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Broke-Ass Honeymoon: How To Do It On A Shoestring

By Genie Cartier

Getting married is fucking expensive. Even if you don’t buy into the wedding industry’s insane money-burning-bullshit pressure, if you have a wedding and there are more than a few people there, chances are you just spent a big chunk of your savings on it. And if you live in San Francisco, you’re probably starting your married life trying to find coins in the couch cushions so you can get a burrito. I get it.

I’m here to tell you that with a little strategic planning you CAN go on a whirlwind international vacation with your new spouse (or whoever). AND YOU ABSOLUTELY SHOULD. To many people, international travel sounds like a luxury they could never afford, but it shouldn’t have to be. Nothing gives you more perspective about your home than leaving it. So if you can scrape together enough to do it, then DO IT. Think of it as an investment in future memories and knowledge.

There are probably even cheaper ways to do a trip like this, especially if you’re a single male traveler who can pick up unskilled work along the way and couch surf. But that’s not exactly how I wanted my honeymoon to go. So this article is specifically designed to be helpful for the thrifty young married couple who wants to have a honeymoon and is willing to make a few sacrifices to be able to afford it. Utilizing these strategies, my husband and I were able to have a whirlwind 2 week vacation in Europe, visiting Barcelona, Florence, Venice, Rome and Naples, and it cost each of us less than buying a new MacBook. So deal with the rainbow spinny wheel for another six months and get your ass abroad!

(Note: I realize you may be planning to go somewhere other than Europe for your honeymoon, but a lot of these tips still apply.)

1. Decide how you want your honeymoon investment to be spent

If you’re going to spend a bunch of cash on a trip, then you have a crucial question to ask yourself– where do you really want to go? Because if you’ve always wondered what it’s like in Japan, why spend a bunch of money to sit on a beach in Hawai’i for a week? Use the excuse of your honeymoon to explore a place that you really want to go! We live in California, if you want to sit on a beach you don’t have to go that far to do it. Maybe sitting on a beach is really important to you because your job is stressful and so on, but again, if you think about your trip as an investment in culture and unique memories– are you going to remember that time you sat on a beach for a week, or the time you walked around the ruins of Pompeii with your significant other in the footsteps of ancient Romans and contemplated the strange and beautiful impermanence of a technologically advanced society?

Amphitheater in the ruins of Pompeii: even the Romans knew the importance of supporting the arts!

2. Plan WAY ahead

Flights: I generally start planning an international trip about nine months ahead of time. The first thing you need to purchase is plane tickets, and when you plan that far ahead, your schedule is generally more flexible and you can check the cost of flights on different dates. Flying in the middle of the week or sometimes on a Saturday can be cheaper. Never go anywhere May-September and you’ll pay less. Mess around with websites like Kayak.com and see which dates are cheapest. Then you can plan your trip around that. I’ve been able to get roundtrip tickets to Europe for $600 per person by doing this. Sometimes flying into one city and out another is actually less expensive. Norwegian Airlines flies out of Oakland and has really good prices (note: it’s worth it to pay $45 for a seat reservation. Makes the flight WAY less horrible when you have an aisle seat). The less you spend on a flight, the more budget you have for lodging and food so it’s worth it to start way ahead and get that $600 flight locked down, as opposed to paying upwards of $1000 a few months ahead of your trip.

The beautiful city of Naples really stuck with me, in that I ate so much pizza there that I came back 5 pounds heavier.

Lodging: Once you know your flight dates, you can start booking lodging. Hostels are generally cheaper than hotels and often have inexpensive private rooms with the bathroom down the hall. You still get the privacy of your own room, you just have to occasionally run into a random French person on the way to your shower. That’s a pretty small price to pay for cutting your lodging bill in half. Also, try to get a hostel with a kitchen so you can shop at local grocery stores and make food instead of going out for every meal. This can save TONS of cash, so sometimes paying a little more for a hostel with a kitchen is worth it. And shopping in foreign grocery stores can be its own fun adventure! Also, since food in San Francisco is so expensive, food literally everywhere else in the world seems really reasonable. Like, you might even save money eating in a different country.

Transport: If you’re going to Europe, look into getting a rail pass. It can save you a lot on train reservations, especially if you’re traveling within one country. Remember that time= money while traveling, so sometimes it’s worthwhile to pay a little more to be able to spend more time in a place (i.e., flying between places as opposed to trains). Also, you can plan your trip in such a way that you spend more nights in cheaper cities. For example, when my then-boyfriend and I went to Paris from London, we slept in London (where we had free lodging with a friend), took an early train to Paris, spent two nights, then took a late flight to the much more reasonably priced city of Dublin. We only paid for two nights in Paris, but spent three full days there. (Note: make sure your hostel provides luggage storage for before/after you check out!)

3. Pack less crap and it will always end up costing you less

I NEVER check bags. I don’t care how long I’m going someplace, I WILL fit everything into one carry-on size luggage and a backpack. Once you decide you are not going to bring anything you don’t absolutely need, you realize how little you can actually bring. Socks and underwear can be washed out in the shower and re-worn. I do this with my shirts as well. Wear the same pair of jeans the whole trip (get over it, jeans were designed to be worn many times!). Check with your partner to make sure you’re not double-packing anything. Condense your toiletries to the basics– Dr. Bronner’s soap is great because it has multiple uses. Put your pills into little ziplock bags instead of taking the bottles. Buy reusable travel size bottles and fill them with the shampoo and conditioner you already have. I sometimes even use vacuum seal compression bags for my clothes and it saves a ton of space. A compact camping towel is a great investment as it can also be used as a blanket on the plane, but if you’re staying in hotels that provide towels you won’t need it. Unless you are going to Antarctica, chances are you will be able to get little things you need along the way if it, say, unexpectedly rains (note: it always rains, so this isn’t a good example) or you get sick. Think about each item you are packing as an equation weighing how many uses it has, how much you really need it, and how much time and money you would have to waste to find it if it turned out you did really need it and didn’t have it.

I consider this trip a huge success in that I used every single thing I brought and I didn’t have to buy anything I forgot.

Not having a giant suitcase with you will end up saving you money in ways that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. You obviously won’t have to pay to check it for the flight (which budget airlines force you to do), but you will also save money on taking cabs to your hostels and to the airport etc, because walking and taking public transit is WAY easier with less stuff. Also, if you do end up having to pay for a storage locker at some point in your trip, being able to cram all of you and your partner’s stuff into one will be more cost efficient.

4. Find romance in simple (i.e. cheap) things

I’m sure lots of people spend exorbitant amounts of money on their honeymoon to do things that are sold to them as “romantic” like horseback rides on the beach and couples massage. Do you know any of those people? I’d love to be invited to a dinner party at their house. They probably buy the good wine. But seriously, there are lots of things you can do on your honeymoon that keep the romantic atmosphere while costing you very little. One of the most romantic times we had in Italy was sitting on the edge of a canal in Venice drinking a 5 Euro bottle of wine out of the bathroom cups from our hostel. Hanging out with a bottle of wine in public spaces at night is a common practice for young friends and lovers all over Europe, where they really get some things right including not criminalizing public drinking (not sure what the actual laws are, but if there are any they’re definitely not enforced). While we were in Naples we stumbled on a free street event and watched an Italian rock band cover “Purple Rain.” Top that, couples-who-pay-for-fancy-private-violinists-to-accompany-their-dinner. You can spend hours just walking around a city and absorbing the atmosphere, visiting parks and public spaces, so be very strategic about what experiences you actually want or need to pay for. After all, almost anything can be fun and romantic if it’s with the right person, right? (I’m sorry if I just made you realize you married the wrong person.)

A little known fact is that in Italy, all balconies are held up by angels. So romantic!

In conclusion, with a lot of planning and a little creativity, you can have an amazing experience on your honeymoon without getting suckered into paying for a bunch of bullshit that’s supposed to be romantic. If you’re going to be managing finances together in the crazy expensive city that is SF, you might as well start with the honeymoon. And yes, sometimes paying less for stuff means being a little less comfortable– it’s up to you to decide how much comfort you actually need. But sometimes doing things on the cheap and being slightly less comfortable also means having unique experiences. Like the time we made the insane decision to take a cheap boat from Barcelona to Italy and were simultaneously confronted with the lackadaisical Italian approach to management and the fascinating reality of being outnumbered 300:1 by North African Muslims and their portable hookahs. That is a story we’ll tell our kids one day!

I will admit that we probably shouldn’t have taken the boat. But every annoying experience is a future funny story, right?

Find this article helpful/ interesting? Check out my other articles!


Genie Cartier is a San Francisco native. She graduated from UCLA with a BA in English/ Creative Writing and earned an MFA in Creative Writing/ Poetry from SFSU. In the past, she worked for UCLA’s literary journal Westwind, and later created her own journal called Autolycus. She has published poems in Westwind, Matchbox Magazine, Women’s Studies, and the Haight Ashbury Literary Journal. She was the host of the poetry reading series Poets Upstairs in 2016. Recently, her first novella, Fog City Summer ran on brokeassstuart.com as a 6-part serial. When not writing, she is also a professional performer of 24 years and recently co-wrote a duo show with her sister called Yesterday is Tomorrow. Find out more at http://cartiersisters.weebly.com/.

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