Design Your Life
Their Goal Was To Visit 100 Countries, But This Couple Surpassed That
By DeAnna Taylor
Ronnie and Dr. Sheba Dunston were married on April 22, 2014, on the beautiful pink sands of Bermuda. The couple decided early on that travel would be a significant part of their relationship.
Sheba’s first time traveling abroad was during her sophomore year of college. She participated in a summer travel abroad program. Ronnie has been traveling since he was a child because his father was in the Army.
Ronnie is a Senior Training Specialist with the Department of Energy (DOE), as well as a professor specializing in business and technology. Sheba is a Research Scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as a professor in Public Health.
We spoke with them about their goal to see 100 countries and how they plan for their trips.
Travel Noire: What inspired you to begin traveling together?
The Dunstons: Within our first year of dating in 2007 and 2008, we traveled to Canada, Miami, South Carolina, Key West and the Bahamas together. This was only the beginning. The “Road To 100 Countries” started as a personal travel goal for us. We had traveled quite a bit over the next six years but realized we were visiting the same countries, mainly around the Caribbean (Bahamas, Aruba, St. Maarten, Mexico, St. Thomas, etc.). That’s is fine if you love a certain destination, but we had another goal in mind. A goal to travel the world, experience new places and cultures and learn about the history of different places.
With this in mind, we decided to stop repeating countries, and only visit new destinations. With 195 countries recognized by the UN, we decided we wanted to, at first, visit half of the world. Right there, we said, “We should visit 100 countries.” At that point, in 2013, we had only visited about 13 countries together and we vowed we would try to visit at least 100 countries. So, for the next five years, from 2015 to 2018, we (mostly) visited new countries and finally reached our 100th country goal.
TN: Where was the first country that you visited together? Why?
The Dunstons: The first country we visited together was Canada, within our first year of dating. Canada was only a 7-hour drive away and was somewhere we could easily visit, living in the Northeast.
TN: Where was the 100th country that you visited? Why did you choose that destination as the 100th?
The Dunstons: Our 100th country was Mauritius. We chose Mauritius because we wanted our 100th country to be in Africa. After much research, we were intrigued by the beauty of Mauritius, a country many have never been to, or even heard of. It was also Ronnie’s 40th birthday; we thought it would be a wonderful place to celebrate both of these monumental occasions.
TN: How do you budget and plan for your trips?
The Dunstons: Our strategies for planning and budgeting trips has changed over the years. When we first started traveling, we looked for quick deals and cruises, mostly to the Caribbean. We also participated in one too many time-share presentations which offered free getaways. Once we decided to travel mostly outside the Caribbean, we needed to a develop new strategy. We had already signed up for all hotel and airline free memberships to accrue points, but the points were not accruing fast enough. That is when we discovered travel credit cards, and our travel game changed.
Regarding planning, we still have a long list of countries to visit. We research the country, what to see and do, and the weather. We try not to travel to places during their rainy season or winter. Once we figure out the best time to go to the destination, we see if it fits into our travel plan for the year. We Look up airlines that fly there, if the airline is a part of an alliance, and how many miles it will take to get there. Finally, we find out if there are any Hiltons, Marriott/Sheratons, or Hyatts so we can use our hotel points to keep costs low.
TN: Where is your dream destination and why?
The Dunstons: We’ve been able to travel to many of the “bucket list” locations many want to visit, including Fiji, Maldives, South Africa, Tahiti, Brazil, Australia, and Zanzibar. We have also visited 6 of the 7 continents. Our “dream” destination is to visit the last continent, Antarctica.
TN: What advice can you give to couples wanting to travel more?
The Dunstons: Travel can be expensive, but using points and miles to travel makes it significantly cheaper. This is especially true for couples. Also, it is important for couples to be on the same page regarding where they want to travel to, and what they want to do when they get there.
Furthermore, compromising is crucial. We conduct extensive research on every location we’re interested in: the activities, the weather, the hotel and flight options and then we share what we found. If the timeline, hotel, flight and weather all align with what we want, we book it. Then we have a discussion about the activities and come to a decision regarding what we want to see and do, based on our interest. Ronnie likes adventure activities including zip-lining, ATVs, cliff diving, bungee jumping etc. Sheba loves to learn about the history, experience cultural tours, shop and taste local food. We both love to tour the local areas, admire the architecture, and learn about the history of the country. So as a compromise, we each choose a few activities we are interested in and do them together.
TN: Where can our readers find you on social media?
DeAnna Taylor is a criminal defense Attorney turned travel writer. The Charlotte native recently completed one year abroad working as an English teacher in South Korea. Her hobbies include fitness, traveling to new countries, and trying new foods.