The World According to Thom Wheeler

The man who drove a VW Kombi across Russia gives us his take on the world of travel

8 mins

Mountain/desert/jungle/ocean which are you?

Mountain and ocean – both hypnotic and all powerful.

First travel experience?

Bournemouth to London with British Rail.

Favourite journey?

Walking in the footsteps of Dostoevsky in St Petersburg.

Top five places worldwide?

Altai Mountains, Russia.

Osaka, Japan.

Montmartre, Paris.

Kaikoura, New Zealand.

St Petersburg, Russia.

Special place to stay?

Hotel Continental, Amsterdam.

Three items you always pack?

Pocket Chess set.


Cotton buds (doubles as a guilty pleasure).

Passport stamp you're proudest of?

For aesthetic – Vietnam.

For tolerance – all of my Russia stamps.

Passport stamp most like to have?

Scotland... Is that too controversial?

Guilty travel pleasure?

McDonalds: a one-stop-shop for washing and eating, ubiquitous food when all around is too confusing and you just want to eat.

Window or aisle?

Middle – choice of two shoulders to dribble on when sleeping.

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

Any mechanic.

Best meal on the road? Worst?

Best meal was mutton for the first time in Mongolia.

Worst was mutton for the 50th time in Mongolia.

Most surprising place? Most disappointing?

Japan has to be the most surprising place because the joy of Japan is that everything is surprising.

Most disappointing has to be Hull!

Where do you NOT want to go?

Loire Valley in the rain (again).

Who/what inspired you to travel? Any travel heroes?

A school trip to the then Soviet Union.

Travel heroes – Sal Paradise and Dean Moriaty.

What do you listen to on the road? Any song take you back to a particular time or place?

I like to explore local tunes really, otherwise I’m something of a throw back... Anything with a keyboard!

All that she wants by Ace of Base takes me back to 1993 and happy hour at the Underground Bar in Jerusalem.

What do you read?

I’m a sucker for a bit of history... But you can't beat a great story.

Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity? Anyone who made you lose it?

There have been too many to list... On both counts.

Although the Georgian pizza-restaurant-owning Orthodox priest I met in Tblisi, does stand out.

What's the most impressive/useful phrase you know in a foreign language?

It took me a long time to realise that Spasiba in Russian was one of the least used words – however until I did I thought it was pretty useful. Nabacchusevi is worth knowing in Georgia (it means hangover).

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

Underestimating road distances.

Snowbound in a tent in Antarctica, how would you entertain your companions?

Perhaps with a game of strip twister!

When and where in your travels have you been happiest?

All those precious moments behind a wheel.

What smell most says 'travel' to you?

The musky smell of stale tobacco.

Given a choice, which era would you travel in?

For me travel is always about the now.

If you could combine three cities to make your perfect metropolis, what would they be?

Paris because it just works.

St Petersburg because it’s beautiful and unpredictable.

Maltby, North Yorkshire (is that a city?) to keep one’s feet on the ground.


One Steppe BeyondThom Wheeler is the author of One Steppe Beyond: Across Russia in a VW camper, published by Summersdale. It is available on Amazon now.



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