Can You Really Afford to Attend That Destination Wedding?

Bride and groom on beach  Herathera Island Resort
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In the past 12 months, Rahsaan Coefield has attended more weddings than he can count.

He estimates there have been 10 or 12 -- and those are just the out-of-town ones requiring airfare and a hotel stay. Some required vacation time from work.

Coefield says he's simply at the age where his friends are all getting married, and estimates he spends between $800 and $2500 per wedding, depending on location. And that's not including a gift.

"It's been an expensive year," he says.

Whether for a wedding for friends out of town, or a destination wedding out of the country, ceremonies that require guests to travel have an extra set of expenses, and obligations, attached to the invitation.

Leah Ingram, etiquette expert and author of "Suddenly Frugal," says before accepting any wedding invitation, potential guests should take a step back. First, ask yourself if you really want to go. For weddings that have an extra expense of travel, Ingram says, "Rather than automatically saying yes, you have to ask, 'Can I afford to do this?'"

It was a question Shane Fischer asked himself before attending a wedding in Honolulu last year. Fischer discounted the cost of flying to Hawaii from his home in Florida by using frequent flier miles, but still says the trip cost him about $1,000. The expense was worth it, Fischer says, as the groom was a close friend since childhood. To sweeten the pot, he says, "On the way back from Hawaii, I stopped in San Francisco for a few days because walking the Golden Gate Bridge was on my bucket list."

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Given the added expense, Leah says guests can expect the bride and groom to pick up some of the tab. "If you are asking your guests to travel to some third-party destination, then there is an expectation that you as bride or groom will be offering other options for them to stay entertained." In the case of the Honolulu wedding, Fischer says the bride and groom covered most of the meals and excursions while he and the other guests were in Hawaii.

Coefield, meanwhile, says transportation between the hotel and the wedding and reception locations are often covered at the couple's expense. So are day trips, evening parties, and even gift bags that include sunscreen and other location-specific essentials.

One of the most frequently-asked questions about destination weddings is whether a gift is still required, given the added costs to the guest to attend. Ingram says, simply, yes.

"It is a social protocol," she says. "If you're going to a wedding, you need to give a gift, whether you send a boxed gift to the house ahead of time or bring a check with you. If you find yourself resenting that that's one more thing you have to spend money on, you should question whether you should be going at all."

But Coefield says he doesn't give a traditional gift, and with a dozen destination weddings in a year, no one could blame him. Instead, he says he brings a token item, like a nice bottle of something with which to toast the happy couple once he's arrived. "I don't necessarily bring a wrapped gift or a check the way I would if the wedding was in town," he says.

But despite the time, and expense, Coefield says he wouldn't have missed a single wedding. "It's a very joyous occasion, celebrating people I really care about. Every wedding I've been to has been for really great people and I'm happy to see them together."


Originally published