All Tony and Maureen Wheeler needed for the trip of a lifetime was an old car, a pocketful of dollars and a sense of adventure. They met on a bench in Regent’s Park in London and married a year later. For their honeymoon, they decided to attempt what few people thought possible – crossing Europe and Asia overland, all the way to Australia. It took them several months and all the money they could earn, beg or borrow, but they made it. And at the end of it all, they were flat broke… and couldn’t have been happier.
It was too amazing an experience to keep to themselves. Urged on by their friends, they stayed up nights at their kitchen table writing, typing and stapling together their very first travel guide, Across Asia on the Cheap.
Within a week they’d sold 1500 copies and Lonely Planet was born. Two years later, their second journey led to South-East Asia on a Shoestring, which in turn led to books on Nepal, Australia, Africa, and India, which led to… you get the picture.
“Our first India guide in 1981 was big breakthrough, a bigger and more audacious title than anything we’d done previously and a book which was both a critical and a commercial success. That one title changed Lonely Planet from a small struggling company to a much more firmly based operation.”
30 years later…
As Lonely Planet became a globally loved brand, Tony and Maureen received several offers for the company. But it wasn’t until 2007 that they found a partner whom they trusted to remain true to Lonely Planet’s principles. In October of that year, BBC Worldwide acquired a 75% share in Lonely Planet, pledging to uphold Lonely Planet’s commitment to independent travel, trustworthy advice and editorial independence. In 2011, BBC Worldwide became sole shareholders of the company. BBC Worldwide is the main commercial arm, and a wholly owned subsidiary of, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Today, apart from its headquarters in Melbourne, Lonely Planet has offices in Gurgaon, London and Oakland, with around 450 employees and over 200 authors. Tony and Maureen are still actively involved with Lonely Planet. They’re travelling more often than ever, and they’re devoting their spare time to charitable projects. And the company is still driven by the philosophy in Across Asia on the Cheap: ‘All you’ve got to do is decide to go and the hardest part is over. So go!’