Thursday, February 13, 2014

Honeymoon [Re-]Considerations

*Warning: I've re-read this post after writing it three days ago and it's possibly the whiniest, White Privilege-y, and entitled thing I've ever written, because shit -- I have it really great, and I'm so lucky, but I make it sound like everything is so hard. So here we go... you've been warned...

After Jonathan and I got engaged, we (OK, mostly I) spent a good amount of time researching all-inclusive beach resorts in Mexico, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and the Caribbean islands. We were fairly convinced that after planning a wedding for over a year, and Jonathan finally finishing grad school a month and a half before the wedding, we would want to relax, with no worries, on a beach somewhere drinking Mai Tais.

Then, in May last year, we went on a lovely vacation to Puerto Vallarta with my parents, where we used their timeshare and stayed at a resort with all-inclusive amenities. All the food and drinks we could want.

Halfway through the week, Jonathan and I knew that an all-inclusive, beach honeymoon was not for us.

Aside from the fact that my fair, freckled skin burns like a Scotsman's, I absolutely abhor excessive heat and humidity, and swimming in the ocean isn't really my thang, the primary concern became that sitting around wasn't how we wanted to spend our first 1-2 weeks of marriage. Because when the bulk of your budget is going towards your resort, food, and drinks... you end up mostly sitting around, gaining weight and feeling bored.

So we regrouped. Just like when we shifted away from a Santa Barbara wedding to one in the California Sierras, we had to reassess our priorities.

  • city/metropolitan area -- with museums, theatres, shopping (things to do)
  • walkable -- someplace where we can easily, and safely, walk around
  • good public transport -- renting a car in a city is not an option
  • $2000-$2200 flight budget -- this limits our options significantly

Within an afternoon, we agreed on an ideal location that would give us everything we wanted:

London, England.

My parents offered to let us "put in" for an exchange using their timeshare. I'm not entirely sure how it all works, but it goes something like this:

Since my mom and dad own a timeshare in Puerto Vallarta, they have the option to exchange it for other affiliated properties around the world. In order for us to get an exchange in London, it means that someone who owns their timeshare in that city needs to want to exchange their spot for one in Hawai'i during the same time period that we need. Unfortunately for us, the timeshare property in London is very small, and June (summer) is the busiest time of year.

Simply put: demand is high and the odds are against us.

But we put in the request anyway for London, and to open up our options, we requested Edinburgh, Vienna, and Paris, all of which have super high demand demand as well. But hey, since the timeshare is already paid for thanks to the yearly fee my parents pay, then that means -- if one of our exchange requests is successful -- we could stay in one of these cities for one week, essentially free of charge.

Back in June, when we put in our requests, this sounded like the perfect solution to our "super expensive flights to Europe" dilemma.

Jump ahead eight months to now, February, and we are still waiting on word about the exchange. In my estimation, it isn't looking good and I'm definitely disappointed, because I was starting to get really excited about seeing King's College again...

You see, originally -- leading up to January -- Jonathan and I decided that London was definitely where we wanted to go for our honeymoon. Both of us have been there, but I spent literally one day in the city when I studied abroad at King's, and Jonathan was so student-poor when he studied over there, that he couldn't afford to actually do anything. So we knew that, even if the exchange fell through, we wanted to spend the first weeks of our married life in the UK, experiencing the food, booze, museums, parks, tourist sites... day-trips to Egham and Cambridge to visit our schools... just taking time to walk the city together, and explore. It would cost us more than if we used the exchange, but it would be worth it. We had the money in our budget, we could make it work.

Then I got really sick.

After seven months of having London (and Europe) on the brain, getting sick and racking up $2600 (that's my deductible, so I'll be paying at least that) in hospital/doctor bills put a major damper on our lofty honeymoon plans.

One of our pre-wedding goals was to get out of debt (not counting student loans; that will take years), and this unexpected medical fiasco was just not factored into our saving / get out of debt plan. Even though $2600 is a drop in the bucket compared to what it would have been had I been uninsured (I have anxiety just thinking about it), it completely eats into the money we planned to set aside over the next few months for the wedding. More money going into paying off our credit card means less money into the wedding account.

Super bummer.

Over this last weekend, we went back to the drawing board. The easiest and most painless way of cutting down on our honeymoon budget was to take international airline flights out of the equation. Additional thoughts and considerations, after eight more months of prioritizing:

  • domestic -- drivable or cheap flights have to be possible
  • someplace we haven't visited before (as adults)
  • city/metro isn't a requirement, but an ability to go to good restaurants, be outside and explore, bar hop is still a necessity
  • option for some luxury, maybe -- saving $2200 on flights means we can stay in a nicer place, or maybe enjoy a spa treatment or two (you know, YOLO and such)

There are so many options in the US that fit this description, but being the picky-priss that I am, it was easy to rule out mostly every option that came up... Inevitably, thinking about the United States, there were few places that I've been eager to visit that aligned with what we were looking for, and even fewer that we could possibly afford. But in the end, we kept coming back to... 

Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Grand Teton National Park. Yellowstone.

Truthfully, back in our initial honeymoon discussions -- before London was even on the radar -- we discussed Jackson Hole. I liked the idea, but Jonathan thought, "Well, it'd be nice, but maybe not special enough for a honeymoon? Plus, we could vacation there in the future, with children." I agreed: traveling to Jackson Hole and Yellowstone would be totally doable with a gaggle of kids, whereas foreign travel would be a little more of a challenge, and pricier. So we put it on the back-burner and it was quietly replaced with dreams of international travel as a duo.

Jonathan visited all these places as a kid, but I've never been near Wyoming. We've always loved road tripping together, and talked four years ago about going to Yellowstone. It just never happened. Plus, my aunt/uncle/cousins have regularly vacationed in Jackson Hole, and they love it. When my dad's close friend found out we were considering Jackson Hole, he got very excited and insisted on talking to me about it -- apparently he also spends a lot of time there, and can't speak about it highly enough.

Needless to say, I'm intrigued. I like the idea of continuing our mountainous, outdoors-y wedding theme, and getting a chance to do some outdoor activities together. We love hiking (though this time I would stick to easier trails), and it'd be so fun to raft down a river, stargaze, rent some mountain bikes, and explore the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone together. Plus, Downtown Jackson Hole seems really fun, with great restaurants and bars, but not so big that we would need more than a week to scratch the surface of it.

A road trip is not the kind of honeymoon I would have expected to have, but there's something about it that really fits our style.

I'm warming up to the idea.

We're still trying to find out if there's even the slightest chance that the exchange will go through, but I can tell you that saving thousands on plane tickets and using that money to rent, say, a convertible, stay in a fun/more luxurious accommodation, and enjoy a bit of fine dining once or twice sounds appealing. (Plus, no stifling dollars-to-pounds exchange rate to worry about!)

Definitely a major shift from our original plans, isn't it? I think we covered all possible landscape options, except maybe the desert. But hey, there's still time.

Anyone ever been to Jackson Hole as an adult? In the summer? Thoughts or recommendations? Things to be wary of? Stuff we can't miss?

Dominican Republic photo credit | London photo credit | King's College, Cambridge photo credit | Jackson Hole photo credit

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