Lonely Planet, A Love of Guide Books

Hey all. Today I want to write about Lonely Planet. In the last few weeks I have bought a number of Lonely Planet Guide Books. No, I’m not taking off tomorrow, it looks to be 12 months until Australians are likely to be allowed to do that at best with perhaps a couple of exceptions if we are lucky (there is a possibility of a ‘bubble’, a group of countries that agree to allow flights between them – Australia, New Zealand and Fiji possibly is what I’ve heard talked about).

As I said last week, I sat down and created a crazy itinerary from Singapore to Lhasa and even Lanzhou. In fact, that wasn’t even the complete dream – to connect from Lanzhou to Kazakhstan, cross the Caspian Sea by ferry and then through Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey to either Istanbul or Athens could complete the trip, so anyways, this is what a traveller does when he can’t.

And so for border crossings and other info I needed guidebooks. I bought the Lonely Planet Guide Books for Nepal and South East Asia and also bought some chapters online for north-east India and parts of Myanmar. As I looked at my new guide books – man I don’t even need to open them, just to have these beautiful books is a bit of a rush! I reminisced a bit about the way travel used to be. Because my first solo trip was 1999 and the landscape was so different back then.

Today we look at an app on our phone to take us to a coffee shop or restaurant or this or that. We use Trip Advisor or any other sight for choosing hotels. We read review after review. We book online. We stay in contact online. There was basically none of that in 1999. In 2004 it was internet cafes, mostly email because there wasn’t the volume of information on the net back then, or the sites. And you didn’t want to spend your whole day online any way. So – the Guide Book was KING!

Tony Wheeler (right) Lonely Planet founder back in the 1970s and wife Maureen (left)


Earlier this year Lonely Planet downsized drastically. Who knows what the future is, but they hold a market share of 31% of the world’s guide books and surely there is a future for them. Because there was a day you didn’t leave home without them. Today I admit, I don’t rely on them much. But sometimes, still, when you’re heading to a dusty border town, they may be the only ones with the lowdown. They still help with transport options too and the recommend tour agencies as well, which sometimes are harder to choose between online because, as with many online reviews, it can be difficult to distinguish between a puff piece and an actual review.

In 1999 I headed off with around 19 kilograms of checked luggage. It’s the most I’ve ever set off with, and the guide books would have been the weightiest items. Which is one really good thing about the internet I guess these days!

Mostly I had Lonely Planets. I have branched off and tried others from time to time, in 2006 I had the Rough Guide to West Africa, and I’ve used Bradt alongside Lonely Planet in Central Asia because they produce individual guide books for the countries, opposed to Lonely Planet’s single ‘Central Asia’ book, so there is far more information in them. I may have even used ‘Let’s Go’ back in 1999 for Europe. We don’t see ‘Let’s Go’ here anymore, but I think they still get published in the States.

Lonely Planet have a very clear format and I can work out how to find specific information quickly when I open the books. And the more you use them, the more familiar you become with their format etc. I really like their maps.

Back to 1999, and as I went from country to country I shed the books. Thailand and India were my first two stops, and both books were mammoth! So I would either give them to a traveller who needed one on my last day or leave them in a spot someone might see them. I left my Egypt book – the only one I really didn’t like, because it’s information was either way out of date or just WRONG – accidentally near the Colossi of Memnon. I would have had large books for Western Europe, Iceland and the USA too in that rucksack.

Actually, I’m now surprised I had room for clothes. The Egypt book has since been reprinted a few times and I’m sure is far more accurate today. But it shows that it doesn’t pay to be too reliant on the books, and as the years have gone by I became less reliant for sure. And I was never treating them as gospel, plenty of times I ended up in hotels not in the books (or hostels) even back in 1999. You could find yourself in a new group of friends in an instant, and we’d all have the book!

And for planning, well, they were so useful. And even today I read something in the Lonely Planet and then bounce back and forth from the net. They build excitement for the journey to come. And sure, businesses get a boost from being listed in them, and will put prices up accordingly, but then they do the same with Trip Advisor and others.

Sometimes you are in a city looking for a certain kind of place, a restaurant, or whatever, and you chance upon it. And sometimes you don’t, and the Lonely Planet will reveal just what you’re looking for.

Guide book Istanbul to Kathmandu – used in 2004

Lonely Planet was started by two Australians in Footscray, and they started with South East Asia. They turned the business into a global enterprise, with offices in multiple countries. Now they are closing down the London and sadly Melbourne (Footscray) offices. And the future looks, at best, uncertain for Lonely Planet. Did I mention their website has always been really helpful too, and their forum, ‘The Thorn Tree’ (which is on read only at the moment) has had travellers helping and connecting with other travellers for years? Not nearly as busy as it used to be – again Trip Advisor and the like put pay to that.

I for one hope they find a way forward. I hope we all do right now because the thought of not being able to travel until at least 2022 is eating me up inside. If nothing else, they had a great tool to use when you start planning an adventure, and they will remain so. They’ve been a special part of the travelling experience for me since I started back in 1999 and I still look at the books and think that they are just ‘beautiful’.

Thanks for reading today. Hope you’re well. May the Journey Never End.



13 thoughts on “Lonely Planet, A Love of Guide Books

  1. I enjoy the Lonely Planet series as well and have several on my shelf, although I usually end up getting most of my up to date travel information online. It’s still nice to have some books to flip through and they are kind of like time capsules I suppose.

    1. yes i definitely do 90%+ of the planning online these days. and I guess the one thing the LP is always out of date with is the prices – it takes time to research and write the book. so by the time that’s done and it reaches the shelves the prices are at best 12 months old. but they do help you dream!

  2. I’ve heard similar rumours about bubbles, I’m hoping Singapore is included in with Australia as we’re keen to explore more. Until then, we’ll keep planning imaginary holidays to places we can’t yet go too 🙂

  3. Hmmm, I never read a bulky book like this to explore a region. LOL I guess I’m from the internet age but it would’ve been fun having to rely only on Lonely Planet for thorough guides.

  4. Lonely Planet was one of my go tos before, and I remember packing travel books in my purse early in my travel days. Now i’m inspired to read through them again in my weekends, relive places (since I don’t think we are also going to be able to fly out from Manila a few months more).

  5. I love these guide books. I actually bought some again a year ago when I had been planning a long trip. Even though I could find information more efficiently through Google, I loved paging through the Lonely Planet books and seeing what else I would learn.

    Also I used to be obsessed with their Thorn Tree message board. I got a lot of great AND a lot of misguided advice on there.

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