I didn’t understand the cliche about how expensive weddings were until I became a destination wedding photographer. Unfortunately, the real cost of weddings became painfully evident when I began the planning for my own wedding. I had no desire to spend my life savings so I began to research a few of the main ways I could save for my wedding. My experience in the wedding industry helped but there was more I learned along the way that helped me save thousands in the end. Nearly a year later, I knew I had too much valuable information to help other couples start their marriage right to keep it to myself. Being able to have the wedding of my dreams without compromising on what I found most important was so gratifying for me. My goal as a destination wedding photographer who’s been on both sides of the camera is to share a few of these insights to help you save the most you can. Here are my tips on how to have an incredible destination wedding on a budget!
Guests for a Destination Wedding
I wanted to write about guests first because, for me, it was the most uncomfortable part of the wedding planning. It’s also the biggest variable in saving money for a destination wedding. If I’d had it my way, I would’ve invited every relative and every friend in my contacts but when on a budget, compromises have to be made. Here are ways to save for a destination wedding when it comes to planing around your guests.
Number of Guests
The best way to sum up how to save money could be one sentence: have an intimate destination wedding. I could end the blog there and it’d be as useful as the rest of the information but not everyone wants an intimate destination wedding. My best advice is to find the balance in between to get the right number of guests. If the idea of having 10-30 guests is totally out of the question, be as rigorous with your guest list as you can. Every guest you deduct means hundreds of dollars less at the foot of the bill. For each person you invite, ask yourself, “is having this person attend my wedding worth hundreds of dollars to me?” The answer to that question allowed me to make tough decisions with shortening my guest list.
In contrast to a traditional wedding, the number of guests you invite doesn’t add to the number of gifts you mean receive to offset the cost. A number of guests will consider the plane ticket to your Mexico destination wedding a gift in itself. This is why it’s important to think about the convenience of a location for the guests. If you grew up in San Francisco, and most of your guests will be from there, feel free to invite more of them to your Hawaii elopement. If your family and friends are in France, it’s going to be a lot more of a journey for them to attend. A visa, expensive flights, and a language barrier are going to provide significant barriers for an international destination wedding. Keep this in mind when planning out your destination wedding.
Choosing a Destination Wedding Photographer
Being a destination wedding photographer myself, I consider this the most important aspect of a destination wedding. The vast majority of the couples choose their destination based on how it looks, and how it’s going to end up in photos. This kind of vision is how you should go into choosing your destination wedding photographer. Here’s what I consider to be the best ways to save in hiring the photographer who’s best for you.
A second shooter is something I don’t consider a luxury. It’s a part of documenting a wedding I think is certainly worth the cost but it’s not crucial to getting good wedding photos. A good destination wedding photographer is able to get the job done alone, which is what makes a second shooter just below the threshold of necessary. I wouldn’t consider a second shooter as extravagant as imported cherry blossoms lining the aisles but it’s part of the cost for a destination wedding photographer you can mitigate by choosing to go without one. On the other hand, the value of having an entire second perspective on the story of your destination wedding for a fraction of the first photographer makes sense. A good second shooter adds to the story in a meaningful way so if there’s room for anything extra in your budget, the extra funds should go toward the second shooter.
Destination Wedding Photographer: Local or Foreign?
The big question when looking for the right photographer for your destination wedding is where to look. A friend was telling me about her elopement in Nice, France and mentioned that she struggled with whether to search for someone from back home in Los Angeles or to find someone in France. She ended up hiring a couple in Portugal but said she wished she’d been able to determine earlier where to look for the destination wedding photographer who would be the best fit for her. Here are my two cents about the pros and cons between hiring local versus foreign.
Local Destination Wedding Photographer
A local destination wedding photographer has 2 advantages over one that’s brought in from another country. Knowledge of the area means valuable insight into aspects only locals might know about. A destination wedding photographer with experience in the area is an advantage but it isn’t a make a break variable and isn’t as important when it comes to saving cost. The second advantage that factors into a budget is a lack of travel fees but those often don’t add up to much unless you’re bringing someone in from the other side of the world. The downside of hiring local is that the lack of travel fees could be invalidated by having to choose from a limited pool of candidates. If the options available in a certain area aren’t sufficient, it doesn’t make sense to hire local.
Foreign Destination Wedding Photographer
A destination wedding photographer brought in from an outside country or city gives one significant advantage. A foreign photographer allows you the option to choose from anywhere in the world – often it means bringing someone from your home country with you to your destination. This has been the case for me and most of my brides, flying out with them to the country they’re getting married. In my case, the single downside budget-wise has been paying travel fees. I would argue that what’s spent on travel fees is gained with confidence in your photographer, and that confidence is priceless. For certain locations, I don’t charge travel fees at all, which eliminates the major drawback for most couples. In other instances, I’ve waived travel fees if the couple is passionate about my work and I feel like there’s a good fit.
Where To Have a Destination Wedding
I love to discuss locations for where to get married because it involves deciding the country you’ll forever be able to remember fondly as the place you had one of the most special days of your life. I became a destination wedding photographer in large part because of my love for travel so this is an aspect of destination wedding planning I place huge importance on. Many of the popular wedding destinations might have to be crossed off the list when it comes to a budget wedding but I know plenty of couples who were smart and were still able to pull off the wedding of their dreams with a limited budget. Here are a few costly aspects of a wedding to think about when considering ways to save.
The country you decide to have your destination wedding is a huge determiner in how much you end up spending. A country with less tourism is going to be less expensive in every single way in comparison to the US. From food to where to you stay to the local vendors, there are plentiful opportunities to save. A wedding venue that goes for 10K in Los Angeles might be a quarter of the price in Colombia and be just as beautiful. Not to say Colombia doesn’t have expensive wedding venues, cities like Cartagena have venues catered for American tourists to spend just as much as they would back home. Be mindful that the country you choose doesn’t automatically mean you’re in the clear because there’s an equally important decision to be made after that.
It’s usually a safe assumption to say a Mexico destination wedding would be more affordable than an identical wedding in the south of France but in my experience as a Mexico destination wedding photographer, I can tell you that’s not the case. Determining the country you want to tie the knot is only step one in narrowing down where you’d like to get married because step 2 is deciding what cities would be a good fit for your budget. Continuing with the Mexico example, a state like Oaxaca would make for an affordable destination but I’ve heard of plenty of 6 figure bills racking up in more popular destinations like Cancun. The opposite can be true as well – a small town in Italy, a traditionally expensive country for a destination wedding, may provide more affordable options than a touristy city in an inexpensive country.
Destination Wedding Venues
The final step after nailing down exactly where you’d like to have your wedding is deciding what venue is going to serve as host. Choosing a venue is a lot like choosing a destination wedding photographer – one that’s good doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right. A couple I knew in college booked a wedding venue in Playa Del Carmen suited for double the guests they had in attendance. As much as they enjoyed the day when it came, they told me they wish they’d opted for something smaller because it would’ve saved them thousands in the end. A wedding venue that’s “all-inclusive” sounds appealing but it’s likely that you’ll end up paying for things you don’t need and won’t use.
Destination Wedding Photographer Final Tips
Near the date of my wedding, there were a number of little things I did to reduce those final deposits I had to provide for vendors and save in little but meaningful ways. I got fewer flowers, did some last minute negotiating, and was able to secure a discount on my dress and although those all helped, they weren’t as substantial as the major items I addressed above. For more advice, I always like to provide assistance for couples who have unmet destination wedding photography needs. There’s more to say about how to prepare for a destination wedding but even with as much as I’ve covered, I couldn’t possibly answer every individual question in a blog alone. Everyone is in a unique situation so I highly recommend reaching out with any questions by filling out a form submission or giving me a call at 786-270-8527 and we’ll get a conversation going about your destination wedding photographer needs in no time!