My life: Lonely Planet Founder Tony Wheeler

South China Morning Post:

ON A SHOESTRING In 1972, when we had been married for only six months, my wife, Maureen, and I bought an old car for £60 and drove from London to Kabul. When we got there we sold it for a small profit and from Afghanistan we continued through Southeast Asia and ended up sailing from Bali to Australia by yacht. While living in Sydney, we found people were interested in where we’d been and how we’d done it so we decided to publish Across Asia on the Cheap and that’s how Lonely Planet started. The book sold well and inspired us to write Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, so we spent 1974 back on the road. Ours was the first guide to a region that wasn’t well known as a tourist destination at that time.

CHANGING TIDES We were definitely shoestring travellers. We wrote guides for young people like us, who travelled slowly and lived on a budget. There’s a lot of talk today about how tourism damages the environment but I think there are compensating factors. Shoestring travellers have more contact with locals and tend to put money into local communities rather than multinational companies. Lots of places rely on tourism and would be in far worse shape if people stopped visiting. Travel has changed: placing an international phone call used to take hours, if you could get through at all. In the days before e-mail you would go to post offices en route, sift through a pile of mail looking for letters from home and sit on the steps of your hotel to read them. Some of the romance has gone and I’m glad I had those experiences. It’s still a habit of mine to note down the hotels I stay in and how much they cost. Earlier this year, I paid US$12 for a room in a church mission guesthouse in the Solomon Islands.