with an extraordinary feeling.

My family felt like a tight tribe in that station wagon.  My young curiosity was piqued each day – what would we see down the road?   Where would we sleep that night? It was one big adventure! 

All these memories give me a cherished touchstone to my childhood, and 

It all happened in a mere 10 days!

My love of travel that started from that trip eventually took me around the globe. As an adult, I witnessed martial law in Tiananmen Square in 1989. I side-stepped cobra charmers in the souk of Marrakech, hiked up Arenal Volcano, saw my first mummy in Pompeii, and rode the Orient Express into Budapest.

When I became a parent, I was determined to recreate my childhood experience for my own 4 sons. So every summer, we road-tripped in our Ford van around the country. But unlike my own childhood, these trips were anything but common. I strapped my sons into bushplanes to fly out 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!

As we drove, we collaged bumper stickers onto the rear doors of our van. And when we needed a new van, and couldn’t part with those doors displaying so many mementos of our travels, we took them off and hung them on a wall in our home. My oldest son began his college essay like this:
“The doors to my youth are hanging on my living room wall.”
Travel taught us so much.

As my sons moved off to college, and eventually started their own adult lives, my family has continued to travel to share holidays and to mark milestones. Today, our conversations are peppered with references to “the Crying Rock” and “Whoa, Bear” – an inside language that only we “get”.

Travel has created a special bond in my family – one that I hope it will connect my sons long after I am gone.

I am excited to bring the magic of travel to your family too.

My at Rare Finds Travel

My mission is to help your family have off-the-beaten-path adventures where you can

Play. Celebrate. Learn. And overcome challenges.

Because travel has a way of dishing up surprises, both magical and challenging. And by sharing that magic, and facing and overcoming those challenges together, you’ll bond.

THAT’s the secret sauce! That is the stuff that family lore is made of!

MY flagship service at Rare Finds is designing unique itineraries that unveil the essence of a destination through culturally- seasoned meals, offbeat lodging, and unique activities that will fire your imagination and open your eyes.

And there are several other ways for you to experience “Rare Finds” too – our Escape the Ordinary Travel Club, our DIY Guides, and a library of free resources from scavenger hunts to packing guides.

We want your travel life to be as seamless as it is spectacular.

I love to make dreams come true.
If you want to ride horseback in the surf or meet the captain of the local Muggle Quiddich team, I can plan and arrange that for you. If you would like for your aspiring teenage screenwriter to meet a Hollywood director, consider it done. If you dream of tracing your Irish roots, I know how to do that. If you’re a foodie and have always wondered what it would be like to go truffle hunting in the mountains of Umbria, Italy I know exactly who to introduce you to.

I travel regularly to discover new experiences – vet them, video them, and bring them back home to share with you. I have trained, helicoptered, bussed, dogsledded, trekked, and Lamborghini-ed around 6 continents. My curiosity about other cultures and my sense of adventure grow every day.

Who’s behind your Rare Finds’ adventure?

It takes a team to make magic at Rare Finds. Want to meet our team?
Who creates those enticing videos (and makes me look thin and smart on screen)? Meet Guillem of Barcelona, currently living in Sydney, owner of Briefilm.
Who’s your travel concierge and my right-hand woman? Meet Courtney, Travel Assistant Extraordinaire from Virginia Beach.
Who designed this spanky website and handles our Escape Club tech too? Meet Eric, a branding specialist from Lambertville NJ and the owner of Eric Rounds LLC.
Who handles PR and all things language-related at Rare Finds? Meet Dan Meara, professional writer from Lambertville, NJ.
Who keeps all your payments straight? Meet Wendy of Reside Bookkeeping from Hamilton, NJ.

Professional Background

I have a BA in business from the University of Virginia, and before starting my travel design service, I worked in commercial real estate and fundraising. I have been designing bespoke itineraries for more than 20 years, and in 2007 I founded Rare Finds Travel Design (originally Tough Love Travel – but that’s a tale for another time)

I am an IATA certified travel agency as well as a Destination Specialist for the state of Alaska, a Yachtalist for small ship expeditions, FUNDI certified for tourism in South Africa and the Winelands, and an active member of ATTA Adventure Travel Association.

I’m very proud to be an AirBnB Superhost – check out Secret Garden in Lambertville, NJ – where I have hosted more than 2200 visitors from more than 18 countries over the past 5 years. And starting summer 2020, Melanie is opening a 2nd AirBnB location, the Cracked Mug, a waterview guesthouse up on Monhegan Island in Maine.

Socially, you’ll find me at the Virginia Club of NYC, Gotham Networking, the Wing, TigerLabs of Princeton, and the Princeton Chamber of Commerce.
You can also find me as a regular guest on travel radio, teaching travel classes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and speaking to audiences at libraries, clubhouses, and conferences. Each year I exhibit at National Geographic Adventure Travel Shows around the country, and in winter and spring 2014, trips I designed under my former brand, Tough Love Travel, were featured on CBS’ “The Price Is Right!”

When I’m not traveling…

I’m an avid reader of memoirs and travel histories, a sculler and sailing captain, a cyclist and a skier.

I’m a shameless foodie – my friends say “if it doesn’t walk off my plate, I’ll eat it!”

I live on the canal in Lambertville, NJ with my wheaten terrier, Patrick.

snowy Patrick, RFTD mascot