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."

Save the Environment and your Wallet with these Wedding Dresses
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Can You Really Afford to Attend That Destination Wedding?

Champagne corks weren't the only things popping at Rachael Robinson's wedding. This Canadian elementary school lteacher's upcycled dress contained 13 feet of bubble wrap, a hint of white foam packing material, and a dash of candy wrappers. The gown was initially previewed at the school's fashion show on sustainable style, and students and parents came together to make it into the perfect wedding dress when Robinson got engaged a few days later. The dress popped with her down the aisle, and Robinson says she was grateful to have the bubbles to fidget with when she got nervous during the ceremony.

During World War II, Major Claude Hensinger ejected from his burning B-29. The injured flier spent the night under open skies, with nothing but the parachute that carried him down to keep him warm. He saved the parachute as a reminder of what saved his life during perilous times. A few years later, his future wife turned the material into a wedding dress for herself; her daughter and daughter-in-law (pictured above) wore it at their weddings too.

Louise Fairburn, an award-winning sheep breeder from a farm northeast of Nottingham, England, was inspired to design her own wedding dress entirely out of wool from her favorite sheep. The mission wasn't cheap: It took a spinner and dressmaker 67 hours and cost about $2,300, but Fairburn says it was worth the effort. The wooliness didn't stop there. Her groom wore a woolen waistcoat, and guests were handed sheep-shaped wedding favors. And the dinner? Cooked lamb, of course.

It took a lot of carbs and patience for this Australian couple to get married. Stephanie Watson started collecting those little plastic tags that seal bread bags and joked that she would marry her high school sweetheart once she had enough tags to cover a wedding dress. The joke turned serious when people heard about it and started donating their tags to the couple. A decade later, they were still short. That's when a local baker donated rolls of tags, which Watson, a fashion designer, sewed together into a beautiful dress for just $36.

Photo: Courtesy Stephanie Watson, Etsy

For the more traditional (and deeper-pocketed) eco-minded bride, the Morgan Boszilkov Natural Bridal Collection features dresses made of sustainable fabrics such as hemp, and the company donates 5% of profits to environmental causes.

Photo: Anne Almasy, Etsy Shop Natural Bridals

When they realized that 74% of the 2 million tons of clothes bought in Britain end up in landfills, engineering and arts students came together to create this ingenious wedding attire: the dissolvable wedding gown. It's made of an odorless nontoxic polymer that breaks down in water and doesn't harm the environment. However, it is advisable to keep the wedding indoors to avoid embarrassing situations.
The easiest way to keep your wedding attire environment friendly is, well, to wear nothing at all! Whereas most girls dream of the beautiful dress they will walk down the aisle in, some are fine with staying au naturel. There are even places that cater to nude weddings, such as this resort in Jamaica, or you can just bare it all down an aisle in Las Vegas.

Every year Charmin sponsors the Cheap Chic Toilet Paper Wedding Dress Contest. You might think that wearing a dress made entirely out of toilet paper is environmentally friendly: After all, a lot of toilet paper is made from recycled material, and the whole dress could be dumped in the recycling bin after the ceremony.  Turns out that's not the case.  Charmin is one of the few toilet paper companies that doesn't use recycled paper, which is how they keep their tissues so fluffy.  Also, the dresses can be put together with glue and thread, and neither of those things can be recycled with paper.


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