Lonely Planet Writer

A dentist challenged himself to visit ALL 221 countries in Lonely Planet's 'The World' book

When Wisconsin dentist Dustin Pfundheller treated himself to a copy of Lonely Planet’s The World book in 2015, you could say it was a life-changing moment. Up until then, the 28-year-old had enjoyed travelling and volunteering in different countries, but on reading the book; a detailed A-Z  guide to all 221 countries in the world,  he had an epiphany.

Dustin (extreme right) volunteering in a refugee camp in Saharawi in Africa.
Dustin (extreme right) volunteering in a refugee camp in Saharawi in Africa.

“I had been travelling around the world, visiting many countries, but I never agreed with the United Nations list of 193.  The Lonely Planet’s ‘The World’  was finally a list of countries that made sense,” he tells Lonely Planet News.  “I had always thought Antarctica, Greenland, Taiwan, Tibet, Scotland, Kosovo, Hong Kong, French Guiana, and French Polynesia were countries – so I was ecstatic to find out that Lonely Planet had agreed and listed them all as countries.”

Dustin in Krabi in Thailand, 1 of 221 countries he visited.
Dustin in Krabi in Thailand, 1 of 221 countries he visited.

He took this as a sign and made the decision to go and visit every single country listed in the book, and set himself the challenge of doing it all by the time he reached 30, so he could become the youngest person in the world to have visited all 221 countries.

Planning a trip to visit all 221 countries in the world

Dustin, who at the time was living and working in Singapore set about planning his itinerary.  He made a map of the places he wanted to visit on Google maps and maps.me.  “I pinned all the sites I wanted to see and kept the digital map on my phone.  I used Lonely Planet destination guide books to find the sites.”

A Google map of every destination around the world Dustin has visited.
A Google map of every destination around the world Dustin has visited. Image by Wanderingdentist

Working as a dentist in Singapore, he put in extensive hours and consecutive days in order to accumulate time off for travel. “I often worked 12-hour days for 16 consecutive days and then travelled for two weeks before returning to work,” he explained.

Tips for around the world trip on a budget

Dustin admits he was especially frugal during the years he was travelling, and when asked what advice he has for anyone considering a similar trip, he straight away begins to list off some very valuable hacks for travelling on a budget:

  • Use the website couchsurfing.com to stay free with locals or I stayed in an inexpensive hostel.
  • Eat local street food, which was often only a few dollars, rather than eating at sit-down restaurants.
  • Go to bars to socialise but not to drink alcohol, which can be expensive.
  • Use public transportation (subway/buses) instead of taxis, especially from the airport. Rent a car or scooter if it’s affordable.
  • Sign up for credit cards to get airline miles, and use those miles for discounted flights.  Only take carry-on luggage.
  • When exchanging money, make sure to get a good exchange rate.
Dustin photographed at Angor At Cambodia
Dustin at Angor Wat in Cambodia.

The highlights of his trips are numerous, but for Dustin the ones that spring to mind include attending weddings in China, Eritrea and Chad.  “I was treated like a celebrity in Baghdad, Iraq & Damascus, Syria since the locals said they hadn’t seen a foreigner in years or perhaps ever before.”

Swimming at South Point in Hawaii
Swimming at South Point in Hawaii

One travel experience he does recall is taking a 16-hour $7 train ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. “The $7 bought me a spot on the floor in the 3rd class section. It was filled with locals who were extremely kind to me – offering me food and sharing their newspapers to sleep on.”

At Volunteer Point in the Falkland Islands
At Volunteer Point in the Falkland Islands

However, the standout experience is not something he saw or visited, but simply making friends with people from every country.  “No matter how different a culture may seem, people everywhere, especially those in my age range, are doing mostly the same thing, and they want the best for our world.”

Meeting people around the world on Tinder

And one means Dustin used to meet like-minded people was on Tinder.  “I was usually the only westerner that my Tinder match had ever met. In Iceland, one match picked me up from the airport and drove me 5 hours to the famous Jökulsárlón Iceglacier and back the same day. I would never have seen that ice glacier if it wasn’t for Tinder.

Dustin jouryned to We Are the Mountains, Nagorno-Karabakh
Dustin journeyed to We Are the Mountains, Nagorno-Karabakh

The three countries where I got the most matches that wrote to me were – England, Uganda, and the Philippines. I have continued to be friends with every Tinder match I have met.

Overlooking the Tatev Monastery, Armenia
Overlooking the Tatev Monastery, Armenia

And as for the bad rep that Tinder can sometimes get, Dustin is having none of it:  “I didn’t use Tinder as a ‘hook up’ app, but as a way to meet locals.  I tried numerous other  apps and websites to meet locals while travelling, and Tinder was by far the best.”

Read more about Dustin’s adventures on his website here.