Lonely Planet founder looks back on the hippie trail and the dawn of backpacking at event in London
The ‘hippie trail’ that saw young travellers cross the world in the 1960s and 70s and led directly to the birth of Lonely Planet is the subject of an event at the V&A Museum in London.
On the Hippie Trail is an all-day event celebrating an overland route between Europe and Southeast Asia that took in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nepal and was inspired by the Beat Poets and the Beatles.
Tony and Maureen Wheeler followed the trail from London to Melbourne in the early 70s. The first Lonely Planet guidebook, Across Asia on the Cheap, based on their experiences, was published in 1973. And Tony Wheeler – who spoke to us in the middle of a trip to Sudan – has very positive memories. “There’s no question that the Hippie Trail still tops my best ever list of trips,” he explains. “And it led directly to Lonely Planet.”
Wheeler is one of a number of speakers at the event. Rory MacLean retraced the route in the early 2000s and wrote Magic Bus – On the Hippie Trail From Istanbul to India, the first history of the trail. Sharif Gemie and Brian Ireland are the authors of a new history, Journeys to Nirvana - A History of the Hippie Trail. For many travellers, the route was an opportunity to broaden the mind and escape the routine of home. Most travelled on tight budgets, with some driving and others taking local transport. Other focuses included seeking out local experiences, as well as eastern spiritualism, free love and recreational drugs.
The hippie trail declined in the late 70s, when regime change in Iran and war in Afghanistan closed borders. For Wheeler, while the classic route may be no more, the style of open-eyed, adventurous travel that it inspired continues. “My trips have all been good, and they continue that way,” he says. “Sudan is superb. Anybody who really wants to find an amazing trip will definitely manage it, and Africa offers lots of possibilities. I've got a Bangkok to London drive lined up for next year." Many suggest that the ‘backpacker trail’ and the modern travel guide have their roots in the hippie trail, which can itself be seen as a development from the Grand Tours undertaken by wealthy Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries.
On the Hippie Trail is free and runs 11am-5pm on Sunday 27 November in The Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre at the V&A in Kensington, West London. It is part of a wider exhibition on the social revolutions of the 1960s called You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970, which runs until 26 February 2017.