tuttle publishing/associated press


This Oct. 7, 1972, photo shows Lonely Planet founders Maureen, left, and Tony Wheeler celebrating their first wedding anniversary in front of the Taj Mahal in India.


They drove from Europe to Afghanistan in a car that cost $150 US, spent their first anniversary at the Taj Mahal, and hitched a ride on a yacht from Asia to Australia.

Everyone they spoke to wanted to know where they’d gone and how they did it. So Maureen and Tony Wheeler wrote and self-published their first guidebook, Across Asia On The Cheap, more than 30 years ago, and the Lonely Planet series was born. Now they’ve written Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story (Tuttle Publishing), describing the evolution of their company.

One anecdote concerns the creation of the name Lonely Planet. Around the time that they were finishing their first book, the Wheelers had just seen a rock ‘n’ roll movie, Mad Dogs & Englishmen, and Tony Wheeler kept singing the words to a Joe Cocker song from the film called Space Captain. The lyrics included a line about “travelling across the sky, this lovely planet caught my eye.”

But Wheeler misremembered the phrase as “lonely planet.” The error stuck, becoming the name of a company that now has offices on three continents, more than 600 titles in print and annual sales of more than six million books.

The Wheelers, in the U.S. on a book tour, gave a talk about Unlikely Destinations on June 4 at a Borders store in Manhattan. The audience asked for advice on everything from getting into North Korea to travelling around Malaysia. One fan noted at the talk that Unlikely Destinations is a good business how-to book in addition to being an interesting travel memoir.

In response, Tony Wheeler said: “The thing about business is: Do what you really believe in. We didn’t start Lonely Planet because we wanted to sell lots of guidebooks. We did it because we wanted to travel.”