Ever been held up in traffic or crushed up against some random on a bus and let your mind wander to the ‘what if’? What if I was in Europe right now? What if I sold everything and just took off? What if I had the freedom to travel where I wanted, when I wanted? Where would I go?
Trust us, you’re not alone. At one point or another, we’ve all been there. And none more so than Topdeck’s founding-father Graham ‘Skroo’ Turner – the only difference is, he actually did it and built a pretty successful business from the ‘what ifs’ (if we do say so ourselves).
Where it all started…
Like so many young Aussies before him – and the hordes that would follow – a 23-year-old Skroo landed in London in the early 70’s to start his working holiday having recently graduated as a vet.
To his new mates, the blonde-haired, scruffy-bearded Queenslander was a hard-drinking, indiscreet, swearing mans’ man who had a passion for travel. And in 1973 he joined the annual migration over to Munich for – yep, you guessed it – Oktoberfest.
Like most bloody brilliant ideas, the concept we now (lovingly) know as Topdeck was born while Skroo and his mates consumed vast quantities of Bavarian beer and took part in the crazy antics that usually go along with this infamous event. Let’s be honest, not much has changed. As the empty glasses piled up on wooden tables, Skroo and his mates reminisced about a crappily run Scandinavian camping tour they’d been on earlier in the year. True to form, the young men agreed that they could have run the thing much better.
The top-deck in Topdeck…
Back in England, Skroo stumbled upon an old WWII airfield whilst on a work call-out. The deserted airfield in the middle of the English countryside was filled with double decker buses. One, had even been kitted out as a mobile home, with bunk beds and a kitchen downstairs – it was fate.
After many more beers in the pub and several days’ discussion with his mate Geoff ‘Spy’ Lomas, the two men decided to buy the run-down converted bus and start their own tours through Europe. Little did they know, this moment was the beginning of a $$$ business that would see success beyond their wildest dreams.
Out the front of their London apartment, they spent weeks modifying the bus to take extra passengers. Much to the annoyance of their English neighbours – especially when the pavement collapsed under the weight of the bus. They advertised a six-week tour of Spain, Portugal and Morocco at £110 pp and sold tickets to like-minded travelers in the middle of Trafalgar Square.
Finally, on 19 November 1973 the first Topdeck tour departed. 14 passengers. A driver with no license. No spare tyres or maps. And absolutely no worries. It was the 70’s after all. But despite some treacherous black ice in the Atlas Mountains, a side of police-bribery, a bout of food poisoning and some accidental drug purchasing, the group made it back to London in one piece a month and a half later.
From then on…
By 1975, Topdeck had made £15,000 profit and was running life-changing trips throughout Europe – including shorter trips to Oktoberfest, Pamplona and Hogmanay. But Skroo was ready for something bigger. And in October 1975, he and 16 (brave) passengers set off on the first ever ‘overland’ trip from London to Kathmandu.
To say this trip was BIG would be an understatement. The group travelled over 9,500km through Europe to Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Think: driving from Sydney to Perth and back again…but more. And it wasn’t without a few hiccups. Like the time the group underwent ten hours of not-so-civil questioning at the Syrian border after being in Israel (illegal at the time). Or when they nearly hit a bullock cart head-on driving into Delhi.
But! The group eventually made it to Kathmandu – with some passengers continuing on home to Sydney and others returning to London in their trusty double decker, just four days before the bus was due to set off on the next trip.
As time went on, Topdeck evolved into a professional travel organisation – getting rid of the ‘I like it better on top’ marketing stickers and tightening up operations on the road. And by the late 80’s, Topdeck was one of four remaining tour operators in Europe.
Topdeck’s inventiveness and free-living mentality in the early days paved the way for the incredible business we now know. While the double decker buses have been replaced by modern air-conditioned coaches and our trips now span the globe, the passion for free-spirited travel and inspiring people with seriously incredible trips remains part of our DNA.
More than 40 years on, and we’re still your exit from the daily grind into life-changing experiences. Your ticket to discovering more destinations. A chance to uncover extraordinary with a bunch of curious, like-minded people – with the freedom to delve deeper and just be you.
So, are you ready to get out of here and uncover what a Topdeck trip is all about?