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The Hippie Trail and The Invention of Lonely Planet

hippie trail
Written by Joseph Mcqueen

Nowadays, anyone with around 600 bucks can basically get a flight to anywhere. If you’re looking to travel from one side of the planet to another, there’s probably a flight there. We live in a globalised world, where almost everywhere is connected. In a way, it’s the golden age we’re living in. However, in the 60s and 70s, flights were costly and strenuous. But, a group of nomads decided to change the culture of travelling forever. The hippie trail was a route from Europe to the other side of the world by land. Groups of hippies – high off wanderlust and spirit – would purchase a bus and drive their way across the world.

A trip that could easily take months, or even years, to accomplish. Whilst now the hippie trail is a less enticing journey – especially with cheap flights and some geo-political problems – those travellers in the 60s and 70s built the foundations for a modern backpacker world. In fact, it was these folk that invented the Lonely Planet guides, which now thousands of wanderers use as their bibles. 

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Travelling Back Then

After the second world war, the planet seemed to finally be at peace. After what seemed like a lifetime of political unrest and opposition, the world seemed to finally take a breath for a brief moment. Plus, all of the mechanical and industrial improvements that took place during the war, were now able to be used for other – more useful – things. Such as travel. Flights were becoming more common, and many of the wealthiest people were enjoying first class tickets around the world. However, that was the issue, these flight prices were catered to the rich. The normal folk were far from able to afford it. It’s estimated that flights were around 50% more expensive back then than they are today. Fast Company writes about this period, which was known surprisingly as the Golden Age of flight:

“Varying on the route, it was four to five times as expensive to fly in the Golden Age,” de Syon says. “If you were a secretary, it might cost you a month’s salary to take even a short flight.”

Plus, it’s also important to note that flying was far more dangerous back then. The planes weren’t designed to handle turbulence, and a harsh jolt could easily break the neck of the airbus. In addition, fog was very hard to land in and mid-flight collisions were also common. It may be known as the Golden Age of flight, but it was also a time of expensive flights and multiple crashes. Essentially, if you were afraid of flying back then, the statistics wouldn’t have been something to look at for reassurance. 

Travelling By Car

As you can see, the problems of travelling by flight were evident. There were slight dangers and there were definite costs. In addition, the issue with flying was that you could only really fly to one place. Of course once you arrived there were opportunities to take public transport to various places, but what people really wanted was more. After years of not being able to travel due to wars and political issues, people were finally allowed to explore the world. Travelling by flight may be quick, but it isn’t spiritual. You get in an airbus, and you wake up in a completely different country. But looking out of the window of a hippie bus and seeing the world change around you hour by hour, day by day – now that’s real travelling.

That’s why, In 1957, everything changed. A rather adventurous bus company began a bus route from London to India, known as the Indiaman. Outlook India writes:

“The bus departed from London on April 15, 1957. Tickets cost £85 for the London to Calcutta section and £65 for the return journey. It travelled through France, Italy, Yugoslavia (as it was then known as), Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. During the trip, passengers stayed overnight in hotels (or camped out where there were none). The bus reached Calcutta on June 5 and returned to London on August 2 of the same year”

Imagine paying £85 to get taken, by car, from London to India. 12,000 miles… what a bargain. It was the sudden realisation that you could do it all by car or bus that began the inspiration for the hippie trail. 

The Hippie Trail 

The hippie trail was not only a journey, it was a way of life. That was because this long voyage could take months and even lifetimes. Some people would go and never come back. The hippie trail was an opportunity to see what felt like the entire world; it was not just one country, it was several. The route would take you across continents, and some even went the extra leap and travelled to Australia from Asia. But what was it all about? There was a wanderlust that fueled it. A desire to know more than just the small box you’re given at birth. New cultures were a chance to know more, see more, be more. As more people began to learn more about other nations, they wanted to witness it for themselves. Formidable Mag writes:

“The hippie trail was a 6,000 mile route through Europe and the Middle East into Central and Southern Asia. Inspired by the beat generation, Kerouac, Ginsberg… and The Beatles 1967 trip to Rishikesh in India to take part in a meditation retreat at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, hordes of members of the 60s and 70s counterculture movement took the road east seeking freedom and enlightenment.”

It’s also true to say that the hippie culture desired freedom of expression. The feeling of travelling gave them a limitless liberty that was unrestrained by home. Plus, recreational drugs – such as cannabis and acid – were definitely experiences that people wanted. Places like India and Asia were considered to be rife with such substances. There was a sense of oneness that came with the hippie trail, a sense of unity with the world. It would be too closed minded and ignorant to summarise this movement as a bunch of hippies taking recreational drugs. The truth was, it was a group of people – from all walks of life – wanting peace from one country to another after a long period of time where the whole world was at war. 

The route could vary from traveller to traveller, but ultimately there was a genuine consensus that people stuck to. The ‘magic bus’ would pick you up and take you from Amsterdam or London and you’d end up, eventually, in Nepal. 


The journey would start usually in Amsterdam or London, which is in Northern Europe. You’d then make your way through France, across Switzerland, down the boot of Italy. At this point you could get a ferry, with your vehicle, over to Dubrovnik. Where you could drive through Croatia and into Greece. Some would choose to island hop around the beautiful islands of Greece at this point. Corfu was one of the more popular. Then, it would be on to the next stops: Turkey and Istanbul. This would be where you’d leave Europe and move to the next continent.

The hippie trail would then venture into Asia and Iran. The next stop would be Afghanistan – where there was a very popular restaurant known as Sigi’s which would have some incredible music and atmosphere. Then they’d move through Kabul, into Pakistan, and eventually into India. Some would then head north into Nepal. Then the journey could continue into SouthEast Asia – Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. The final stops – not for the faint hearted – would be through Malaysia and, eventually, trying to cross the water to Australia.

The Hippie Trail Now

The hippie trail seems basically impossible now, despite its wonderful potential. Lots of those nations are hard to cross due to geopolitical reasons. Open Skies Magazine writes:

“In 1979 Russia invaded Afghanistan, and the country was effectively closed off to Westerners. Later that year, Iran had its revolution and that country too was no longer welcoming to tourists. Little by little the route had become more dangerous, and there were few willing to attempt it. Some did of course, and some died trying.”

Many of these problems, of course, still remain today. It seemed those years – the 60s and 70s – were a golden age for travel, despite the fact that flights were so expensive. Plus, nowadays, with prices of flights much cheaper, people prefer to fly. It’s as if the hippie trail will forever be stuck in time – a generation of wanderers. 

Lonely Planet

However, whilst the hippie trail may be difficult to replicate now, that generation laid the foundations for travellers of the future. The information, research and know-how that was passed on from that level of travelling was incredibly useful – and led to the creation of Lonely Planet. The Lonely Planet guides are, to this day, the most popular and useful books that people use for travelling around the world. Tony and Maureen Wheeler were the creators, and they brought out the first Lonely Planet guide – called ‘Across Asia on the Cheap’ – in 1973. They had done the hippie trail in the early 70s. When Tony spoke to the Lonely Planet magazine, he said:

“There’s no question that the Hippie Trail still tops my best ever list of trips…and it led directly to Lonely Planet.”

For anyone out there that has a lust for wandering, we all owe a big thanks to the generation of the hippie trail. 

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About the author

Joseph Mcqueen

Joseph is a cannabis journalist in the UK. His search and love for the truth in the cannabis industry is what drives him to write.