Escape the Ordinary With Melanie Tucker At Princeton Public Library Thursday

By Linda Arntzenius

Images courtesy of Rare Finds Travel

Travel designer Melanie Tucker has the antidote for the time-pressed traveler. With a lifetime of adventurous, off-the-beaten track trips behind her, the former Princeton resident has a wealth of knowledge of three-day breaks that can deliver the feel of a much longer vacation. 

She will share her know-how in a 40-minute slideshow, “Short Sojourns: Rejuvenating Travel in Just Three Days,” Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Community Room at the Princeton Public Library.

The presentation is part of the library’s summer series, “Escape the Ordinary,” which hosts writers, book groups, artists, and guest speakers.

Melanie Tucker boats to the East Brother Light in San Francisco Bay for an overnight lighthouse stay.

Melanie Tucker boats to the East Brother Light in San Francisco Bay for an overnight lighthouse stay.

The owner of Rare Finds Travel (www.rarefindstravel.com), Ms. Tucker specializes in custom travel itineraries. She caught the travel bug early, when her father got a camper, hooked it up to the family car, and took the family  on a road trip out west. “I was seven and I loved it. I still have a huge wanderlust and a huge curiosity.”

Some or her trips can be life changing, she said. “An ashram in the Bahamas, for example, is a cleansing, sequestered environment and so quick and easy to get to. We have such stressful lives and even if you love where you live, you can benefit from time away.”

“I call it loofah-ing the senses. It doesn’t have to be far or for a long period and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Just think, you can get on a flight to Bangor, Maine, drive to Deer Island, picking up a lobster roll from Madelyn’s en route and show up on the dock for the mail boat to the Isle au Haut. Leave your technology at home and explore the Calendar Islands, so-called because there is one for every day of the year, sleep in the lighthouse, bike around the next day.”

“At the Library, I’ll be talking about a lighthouse crawl down the California coast, a snowmobile through the bison herds of Yellowstone, and, on the east coast, a secret speakeasy in Savannah, a road trip through the Outer Banks, and a food crawl around Key West… just for starters.”

Having traveled to every state in the union and to almost three dozen countries across the globe, Ms. Tucker has discoveries to share. She witnessed the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989, been mesmerized by cobra charmers in a Marrakech souk, hiked a volcano, explored Pompeii, and traveled the Orient Express into Budapest. She’s au fait with South Africa, Alaska, Belize, Turkey, Italy, Key West, Costa Rica, Peru, Paris, Thailand, and is constantly adding new locations to her list.

Melanie Tucker fishes the flats in Key West.

Melanie Tucker fishes the flats in Key West.

When interviewed for this report, Ms. Tucker had just finished her piece on renting a houseboat on Lake Powell for the Around the World Radio show in Santa Barbara. “It’s gorgeous, the colored rock walls and the aquamarine water, you can pull up onto the beach at night and light a fire and sleep out under the stars; there is absolutely no light pollution, it’s clean, beautiful, expansive, a wonderful family trip.”

On air, she’s also described whale watching in Baja where you can “go out at night, drop a microphone into the water and hear the migrating humpbacks, singing. It’s out of this world. If you cross the peninsula between January and April you can visit the place where the gray whales give birth and the newborns come right up to your boat so that you can reach out and touch them.”

“This time of year is a great time to get special bargains,” she said. “And right now Cuba is a wonderful and easy getaway.”

Like London cabbies, who are known for having “the knowledge,” a hard won set of insider information that they’ve come by through years of driving around the city’s back roads and byways, Ms. Tucker has honed her expertise over years of travel.

“I’ve been doing this for two decades. At first I would research and plan for myself and then for friends and neighbors and then I finally realized there was a need for this. So I started my own company about ten years ago. I realized that people want to do something different but don’t necessarily know how to go about it. I can save them time and money! Today, short trips are really popular because many people find it hard to get a block of time, but almost anyone can get three nights and four days.”

For a fee she will share that knowledge with her clients. One conversation with her is enough to persuade most people that the information provided will be well-worth her fee, which includes access to her book of some 500 to 600 sources, all her knowledge and expertise.

There’s an enormous variation in prices for vacations; some people are looking for a five-star experience, others are happy with three. Not all of the trips that she suggests are costly, for example might be a treehouse in Belize for $52 a night.

A change is as good as a rest, says the old adage and with trips such as these, the experience challenges your senses so much that it can feel like much longer. Besides, said Ms. Tucker, “a two- or three-night trip can be just enough adventure for someone who is a little concerned about doing something new; it allows them to tip their toe in the water, so to speak.”

Recently she went on her own dream pursuit that found her out on an oyster boat drinking wine and eating oysters right out of the bay. “After I read about a special oasis in the desert in Tunisia, it captured my imagination and I had to go.”

Melanie Tucker shows some interspecies affection with a baby gray whale on a trip to Baja, California.

Melanie Tucker shows some interspecies affection with a baby gray whale on a trip to Baja, California.

Ms. Tucker’s knowledge extends to truffle-hunting in Umbria; lobster-diving in Belize; home cooking with Berber women; touring the chocolate shops of Paris; exploring the vineyards of South Africa; sleeping high up in the Andes mountains; swimming with 25-foot manta rays off the big island of Hawaii; or spending a few magical days with the Moai statues of Easter Island.

“When you travel, you open yourself up to incredible experiences,” she said. “So often, people don’t really know how or have time to plan their travel. Chain hotels look the same everywhere; if you wake up in the morning and go to the lobby of your hotel and don’t know immediately where you are, you’re doing it wrong.”

Ms. Tucker’s talk will take place in the Princeton Public Library’s Community Room, Thursday, July 30 at 7 p.m.

For more on Rare Finds Travel Design, call (609) 923.0304, or visit: http://rarefindstravel.com.