Guide to a Budget Destination Wedding

October 18, 2018

I didn’t understand how expensive weddings are until I became a destination wedding photographer. Unfortunately, the real cost of weddings became painfully evident when I began planning my 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 the big day. Being able to have the wedding of my dreams without compromising on what I found most important was so gratifying. Nearly a year later, I knew I had too much valuable information to keep to myself.  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


All the decisions related to guests are the most uncomfortable parts of wedding planning. Ironically, guests are also the biggest variable in saving money for a destination wedding. You don’t have to jump straight to an elopement if you’re not having luck in the guest department. If I’d had it my way, I would’ve invited every relative and every friend in my contact list but when on a budget, compromises have to be made.  Here are two big ways to save for a destination wedding when it comes to planing around your guests.


Number of Guests

My best advice is to save money on a destination wedding is to invite the right number of guests. There’s nothing that’ll help your bottom line as much as having a more intimate destination wedding. If the idea of having 30-50 guests is totally out of the question, be as rigorous with your guest list as you can. It may be awkward, but anyone who’s had a wedding can empathize with budget restrictions. For every guest you choose not to invite, you deduct hundreds of dollars from the foot of the bill. For each person you consider, ask yourself, “is having this person attend my wedding worth hundreds of dollars?” The answer to that question allowed me to make tough decisions when shortening my guest list. 



Unlike a traditional wedding, not every guest you invite will be able to contribute a gift to offset the cost. This is why it’s important to think about the convenience of the location for your guests.  If you’re in San Francisco or LA, feel free to invite plenty of people to your Hawaii destination wedding. Flights from California to Hawaii aren’t more expensive than a typical cross-country flight. On the other hand, if your family and friends are in Boston, it’s going to be a lot more of an obstacle for them to attend. For an international destination wedding, there are even more hurdles for guests. A visa, expensive flights, and a language barrier will reduce the number of people selecting ‘yes’ on their RSVP. This is why a couple looking to save might consider swapping out a Bali wedding for a more convenient replacement like Tulum.


Choosing a Destination Wedding Photographer


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As a destination wedding photographer, I consider this the most important aspect of a destination wedding. Couples usually choose a destination based on how it looks and how it’s going to end up in photos. By skimping on a photographer, you could negate the whole purpose of choosing a beautiful place to get married. You don’t need to spend a small fortune to hire a photographer who’s going to successfully capture your big day. Here’s are some factors to consider in hiring the photographer who’s best for you and your budget.


How Much Should I Pay a Destination Wedding Photographer

My rule of thumb for photography is always around 10% of the total wedding budget. Depending on how much you value great photos, you can add a few percentage points to that. Couples often hesitate to share their photography budget, but it’s the best thing you can do with your destination wedding photographer. When a bride shares her budget with me, I can determine right away if I should refer to another photographer or get creative to see if I can make it work. When it comes to the right destination, a lot of photographers will do their best to work with your budget. If you love a photographer’s work but they’re out of your budget, ask them for alternatives. They could have a second shooter they recommend or have a discount for certain destinations on their bucket list like I do.


Hiring a Second Shooter

A second shooter is not an aspect of a destination wedding I consider a luxury. For the value a second shooter brings, it’s much better to be prudent with a different part of your wedding budget. On the other hand, if your options are between a single exceptional wedding photographer and two average shooters, go with the single photographer. A good destination wedding photographer can get sufficient photos on their own. All things being equal, 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 in your budget, it should go toward a second shooter.


Destination Wedding Photographer: Local or Foreign


The big question when searching for the right destination wedding photographer is where to look. A friend who recently eloped in Nice told me she struggled with whether to hire someone from back home or local to Europe. She ended up hiring a couple from 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 of hiring local versus foreign.


Local Destination Wedding Photographer

A local destination wedding photographer has 2 main advantages over one that’s brought in from another country. Firstly, knowledge of the area means invaluable insight into aspects only locals know about. There’s no amount of research that can beat a local photographer’s experience. The second advantage that factors into a budget is a lack of travel fees. The good thing is, 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 having to choose from a limited pool of candidates. It’s not easy to hire a local Santorini wedding photographer when the island has 15,000 people. If the options available in a certain area aren’t sufficient, it doesn’t make sense to hire locally.


Foreign Destination Wedding Photographer

There’s a handful of big advantages when bringing a photographer with you to your destination. A foreign destination wedding photographer allows you the option to choose talent from anywhere in the world. It’s hard to beat the peace of mind of hiring someone who speaks your language and knows exactly what you want. There’s nothing that can take the place of a great fit between a couple and a destination wedding photographer. The single downside budget-wise is having to pay travel fees. I would argue that what’s spent on travel fees is gained with confidence in your photographer, which is priceless. For many locations, I don’t charge travel fees at all, which eliminates the major drawback for most couples.


Where To Have a Destination Wedding


Brainstorming locations to get married is one of my favorite things to do with brides. 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 may be crossed off the list when it comes to a budget wedding but there’s still hope out there! I know plenty of couples who were still able to pull off the wedding of their dreams with a limited budget. Here are a few aspects of a wedding location 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 hotels to local vendors, there are plentiful opportunities to save. A wedding venue that goes for $10,000 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 with your budget. 



It seems like a safe assumption to say a Mexico destination wedding would be more affordable than an identical wedding in Greece. 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. Step 2 is deciding which cities would be a good fit for your budget. Continuing with the Mexico example, the coast of Oaxaca would make for an affordable and beautiful destination. On the other hand, I’ve heard of plenty of 6 figure bills racking up in more popular destinations like Riviera Maya. The less popular the destination, the more likely you’re going to save. 


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 Cartagena 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. An affordable location can still run up the bill if you’re not careful with expenses. A wedding venue that’s “all-inclusive” sounds appealing but you’ll likely 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 several things I did to 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. Although those all helped, they weren’t as substantial as the major items I addressed above. There’s more to say about how to prepare for a destination wedding but there’s no blog that could answer as many questions as a conversation could. Everyone is in a unique situation so I highly recommend reaching out with any questions. Fill out a submission form or email me directly at to get in touch. The sooner you reach out, the sooner we’ll get a conversation going about your destination wedding photographer needs!


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