Nick and I finally got married after being together for 10 years. Congratulations to us!
This is the story of our low-cost, unconventional wedding and how we stretched our budget to have a 4-month honeymoon in Thailand and India.
Having a traditional American wedding never appealed to me. It's too time-consuming to plan and too expensive to afford. But after being together so long, we decided to join the club and become a miserable married couple like everyone else.
Before we made any plans, we asked ourselves this one simple question: do we want to spend our limited budget on one single wedding day, or spend our budget on many, many days of adventure and discovery?
Duh! We chose the latter and couldn't be happier we did.
With six short weeks of
procrastination preparation, we ended up with a 13-person wedding and 4-month honeymoon to Asia.
All About the Wedding Day
We had the most perfect wedding day on May 20, 2015.
May 20th became the obvious choice for our wedding day because it's the anniversary of the worst day of our lives, Nick's skydiving accident. We wanted to shift the emotionally charged meaning of that fateful day. Thankfully it worked because now May 20th is a very special day that we look forward to.
We started the day with a few jumps at Skydive Elsinore near our home in Southern California. I never liked the tradition of not seeing each other all day until the ceremony. We opted for an unforgettable day of enjoying each others company instead.
These skydives were beautiful and symbolic. Getting up in the air, flying together, and holding hands on the anniversary of Nicks accident was a metaphorical "F you" to the tragedy we survived four years prior and a testament of how amazing our lives had become since then.
After the jumps, we drove an hour west to Laguna Beach and checked into our ocean front hotel room.
We weren't the only ones who got to enjoy the sea breeze, salty air, and sound of lapping waves that afternoon. A few of our friends met up with us before the ceremony to celebrate and savor the view from our balcony.
Together, we got ready, had a cocktail (or three), and took some photos. The fact that I finished my vows to Nick while he was in the shower is evidence of how laid-back I was about the whole thing.
Besides us, we had 11 people at our oceanfront, cliff-top ceremony at (top secret location) State Park. So quaint, and yet twice as many people as I originally hoped for!
I'm not going to give away classified intel for pulling off a wedding at a State Park, but I'll just say that we operate by the creed that it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
Nick and I designed the whole ceremony and wrote our vows to each other. It was as personal and individualized as you could get.
Nick's best friend Mike got certified online and married us. He gave us unwavering support to make sure the ceremony was how we wanted it and even allowed us to slap a GoPro camera on his chest to capture a unique perspective. Thank you Mike!
lost my shit desperately tried to hold it together during my vows to Nick. We had been through so much together that the weight of this moment, and how sacred it was to marry this patient, loving, and eternally forgiving man, came crashing down on me.
I imagine how self-conscious I might have been with a larger crowd watching us, how the authenticity of the moment may have been lost to maintain composure. As far as I'm concerned this is another +1 for having an intimate wedding; I felt safe to be unapologetically me, in all my raw, teary-eyed glory.
An hour before sunset we sealed the deal with a kiss. The lighting was exquisite as the warm sun's rays peaked through the cloudy sky to create a dramatic backdrop for my best friend Amanda to perfectly capture the moment.
The entire set-up and ceremony, including all the hugs, laughs, handstands, and photos that followed, took about an hour.
Afterward we drove 20 minutes to Marrakesh, an authentic Moroccan restaurant. Perched on colorful cushions, we sipped red wine, and ate a traditional five course meal from Marrakesh, Morocco.
A beautiful belly dancer played her finger cymbals and celebrated with us as we laughed the night away together. And togetherness was all I really wanted, instead of being spread out across dozens of tables.
Some perks of having our wedding dinner at a restaurant included having no preparation other than making the reservation, the ability for each person to order what they wanted, and having no clean-up afterward.
My favorite unintentional benefit of eating at a Moroccan restaurant was exposing our friends and family to a new type of food. We had concerns that not everyone would like it, but they did, and even Nick's mom wants to go back for more.
After a million goodbye hugs in the Marrakesh parking lot, Nick and I returned to our hotel room where we opened the sliding door to welcome in the soothing sound of the crashing waves below.
It was critical to me that we end our wedding night and begin our married life by being intimate with each other. (TMI? #sorrynotsorry) I refused to be one of those couples that missed this opportunity due to exhaustion or inebriation. But don't worry, I'll spare you the details.
We stayed up late talking about our favorite moments from the evening. To date, one of my most vivid memories is lying in bed with my new husband and having the realization that our wedding was over.
I looked forward to our wedding day so much. I couldn't believe how quickly it flew by and that it was now in the past. It was over! Our wedding celebration was over!
All at once I was flooded with gratitude that I only spent 6 weeks planning for this day instead of a year or more. I felt relief that our wedding was so inexpensive and yet turned out so perfect. But I kept defaulting to this sense of loss because it was over. Our wedding was now just a memory; albeit the happiest memory of my life.
The next day, our first full day as Mr. and Mrs. Fener, we ate breakfast on the balcony and lounged on the beach below. Our perfect morning-after was punctuated with fresh fish tacos and a traffic-free drive home to see our dogs. #dreamcometrue
Consequences of Having a Small Wedding
The idea behind having a small wedding was multi-faceted, and so were the repercussions.
First, I'm not a wedding and babies kind of girl. Never have been. It's just not my thing and was never even a thought growing up.
Second, since Nick's accident in 2011, we've been to many fundraisers and gatherings that put all eyes on us. (Thank you friends!) Despite being crucial, these events inevitably created stress and anxiety for me at the time. Although we are far past that intense time in our lives, I didn't want to hold another function to entertain people at. I desperately needed something low-key and relaxed.
To get away with only having 11 guests (including Mike, the officiant) we had to keep our wedding a secret from most of our friends and loved ones until after it was over. My heart hurt over this a lot more than I thought it would, but having a small wedding was non-negotiable for me.
There are so many important people in our lives that should have been there, and would have been there, if we opted for a larger celebration. But we didn't.
Our guest list was small, and specific, and honestly, this made me feel like the worst person ever. I required daily pep talks from Nick in order to not feel like sh#t for being selfish and stubborn about getting what I wanted on my wedding day.
Having such a small wedding also resulted in us never publicly sharing photos of our wedding party online (until now, two years later), due to concerns that some of our other friends and family would feel left out.
I hated being so secretive about the happiest day of my life, but in the same breath I can emphatically declare that our wedding turned out to be everything I could have ever dreamed of because I fought hard to keep it so small.
If I may offer any advice to future brides, it would be to unapologetically follow your heart, and not allow other peoples' desires for your wedding influence what you experience. It's your wedding day. Plan it that way. You will never regret having your dream wedding. Promise.
How Much We Spent
Here's a quick breakdown of what we spent on this dream wedding of ours.
A mere $1300 is what we spent on the actual wedding day. We dished out another $6000 each for the honeymoon for a grand total of roughly $13,000. And yeah, we went dutch on our honeymoon y'all.
We paid nothing to use the location at (secret spot never to be disclosed) State Park other than the $15 fee to park each one of our cars. Shhhhhhhh don't tell anyone. We just showed up, had the ceremony, and left. There was a moment during our vows that a ranger drove past very slowly but he was kind enough not to mess with us. Thank you for not being a d!ck Mr. Park Ranger.
I couldn't stomach the idea of spending heaps of money on decorations, so we kept the wedding decor to a bare minimum: two strings of Tibetan prayer flags that cost us twelve whole dollars.
I found my stunning dress at the mall for only $48. I've never felt more beautiful in my life than I did that day. I wore a $12 jeweled head piece and $10 rhinestone flip flops. By doing my own hair and make up I saved tons of money. And I painted my nails in the car on the way to the wedding site. No kidding.
Nick's outfit was $100, about five times more than he wanted to spend. We still laugh about the fact that he spent more than I did. He wore an off-white, short sleeved, wooden button shirt that matched the vibe of my dress. And he paired it with some dark brown, cotton wedding shorts. Yes, shorts. Nick doesn't do pants.
His tungsten and carbon fiber wedding ring cost me $200 and now doubles as a convenient beer bottle opener.
I refused to allow him to buy me a wedding ring. Why? Because he already got me a low-profile, diamond engagement ring and I love it.
I may have murdered my new husband had I found out he spent "two months salary" on my ring(s) the way DeBeers ad campaigns have trained us to do since the 1940's. So, since I'm always one to question "tradition" I decided it was unnecessary to spend money on a second ring for me.
Our biggest expenses ended up being the dinner and the hotel room. Our charming oceanfront room was $300 and the Moroccan feast we savored came to $600 for the 12 of us (we lost one person after the ceremony.) If this hadn't been the grandest of special occasions, I would have never, EVER spent that much for a single night in a hotel. I'm a budget-travel blogger after all. $300 is, like, a week of traveling in South East Asia.
Our Nontraditional Honeymoon
If you want to get technical, our honeymoon in Asia was three and a half months. 105 days to be exact. We spent the first nine weeks traveling across India, and the last six weeks making our way through Thailand for a second time.
An elaborate honeymoon is how we wanted to spend the limited amount of money we budgeted for our wedding. We wanted to share unique experiences, solidify our new marriage, explore the world, and create unforgettable memories. And since we have learned valuable tricks to save money while traveling, we knew we could stretch a modest budget super far.
We got great deals on flights by booking 4 months ahead of time. Nick got the best deal on his flight at only $600. Even though I booked at the same time on the same airplane, I paid $800 for mine. We bought a multi-city ticket and flew from LAX to New Delhi, India. Our return flight 15 weeks later was from Bangkok to LAX. For tips on how to get great flight deals read this post.
We each budgeted $50 a day for everything and didn't even come close to spending that during most of our time in India.
READ MORE: How Much Does it Cost to Travel in India?
We had two big purchases while over there: a week-long, all-inclusive, live aboard SCUBA trip in Thailand that cost about $700 each, and our kitesurfing lessons which ended up being around $300 or so.
We travelled as budget as possible while still maintaining some level of comfort. We stayed in cheap hotels, travelled by bus and third class trains, and ate at local hole-in-the-wall restaurants.
Our time in India started with site seeing in New Delhi and took us east across the countryside to see the Taj Mahal in Agra, learn how to play classical Indian musical instruments in Varanasi, and study Buddhism with a Tibetan Monk in Bodhgaya where the Buddha was enlightened.
We then headed north-west into the foothills of the Himalayas. In Rishikesh we did tons of yoga and went white water rafting in the Ganges River. A 12 hour train ride west led us into Amritsar where we meditated at the Sikh's sacred Golden Temple.
We flew south and relaxed on the beaches of Goa where I tried surfing for the first time, learned to make macrame jewelry, began kitesurfing lessons, and planned our future while floating in inner tubes in the warm, calm Arabian Sea.
With six weeks left, we bought a separate one-way ticket for about $300 and flew from Goa to Bangkok, Thailand. Having already been to the north of Thailand on our previous trip, we headed south for our SCUBA live-aboard adventure.
READ MORE: How to NOT Ruin Your Trip to Thailand
After swimming with lots of manta rays we headed to Phuket, Thailand's largest island, to try kitesurfing (no wind unfortunately), then made our way east to Koh Phangan where we narrowly missed the sh#t show known as the full moon party but got in two unforgettable weeks of kite surfing lessons.
While the tradition of taking a honeymoon has a long and complicated history, there is expert consensus that a honeymoon is meant to give a newly wed couple private time to plan their futures together.
And that's exactly what we did. Being away from home for so long gave us the unique opportunity to analyze our lives at a distance and dream up new ideas for chasing happiness.
In our soul-searching talks we conceived the plans and got the guts to move out of our home and into a travel trailer to explore the U.S. as full-time nomads, our greatest adventure yet.
I know we will never regret spending the time and money on an extravagant honeymoon rather than our wedding day. In writing this post, we hope to inspire you to rethink the traditional American way of overspending on weddings, and consider spending less to get more.
Do you have a unique wedding story? Share it with us in the comments below! We'd love to hear it.
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