Tony Wheeler's best and worst holiday experiences

Which was your best holiday?

First solo trips or first "big trips" are always going to have a hard-to-beat impact. So, going to Paris with my girlfriend when I was a teenage university student in England or driving from London to Afghanistan - and then continuing on to Australia - when Maureen and I were in our early 20s are impossible to forget. But much more recently, we joined a small group in a 50-year-old aircraft (a Convair 580) and spent a month flying up the west coast of Africa from Cape Town to Casablanca. Along the way we stopped at places like Angola, Gabon, Benin, Mali and the Central African Republic. It was a magic trip; I even got to put a tick beside Timbuktu on my "been there" list.

And the best hotel you've stayed in?

Again it has to be a "then and now" combination. Back when I was a penniless backpacker, there were often places where you thought, 'This is amazing and it's only a dollar a day.' Like Adi Yasa, a small backstreet hotel in Denpasar, Bali. Nobody stays in Denpasar any more. The Four Seasons at Sayan just outside Ubud is super-luxurious (your room even features a mini-swimming pool) and so beautiful you don't even want to leave the room.

What do you need for a perfect holiday?

Variety. Two days on a beach and I'm going stir-crazy. I want culture, activity, contact. Variety in travel companions, too. I've done great trips with friends or just Maureen and I but sometimes I like travelling by myself. You never have any arguments on solo trips.

What do you always take with you?

My laptop, my passport, a credit card. Everything else you can - if necessary - pick up as you go. Even a mobile phone; I bought a cheap one in Afghanistan a couple of years ago when my own phone didn't get on with a local SIM card.

What's your best piece of travel advice?

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Don't expect things to work out the way you planned. When you leave A and find yourself heading down the road to Z when you expected to spend the night in B, go with it.

Where do you want to go next?

The Democratic Republic of Congo . So many great books written about it and such a complete disaster. It makes an interesting contrast with Australia and Brazil, two big, resource-rich countries that work. Congo doesn't.

Which was your worst holiday?

I don't think I've ever had a really bad trip. Most of them are good to great; annoyances are all passing; you get home at the end. What's not to like?

And your worst experience on holiday?

I had a car accident, which was totally my fault, screwed up the trip completely and I will always be totally embarrassed about it.

What's the biggest packing mistake you've made?

Bringing too much stuff is always the biggest mistake. Alternatively, it's not packing a spare pair of underwear and socks, a clean shirt and your wash kit in your carry-on, because sure as fate the bloody airline is going to lose your bag again.

Which is the worst hotel you've stayed in?

Bad "worst" hotels don't count. If you're in some dirt-cheap, rotten flea pit, what do you expect? It might be horrible but sometimes that may be the very best option on offer, so you got your money's worth. On the other hand, paying a lot of money and not getting a lot of money's worth definitely qualifies as "worst". So, right now, (that is, recently) it was a hotel in Broome for $480 a night.

What do you avoid on holiday?

Restaurant menus with pictures of the food. Children or old people in the security queues. (Hey, we've all seen Up in the Air.)

What do you hate about holidays?

We all hate the airport security rigmarole but my pet hate is bureaucracy and visas, in particular. Tin-pot countries are often the most expensive, most bureaucratic and most time consuming. Libya is my particular horror story. The Russians are greedy incompetents when it comes to visas. My heart sinks every time I think about getting another visa for India. And as for the US and "Homeland Security"? It sounds like a name only Joseph Stalin could dream up.

Tony Wheeler is the founder of the Lonely Planet guides. Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2011 is available next month.

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