Indie Traveler Interview: Tony Wheeler

On Monday, BootsnAll announced a project that we, together with travel writer and vagabonding expert Rolf Potts, have been working on. The Indie Travel Manifesto is a community-curated statement about a particular style of travel – the kind that emphasizes slowing down, interacting with and learning about the local culture, and seeing the world around you in shades of gray, not black and white, right or wrong. 

As part of the Manifesto creation, we asked some of our favorite indie travelers to give us their thoughts on travel and how indie travel helps them better understand themselves and the world around them. 

Here’s what Tony Wheeler, indie travel icon and founder of Lonely Planet, had to say. 


I love travel because I’m never bored, there’s always something new to discover.

I’m a major believer in seeing things with your own eyes, the perspective is utterly different than getting information through the media. I’ve just been in Palestine last month and I challenge anybody to go there with an open mind and not begin to think, ‘the Israelis are crazy, they may be solving things short term – ie build a big ugly wall and forget about the other side of it – but in the long term all they’re doing is creating a much bigger problem.’ Plus go through a few checkpoints as if you were a Palestinian, ie join them in the queue to get humiliated, and see if you don’t begin to sympathise with them.

I think the country that so often gets brought up in this context is Iran, nearly everybody who goes there (me included) soon starts thinking ‘what friendly people, how outgoing they are, where on earth does the mad reputation come from?’

I reckon I always balance the fast with the slow, but some trips are just cruise along start to finish. A few years back I had a wedding to go to in Barcelona and afterwards we had several weeks to meander back to Nice to return the rent-a-car and fly out. There were no plans, nothing booked most of the time, sometimes we’d get somewhere and stop for lunch and by middle of the afternoon, with lunch still going on, realised it wasn’t worth going any further that day. It was a great trip.

There’s usually a very good reason why something is an ‘obvious attraction,’ you’d be mad to go to Agra in India and not see the Taj Mahal, for example. But go to the Itimad-ud-Daulah as well, it’s been described as the ‘baby Taj’ and its design is clearly a precursor to the real one. So it’s an interesting architectural lesson, and far less crowded than the real thing. So go to both, do ‘big sights’, but leave time for the off the wall stuff as well. Make the side trips.

I hate to be really tied down to what’s going to happen every day, but sometimes you need to do that, some trips you’re either on the bus when it departs or you miss out.

The qualities that make for good travelers? A willingness to try new things, flexibility

One of the things I continue to love about travel is how you keep finding things you’ve never heard of (Or that nobody goes to). And I like to think I’m fairly well informed when it comes to travel! Three of the photographs {in this article represent trips that} fit those categories:

The Nyiragongo Volcano in Congo DRC – how come I didn’t know about this? Just the most amazing sight, particularly at night.

Kennedy Island in the Solomons – where JFK swam to after PT-109 sank. How many of us get to borrow a kayak from a small local resort and paddle out to his island?

Thomas Coryate’s tomb – who has even heard of him? Well he walked to India, setting out in 1612 and died there in 1617. I began to realise I’d crossed his path at numerous places over the years and in 2009 I tracked down his birthplace in England and the place he died in India. Finding his ‘tomb’ felt like a real achievement.

Are you an indie traveler? Sign the Manifesto and share your thoughts about indie travel! 

All photos courtesy of Tony Wheeler and may not be used without permission. 

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