” Despite all its drawbacks and problems, travel is enormously important. It is the biggest business in the world—more people depend upon travel and tourism for their employment than any other business—but travel is much more than money. It is through travel that we meet and understand other people and at this time, when there is so much anger and misunderstanding in the world, travel is more important than it has ever been. ” (Ch.11: Not Always the Good Guys, p.335)
Unlikely Destinations is the memoir of Tony and Maureen Wheeler, founders of the Lonely Planet guidebook series. In mid-1972, laid off from a job at Chrysler, Tony and his new wife Maureen set out on a year-long trip (kangaroo hop?) from England to Australia by way of the Middle East and Asia overland. As they trudged through some of the roughest trail in uncharted countries, they keenly recognized the need for a complete, detailed “how to” travel guide to suit the new breed of laid-back, independent travelers. The stash of notes scribbled along the way transpired to the self-published Across Asia on the Cheap, the instant success that captured Southeast Asia which, at the time, was almost a terra incognita.
During this trip, I began to suspect that travel for us had changed forever. No longer were we simply following the road suggested by our curiosity and dictated by our financial state; we had a purpose, we were laying down the roadmap for like-minded travelers. We took this responsibility very seriously. We had to go further, higher, harder than anyone else, in order to document it all, and it was hard. (Ch.3: Get Going, Going Broke, p.94)
The book, part memoir, business, and travel, captures the incredible birth and growth of a global publishing empire that has weathered the various periods of a company’s evolution, from surviving by the skin of the teeth, to penny-pinching one-man operation, to growing, outsourcing, and expanding, to becoming a leader in the field. The momentum is fueled by a passion and curiosity.
Baedeker’s had been joined by the Blue Guides, books that told you in exciting detail about the history of a castle or the architecture of a church, but the ‘how to’ of travel rarely crept into their guides . . . but suddenly how to get there, where to stay and where to eat was as important as the difference between a Baroque church and a Gothic one. (Ch.8: All About Guidebooks, p.224)
What drives Lonely Planet to its unmatched success is exactly what appeals to me as a solo traveler: the painstaking, tedious, time-consuming, and meticulous research effort on the part of Lonely Planet‘s writers. There’s a high level of commitment to and conviction of providing accurate information available long before the advent of mass tourism. Unlikely Destinations is a vast armchair travel around the world, but is also a chronicle of how the staff would go to make the tedious run to update the information. There’s a personal touch to the book as Wheeler reflects not juggling between work, family, and travel. The book is a remarkable testimony to how a love and passion of travel has led to a life of fulfillment. Long live Lonely Planet!
374 pp. Periplus Books 2005. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]