I received a nice piece of mail the other day—some of my friends are getting married, and they want us to attend. The problem is that the majority of my friends are in California, and I’m in Idaho. At this point, any wedding is a destination wedding. Given that we just found out my wife is pregnant, and I’m keeper of finances for our family, it’s up to me to figure out how we’re going to attend without breaking the bank.
Plan and reserve ahead
If your friends are like mine, and heed the advice of the Internet, they’ve sent out invitations well in advance—nearly a year, in this case. This gives you plenty of time to plan and get the best prices on hotels, airfare, and if you want to drive yourself when you arrive, rental cars. If you have the time, shop around and compare. Do not leave this to the last moment if you intend to attend and not pay prices that make my mortgage pale in comparison. It may or may not be cheaper to get a bundle, but do look into booking each item separately.
On the topic of traveling, once at the destination, as mentioned, look into renting a car. However, be aware of parking prices. It might not be economical to rent a car, despite the freedom it affords, unless there’s a discount for being part of the wedding. It may be worth your time looking at prices for a public transit pass, if available at the destination. Buses, subways, and regional transport trains can be cheap effective ways to travel the area, and often drop you off at or near sightseeing destinations, which we’ll get to in a moment.
A few comments: there are definitely times and days that are cheaper for flying, but be sure to gauge this against hotel and food costs. Also, buy each ticket one at a time, if possible, to ensure the lowest overall cost. But, there’s a risk that there might not be two or more tickets left.
One thing to stress: arrive before the wedding date. If you arrive the morning of an evening wedding, but suddenly find your flights delayed, you could miss the wedding. Give yourself a buffer of at least a day.
With my wife pregnant, I have to think a year in advance in terms of due dates. The wedding is next October. The flip side of being able to plan reservations ahead, for me at least, is that our baby is due next July. We will both still be exhausted, and money will be tight. How can I turn that into an advantage?
Make it a mini vacation
Before hitting the button to reserve those tickets, consider adding a few days to the trip. Since you are already going to what is presumably a nice destination, you might as well enjoy it. The wedding I’m attending is in San Diego, so the first thing I did is look at travel agent and ticket booking sites. I’d love to go to the zoo (it’s one of the few in America that has pandas), but what I was really looking for is each site’s blog. You can often find guides on free things to do in the area, which will cut the strain of actually having to travel there. It might be landmarks or a free brewery tour, or even just a cheap picnic in a well-known park, but you can have fun on a dime at the wedding’s location if you know where to look.
Our baby will only be a couple months old, but I’m sure we’ll be ready for an extended weekend away, and we’ll want to pack as much as we can into the time we have, with as little spending as possible.
Create a budget
Finally, affording the trip at all is a top concern. Luckily, my mother-in-law lives with us, which means we can leave our as-yet-unborn baby with her. That also means not needing a cat sitter, which definitely helps. Unfortunately, it may be hard to plan for someone to care for children or pets far out from the wedding date, unless you are using a personal friend or family member. If you need a professional, again, shop around first.
I’m going to keep a budget in order to set aside money for the trip. I’m pretty handy with Excel, but there’s plenty of free spreadsheet templates you can use. I’ve found the best trick is to put away a little of each paycheck. Don’t factor that money into your normal at all. Pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s in your bank account or shoe box, but it’s not for spending…yet. When the wedding arrives, you have money that was planned exactly for this purpose, and you won’t have to worry about your everyday budget.
While it’s a common idea that destination weddings are more expensive—not just to throw, but to attend—there are few ways to bring the cost down. Travel smart, plan smart, and be thrifty when buying tickets.
Photo credit: Getty Images