5 big travel lessons and one ‘mistake’ from 50 years of Lonely Planet


Tony Wheeler has spent half a century traversing the globe but still carries a guidebook. Naturally, it’s his own.

“Just a couple days ago in Brazil, I went to Iguazu Falls,” Wheeler, 76, said during a recent video call from a hotel guest room in New York City. “I went across to Argentina and had the Lonely Planet guidebook. It said to take the walk close to the river level because everybody heads to the top one. You know, the guidebook got it right.”

Wheeler and his wife, Maureen, founded Lonely Planet guidebooks 50 years ago. In 1972, the newly married couple bought a ratty old car in London and drove east, across Europe, and then farther east, to Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan, where they sold their vehicle. In Australia, their final stop, one adventure ended and another began.

Their first publication, “Across Asia on the Cheap,” spawned more than 150 million guidebooks covering 221 countries. It also heralded a new generation of travelers who were young, adventurous and scrappy. Like true rebels, they ventured where few parents had gone before.

“These were books for people in their 20s with no money,” he said. “If their parents had gone to Europe, they were going to Asia. If they were in Europe, they were going down to Spain and across to Morocco. Instead of escaping the States to Mexico, they’d go down to South America. Their horizons were getting larger, wider.”

In 2011, the Wheelers, who split their time between London and Melbourne, Australia, sold their publishing company. Red Ventures, which also owns the Points Guy, took over in 2020. Although they are no longer actively involved in the series and have upgraded their travel style, they still embody the spirit of the “backpacker’s bible.”

The day after Tony returned from South America, he shared some of the lessons he has learned from his 50 spins around the Lonely Planet.

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