Wheelin’ Around the World: Meet Tony Wheeler

(Technical Error – sorry all – this was yesterday’s post! But I see half the contents are missing and the post never got published – but here is my NaBloPoMo post for 9 November!)

Yesterday I had the pleasure of sitting in on a lunch featuring Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet, speaking.  While I’m sure many of you have heard of Lonely Planet (probably read or own a few), few may know the humble origins of this top travel guide.

In 1972, Tony Wheeler, a newlywed, set off to see the world with his wife.  They invested in a 50 pound used car and set out from England to the continent, through Turkey, down past India, and into Southeast Asia, before hitching a ride on a yacht to Australia!

By the time the pair made it to Australia, they only had 27 cents between the two of them! But given all the interest they received along the way on their travels, decided to sit down and write their first travel guide.  And that’s when Lonely Planet was born!

The first book, Across Asia on the Cheap, was so successful, written with strong opinions, that the couple went on to write Southeast Asia on a Shoestring (which is still in publication today!).

In addition to this story, Mr. Wheeler shared some other travel tales.  He warned that the most dangerous situations he’d ever been in usually were in the backs of taxis – no doubt, bad driving is a worldwide endemic!

He shared a tale of one time in Congo in which the police stopped his driver – a common occurrence when Congolese drivers were carrying foreigners.  The driver started to produce lots of documents – licenses, registrations, permits, insurance.  After showing he had all sorts of documents, the driver still handed over some money.

After all was said and done, Mr. Wheeler asked what happened and what the driver was fined for. The driver said he was fined for not carrying his driver’s license. Normally this is not what you want to hear as a passenger in a taxi, but then the driver reassured his passenger that he indeed had his license – it was just that the costs to recover his license from the police would far exceed the fine for not having it!

And so are some of the crazy things that happen in this world.

I bought his latest book, entitled Bad Lands, which is about a visit to a variety of “bad” countries, including the new “axis of evil” as deemed by Bush 2. I am indeed looking forward to reading about it, especially on his visit to Burma, which has recently become “good” in the US’ eyes, and is a place I hope to visit being so close to HK.

In 2011, Mr. Wheeler finalized his sale of Lonely Planet to BBC, but he still seems to travel quite a bit since then, and we all still read the books.


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