Interview with Tony Wheeler, Lonely Planet Founder – Episode 163 of The Thoughtful Travel Podcast

My travel podcasting and travel blogging career has brought about lots of extra-fun things and one of them was getting to meet Tony Wheeler, the legendary founder of the Lonely Planet empire, when he spoke at the Australian Society of Travel Writers convention I went to in Cairns recently. (That’s me with him and some of my buddies below!)

Meeting Tony Wheeler, along with some of my Perth travel writing friends, at ASTW in Cairns

It’s also a sign that I’ve been doing this for a few years that when we caught up to record an interview, I managed to more or less speak in a sensible way and not go too fan-girly! The result is this chat – hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Travel summed up perfectly in one presentation title!
Tony Wheeler at ASTW Convention, Cairns, 2019

Show notes: Episode 163 of The Thoughtful Travel Podcast

Interview with Tony Wheeler, Lonely Planet Founder

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Tony Wheeler, most famed for being the co-founder, along with his wife Maureen, of the Lonely Planet guide book empire. He gave a keynote address at the conference attended for the Australian Society of Travel Writers and I had the chance to chat with him later that day, and asked him if he’d like to be a special guest on The Thoughtful Travel Podcast – and luckily for all of us he said yes!

In this conversation we talk about all kinds of travel-related stories, some fun and some serious. I ask Tony what he’s learnt from his travels over the years, whether his children also have the travel bug and all about his keen interest in modes of transport. We also talk about two of his book projects including his most recent one, Islands of Australia.

The wonderful members of the Thoughtful Travellers group on Facebook also chimed in with some questions, which led Tony and I to chat about why he mentioned the Maldives as a place he wouldn’t return to, and we also discussed the “Lonely Planet effect” – what happens when a small tourism business gets overrun after being mentioned in a guide book.

All of that, as they say, and more! It was a great pleasure to chat with Tony and I hope you all enjoy listening!


Transcript of Episode 163

Amanda Kendle 0:26
Hello, and welcome to Episode 163 of The Thoughtful Travel Podcast. I’ve got a really special episode today. I had the chance to interview Tony Wheeler, who was the founder of the Lonely Planet guidebook empire. I was lucky enough to meet Tony recently at the conference I went to at the Australian Society of Travel Writers convention. He was the keynote speaker there and you can hear a bit more about that whole conference experience in Episode 160. But in any case, Tony was lovely enough to agree to record an interview for the podcast. And so this is it today. But before we get onto my chat with Tony I did want to have a little reminisce about my experiences with Lonely Planet because I remember quite distinctly the very first Lonely Planet guide book I ever bought. I was 18 to 19 and I wasn’t traveling anywhere I was at uni and you know, had no money and wasn’t even quite sure I had the – I wasn’t really quite brave enough to travel but I liked the idea to do it, you know, as an adult, I suppose. And the first Lonely Planet I bought was the New Zealand Lonely Planet. And I remember very well that I bought it with either birthday or Christmas money that my dear grandmother had given me, my Nan. She’s the one who’s responsible for the entire name of my site for Not A Ballerina, just go to and you will find that story.

Amanda Kendle 1:58
Now ironically enough, I still to this day, decades later, have not been to New Zealand. But I remember having that guidebook and just devouring it and kind of seeing from all of the information inside it, you know, it kind of reminded me all that was out there in the world and all the decisions that I would be able to make in the future as an adult to travel. So that’s, yeah, funny that I remember it so well. I used lots of Lonely Planet guidebooks over the years, especially when I was living and travelling abroad in my 20s. I haven’t kept many of them because you know, decluttering and all but I have a bunch of them and my two favorites that I can see on my shelf here: one for Tunisia, because I traveled to Tunisia, on a kind of a whim from Slovakia when I discovered that we had like a two week break over Christmas Not long after I started working there. And I chose Tunisia because it was basically the only place that there were flights still available to and I knew nothing about it. And I learned everything from that guidebook. It completely defined our trip. And my other favorite is the Trans Siberian guidebook, because it was that, you know, special companion along the Trans Siberian. And it had sections where you could see kind of kilometer by kilometer of what you what you were passing, and how long would it take to get to the next stop and all of this really cool information. And of course, that was such a special trip. So those are my favorites. Now, of course, it must be said that Tony and his wife Maureen sold Lonely Planet a decade or so ago, but continue to have a big interest in travel and obviously have had incredible travels over the years. So here is my chat with Tony Wheeler.

Amanda Kendle 3:43
Lovely to have you here today. And it was a pleasure to meet you at the ASTW convention a couple of weeks back. Now, my favorite thing about travel is I think we learn so much from it that’s really valuable in all parts of our lives. So what have you learnt about yourself over the years from your travels,

Tony Wheeler 4:02
well, I’ve got older, so hopefully I’ve got more sensible over that time. Look, I think, you know, you do all sorts of foolish things when you’re younger and I, I look back to my earliest travels and I, I’m a great believer in young people traveling I think, you know, the, the gap year thing, you know, a year, a year of gap year travel, you learn more than your last five years of school and your next three years a university or whatever. I’m all for that. On the other hand, you know, I was guilty as any other young traveler of Penny pinching too much and arguing too hard about prices and so on. And I think later on you think, you know, I will spend a little bit more money and I’ve had the better experience and look, last week I was in Vanuatu, and there was a what what are you do on Tanna Island, you go see the volcano, and you you might go to a traditional village or whatever. And I thought while I’m going to the volcano in the evening, I’ll go to the traditional village in the morning. There was nobody else going, there was a minimum of two to go. So you know, and I thought, hell, I’m not going to be here again, I’ll pay for two people. So, you know, I’m sure, back in the day, as they say, many years ago, I would have thought I’m not paying double for, you know, the single experience. But you get older, you get older and wealthier and you don’t worry about those sort of things.

Amanda Kendle 5:37
Yeah, that’s true. I agree. When I look back on my kind of backpacking days, there are certain things – it’s almost the only kind of regrets I have of any kind of travel, but I didn’t take the opportunities that were in front of me just because I thought I was going to run out of money, because you always find more money somehow, don’t you?

Tony Wheeler 5:54
You do. And, you know, I think the other thing is if there’s an opportunity, absolutely grab it. I always say that the, you know, the biggest mistake of my travel life was going to Afghanistan in ’72 and not going up too Bamiyan and to see the Buddhas and, you know, if I could turn the clock back, I would definitely turn it back. On the other hand, you know, there were people I met, who I wouldn’t have met if I’d you know, left Afghanistan, two or three days later. So who knows, you know, it’s swings and roundabouts isn’t it?

Amanda Kendle 6:26
Yeah, that’s very true. But it’s also easy with the benefit of hindsight to say, Oh, goodness, now, Afghanistan is something that, you know, it’s so different. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. But I do always, I always remember I was transferred with work to just to Adelaide for a while, and I spent a month there, working very hard, and not seeing much of South Australia. And then suddenly, things change. We got moved back very suddenly. And I said oh! if only I had spent some of those weekends doing more things and after that experience, I really always tried to, to make the most of because you just never know what twists and turns are coming your way.

Tony Wheeler 7:02
You don’t. And, you know, hindsight is a wonderful thing or, but you know, it’s ridiculous in many ways. I always say that if, if I could have been somewhere in, obviously if I could have gone to Bamiyan, when the Buddhas were there, it would have been a thing I should have done. And I had the opportunity, but you know, you can go back and well, I would love to have been there then. I, I never went to Berlin until after the wall fell. And I’ve got lots of German friends, they live in Berlin. And you know, they talk about what it was like being there when the wall came down. Well, obviously, if you could sort of wind the clock back, and think, well, this week, I am going to Germany, because I think interesting things are going to happen in Berlin. And I would, you know, if I had the time machine, I definitely do that.

Amanda Kendle 7:46
Oh imagine! A time machine to bring history to life would just be fabulous.

Tony Wheeler 7:50
Yeah. Well, the opportunities to bring history to life. Yeah.

Amanda Kendle 7:55
Very true. I very fortunately happened to be in Berlin the year after the Wall fell. But at the day of reunification, I was at Brandenburg Gate with a host family I was staying with. So that was one of those travel moments that was completely serendipitous. But it really shaped my kind of yearning to do more to be, you know, the chance of being involved in those kind of events,

Tony Wheeler 8:17
yeah, absolutely i. Well, you know, I, I did actually do that sort of thing, though, two years ago, because I had to be in the States in November, 2016. And I thought, like, I could easily go to the States a week early, and be there when the election takes place. I thought you know, it’s gonna be really fascinating to see the first female president elected, or as it turned out to see Donald Trump elected? So I was there the day that happened, and yeah, I’m very glad I was, it’ll be one of those claims, you know, later on, I’ll say go. I was there. I saw it.

Amanda Kendle 8:58
Would’ve been a very interesting time. And surpising! Yes, I think lots and lots of things we can learn from travel. Now I got the idea when you presented for us at ASTW that you have a bit of an interest in transport. So I first want to tell you a quick story. I lived in in Bratislava in Slovakia about 15 years ago. And in your presentation, you showed us these graphic pictures of bus accidents that were in I think it was the Shanghai bus station.

Tony Wheeler 9:28
Yes. Very Chinese. Yes.

Amanda Kendle 9:31
yes. Well, it reminded me of this situation I had in Bratislava, where, so it was about 2003/2004. And we took the trams everywhere. You know, I lived near a tram stop. And we trundle along in these trams. And at some stage, someone told me about the website. That’s why I went onto the tram website, the kind of Transport Authority, and they actually had this system there where you could look up from it. I don’t know serial number or something that the exact tram you were riding on or you had ridden on, we didn’t have you know mobiles in those days, but you could go home and look it up. And it would also as well as describing you know the the make of the tram and all those kind of specifications that didn’t mean much to me, it also had a detailed history of any accidents the tram had been involved in, including photographs of it like coming off the tracks or crashing into a car. And so you could see all of the accidents that that tram had ever been involved.

Tony Wheeler 10:25

Amanda Kendle 10:29
I went back and I discovered that site doesn’t exist anymore, but I wish I’d screenshot all of it.

Tony Wheeler 10:34
But you know, I mean they don’t offer you this but you you can do that, if you know the registration of the aircraft you’re flying on. You can look up its history and see who bought it originally and who sold it there. And if that had been in any accidents, you know if it ran off the runway when Lufthansa used to own it and

Amanda Kendle 10:53
Oh my goodness, wow!

Tony Wheeler 10:56
So I think you know if you’re an enthusiast for that sort of macabre information, it is available!

Amanda Kendle 11:02
yes i don’t know i’m not sure i want to know about the planes but it’s useful in a way um but anyway back to your interest in transport, what is your favorite way to get around and why?

Tony Wheeler 11:12
Oh look I, you know I used to say, I still do say, I’m not as good as doing it, I’d say I try to do at least a week long walk once each year and I must admit I hadn’t for the last couple, I still walk a lot. I’ve done a few reasonable length walks this year. But I haven’t done a week long walk all this year. Santiago Compostella is still waiting for me, Camino de Santiago, but you know walking is the is the way to go it you know it you see things at a slow pace you meet people better. You see towns, entering them and leaving them if you walk through little villages in England, for example. Walking is a great way of getting around. On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for bicycles and I have been out of my bicycle once today in Melbourne and I’ve got another bicycle trip to do after we finish our phone call.

Amanda Kendle 12:07
Fabulous. I just ran in an episode a couple of weeks ago with a couple of guys who independently of each other had bicycled across the world and they really did convince me that it’s just the right speed you can you know, get places a little bit quicker than walking, but you still get a kind of a lot of the benefits of walking.

Tony Wheeler 12:25
Yeah, there’s a lot to be said for bicycles. I’m keen on bicycles.

Amanda Kendle 12:29
Hmm I’m not very keen on cycling around Australian cities, but we were in Copenhagen earlier this year and I loved that I had my my nine-year-old along with me and he was you know, I wouldn’t let him ride his bike in the middle of Perth. But in Copenhagen no problem.

Tony Wheeler 12:46
Yeah, that’s a that’s a cyclists’ city, it’s true.

Amanda Kendle 12:49
Yeah, it’s awesome. Speaking of kids now you have a couple of kids, grown kids, but I’m curious to know, do they have the travel bug as badly as you and Maureen obviously do.

Tony Wheeler 13:01
Well actually Maureen doesn’t have the travel bug as badly as I do anymore she’s she’s definitely moderating her travel addiction these days but I think with my kids neither of them as bad as me but my daughter much more so than my son. Both of them travel and you know there’s no question of that. For my son it’s much more when he has to for business. But my daughter does does she does like to travel and she was, she’s looking after a small child now but before the baby was born she was helping to run our foundation and did a lot of travel because of that. So she’s got a lot of Africa stamps in her passport.

Amanda Kendle 13:47
Oh, fabulous, right? Ah, interesting. Yeah, I am trying really hard to indoctrinate my nine year old into this life of traveling. He’s so far he seems more obsessed than me. So my plan .. I’ll have to follow him around the world if I ever want to see him which is a great excuse to travel.

Tony Wheeler 14:06
Yeah, well that this trip I did to Vanuatu last week the volcano on Tanna, they were they said no children under the age of seven. Well, I, I saw two at least who were well under seven. But you know, it was a volcano. It was that perfect children’s volcano. You know, volcanoes in children’s books. There’s red hot lava, and there’s things flying up in the air and there’s rumbling and groaning, and this volcano had all that stuff. It was a perfect child sized one.

Amanda Kendle 14:36
That sounds awesome. Yeah, my son will be asking after he listens to this, he’ll be wanting to get to Vanuatu. And now I want to just chat about some of your books. So the Badlands was one of my favorite books that you put out. And perhaps you can for listeners who don’t know about it, could you just explain what the Badlands were and and tell me Is there any big change coming in your new edition which I read is due.,

Tony Wheeler 15:02
let’s let’s take the new edition. First of all, I don’t I don’t know about a new edition. And the book. I bet you got a copy of in front of me right now. It’s getting a bit old now. I’m surprised how how long it’s been since I did it. I did it first of all in 2007 I think it was. And we did do a new edition in 2010. So it has been revised once but they haven’t told me about another new edition

Amanda Kendle 15:27
Haha maybe news that’s coming soon here!

Tony Wheeler 15:29
Well I’m happy to revise it if they’d like me to. And it you know, it was really I say that George Bush made me write it. Because when George Bush Jr. said that there was an Axis of Evil, my first thought was, I want to see that. That that seemed to me was a real sort of travel incentive. It was it was giving you a bucket list to go and tick off immediately. So Badlands really did start with the the George Bush, George W. Bush Jr. Bad land list, which, of course was Iran, Iraq and North Korea. So that that, you know, was a three good bad places to go to. And I’d been to Iran a number of times previously, but I’d not been to Iraq. So that was interesting. And I’d nor had I been to North Korea. And that was extremely interesting. North Korea is still the wackiest country I’ve ever been to. But then I just chose a bunch of other countries that seemed bad. Afghanistan, of course, you know, Afghanistan was not the Taliban. I think we have to look at the Taliban from various angles, but certainly, Osama bin Laden hiding out there and all the chaos in Afghanistan over the years that’s, that’s a bad land, Burma, Myanmar, which, which, of course has got worse in recent years. Back then it was 2007 it was the country’s really bad for locking up Aung San Suu Kyi but now we’ve let her out and it’s really bad because of what she’s done. So Burma, sadly. it’s a wonderful country. But we have to say right now it’s definitely on the bad list, Cuba because Fidel was still still alive in 2007, I think still going in 2010. And of course, the Americans have been dedicated to saying it’s a bad country from day one. You have to ask, you know, just why in some respects, Libya, Gaddafi was in power in those days. So Libya was definitely a bad country.

Tony Wheeler 17:33
And then what what else did I choose? I chose Albania. I think in some ways, because I had the opportunity to go there. Around that time, and of course, Enver Hoxha, the dictator of Albania was totally nuts. And now the country’s bounced back in many ways, not that, you know, it’s actually got a lot more back on the beaten track in the years since I was there. Albania Yeah, which I just found a fascinating country in a country with a sad story in many ways. So it was 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, Saudi Arabia, I put Saudi Arabia in as well. And that’s that’s definitely a bad country. And it’s in many ways, it’s got worse know, back then they wouldn’t let women drive and now they don’t let you step through the front door of their embassy without getting your head chopped off. Not Not a good country in any way you can think of it all. What I did at the at the end of the Badlands book, I invented my evil meter. And I ran the evil meter over each country. And I I gave them points for how bad they were for assorted things, whether they were bad for their, their own citizens, whether they were bad to neighboring countries, whether they were involved in terrorism like North Korea definitely was, and whether they, then I gave them just a final bonus point, if they were a country that had a good personality cult, because it seems, it seems to me, you know, bad countries they very often, I mean Saddam Hussein was terrific at it. You know, he was putting up statues himself all over the place. You know, if you’re, you put statues up, you’re definitely a person

Amanda Kendle 19:20
That gets you a point for that for sure.

Tony Wheeler 19:21
Yeah, definitely an extra point. Yeah.

Amanda Kendle 19:25
Wow. Now, um, so what’s your opinion? There’s been a lot of discussion lately amongst like travel blogger and podcaster types like me, because there was a big campaign for influencers to get paid to go to Saudi Arabia and, and speak about it as though nothing was wrong. So I mean, do you think that people should still travel to these places? You know, what, what’s your thinking on that like, should we avoid them? Oh, what’s better? What’s worse?

Tony Wheeler 19:51
Well, I know a friend of mine is in Saudi Arabia right now because, you know, they’ve just said they’re going to make visas more readily, more easily available, whether they will longer term I don’t know. But on the day they did that he applied for a visa instantly. And I’m pretty sure, I’m waiting to hear from him. And I’m having lunch with someone who’s just been very recently next week. And, look, I think people should go to these places and see them. I went to Saudi Arabia, with my eyes wide open. Yeah. But I think if you’re going there and you’re being sort of paid to go there to say nice things about it, you have to at the very absolute top of what you’re, whatever you’re saying, or writing, or photographing or whatever say, I was paid to do this. Yeah. You know, that. If I’m influencing you remember, this is not a this is not open opinion. It’s it’s heavily paid for subsidized advertising.

Amanda Kendle 20:54
Yeah, for sure. What about the average person, like just a tourist Do you think it’s, I mean, a lot of people say, you shouldn’t go to North Korea, you’re supporting that regime by being a tourist.

Tony Wheeler 21:04
Yeah, I think that’s a very valid question, you know, and that was one that came up in a very major fashion and Burma/Myanmar, you know, Lonely Planet got whacked for years about that. And, you know, we had an answer for the for that. And I think if you’re, you’re going to a place that has bad government, you have to realize that in some way you are involved that I you know, Zimbabwe is a good example right now that if you go to Zimbabwe, you’re you’re supporting Mugabe’s regime, because he may be dead, but the regime is continuing without him at the front. But on the other hand, you know, if you go to Zimbabwe, you’re putting money into the pockets of the poor everyday citizens of Zimbabwe who’ve suffered an awful lot and are continuing to suffer even now. And I know that, you know, when, when we were being hit with all those questions about Myanmar, you could apply exactly the same questions to Tibet, and yet the Dalai Lama was saying, okay, I can’t go there. But I think you should go there and, you know, be a witness, seewhat’s going on. So I think there’s a lot to be said for being a witness to these things and going to the places and viewing them and seeing what you see.

Amanda Kendle 22:17
And also hopefully providing Yeah, if there’s like, some economic stimulus to the people who are suffering. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It’s tricky, isn’t it? Yeah.

Tony Wheeler 22:26
It is tricky. And I, I think, you know, that there’s this view. And, you know, Donald Trump has it, you know, he’s gonna he’s gonna punish Cuba by, you know, as a whole series of American presidents tried to do, we’re going to punish Cuba and saw Cuba out. God, why do they want to stop Cuba it’s no worse than China for example, or Saudi Arabia, you know, you can say bad, well I did, you can say bad things about all those countries. But, who know’s.

Amanda Kendle 22:57
yeah, it’s Yeah, it’s very tricky. But, interesting. Let’s move on to something more cheerful. Now you’ve got a new book out about the islands of Australia. And I am curious to hear, so I’m a West Aussie through and through. So tell me about your favorite Western Australian island.

Tony Wheeler 23:14
Well, you know, we were talking about Badlands and the the bad the bad side of it, let’s face it. Rottnest, you know, has a really bad history to it. And for many, for many years that you know that the dark side of Rottnest was sort of swept under the rug, and it isn’t anymore. If you go there and you visit a little museum on Rottnest Island, it comes right out and tells you what went down there and you’re, you’re pointed towards the burial ground where Aboriginal prisoners who died on Rottnest were buried in unmarked graves. So you’ve got you know, that they’ve confronted that that dark side of Western Australian history and that’s a good thing to see.

Tony Wheeler 23:55
But the island that really knocked me out on it knocked me out, you know I i’ve been I was approached to do this book by the National Library because I had been to lots of islands around Australia, I’d done a lot of the groundwork already, but I did end up going to more books more more islands because of researching the book and the one that I just thought was far and away my favorite, well new favorite, was Dirk Hartog. I just thought it was a really interesting Island you know you head north of Geraldton and you you can fly in there in a light aircraft but the best way to get there is go by four wheel drive because then you can also go to Steep Point and claim you’ve been to the most westerly point in Australia. But you go up there and you know it’s it’s it’s an island but it’s an outback island, when you’re traveling around the island you you could be in Central Australia in the outback. It’s only got a handful of people living there. It’s got this fascinating history from its first European explorers, Dirk Hartog turning up to a string of subsequent Dutch and French and British explores turning up there, it’s it’s got it’s fabulous to look at these amazing cliffs falling into the Indian Ocean or a stretch of coastline that you would not want to be shipwrecked on. Now, if you were a Dutch navigator heading towards Batavia, Jakarta today, you know you will that would be the worst possible thing to happen to you to be running into Dirk Hartog late at night, gives you the shivers looking down and thinking about that. I just thought it was a great island and a really nice little resort there. The resort on the island is terrific.

Amanda Kendle 25:46
Oh, awesome. I haven’t been up there. I know my dad has them and loved it. So it’s definitely on my list.

Tony Wheeler 25:52
Yeah, should be it. If you’re in WA it’s an island not to pass up,

Amanda Kendle 25:57
I will remember that and I will go and think of you, I promise. Now I have a couple of questions that came out of the Thoughtful Travelers Facebook group. Although the first question I got was, can you ask him “Can he adopt me?” but from a travel writer who already travels a fair bit so I don’t know if she really needs you, but I thought it was a good question. But someone wanted to know about it, you know, they’re kind of destination questions. Where is the place that you really long to return to but haven’t had the chance to recently?

Tony Wheeler 26:29
Dear me I hadn’t thought of that one for a while. Um, you know, I end up for assorted reasons going to that and this isn’t haven’t been to recently because I’ve been to Italy earlier this year. But I do end up going to Italy just about every year it seems, I’ve possibly got I haven’t been back to Sicily for a long time and I’ve I’ve got an invitation I’ve got to reply to early in 2020. To go to Sicily and Sicily’s a great island, I mean Italy is a great country to Travel right there’s no way around it. And Sicily is a great island to travel around. But you know that Italy is a it’s one of those countries, it’s not a big country physically but it’s a big country when it comes to things to see and places to go. There’s lots of places in Italy I’ve not been to yet. So I could easily go back to Italy and spend more time there. Yeah, I’m trying to think, there’s there’s lots of places I haven’t been to yet that I I still want to go to.

Amanda Kendle 27:29
There are so many places out there, it’s so frustrating!

Tony Wheeler 27:32
Oh, yeah, you need you need more than one lifetime to make a serious dent into the world.

Amanda Kendle 27:39
It’s very true. Very frustrating. What about a place that you don’t want to return to? I remember at the ASTW you mentioned the Maldives, and I’m curious.

Tony Wheeler 27:49
I’ve been whacked for that a few times. I know that the Maldives, and I’m not sure how to pronounce it Maldives or Mal-deeves, it’s one or the other I’m not sure what we’ll go back and forth we’ll call it one than the other, you know I was only there for a week and I did the sort of standard I wasn’t on honeymoon but I went to what could it be is a honeymoon was that there are honeymoon resorts and I’m not a big enthusiast, I’m long over that. I’m not a big honeymoon resort enthusiast. I’m just you know, the sort of sit there and look at the beautiful white sand and the clear water and drink another cocktail thing just does not attract me. And I think if I went back to the Maldives, Maldives, I’d do one of two things. One is that I’d do the sort of backpacker approach to it. And that’s travel from island to island and not necessarily, maybe do stay in some cheap places. Maybe stay in, you know, two or three cheap places which there are some now and you can go from island to island by ferry, you know, maybe a couple days in a cheap place, a couple days in a lux place couple days, you know, so actually see something of the islands? That’d be one thing. Or else if I, and what I should have done this this last trip earlier this year was I had a week there. And it was a week in one resort, and I just seen enough of that resort by the end. Yeah. And maybe if it was a week, three days in one, that would have been the thing, three days in one resort, three days in another resort. And one day in the capital city, which everybody says is horrible. So I’d like to see it just to see if that’s true or not.

Amanda Kendle 29:28
Oh, I completely agree. I, you know, I don’t have the inclination to sit by the beach or the resort pool for days at a time. Because there’s always other things I could be seeing or explore. Yeah. Well, variety is a good good approach.

Tony Wheeler 29:42
Yeah. The other thing of course, that that you know, it’s famous for is the scuba diving. And I love scuba diving. So I went there thinking well I’ll do some diving, as well as lie on the beach and sip cocktails. And that was quite nice. But you know, frankly, I’ve done better scuba diving in Australia. I’ve done better scuba diving in Indonesia, interest places very good scuba diving. So who knows?

Amanda Kendle 30:05
Yeah, right. Fair enough. I tend to agree with you, actually. But yeah. All, good. Now, last question from the thoughtful travelers Facebook group, Justin asked about what he called the Lonely Planet effect. So, you know, for example, back in, you know, a small tourism business gets mentioned in a guidebook, and then suddenly, you know, they are overrun with people. You know, it’s not it’s not always a good thing to have an appeal like that.

Tony Wheeler 30:32
You know, I do and, you know, I’ve got to say immediately, of course, that I’m 10 years away from Lonely Planet now, it’s been, it’s been a while since I, but I assume the policy is pretty much like the same policy that we, we put in when when I was there, and we realized that that was a problem with you could overwhelm places. Now it’s not a problem if say you mentioned, you know, one restaurant in Perth and say, this is a great restaurant, well, there’s going to be a dozen other sources there’s going to be, you know, Facebook things and TripAdvisor things and the newspapers in Perth. And there’s all sorts of other other reasons to push you towards one restaurant or another. But there are places in the world where a guidebook and Lonely Planet certainly had this in India, it had in Vietnam, places where the guidebook had a lot of influence. And if you did sort of go over the top of saying this place, or you really must eat in this restaurant, the food is so wonderful, you do run a serious risk of pointing too much attention towards it. And we realized that this was really wrong that there could be a half dozen restaurants there and you if you say, you must eat in this restaurant, people who are only there for one meal, rather than go to that one. The other ones the other five out of the half dozen. I’m not gonna have anybody there at all that first night or maybe their only night and equally, you know, they they might all be just, one might be 5% better than the other or 5% worse, there’s often not a great deal of difference. So we learned pretty early on that if there was a place where we had a lot of influence, not to go over the top about one place, but to sort of spread that, spread that recommendation out to, you know, say, well, this place is very nice. And this one’s nice and you’ll really quite like that one. And maybe “quite like” was the, you know, the key word that was the favorite place. But no, we did learn not to overwhelm places. And we also, if there were a lot of places, and you could only recommend a certain number of them. And you know, they were all really pretty good. We would even sort of say, okay, we’re going to recommend 10 places again, this time. Knock three out, put three new ones in, right, and sadly .. Yeah, change it around, and three, sadly three good places might get knocked out, but probably the one that was really, really, really good would stay in. But you know, the rest of them the other nine out of 10, which were all good, three of them will go and three new ones will come in.

Amanda Kendle 33:09
Oh, that’s very fair and very reasonable. I’m glad you guys had that in mind. That’s really good to hear.

Tony Wheeler 33:14
Well, yeah, it was, you know, it’s because we saw that effect. I I’ve talked to also at times about how, you know, Lonely Planet was accused of ruining places these, this place was okay until, till you know, you came along and did a guide book about it and look at it now there’s all those tourists and you can’t lay a towel out on the beach or that sort of thing. But I’ve always said we did do a guidebook to Afghanistan back when there was a little window of opportunity and we thought Afghanistan might be coming back and getting back on the tourist radar again, and I we only ever did one edition of the book and it never sold that number of copies. It was a great book to do and by, I know people who used it loved it. But I would love to be able to say, oh I ruined Afghanistan. If I could claim I ruined,, everything was it was it wasn’t wasn’t perfect there, you know, but we got along with the Taliban, then Lonely Planet came in and that was the kiss of disaster.

Tony Wheeler 34:13
If I could ruin Afghanistan, I would!

Amanda Kendle 34:16
That would be the pinnacle of your career.

Amanda Kendle 34:18
Yes absolutely!

Tony Wheeler 34:20
That’s awesome. I just have one more quick question. So, you know, obviously, this is The Thoughtful Travel Podcast. So we’re all about trying to travel a bit more thoughtfully. So what do you think is, you know, kind of the key way to be a thought or key ways to be a thoughtful traveler?

Tony Wheeler 34:35
I think a number of things I you know, the, the whole flights, flight shame thing that’s going on, particularly in Europe, and I was intrigued at one thing I read recently someone saying why it’s, it’s fine for people in Sweden to say, you know, you shouldn’t fly there, take the train, they can jump on a train and they can be in a day or so in Paris. You know, we don’t, if we’re in Australia, we don’t have that option. So I think you know the we’re we’re going to have to think about flying and we’re going to have to limit it in some ways but I think the in Europe this thing of, well it’s the weekend where shall I fly to, leave on Friday night and I back on Sunday lunchtime sort of thing. I really think that’s going over the top at times, you know we we should put a little more time and effort into places. So I think you know overconsumption of travel is is not a good thing.

Tony Wheeler 35:29
I think that you should always try and be aware of the place you’re going to and, you know, go there with a, an open mind about what you’re going to experience and what you have to learn from it. And I must admit, I sometimes go to places and I really haven’t read up on the place before I get there. But I have got the information source with me and I’ll probably be reading some on the plane and then reading a lot more while I’m there and then reading even more when I get back. So having an interest in the place to go is really important.

Tony Wheeler 36:02
And I think, you know, we do need today to be to be looking at the, the footprint we do have and I’m, I there are lots of questions about that we have still to answer, I must admit, I’m very skeptical about Qantas’s current push towards doing these ultra long haul flights. It’s been, I just don’t think it’s a good idea. I think, you know, the, that it might be very nice to fly nonstop from Sydney to New York or whatever. But I’m willing to bet that it’s a much less environmentally friendly thing than stopping somewhere on route. Right. And you know, they need all the Qantas talk on this has been, you know, talking about the jet lag and the food and the exercise and so on. Not once have they mentioned the environmental footprint of this. I would like to see, I’d like I’m sort of investigating it, and I’m pushing a few other people to investigate it some more. I’d like to see some more real facts and figures.

Amanda Kendle 37:02
Yeah, I agree. I think if it was something that was environmentally sensible, they would be promoting the heck out of that aspect of it. So

Tony Wheeler 37:10
it’s not at all, I don’t think it is in one way. Yeah,

Amanda Kendle 37:13
exactly. I agree. Yeah. Yeah. It’s, I mean, it’s heartening to see even just in the last 12 months, how much these kind of issues have have come to the forefront. So I think they will be changing.

Tony Wheeler 37:26
They will more as well.

Amanda Kendle 37:28
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And certainly my philosophy is travel less frequently, but longer. Nice.

Tony Wheeler 37:37
Nice. Twelve months would be a good trip, twelve months every year.

Amanda Kendle 37:43
Yes, that would be fabulous. I’d be willing to stay in just one place for 12 months if I got to another one the next 12 months but it’s annoying how these other things get in the way like, you know, my son’s schooling or you know, having to pay the mortage and stuff but you know, we’ll get through that. Anyway, Thank you so much for your time. Tony. It’s been fabulous to talk to you today.

Tony Wheeler 38:04
Great. Thank you very much.

Amanda Kendle 38:05
Awesome. Thank you. That is fabulous. really lovely. Yeah,

Tony Wheeler 38:13
yeah. Great. Thank you very much.

Amanda Kendle 38:15
So there you go. Lots of interesting stuff. Lots of words of wisdom from Tony Wheeler. Thanks so much to the lovely, thoughtful travelers from the Facebook group who also supplied a last few of those questions. That was really handy to be able to get your input and to say, I hope you’re happy and satisfied with the answers.

Amanda Kendle 38:36
So thank you very much for listening to Episode 163 of The Thoughtful Travel Podcast. If you want to know more about Tony, I actually highly recommend his own website, which is at He runs a blog there with just fabulous tales and photos from his recent travels, because he just doesn’t stop. He’s always somewhere in the world. So I highly recommend having a look at that. Do come on along to and join the Facebook group for Thoughtful Travelers come and chat to us there. I’ll put some pictures and other links in the show notes, including, of course, there’s a picture with me and Tony Wheeler and a couple of my travel writing buddies, just to prove I really met him. You’ll find the show notes for this episode at along with a transcript from the show as well. Now don’t forget, I am shooting for a quarter of a million downloads in 2019. So please help me out by spreading the word. Perhaps if you particularly enjoyed this interview with Tony Wheeler, you might like to share that one with some friends and fellow like minded travelers. As always, thank you very much for listening.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.