TIME TO TRAVEL: “The best thing for me, what I enjoy most, is when I custom-plan and get to deliver a trip, and make it happen for the clients. They can have a life-changing travel adventure that is unforgettable.” Melanie Tucker, owner of Tough Love Travel, a research and design service, is seated by a display of items from her travels. “My everyday life is informed with touchstones from my travels, which help me to take little ‘virtual visits’ each day to these remote and beloved places.”
Melanie Tucker was born with a wanderlust! Now, after having traveled to every state in the U.S. and 32 different countries, she is owner of Tough Love Travel, a research and design travel service, which specializes in creating custom travel itineraries for individuals, couples, families, and social groups.
The former Princeton resident, now headquartered in Lambertville, is enthusiastic about her unique approach to travel planning.
“I offer extraordinary, life-changing trips to more than three dozen destinations, including South Africa, Alaska, Belize, Turkey, Italy, Key West, Costa Rica, Peru, Paris, Thailand, and more — and I research new places all the time.
“The idea is to get travelers out of their comfort zone, while still focusing on their interests, and providing them with a unique trip that they will always remember.”
On The Road
Ms. Tucker remembers her own first “unique” trip very well. “When I was seven, my dad got a camper, hooked it up to the family car, and we took a road trip out west. I was so full of memories from that trip! We got close as a family, and I loved it. I have a huge wanderlust and a huge curiosity.”
These characteristics have continued through her adult life, and have taken her around the world. As she notes, “I raised four sons, partly in our home in Princeton and partly in my Ford van, as we road-tripped to four corners of the U.S., as well as Mexico and Canada.
“My love of travel eventually took me around the globe. I witnessed martial law in Tiananmen Square in 1989, 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! Through all these experiences, I was touched by the magic of travel, and inspired to build Tough Love Travel, creating completely custom travel intineraries. My mission is to share my passion of off-the-beaten-track travel with my clients.”
Tough Love Travel actually evolved from her experiences with friends and family, who sought out her expertise for their own travels.
“Friends would often ask me what I had done with the kids on a trip, and I started planning travels for them and their relatives. It just grew. So often, people don’t really know how or have time to plan this, and travel time is so precious. You really only have 18 summers to travel with your own kids. I realized this could be a business, and it all came together in 2007.”
Over the years, Ms. Tucker has developed an extensive network of contacts, including interpreters and guides, all over the world. She can guarantee that her clients will enjoy high quality experiences in the setting of their choice. As she notes, “I have traveled so much for three decades, and I have made it my mission to research places. I go off the beaten path, and seek out unique places and experiences.”
The first thing she does when meeting a client is establish their interests, life-style, and budget. “When planning a trip, I need to know how experienced a traveler someone is, how much do they want to learn, and how much they can spend. Most people really like to splurge on a couple of things and save on others.
“What is their dream trip? What are their interests? Are they literary people, art aficionados, do they like to go fishing? Are they foodies?”
Whatever trip the client envisions, Ms. Tucker can make it happen. For example, foodies take note: “Ever gone truffle-hunting with a farmer and his dog in Umbria? Or how about a day of lobster-diving in Belize, after which your guide takes you to a remote shore and builds you a fire of coconut husks and grills lobsters for lunch!
“There’s a cooking class in Fez, learning the art of tagine cooking right in the kitchen of a Berber woman … a tour of Paris, one chocolate shop at a time … ceviche wars in South America? … a wine route called the Vinehopper in South Africa … private cooks in villas in Barbados, dinner parties in the home of a Cesarine in Italy … and more.”
For the intrepid traveler bent on seeing and experiencing off-beat and challenging adventures, Ms. Tucker offers the following, among other journeys.
“Wonder what it’s like to sleep in a Quechuan family’s home, 11,000 feet high up in the Andes? Or sleep with grizzly bears out on Katmai? Want to swim with 25-foot manta rays off the big island of Hawaii, or in the sardine run off South Africa?
“How about bidding at a rug auction, deep in the Atlas mountains of Morocco? Or spending a few magical days with the Moai statues of Easter Island? You can hike the Chilkoot or the Incan trail, jam in the home of a local musician in Cape Town, or stay overnight in a longhouse in one of north Borneo’s tribal villages. Sleeping in treehouses? On boats or trains? It’s all available.”
The point is that Ms. Tucker will arrange everything. As she says, “It is a full service soup-to-nuts travel plan. I will do all the research, coordinate a plan, refine the itinerary based on your feedback, make and confirm reservations, and deliver your travel packet — a detailed, well-orchestrated game plan, including your daily itinerary with local lodging and regional cuisine, all your activities and guides, trains/boats/buses and transfers, travel tips, and even a packing list if you desire.
“You will enjoy an inspired adventure itinerary, 100 percent customized to your physical, intellectual, and financial activities. It will fire your imagination, open your eyes, bond your group or family, and provide stories and memories for years to come.”
The customized travel plan is 10 percent of the cost of the trip starting at $499. Ms. Tucker is so convinced that her clients will have the trip of a life time that she guarantees a refund of the travel fee if they are not fully satisfied.
For those who might want to venture out on their own, but still need the expertise of an experienced traveler, Ms. Tucker has also launched a new travel plan for do-it-yourselfers. “This is a 12-page bulleted document with everything you need to plan a trip to a specific place. It is $99 for an un-customized plan, in which you basically make up your own plan and reservations, but with the benefit of valuable recommendations from an expert.”
Ms. Tucker attends a number of travel shows throughout the country, from Washington, D.C. to California. She has a booth with exhibits, brochures, and slide shows of favorite excursions, and she is particularly looking forward to the upcoming National Geographic show in Dallas in November. “I have created a “foodie” travel show that people find inspiring, fun, and educational. I am excited to present this in front of National Geographic’s audience of 18,000!”
In addition, Ms. Tucker has created slide shows which she presents locally at the Princeton Public Library and in similar settings. She also recently taught three classes at the Princeton Adult School, including “Trips to Savour — Novel Foodie Experiences”, “Thorny Travel Problems (money, packing, safety)”, and “Off the Beaten Track Travel.” She has been asked to schedule additional classes next fall.
For Ms. Tucker, travel is both nurturing and inspirational. As she says, “It’s seeing and smelling something new. Meeting folks who are at once altogether different, but also just like me at their core. I often ‘friend’ these people on Facebook after my trip, and stay connected as world events and our lives unfold.
“I think from a personal perspective, the biggest benefit of travel is what one discovers about oneself. From a larger perspective, the biggest benefit is to serve as a wandering ambassador for our country. As I tell my own grown kids, every time they go out into the world and show kindness and respect, they are creating a positive face for the U.S. in foreign countries. Everyday people need to experience Americans like this, and by doing so, we will create more acceptance between cultures.
“When you travel, you must trust enough to open yourself up to this incredible experience. You also need to keep your head and be alert and aware. And you must always show respect for the people and the culture.”
Ms. Tucker can be reached at 609-923-0304. Website: www.toughlovetravel.com.