Greetings, Reddit! I’m Tony Wheeler, and I founded Lonely Planet in the 1970s. In the beginning, I was a backpacker with a dream, passion for travel, and 27 cents to my name. Years later, Lonely Planet has grown into the largest guidebook publishing house in the world.

For years, I’ve worked closely with organizations to save historic sites throughout the world. Heritage preservation is a precarious business, and our world’s most vulnerable places can always come under risk. The news has recently been flooded with headlines about ongoing damage to heritage sites. Whether it’s iconic world treasures damaged by pollution, unscrupulous tourists stealing ancient artifacts, or the violent destruction of irreplaceable monuments, it seems that no historic structure or cultural tradition is safe from threats.

I think the passionate audience here on Reddit will agree that the loss of historic sites devastates our collective human history. That’s why I’m passionate about conserving endangered sites and traditions for future generations of travelers, and the San Francisco-based nonprofit Global Heritage Fund is one of my favorite conservation organizations. Their unique approach empowers communities to take ownership of their own history and traditions, creating sustainable economic prosperity to support current and future generations.

I truly believe in the work that Global Heritage Fund is doing and have personally visited many of their project sites throughout the world. I’ve trekked to Ciudad Perdida, Colombia’s “Lost City” that rivals Machu Picchu. I’ve helicoptered to the Maya ruins of El Mirador, Guatemala - see a photo of me in the chopper here! - And I’ve been awestruck by the majestic temples of Göbekli Tepe, the oldest ritual site in the world.

I’m excited to share that we recently setup a deal for Lonely Planet to donate 30% of all online sales using the code GHF30 to Global Heritage Fund, now through June 19. Check out our latest books here and feel free to ask me about my travels. I look forward to your questions! Go ahead…AMA.


Comments: 120 • Responses: 30  • Date: 

liliesofthefield32 karma

Which three spots do you think are in greatest danger?

Also, how can we make these sites sustainable for future tourism when tourism itself seems to often be a primary cause of issues at sites?

tony-wheeler58 karma

Syria to start with, Libya closely following, assorted places in North Africa - Mali for example. Anywhere where people can steal things. Mass tourism perhaps, because places can easily get overrun. But I'd rather them be over loved than wrecked from lack of love.

InevitableShift13 karma

Other than donating money, what are some ways everyday people can help conserve historic sites?

tony-wheeler36 karma

try to visit the less visited places, there are lots of places which just wish anybody would drop by.

blacksombrero10 karma

Do you think travel guidebooks have a future in the internet age?

tony-wheeler23 karma

yes of course! but today there are lots of alternatives, guidebooks are just one the information opportunities available. But you don't need a Wi-Fi connection and your batteries don't go flat.

TheTrueLordHumungous10 karma

How much is looting and vandalism an issue with these historic sites?

tony-wheeler12 karma

it certainly is with some of them and GHF's aim is to involve local communities, so they have skin in the game and don't want to see vandalism or looting taking place. Local community involvement is a number one priority!

mrs-superman7 karma

What's your favorite off-the-beaten-path destination you have traveled to?

tony-wheeler34 karma

there's always something new. In March I was in Asmara in Eritrea (between Sudan and Ethiopia and the Red Sea, a place with amazing 30s-40s Italian architecture from when it was an Italian colony under Mussolini. REally worth seeing, but very few visitors.

tony-wheeler7 karma

I've also in the past year I've been to a number of fantastic GHF sites - Maijishan in China is enough of the beaten China tourist track to be really fabulous. Except on the big Chinese holidays - avoid Golden Weeks. Amazing 4th and 5th Century Buddhist sculptures. Fabulous in fact. Plus I was in Sagalassos in Turkey, another GHF site, this one is just far enough from the Mediterranean Sea to miss out on all the cruise ship visitors.

tony-wheeler9 karma

tony-wheeler5 karma

here's some great drone footage of a new GHF project, a mountain top grainary in Southern Morocco

samm_o6 karma

I’m a Syrian myself, and I’m curious as to whether anything’s being done to help the DGAM’s (Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums) efforts in saving, restoring and preserving sites in Syria, or otherwise if you have efforts of your own. Could you chime in ?

tony-wheeler11 karma

somebody from GHF is responding on the Syria question, because it is an important question and problem for GHF these days. I was lucky enough to visit Syria oh - 10 or 15 years ago - and thought it was amazing. Not just the ancient Roman/Greek ruins like Palmyra, but Crusader Castles, early Christian sites (hey there's even the Biblical 'Street Named Straight' in Damascus) and all the Islamic history. What a pity.

ispeakchingchong4 karma

Hey, Tony... loved listening to NPR interview podcast on the how you and your wife started Lonely Planet. Quite the adventure.

I've debated doing the Lost City trek but instead chose Machu Picchu (was beautiful albeit crowded)... Are there any other treks in South America that you would recommend along those lines so I can compare with Lost City?

tony-wheeler8 karma

there are a bunch of - a lot in fact - of other sites in Peru, Colca Canyon has a lot of archaeological sites around and nearby - Cordilerra Blanca somebody is saying in my ear!

I know there are a bunch of places which seem to have come into the news in Peru recently. Sorry I'm not in touch with them right away but they are out there.

And the Ciudad Perdida - lost city, what a name - in Colombia is fantastic.

tony-wheeler6 karma

I've jus

t been given a link to a new Peru walk - reported in the NYTimes last week - well I assume really it's an old walk, centuries old in fact! But not so well known.

PhnomPenny3 karma

What's the strangest coincidence you've had when travelling? I've had a few in my years but definitely curious about yours!

tony-wheeler3 karma

I have had some weird 'meeting people' coincidences, but come on friends you know because they travel, where are you likely to bump into them? At an airport of course. I met a Lonely Planet writer I hadn't run into in years sitting across a table from me in a travel bookshop coffee bar once. In London, I'd just flown in from Australia, she'd just flown in from Turkey.

thtyre3 karma

Is there anywhere in the world you haven’t been but would like to visit?

tony-wheeler8 karma

I think I was saying Yemen is top of my unvisited list, but it's not a place to go to at the moment. Recently I was in Macedonia - which used to be Yugoslavia - and it was described as the new European capital of kitsch. It absolutely was.

tony-wheeler8 karma

and right now I should be in Svalbard, the Arctic Circle Norwegian Island. Except I broke my ankle and couldn't go. I will be doing that same trip with Lindblad National Geographic next year, I'll be speaking on the ship.

Chtorrr3 karma

What are your feelings on pineapple as a pizza topping?

tony-wheeler7 karma

Pineapple - Hawaii perhaps , but not for any real Italian. Certainly in Naples you could die for proposing such an idea.

tony-wheeler6 karma

we could get on to where the best pizzas are? And Naples certainly does have some good pizza places. Pizza is one of those dishes that when it's wonderful, it truly is wonderful. But too often it isn't.

tony-wheeler7 karma

and I've just been told Naples pizza twirling now has UNESCO world heritage status. Well great.\-europe\-42264437

Novorossiyan2 karma

Have you seen the pyramids in Sudan and how do you think they compare to ones in Egypt? If I recall correctly they were blasted by some Italian at one point in history. How well preserved are they to date? Heard it's far less crowded there and the country in general has not been screwed over by mass tourism yet. Also how does the price compare versus a travel to Egypt?

tony-wheeler8 karma

Yes, I went to Sudan fairly recently and the pyramids are amazing, much smaller than the Egypt ones but far more of them. And yes indeed some Italian guy did chop the tops off of a bunch of them, looking for hidden treasure. I really enjoyed Sudan, very friendly people, great ancient sites, some wonderful hotels. And absolutely no tourist crowds. Of course Egypt is pretty cheap these days as well.

Chtorrr2 karma

What would you most like to tell us that no one has asked about?

tony-wheeler6 karma

nobody has said have you been everywhere - I think Susan Sontag once said 'I haven't been everywhere, but I'm working on it.' I can relate to that.

porn_peasant2 karma

What's up with Taj Mahal?

tony-wheeler10 karma


keengt1 karma

Hi Tony! I love the Lonely Planet guides! I have used them in many countries. You guys are so great at identifying low income travel options that are still quirky and fun. You have made my trips to all sorts of places (especially India and Central America) so much more amazing than I could have made them. How do you do it?!

tony-wheeler3 karma

curiosity! keeping the writers on a really tight budget! Having young writers - not old guys like me, past their use by date.

tony-wheeler2 karma

of course there are lots of places which you can have all the money in the world and you're still going to be travelling on a tight budget because 'cheap' is the only option.

keengt1 karma

Well, thank you for always providing up to date options that help me meet interesting people! These types of experiences have allowed me to develop so many stories that I love sharing!

tony-wheeler5 karma

yes, it's always the people you meet who are the most interesting part of your travels. I was saying - answering another question - about travelling in China last year. I drove across in an old car and in one place a young guy wanted to sit in the car and then was amazed it had window winders. He'd heard about them but never seen one, every car he knew had electric windows.

keengt1 karma

It is the people and also putting a little time in. One week never does a place justice, but a few months get you a little closer. Traveling by car is a neat way to do it. I had never really experienced that until my husband and I bought an old Toyota RV (they get 20 miles to the gallon!!)two summers ago (we are both teachers) and took a 52 day road trip with our kids. We visited a few popular places, but the best ones were the less traveled. I loved Kebler pass above Crested Butte (the wildflowers were blooming and it was just breathtaking) and a few places in Idaho. These were places that we sort of "discovered." We met a lot of great characters, and were able to move at our own pace, which was really nice.

tony-wheeler1 karma

yep, looking back to travel with my kids, particularly when they were younger (they're grown up now) it was generally the 'tougher travel' places they liked best. Let's camp out and fix our own food, etc.

bse501 karma

How much effort goes into translating your guides? I had a chance to read some of them in my native language and they felt very natural unlike other translated guides.

tony-wheeler2 karma

well I'm really not part of Lonely Planet anymore but they told me last week they now sell as many guides in other languages as they do in English. I know they are phenomenally popular in Chinese and in Italian - I'm heading to Rimini and Bologna in Italy next week.

tony-wheeler5 karma

I spent a month and a half in China last year and I could not believe how many Lonely Planet fans I encountered there. Young Chinese travelers are becoming increasingly independent and adventurous.

zomboromcom0 karma

Hi, Tony. I'm going to invoke that last A in AMA and ask: what led to the invaluable Thorn Tree being shut down on the Lonely Planet site and eventually reopened? Thank you for your preservation work.

tony-wheeler1 karma

oh yes, the Thorn Tree, you know it's named after a real paper on pinboard travelers forum in Nairobi, Kenya. Where you did pin up your question on paper, just as once upon a time messages were pinned to a thorn tree.

PhnomPenny1 karma

And why did LP close down in Footscray?

tony-wheeler3 karma

they moved to a new heritage ranked office in a disused brewery in Carlton, the Italian quarter of Melbourne, Australia.

Jakopf0 karma

have you read the "jet lag travel guides" ?

tony-wheeler1 karma

no, I certainly know about jet lag, but not the guides. I'll have to search them out.

BurgerPleaseYT0 karma

What's your favorite burger joint?

tony-wheeler6 karma

You need a time machine to get there, back in the '70s London had a place called the Great American Disaster. It had fabulous burgers. Well certainly fabulous for London in the '70s. Before Hard Rock popped up in fact.