DEL MAR — When most people consider traveling, they plan a two-week vacation at a single location to take a break from their daily activities.
Wayne and Pat Dunlap, however, turned it into a two-year adventure, visiting 51 countries and acquiring a new outlook on life.
“We escaped our 9-to-5 routines, rented our Del Mar home and traveled the world,” Wayne Dunlap said. “It has greatly improved our lives.
“Traveling with only a suitcase has shown my wife and me that we do not need stuff to be happy,” he said. “People, friends, new experiences, romance, learning, having fun and waking up excited about the day is much more important.”
Years ago the Dunlaps gave up careers in the high-tech industry to start a home-based business so they could devote more time to raising their son. When they became empty nesters in early 2009, Wayne suggested taking a few months off to travel before launching into something new.
“A few days later Pat comes up to me and says, ‘Why don’t we take a year off?’” he said. “My first thought was that Americans can’t take a year off. It’s not done.”
Then Dunlap devised a budget, did some research and discovered a slightly different way to travel. “I learned that what we would normally spend in two months,” he said.
Six months later, armed with a budget of $100 a day excluding transportation to their destination and one suitcase each that weighed no more than 40 pounds, they set off to explore the first region on their loose itinerary.
A few months later they returned to San Diego, where they regrouped and researched the next region before heading off again for another few months.
“We came back after a year but we didn’t quite get it out of our systems,” Wayne said. “Our tenants wanted to stay so we went out for a second year.”
They ended up visiting 51 countries from July 2009 to July 2011. Along the way the Dunlaps started a blog, which they used to author “Plan Your Escape: Secrets of Traveling the World for Less Than the Cost of Living at Home.”
The book features travel advice on everything from finding great bargains to eating healthy while on the road, but the Dunlaps say there are three main tips when it comes to affordable travel.
First, go slightly off season. While visiting popular destinations during off-peak times is not usually an option for people with school-aged children, the Dunlaps recommend doing it whenever possible.
In addition to lower prices, there is generally more availability on everything from car rentals to hotels. Destinations are less crowded and travelers can sometimes bargain for better rates.
But try not to go too long after the peak season so you can still take advantage of good weather, they said.
Second, follow the disaster. Once travel advisories were lifted, the Dunlaps visited Thailand after the tsunami and Greece after the demonstrations. Disasters are often far away from other desirable destinations, but tourism tends to suffer in the entire region so bargains are easy to find, they said.
Finally, take advantage of online bounce-back offers. Anyone who provides an email address during an Internet search but didn’t make a purchase tends to receive bounce-back offers.
The online travel industry logic is that once someone leaves a site without making a purchase they probably won’t come back so the offers are a last-ditch effort to entice shoppers with a better price.
They usually come about 25 percent of the time and within the first three days, so travelers must be patient. Pat Dunlap said she once booked a rental car for $12 a day that was originally listed for $49.
The Dunlaps said travelers should also be willing to stay at family hotels or hostels rather than luxury resorts. In addition to cutting costs, it’s a great way to meet other travelers and learn about a region since most hostels have a large meeting room “where people come down and hang,” Wayne said.
That’s why he always brings along plenty of microwave popcorn. “Once that starts cooking and the smell gets out, everyone’s a fan,” he said.
The Dunlaps enjoyed traveling before they began their two-year adventure. Together they have visited 77 of 196 countries and 43 of the 50 United States.
They say their favorite destination is Italy but the Greek Isles are by far the most romantic, an important feature for Pat Dunlap.
“Traveling gives you a chance to rekindle your relationship,” she said. “When you raise children and you work, sometimes you need to bring the romance back in your life. If my husband wants me to go someplace and I say, ‘Now why would I want to go there?’ he’ll say, ‘It’s romantic,’ and I’m there.
“If you want to find the spice of life, travel and make it an adventure,” she said. “We have so much to talk about. We have such great memories. It’s brought us closer together. You find the things that attracted you to each other in the first place.”
“It also renews your playful spirit because life is supposed to be fun,” her husband added. “When you’re out for four months you realize you can sustain life and have a lot of fun and enjoyment and contentment and happiness without all the accumulation we have done as classic Americans.
“We’re so busy as Americans,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of time for our relationships. Sometimes those can almost take second fiddle to your career, taking care of your house and all the things we think we have to do. Relationships become much more valuable. You have a chance to re-evaluate life and reconnect with relatives.”
The Dunlaps are back in San Diego, but probably not for long. They are already planning their next trip to Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Columbia and have no desire hang up their passports any time soon.
In fact, their home of 25 years is for sale as they plan to downsize and continue traveling “until this thing, whatever we have, exhausts itself, or we run out of countries or we have grandchildren — whichever one comes first,” Wayne said.