Spring Break Re-visited: The Destination Wedding and How to Afford It

As I write this, my forehead is peeling from too much sun (gross), co-workers are stopping to ask me "did you go tanning this weekend?" (grosser), and my desktop background is a clear blue ocean from the view of an airplane window (the opposite of gross). All thanks to my friend Michelle who decided to have a destination wedding in Cancun, Mexico. When I left Cancun my senior year of college, I said a sad (and let's be honest, drunk) farewell, thinking I was never to return, least of all with a large group of my girlfriends. Seven years later, Michelle and Nathan send out a Save the Date inviting me to re-live Spring Break 2003. What a not-tough decision. Yatzee!

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But wait, you're saying. How in the world am I supposed to afford a destination wedding when I can't even afford lunch? Well, my friend, put down your $5 latte and I'll tell you how...or at least share what worked for me.

So how are you going to get your fun-loving self to the wedding without having to take out a loan? Well, beyond the obvious tips (cutting out daily indulgences, going out one night a weekend instead of two, finding a boy to pay for everything...kidding), here are some things that helped my penny-pinching friends and me make it to one of the best weddings in recent memory:

1. Plan all of your meals and costs as soon as possible

If you're lucky and your friends are awesome, they will have likely secured deals for you at the hotel. Michelle and Nathan had an all-inclusive package for their guests which was almost at half-price of what we would have paid outside the wedding. Although it was steeper than a normal wedding hotel, when the event happened, being able to order unlimited drinks and room service 24 hours (hello 1 am quesadillas) was heavenly. If you don't have all inclusive, try to estimate what you'd spend all week. Do this as soon as you confirm you're going to the wedding, divide it by the months until the wedding and set that amount aside every paycheck. You won't have to worry about forking over more cash and you'll be covered when the event rolls around.

2. Book flights early and check prices often

If you're a frequent traveler, you know about Kayak, Travel Zoo and the works. Sign up for one of their alert emails so that you get the latest price every day. If you're like me, though, this can be dangerous (think gambling dangerous) in which you get stuck in a game of "I'll just wait one more day! I won't let the airlines beat me!". Don't fall into this trap. If you see a low price, book it. The earlier the better. We booked a week before another guest and got a price almost $80 less.

3. Find bridal shower and bachelorette buddies 

The main issue with destination weddings as a girl is that they're not the only cost--you still have the bridal shower and bachelorette party. (Why don't guys have grooms' showers??) Find a friend who wants to save with you and split the cost of a more expensive gift. The bride gets a big ticket item and the two of you don't have to go broke.

4. Go rogue and get creative

Some of the most memorable gifts I have given or seen given haven't even been on the registry. My friend Jess had the genius idea of going in with a group of friends and getting holiday decorations for every month--think plates, placemats, candles, centerpieces--from the Tag Outlet and starting the couple off right for their first year of a marriage. (No Tag Outlet in your area? Try any outlet store or TJ Maxx/Marshalls and come up with your own starter theme!) Another bride I saw received a personalized recipe book with the giver's special tips, tricks and tools (bought from little stores around the country).  And one of the most touching gifts was an Aunt giving her niece 24 ornaments from every year since she was born (take note, new aunties!) The point is to think about what the couple might need that they wouldn't think to get and be creative about it. The best gifts are the ones you'd never think to buy yourself.

The main thing is to be realistic. Is this your close friend who you would regret not seeing walk down the aisle? Can you swing it if you're frugal for the next couple months and get smart about spending? Or is it someone who you never would have invited to your own wedding and meanwhile the credit card companies are banging down your door? Once the decision is made, it just takes some careful planning and self-control. It will all be worth it when you're dancing with your friends at a reception on the beach and you could almost cry you're so happy. (Ok, maybe a few tears did leak out). And moments like that are hard to price. 

Do you have any suggestions for making it to a destination wedding? What's the wildest location you've attended for a wedding? How did you pull it off?

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