Tony Wheeler

Stories about nuclear threats and political deadlocks between America and North Korea, Iran and Cuba often fill the headlines. But what is it like to be a tourist or backpacker traveling through these countries? Tony Wheeler, co- founder of the Lonely Planet guidebooks, offers his tips for traveling safely and smartly through conflicted areas and tells his own stories of misadventures in what he calls the “Dark Lands.”

Tony Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet travel guidebooks and author of "Tony Wheeler's Dark Lands"

  • Guest

    Traveling in areas where governments are at odds, but the average person is mainly attending to his own business, is inherently different from going to areas where the common people are belligerent, radicalized or desperate. Would Tony be interested in heading off to the favellas of Rio, or the fundamentalism-plagued areas of the Middle East, or war-torn areas like Eastern Ukraine? How about a trip to Istanbul to see how newly trafficked women from Bulgaria are treated before they’re sent to Arab lands? The problem with the mindset of many tourists is that they want the happy ending. They want something to smile about even if they experienced a harrowing escape. But in really awful places and circumstances, either you help those who are suffering or there is no happy face to put on it. Being a tourist in those places risks being a spectator sport not unlike ancient Romans watching death in an amphitheater.

    • Whamadoodle

      Wh–what the?
      OK, point taken on going to slums–there are ghettos in America that are very dangerous at night, and I wouldn’t advise anyone to go there, nor to any war zone.

      But… Istanbul? Again, maybe there are bad areas there too, but I’ve visited there, and I assure you, I never saw them. I had a wonderful time in Istanbul, and people there took pains to welcome me. Istanbul, and the rest of Turkey, sometimes has unrest, but it’s a GREAT country. I had zero problem there.

      • Alexandria Washburn

        Totally agree – Istanbul is lovely. As a woman I explored the city alone with zero problems. Yes there is sex trafficking there but theres also a ton of Sex Trafficking in the USA.

  • ES Trader

    Regardless of geographic, cultural, or historic attractions, what motivates one to travel to unstable political, religious areas of the world when so many other destinations are available. Tourists gunned down in Egypt, pirates attacking boats, subjecting yourself to kidnapping and worse in Mexico City or Pakistan, or parts of Africa is not on my agenda.

    While travel misfortune can happen anywhere compounding the probability is insanity.

    • Alexandria Washburn

      The benefit of going to places most people are afraid of is that you are more likely to connect to the real culture of a place even if you don’t speak the language. They aren’t choked with tourists and souvenir vendors. You couldn’t pay me to go to Paris mid summer but I’d gladly give you my money to spend a few weeks in Colombia, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua or Egypt. The problems some tourists have experienced in Mexico are pretty exaggerated. As one of the most touristed countries in the Americas your percentage chance of being taken advantage is probably higher in Chicago or New York City compared to Mexico City if you exercise common sense. A German tourist just last year was shot and killed in San Francisco near Union Square.

      • Whamadoodle

        As a San Franciscan, I find it DEEPLY shameful when a visitor here is a victim of a crime–I hope that they are in the minority, and that most visitors here will receive the kind welcome and assistance that I try to give people.

      • ES Trader

        Michael, edited my comment;I acknowledge that one can be shot in Union Squarem Fisherman’s Wharf, at a shopping center, a movie theatre, a domestic military base,a public school or even on the freeway.

        The kidnappings in Mexico City were a decade ago, the German tourists in Egypt don’t occur every day, I understand.

        I am not advocating travel restrictions upon anyone and I also agree that taking the time to intermingle with locals is always the best code of conduct. However…………..I am very familiar with the Bay Area, having lived here 49 years, but going to another country means I don’t have that advantage.

        I avoid many places in San Francisco, Oakland etal even in day;at night absolutely. Why become a victim of the wrong exit like Sherman McCoy in the Tom Wolfe novel, “Bonfire of the Vanities” ?
        Even a ‘master of the universe’ is powerless when out of his element.

        As MacArthur once said to Patton, as bullets were whistling by and Patton ducked, “it’s the one you don’t hear that will get you, George”, so no guarantee I admit.

        Should one is unfortunate enough to become a victim of kidnapping or terrorist attack, do you expect the American government to intercede with Seal Team 6 like in “Captain Phillips” ? Or will you accept the consequencses should the media fail to stir public sentiment? Is it of concern that other lives may be put at risk to secure your safety? Are you willing to reimburse the cost? Winning lotto ticket is more likely but,,,,,,,it only takes one.

        As a child on the East Coast, I yearned for the wild open spaces I saw on “Bonanza” and other westerns.

        As a teen in California, it was fun sleeping out under the sky in the bacyard; as an adult I discovered that backpacking in Desolation Valley and Carson Pass, sleeping on a pad over rocks,scrambled eggs spiced with sand was not my idea of pleasure. A clean bed and hot shower after a meal brought by a attentive waitperson is really my preference , but to each his own.

        Safe journeys and stay alert because ‘common sense’ does not become obvious until after the event,

  • Peter

    A few years ago I read an article in a Canadian news magazine about Pakistan’s North Waziristan area, where the reporter began by talking about how remote it is and how hard it is to get in. The sentence that stood out to me was: “This is not a Lonely Planet destination.” How does your guest feel about the phrase “Lonely Planet destination” coming to mean a place for mainstream tourists?

  • David

    we’re talking about relatively dangerous or remote areas but Lonely Planet is also helpful for the beaten path. in comparison to other guides, it presents some inexpensive options for both food and accommodations.

    • Whamadoodle

      Love Lonely Planet guides, and have used them for all sorts of places in the developed and developing world alike.

  • Another Mike

    Regarding pinching in Rome — my wife was groped while standing on a crowded bus in 2006. I was stuck maybe eight people away from her, and didn’t quite know what was going on. A woman half her age graciously offered her her seat.

  • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

    To note for the historical record re my call-in story (as shared on this show about traveling to Iran in 1978 — and a near miss to meet the Shah just before he left the country):

    The meditation referred to was the Transcendental Meditation technique, as taught by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of India and the world, whom I did mention. Fortunately, this great teacher’s TM program carries on, gaining strength in many countries including the U.S. and helping to neutralize and counterbalance the stress burden carried by all of society. Anyone can help lighten that collective burden while enjoying a better quality of individual life simply by learning the simple, effortless TM technique at a qualified teaching center.

    I might add that government aid, defense, and law enforcement programs will do well to support and implement programs utilizing this science-backed program at home and abroad as a profoundly cost-effective investment in social health, preparedness, and healing, especially when compared with costly military and police actions.

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