This is part two of my ongoing series on honeymooning while on a budget.
By opting out of traditional gifts, Brooklyn couple Jacqui and Drew saw their wedding registry as a once in a lifetime opportunity to take a trip they wouldn’t normally be able to afford—a four-week adventure to New Zealand and Fiji—on the generosity of their family and friends. Here’s how they planned it.
Where did you go for your honeymoon and how did you choose the destination?
We went to New Zealand and Fiji. Since we did a honeymoon registry, we had more funds for vacation than we usually do. As Drew is a PhD candidate and I’m a public school teacher, travel funds aren’t always plentiful. So, we wanted to go somewhere we wouldn’t be able to afford for a normal vacation. That got us looking at farther-off destinations like Asia and Oceania.
We knew we’d take our vacation in the summer since that’s when we have the most time off, based on our academic schedules. Many places we were interested in would be in their rainy season, so New Zealand went to the top of the list. It is their winter during our summer, but neither of us are big on beach vacations and traveling during low tourist season meant we would get discounts. Air New Zealand offers a free stopover for most Pacific islands, so we were able to add Fiji quite easily and cheaply.
How important was price in choosing a honeymoon destination?
We wanted to go somewhere memorable and unique, knowing this was a once in a lifetime opportunity—when else would we be able to register for a trip? Instead of asking ourselves whether we could afford it, we asked ourselves, “Where should we go now that we can afford to go further and try something different?”
How did you budget for it?
We knew the majority of the expenses would be for transportation. Once we confirmed how much that would cost (about $4,000 total—getting to New Zealand is expensive!), we planned backwards from there. We knew how much we received from the honeymoon registry, so we found hotels with that number in mind, aware that we would also need money for food and activities. At the end, we did pay a little ourselves, but we figured we wouldn’t be in that part of the world again anytime soon and felt comfortable splurging.
How much did you plan in advance, and did you find that planning in advance saved you money?
We always book transportation and hotels in advance. We’ve noticed hotel prices tend to go up significantly about one to two months before your arrival date, and then decline rapidly a few days before. Reserving about four to five months out usually provides solid, middle-of-the-road rates. Also, if we know that an activity fills up fast or there is an activity that’s high on our priority list, we book those in advance. For example, visiting Waitomo Caves (a famous cave full of glow worms) was something we really wanted to do, so we made a booking several months ahead.
Upon arrival, we figure out what we’d like to see and plan as we go. We have found that sometimes things we think we want to see aren’t as exciting as we thought, or there’s a cheaper way to see it based on local advice.
What type of accommodations did you chose?
We generally chose mid-range accommodations. We stayed in a few places that were marginally nicer because it was our honeymoon. However, based on our budget, we did have to balance slightly nicer places with a few hostels. We usually like to spend more money on food and activities than on accommodations. As long as we’re comfortable, we aren’t overly picky since we don’t usually spend a lot of time in the hotel; most of our vacation time is spent out exploring. Because hostels charge per person, hotels often end up being a better deal for couples. This was especially true in New Zealand, especially close to ski slopes.
What were some of the more important financial trade-offs that you encountered?
Food is always the big trade-off. By the end of our trip, we found ourselves having to make choices between activities (i.e. skiing in Queenstown) and food (skiing would mean forgoing the dinner out and eating ramen noodles again). It’s amazing how quickly things add up when you’re eating out more than usual! By the end of the trip, we weren’t really doing any activities that cost money, and we were still eating those ramen noodles. That being said, we usually booked hotels where there were shared kitchens. Also, the cost for certain activities could be quite surprising. White water rafting, for example, was far more expensive than expected so we were unable to partake.
Did you always see eye to eye on which things to splurge on and which to skip?
Almost always. Both of us agree that if we can do something for free that’s always preferred. Hiking and self-guided walking tours are usually our favorite activities. Generally, if something costs more than $20 a person to participate, it has to be really special for us to do it. We both also enjoy trying local foods, so that’s always a priority. Drew is a bit more adventurous, so we do sometimes have spirited debates about where we’ll eat and how far we’ll hike, and I’m willing to spend a little bit more on vacation. But we are generally able to find a way to compromise since, at the end of the day, it’s all just a big adventure.
Overall, were things more or less expensive than you anticipated?
The prices in the bigger cities surprised us somewhat, especially Auckland. Also, Fiji was a bit more expensive than we had predicted because to get anywhere, you needed a car. Further, we stayed on a small island in Fiji (Taveuni) with only one grocery store. We had one chance to get everything we’d need, otherwise we’d have to pay for another taxi. When we ran out of food, we ended up trying a couple of close-by restaurants but the ones in the resorts were extremely expensive. Sunscreen was also surprisingly expensive in Fiji, because none of the locals use it. The same could be said for alcohol, though luckily we had been advised to purchase some at the duty free shop before taking off from New Zealand.
Would you recommend this honeymoon to friends?
Without a doubt! It was really a once in a lifetime experience. The natural beauty of New Zealand and Fiji is incredible, and the people in both countries were lovely. That being said, the airfare can be cost prohibitive. However, there are ways to do the trip we took for even less money—renting small camper vans was incredibly popular as trekking and camping out is a very good (and affordable) option. This destination is best suited for people looking for an adventurous vacation. If you’re willing to try something different, you’ll constantly be surprised and make some great memories.
What advice would you give to other couples planning their honeymoon on a budget?
Heed local advice. Typically local people know the best things to see and know how to see them for less money. If we hadn’t sought out local advice, we never would have visited Lake Tekapo, which ended up being one of the highlights of our whole trip (and one of the more affordable places we stayed)! Also, research and planning has definitely saved us money on our trips! Web sites like Trip Advisor contain helpful suggestions, like taking the commuter train to a destination, which is twice as cheap as the tourist train.
Finally, for couples who already live together or who don’t want or need traditional gifts, a honeymoon registry is a great cost-saving option. We paid very little out of pocket for an incredible trip based on the generosity of our friends and family. While we didn’t get any fine china or nifty kitchen gadgets, we have memories that will last us a lifetime.