Lonely Planet - Back in the Day


lonely planetWhen I set out in 1981 for 4 months touring on-the-cheap in South and South-East Asia, there was no question what guidebook I'd take. Yes, guidebooks were a must in the pre-Internet era: no Google Maps or Trip Advisor. What was the guide of choice? The Lonely Planet's South-East Asia on a Shoestring of course. When Malissa here at ELI asked me for a photo for "Throwback Thursday" a few days ago, I thought of that trip 35 years ago, and those thoughts lead me back to Tony Wheeler, the best friend I've never met. You see, Tony Wheeler was the guru of the backpacking, young traveler of the era. Traveling among that crowd is a kind of circuit; you're constantly running into people following the same basic itinerary. You might see them in Colombo, Sri Lanka and then again a couple of months, and many adventures later in Mandalay, Burma (as it was called at the time). Tony had done the circuit more than once, and it was his travels that lead to his creation of Lonely Planet Travel Guides. When you came into a new city or town, you'd be sitting talking with other travelers, and the standard question was "So what does Tony recommend?" Like I said, my close friend, but he had a lot of friends.

Back then, everyone knew Tony's story: a Brit who traveled across Europe and Asia with his wife, ending up in Australia. That's where they set up shop and published their first guide, Across Asia on the Cheap in 1973. My South-East Asia guidebook was an updated version of one that was originally published in 1975. Tony and his wife eventually sold the majority of their publishing empire to BBC Worldwide. I still like the Lonely Planet guides, but the kind of personal relationship we had with Tony is long gone.

I found a few odds and ends tucked into my guide: a map of the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong, a receipt for American Express Traveler's checks (yes pre-ATM - not something I miss!), some postage stamps from Malaysia (probably for postcards that I never sent), and a business card for a hotel in Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. Pretty cool.

cameron highlands


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