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Tony Wheeler on 40 years of Lonely Planet

Writing exclusively for Waterstones blog, Tony Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet takes a look back at how far he, and the series have come in the past forty years. Plus you can take a look at the very first Lonely Planet guide and enter our competition to win a ten day Turkish adventure... 

Posted on 2nd March 2013 by Waterstones

Tony at the Taj Mahal



Earlier this year my wife Maureen and I sat in front of the Taj Mahal for a photograph, we’d sat on the same bench with that same iconic building framed behind us 40 years earlier. On that first visit we were 20-somethings, prototype gap year travellers making our way along the Asia Overland route, more colourfully known as the ‘hippie trail.’ We’d travelled from London via Afghanistan and who knows where else and would eventually end up in Sydney, Australia. It was a trip which led, a year later, to the very first Lonely Planet guidebook.

We hadn’t set out planning to become guidebook publishers, but along the route – and indeed even before we left London – we’d realised how little information there was available. And how much it was needed. Lonely Planet grew slowly at first, of the first 10 books we published I wrote half of them myself, and even when we published our first India guidebook, a monstrous tome at the time which suddenly catapulted the business up the book sales charts, we were still small enough to take the whole office to the local pub for lunch.

Now, all those years later, I may have moved on from Lonely Planet, but travel is still a big part of my life and, just as in the early days, it’s going to the weird and wonderful locations which really gives me a kick. Recently I’ve been to eight of them from Congo DRC to Haiti, Pakistan to Papua New Guinea, which will feature in my new book – from Lonely Planet – Tony Wheeler’s Dark Lands. Plus Planet Wheeler, our post-Lonely Planet foundation, regularly sends me off on forays to interesting locales to check out the health and educational projects we’ve sponsored. I’ll soon be walking up to Ciudad Perdida with people from the archaeological organisation Global Heritage Fund. It’s Colombia’s ‘Lost City,’ a lesser known and rather more remote rival for Peru’s Machu Picchu.

Fortunately I’m equally happy with the ‘civilised’ side of travel, this year will take me back to Paris and New York, Italy and Denmark, and it’s a delight to keep discovering that even the most beaten tracks can continue to offer surprises. Last year a meandering two week drive from Frankfurt to Berlin, led by a German couple we’ve known for many years, produced the year’s light bulb moment: how come we never realised the villages and small towns of Saxony could be just as enchanting as Provence or Tuscany?

Travel lessons I’ve learnt over the years? Well packing light is still one of the most important, taking twice as much money and half as much baggage is never a bad idea, but perhaps a cheaper way of doing it is simply packing for every trip as if you’re going to depart on Ryanair. Whatever I squeeze into my bag my Lonely Planet guidebook is still going to be in there and I still get a warm glow of pride every time I see a shelf of them in Waterstones.

Tony Wheeler, for Waterstones.com/blog


Take a look at the first ever Lonely Planet guide,Across Asia On The Cheap, which was written in 1973 by Tony and Maureen Wheeler following their overland trip from London to Sydney. The advice in this book is as dated as the original method of stapling the book together, so it shouldn’t be used as a practical guide, nor does it reflect the current views of Lonely Planet. It does however give a fantastic insight into these regions 40 years ago and the foundations on which the company was built.


Download and read Across Asia On The Cheap now.

Read more about Tony and Maureen's adventures in their book The Lonely Planet Story.


One lucky winner and a companion will join a group of up to 10 like-minded travellers and a knowledgeable local leader on this 10-day adventure through Turkey with Intrepid Travel. The pair will also receive £1,000 spending money.

Visit our site to enter


You can find Lonely Planet guides at your local Waterstones bookshop (http://bit.ly/s6sdlu) or online at Waterstones.com (http://bit.ly/Z9sjd1)