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My Dream Bali Wedding Cost Me 1/6 What It Would’ve in America

To have my dream wedding an affordable cost, I flew across the globe.

The first quote I received for a wedding venue in the United States was a shocker: $8,750. That number did not include dinner, drinks, decorations, or any other essentials I was told I needed to prepare for the wedding—just the physical place to host it. They did, however, offer chairs and tables for an additional fee. This mossy cabin tucked into the Pacific Northwest woods had ample outdoor space to hold our modest 100-person guest list, but as a 29-year-old freelance travel writer marrying a 33-year-old bartender, our budget could not take a hit like this. Immediately, we began to seek out alternatives and dive into the complex and bankrupting world of American weddings.

The Average American Wedding

According to The Wedding Report, the average cost of a wedding in Seattle for 100 guests was around $32,000 to $39,000 in 2023. Nationally, wedding planning website The Knot confirms the average cost of an American wedding to be $35,000. What better way to start a marriage than with crippling financial hardship? My fiance and I spent the better part of a year bouncing ideas back and forth and digging into “cheaper” wedding alternatives. We had been together for six years at this point. There was no rush, but considering we spend eight to 11 months of the year traveling, we wanted a day, our own day, to gather friends and family in celebration instead of a quick courthouse stop.

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“Cut the guestlist to only our closest friends and family?”

“Rent an Airbnb and cater the whole thing ourselves?”

“Could we just get married in the woods somewhere without securing a venue?”

Nothing we tried could cut our total wedding costs beneath $10,000, and each option came with its own set of compromises. Over a glass of wine and pages of re-worked wedding budget spreadsheets, I had the sudden clarity to ask my soon-to-be husband, “If we could have our dream wedding, what would it look like?” Gut reaction: I knew he was thinking the same thing I was: “A small elopement in Bali.”

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A Destination Wedding in Bali

Before you roll your eyes at the cliché, long before I was a travel writer, my future husband and I took our first trip together. During that month of backpacking in Bali, we fell in love; our traveling lifestyle was sparked, and we returned to the place time and time again. It was also an island I knew how to travel on without breaking the bank. It made sense, emotionally as well as financially, to get married there.

I was sure I could convince at least a few of our friends and family to take the 17-hour flight across the world. As a bonus, I wouldn’t have to cater to everyone’s needs, desires, and thoughts about how a wedding “should“ be done. I was throwing the book and the hefty opinionated guestlist out the window. But while I was confident it would be cheaper for us to host the wedding abroad, the price tag of our guests’ $1,500+ plane tickets weighed heavily on me.

Thankfully, a pre-planning survey of our “must-have” guests revealed that they had expected this of two perennial travelers and were excited to have the opportunity to visit a place so important to us. It turns out that convincing people to come to Bali is not difficult. Our recently-wed friends took it as an opportunity to plan an extravagant honeymoon. For others, it forced their hand into a well-deserved vacation. But was our Bali wedding actually more affordable than one in the United States? Absolutely.

Suddenly, wedding planning was a lot more fun and familiar. As full-time travelers, we were comfortable with the logistics of booking and researching the customs of another country. I decided to forgo a wedding planner and dive into all the details myself. After all, we didn’t want anything too extravagant. We shaved the guest list down to 30 people, bought a $100 wedding dress online, and the search for the perfect Airbnb venue was on.

Sight unseen, we rented a luxurious private 15-room villa. Each room had panoramic windows that looked out onto the perfectly manicured yard and our three turquoise swimming pools framed by endless rows of terraced rice fields. It was stunning. We could get married with a breathtaking backdrop, have a lively reception, and our friends and family could enjoy the villa for three days. Our Bali wedding would turn what would have been a whirlwind ceremony in the US into a rare opportunity to spend real quality time with all of our loved ones.

The photographer and food were our second priorities. We scoured Instagram using every possible #Bali #weddingphotographer combination until we found an Australian woman whose work we loved and who would be on the island during our wedding week. A local woman, recommended by the villa, was hired to cook a complete Balinese feast., including chicken lemongrass skewers, freshly caught fish steamed in banana leaves, Balinese corn cakes, and an entire roasted pig known locally as Babi Guling—the menu was to die for.

Since our venue was already spectacularly beautiful and decorated, I rustled up some extra local flowers, stocked the bar with alcohol and chilled Bintangs, added a few hand-crafted Balinese decorations from a neighboring village for the dinner tables, and called it complete.

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Total Bali Wedding Price Tag: $6,600

The day went off without a hitch. Ultimately, we had 28 guests, all of whom stayed in Bali for a week or two longer than the wedding. We exchanged vows in the beaming Bali sun, rode our motorcycle away in send-off, took photos during sunset on an expansive sandy beach, and danced in the warm tropical air until the wee hours of the morning. We ended up making a whole group vacation out of it. Following the wedding, we traveled with our friends to other regions of the island; we went scuba diving, hiked volcanoes, and swam in the ocean, sipping on celebratory cocktails. Our destination wedding became our friend’s best group vacation.

Not only was this price tag less than 1/5 of the average American wedding, but it’s also half of what our most budget-friendly US option would have been.

Not only was this price tag less than 1/5 of the average American wedding, but it’s also half of what our most budget-friendly U.S. option would have been. It also included a three-night stay in one of the most beautiful accommodations money can buy for us and all of our guests.

Sure, we could have thrown a backyard wedding and BBQ cookout for far less, but that option was never really on the table. We wanted a special celebration that would live in our memories forever. One year later, we still get to reminisce over that day, that luxurious vacation, with all our friends and family who now have a burgeoning desire to see the world.

The Unique Challenges of Destination Weddings

This kind of wedding was the ideal solution to our wedding woes. Gush as I might about how it was the perfect day, there are several things that you should consider before you happily head in this direction.

Not everyone will be able to attend the wedding, and that’s okay. We used this as an excuse to reduce the guest list without any hard feelings. On the other side of the spectrum, destination weddings are expensive for the guests, and it is respectful to ensure no one feels pressured into attendance. We got lucky throwing a “post-COVID” wedding that so many people were eager to travel.

To truly save money, you’ll still have to DIY many things. Most weddings are held at resorts in Bali, and all-inclusive packages can be nearly as expensive (or more) as hosting a wedding in the United States. A destination wedding isn’t the cheapest option; it’s just the best bang for your buck.

We still had to make the wedding “official” in the United States. Weddings on foreign soil are not typically binding in the US, so we signed the paperwork back home to make it legal.

Weddings, like travel, are personal.

Weddings, like travel, are personal. A destination wedding might not be your cup of tea. But I hope for a handful of you travel enthusiasts, my story can be the nudge you need to plan your DREAM wedding.

To truly celebrate your love in a way that feels representative of you. To not feel caged by societal norms and traditions. We got married in Bali for far less than we would have spent in the United States, and it was, without contest, one of the happiest days of my life.