Travel: Asia or bust - by Bentley or bus?

The latest edition of Lonely Planet's guidebook to Thailand has achieved an interesting seal of approval: ask the Thai tourist office in London for information on the Phi Phi islands, and they will hand you a photocopy of the relevant pages.

If sex was invented in the Sixties, the Seventies marked the start of an activity that many people find even more satisfying: independent travel. In an era when the music of choice on board the Magic Bus to Athens was the Woodstock soundtrack, Tony Wheeler set out across Asia on the cheap - and subsequently committed his findings to print.

Twenty-five years ago, the first volume was put together on the kitchen table of this ex-Warwick University student and his wife Maureen. Since then, Lonely Planet has girdled the globe (along with a dozen other travel guide publishers), making its founder a wealthy man. Is he now more Bentley than bus, preferring Hiltons to hostels? I checked his travelling habits.

Q When was the last time you travelled by plane?

A Four days ago, from Madrid to Paris. It was on Air France, whose fares are appalling, but the food is good - far better than Lufthansa.

Q By train?

A Two days ago, on Eurostar from Paris to London. Given the choice, I'd always travel by train city-to-city.

Q Bus?

A In Chile, last year.

Q Ferry?

A In Tahiti a couple of months ago - the 26-minute trip between Tahiti and Moorea.

Q Bicycle?

A At Lonely Planet headquarters in Melbourne, I cycle to work four days a week, then drive my Ferrari on the fifth.

Q When did you last stay in a hotel

A Two nights ago in Paris, at the Hotel St Louis in the Marais.

Q In a B&B?

A Last night, at Mrs Something-or-other's in Knightsbridge.

Q Hostel?

A When I was walking the Pennine Way a year ago.

Q In the past 12 months, what is the most you've paid for a night's accommodation?

A US$500 [about pounds 300] in Bora-Bora, a Society Island.

Q And the least?

A US$4 [about pounds 2.50] in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Q How do you cope with problems such as delays when travelling?

A I try not to sit and fume; I prefer to look for alternatives.

Q In the Seventies, you wrote "If you're ever in Melbourne, Australia just look up Lonely Planet in the phone directory and drop in - or we'll see you on the road". Does that still apply?

A Yes - or call in at one of our offices in Paris, San Francisco or Kentish Town.

If none of these places features in your immediate travel plans, you have a chance to catch up with Lonely Planet's founder in a couple of other exotic destinations: Bromley, or on the Isle of Dogs. Tony Wheeler will be speaking at Ottakar's Bookshop in Bromley next Thursday, 29 January, at 7pm (0181-460 6037). And next Saturday at the Independent Travellers' World event, at the London Arena on the Isle of Dogs, Mr Wheeler will be speaking about his experiences in Antarctica. See the story (left) for details of times and prices.

Simon Calder

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