Last December out and about doing my Christmas shopping I purchased a copy of the Lonely Planet Guide to Turkey for my daughter Natalie as she was planning a trip there in 2006. Together with the Turkey Guide, as part of a promotion for Lonely Planet publications, I was also given a free copy of the original Lonely Planet – “Across ASIA On The Cheap”. Lonely Planet’s founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler of course wrote this and as described in many of its publications was “designed, laid out, hand-collated, stapled and trimmed in a basement flat in Sydney.”.
In 1975, the Wheelers wrote “South East Asia On A Shoestring” and with its emphasis on budget and independent travel, soon gained or possibly was self-endowed with the nickname “The Yellow Bible” due to its yolk coloured cover. From there of course the rest is history, or “from a small acorn a mighty oak is grown”
Reading “Across Asia On The Cheap” your first impression is size– only 94 pages. As such much of the information on the various countries are fairly scanty but considering that it was produced from hand written notes and diary entries, it wasn’t a bad effort. It covers countries in Asia such as Turkey, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and in South East Asia – Burma, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. It even offered advice to travelers about journeying to the then war torn Vietnam and Laos.
Thailand is covered in a mere four pages with the opening paragraph stating:
“ A calm and friendly country with friendly people – we certainly found them so. Due to its fertility and relative freedom from population pressures Thailand is also a well fed country. Very much one big city and a lot of primitive country- Chiang Mai the second city is a village in comparison to Bangkok”
From today’s perspective, reading this book gives you a feel of what it must have been like to travel the “Hippy Trail” of the sixties/seventies fame – when in those pre-Taliban days, countries like Afghanistan were wild, primitive and eye opening but totally accessible. There are constant references throughout the book to availability of weed, Ganga, and mushrooms in places such as Afghanistan, Nepal and Bali which I suppose today sets the feeling of the time when the book was written.
Winding the clock forward to today and Lonely Planet is amongst its travel peers a publishing behemoth. The public view of Lonely Planet tends to range from reverence at one extreme to scorn at the other. Most people, I find see the books as well laid out, informative and providing essential support for independent travel. Critics tend to see a travel world of “ independent travelers” flocking together all clutching a Lonely Planet guide book. In the end I suppose people will make up their own minds (I’m actually a strong fan of the publication).
Lonely Planet’s success reflects the enormous Brand that international travel has become. Technology and affluence today delivers travel and foreign events to the consumer in an ever increasing torrent. The other night I pondered over what I had watched on TV that night. In just a few hours I had watched an electic number of programs such as Sky News showing Lebanon being castrated by the Israeli Airforce, a nature program on Discovery set in Africa and a Cooking Journey to Thailand on the travel and living channel – I basically took it all in unthinkingly.
This information overload reflects the some what bland and alternatively aggressive way that Travel is promoted and sold in the modern marketplace. Many of the travel programs that you see today on TV tend in my view to be travel brochures with moving pictures. Many of the presenters also tend to be marketers rather than travelers or Journalists. Of course there are exceptions, such as the marvelous productions from presenters such as Michael Palin and Ian Wright and Megan Mc Cormick from the Globetekker series ( A lonely Planet Production)
What keeps everything in balance of course is the basic desire of so many people around the world to travel. Although modern times and the almighty pursuit of the dollar has turned travel into a commodity, the innate desire of so many people is simply to go past their countries borders and experience the joy of travel.
The intrinsic value of “Across Asia on the cheap” unlike the modern over-hyped travel industry is that it promoted foreign travel as a right of passage. Its an attitude that will keep this first publication ever young.