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The Adventure Concierge
Maghan McDowell | Photo: Kathleen Harrison | November 6, 2018
In a hyperconnected world, Amber Medkiff navigates the road less traveled.
Luxury travel guru Amber Medkiff never recommends a travel destination, whether hotel or restaurant, until she’s slept in the bed or sampled its menu—and that’s a lot of work, considering she’s been around the world nine times, Saudi Arabia and North Korea excluded.
As a Marin-based travel director at travcoa.com, a California luxury travel firm, Medkiff facilitates the inaccessible for clients ranging from pop-star Janet Jackson to Silicon Valley CEOs (nondisclosure agreements ensure clients’ privacy). Services range from small group trips listed on the firm’s website—such as an upcoming itinerary to Japan (shrines, remote villages, castles, five-star hotels) that runs $13,490 per person to custom, private journeys that soar into the six figures. Clients have driven Ferraris while touring private art collections in Italy, floated aloft in hot air balloons in Sri Lanka (a first for the Asian nation, she says) and dodged cows through the back roads of India.
Before she started escorting tech titans to see gorillas in Rwanda (daily permits are $2,000; no detail goes unchecked), Medkiff operated in a different arm of the luxury world. Bolstered by fashion studies at the University of London, she worked for fashion designer Emilio Pucci, whose clients included one of Travcoa’s owners. She pursued a job at the firm because she delights in “making a basic experience extraordinary,” she says.
Most clients simply don’t have time to plan trips of such magnitude, but they also crave experiences that money can’t buy, at least not easily or without the insider knowledge that Medkiff provides. What she can’t plan for? Natural disasters. But she knows how to cope when they occur. While hosting a 50th birthday celebration in Nepal, an earthquake stranded the group in an elephant camp for 10 days, so Medkiff painted “Happy Birthday” on the elephants and taught the staff how to make carrot cake from vegetables foraged on-site.
Medkiff’s favorite destinations are places untouched by tourism, like Bhutan and Myanmar, where it “feels like you are going back in time,” she says. “It’s getting harder to find one-of-a-kind experiences—but I still do.”
Originally published in the October/November issue of Silicon Valley