It's a tricky subject. With the average guest already spending $888 on attending a regular old wedding — which includes travel, a hotel, gift, and attire — how on earth are you supposed to afford that plus all the costs of a destination wedding? After all, you're probably paying more for airfare; spending more nights in a hotel or Airbnb; and quite possibly also ponying up for extra excursions, dinners, drinks, and more.
Sorry, but wedding-etiquette experts say you still have to give a gift. However, you should definitely pick one that fits your current money situation — and if your current money situation has taken a hit thanks to roundtrip tickets to Tulum and four nights in a boutique hotel, well, keep that in mind.
"It is customary to give a wedding gift no matter where the wedding is held, but there are ways to get crafty!" Jennifer Spector, director of brand strategy and newlywed-at-large at Zola, tells Refinery29. "If you're already blowing your budget traveling for your friends' big day, try gifting them a photo of them in a nice frame, or a bottle of wine from the region where they got married."
WeddingWire trend expert Anne Chertoff agrees that if you receive an invitation to a wedding, whether destination or down the street, you should send the couple a gift — one that is within your budget.
"You may decide that because you’re spending money traveling to a destination wedding that you really don’t have the funds to spend on a gift, which is understandable," she says. "However, you should give the couple a token gift, in an amount that you feel comfortable spending; $25, $50, $100. It’s up to the guest to determine their gift budget based on how much they are spending on travel and accommodations, and their income."
Other ideas include an "experience gift" — a membership to a museum, a wine tasting, a cooking class — which will typically cost less than the dinnerware or cookware from their registry. Plus, some couples may appreciate an experience more than a set of bowls or flatware. Giving a donation to the couple's charity of choice, if they have indicated one on their registry, is a great way to tailor-make your gift to your budget and make a meaningful contribution. But the best way to save money on a destination-wedding gift is to pool with a bunch of friends or family: Sites like Zola make it super-easy to go in on group gifts.
While most wedding gifts are still in the $100 to $200 range, according to a recent Brides magazine survey, you should never, ever feel guilty or like you're shortchanging the couple if you spend less. And if you don't think you can swing a gift that's in the $25 range or so, you may want to look at your finances and consider whether you're stretching your budget too thin by attending the faraway wedding in the first place.
However, if you choose to forgo a gift but still attend the couple is more likely to be forgiving. Many destination weddings are smaller, intimate affairs, and your attendance — the fact that you flew and then drove all the way out to that tiny beach! — matters more than a gift. Just get them a nice card, though; they'll appreciate the thought.
Another thing to keep in mind: The rule of "paying for your plate" (or feeling like your gift has to match what the couple is spending on you as a guest) is long dead, Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of etiquette expert Emily Post, recently told The Washington Post. The gift is not about thanking the hosts for being invited; it's about celebrating with the couple and helping them ring in a new chapter in their lives. "The gift is your way of saying: 'Congratulations. You're special to me,'" said Post.