Dialogue. Difference. Doodah.

"Travel can be a powerful force for tolerance and understanding. As part of a worldwide community of travellers, we want to enable everyone to travel with awareness, respect and care." Celebrating its 30th year, Lonely Planet publishes over 650 guidebooks in 14 different languages, covering every corner of the planet. They accept no endorsements, advertising or kickbacks, and do not accept payment or favors in return for positive reviews.

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Feature

In Love with Traveling Our Lovely Planet:

The Lonely Planet Story
A long-time resource for independent-minded travelers, Lonely Planet travel guides are a mainstay of the hippie-era Baby Boomer vagabonds that have so brightly colored our world. Truly putting the indie in independent publishing, Lonely Planet authors, editors and designers still put the same free-wheeling spirit and creativity into their books today that the founders put in their early home-grown and hand-made books.

This year’s Independent Publisher Book Award Travel-Essay category winner, The Kindness of Strangers: Tales of Fate & Fortune on the Road, explores “the unexpected human connections that so often transform the experience of travel, and celebrates the gift of kindness around the world.”

This philosophic atmosphere, along with a foreword by the Dalai Lama and jacket blurbs by Isabel Allende and Amy Tan, help bring a mystical quality to the book. Witty and heartfelt writing from the likes of Jan Morris, Tim Cahill and Dave Eggers, alongside stories by amateur authors chosen from 400 submitted during an online competition make it a true treasure in the genre of travel writing.

How It All Began

Lonely Planet began in the early 1970s after founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler completed an overland journey from London through Asia and on to Australia. Recently married, they took the trip in a hopeless attempt to get travel out of their systems before settling into 'real' jobs. After arriving in Australia, the Wheelers were approached by so many other travelers with questions about their trip that they decided to publish a book about it.

Written at their kitchen table and hand-collated, trimmed and stapled, that book, Across Asia on the Cheap, became the first Lonely Planet guidebook and an instant local bestseller. Another trip, 18 months in South-East Asia resulted in their second guide, South-East Asia on a Shoestring, which became one of the most popular guidebooks ever published.

By 1976 Nepal and Trekking in the Himalayas had been published, followed by a string of guides in 1977 which included Australia (now in it's 11th edition), Europe, Africa and New Zealand. The big break came in 1981 when Lonely Planet India was published, with a staff of ten. It became an immediate bestseller and is now in its ninth edition.

Today there are over 400 Lonely Planet employees working in offices in Melbourne, Oakland, London, and Paris and a crew of about 150 experienced authors traveling and writing around the globe.

As Lonely Planet continues to grow, its emphasis remains on well-researched information written by professional authors. The Wheelers still own the company and continue to spend much of their time on the road, writing new guidebooks and ensuring that their commitment to quality travel information is reflected in all Lonely Planet projects.

Why “Lonely Planet”? It's from a line in "Space Captain," a song by Joe Cocker and Leon Russell from the album "Mad Dogs and Englishmen." The actual words from the song are "lovely planet" but Tony Wheeler heard "lonely planet," liked it, and the rest is history.

Q&A with Don George, editor of The Kindness of Strangers

Don George has been a pioneering travel writer and editor for more than two decades. The Global Travel Editor for Lonely Planet Publications, he writes the Traveler at Large column for LonelyPlanet.com. In 25 years of wandering, Don has visited more than 70 countries and published more than 600 articles in newspapers and magazines around the globe. He has edited several travel anthologies in addition to The Kindness of Strangers, including A House Somewhere: Tales of Life Abroad (Lonely Planet, 2002), and has won numerous awards for his writing and editing.

What does the kindness of strangers theme mean to you?
In 25 years of world-wandering I have been struck by how people have gone out of their way to help me - and other travelers. Time after time I have been helped by people I have just met: they have given me directions, or personally shown me how to get somewhere, or offered food or a place to stay. And I've heard the same from countless other travelers. This is one of the greatest truths travel teaches us: that at heart, the planet is a friendly place and people want to be good to one another. For me, this lesson is one of travel's greatest riches, because when you know this, the world changes for you: If you wholeheartedly believe that people will be kind to you, you gain the courage to take risks, to be vulnerable and open yourself up to the world, and the result is extraordinarily enriching experiences and encounters.

Do you think the kindness of strangers theme is especially relevant to travel?
I think kindness is easier to see and experience when you're on the road. When you're taken out of your everyday context, you rely more on others and you also see and experience things more sharply and clearly. So there are more obvious opportunities for kindness to enter your life.

Do you have an 'if only there'd been a kind stranger to help me out' story?
Well, I’ve been in need of help many times on the road – and remarkably, every single time someone has been there to help me. Sometimes I think a little angel sits on my shoulder and guides me through life - but I also think that our attitude to life and to the world greatly influences how the world treats us. If we walk on the planet full of trust and caring, the planet will treat us with respect and care, I like to think.

If you could describe a destination as being 'kind to strangers', which would you choose? And 'unkind'?
I do not think destinations are kind to strangers; people are. Some places may seem cool and others may seem warm; some cultures may seem to cultivate interpersonal interaction and others to discourage that interaction. But when it comes down to the person-to-person level, as this book so amply illustrates, kindness transcends place and culture; it can be found everywhere.

What's your best piece of advice for travelers who find themselves in a pickle?
That depends on the particular kind of pickle, of course, but basically: Trust your instincts. Calmly observe the situation around you and assess the best way to get out of it. And don’t be afraid to rely on the kindness of strangers!


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