With the cost of weddings at a record high, it can be hard for couples to take the trip of a lifetime after without putting themselves further into debt. In past posts, I’ve proven that great experiences don’t have to come at a great cost. Now, I’m talking to young couples that are applying that philosophy to their honeymoons.
First up: Chessa and John Mollicone from Michigan. When the Mollicones got engaged, they were in their 20s and living in Chicago. Both from big families that extend from Illinois to New York and down to Florida, a destination wedding was their only option. Here’s their story.
How important was price in choosing a honeymoon destination?
Price was very important to us. John and I both had credit card debt, student loans, and an apartment with utilities due each month. We had a wedding fund and a honeymoon fund: two mason jars that we filled with spare coins and bills. Though we knew we would be given gift money at the wedding, we decided to put the majority of that money toward our debt and save on our own to enjoy a really awesome yet affordable honeymoon.
Where did you honeymoon?
We never considered honeymooning outside of the U.S. mainly because of price and convenience. Marrying in Tampa, Florida was a destination for us and for almost all of our guests. Because John and I had already purchased a set of plane tickets we didn’t want to purchase more. We decided to rent a 1978 VW camper in St. Petersburg and road trip down the gulf coast, through the keys, and end in Key West. For under a grand, we gained transportation and a hotel. Once we were in the bus, no matter where we were, people were glad to see us.
What type of accommodations did you choose, and were they worth the price?
We loved our bus, but we wanted to reserve beds for some of the nights too. We decided to spend three nights camping, one night at a 4-star full-service hotel and spa, and three nights at a B&B. This way we would appreciate the finer things and learn to redefine what finer things meant. Sleeping 200 feet from bed to ocean is something only Curry Hammock State Park in the Florida Keys can give. Yet a hotel can offer air conditioning and a shower without flip-flops.
How did you budget for the trip?
We had a $2,000 to $3,000 goal ahead of time, but we had a touch-and-feel attitude on the road. We aren’t spenders so we saved our money for gas (about $40 a tank) and food. We ate one homemade meal a day (toast, eggs, sandwiches) because the bus had a working kitchen. The bus was just under $1,000 and lodgings were just over $500.
Did you plan in advance?
I booked our campsite and other lodgings a few months in advance because state parks fill up fast. Word to the wise: the parks close at sundown, BUT you can get a secret passcode that will let you into the park after hours by calling during the day.
What made you choose to go camping on your honeymoon?
Because we rented a time machine and by golly we were going to camp in it! But also, camping with a mini RV gave John and I an environment that was already intimate. In the parks, I’d get scared easily and would hold John extra tight. Camping makes you humble and connected to nature. You get to experience some of the most amazing views without the cost. In Curry Hammock in the Keys, we were literally on the beach. We stayed up for hours watching the moon and the falcons as they began their migration to South America.
Overall, were the accommodations worth the price?
Yes. Here’s a breakdown:
Most affordable: Sleeping in the VW Bus
Was it a good deal? Yes! But we did have to use a 7-eleven bathroom to freshen up in the morning.
Affordable: Camping at state parks
Was it a good deal? Yes! I loved the views and the convivial environment, but John was bitten by hundreds of bugs. For the price, it was well worth the experience, but I would not want to camp every night of our honeymoon. (Collier/Seminole State Park $24/night; Curry Hammock State Park $43/night)
Semi-Affordable: Garden House Bed and Breakfast, Key West
Was it a good deal? Yes. Everyone’s doors open to a courtyard with a fridge, tables, and a small pool and hot tub. Because of the coziness, you need to be social to stay here. We like the family-like atmosphere. We had an in-room bathroom, an A/C, a mini-fridge, a queen-size bed, and free breakfast in the backyard. Especially after staying in the bus, these amenities were awesome. (The Garden House B&B $84/night)
The Splurge: Grove Isle Hotel, Miami
Was it a good deal? Absolutely. The hotel sits on its own island just outside of downtown Miami. The walls are covered in artwork, the halls are filled with the sound of the piano being played in the lobby, and the sun sparkles on the water and the Miami skyline. We ate and slept well. Compared to the other Miami hotels we looked into, Grove Isle gives the most for your money. (Grove Isle Hotel & Spa $225/night)
Were things more or less expensive than you anticipated?
Things were pretty much what we expected.
Did you and John always see eye-to-eye on which things to splurge on and which to skip?
Aside from a brief disagreement over proper etiquette when sharing one butter knife between two people, we were on the same page. We splurged twice and at the same place: Grove Isle in Miami. We had a candle-lit dinner at the hotel’s nicer, waterfront restaurant and got a bottle of Champagne for our room. We also budgeted for a few nice dinners the three nights in Key West. Otherwise, we didn’t do anything other than drive, eat, hike, and bike. The only site we planned to see was Ernest Hemingway’s home and outside we bought three paintings ($1 each) from a street artist named Jay.
Did you use Groupon or other deals in your planning?
Would you recommend this honeymoon to friends?
Yes! It’s suited for low-maintenance, go-with-the-flow adventure/experience seekers.
What advice would you give to other budget-conscious couples planning their honeymoon?
A camera, pen and notebook are the best souvenirs you can give yourselves. Use your money to sleep, eat, and give.
If you or someone you know planed a creative honeymoon on a budget and want to share your story, send me a direct message @litCgar.