Skip to main content
By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

We asked: Do I have to give a gift if I’m traveling for the wedding?

Our By The Way Concierge wants to know: Is a wedding gift necessary for traveling guests?

(Cynthia Kittler for The Washington Post)

Traveling has always come with complications, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it more challenging than ever. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.

In this week’s By The Way Concierge, I’m addressing my own hot take: I don’t buy a wedding gift if I have to travel to the wedding. I’m not talking best friends or family members. This is my move for the friends-you-still-love-but-don’t-see-that-often persuasion. It’s not that I don’t care about them or don’t think they deserve a wedding gift; it’s about the expense. Will a handwritten card suffice, or am I being a terrible person?

Nothing brings me more joy than sobbing in the back row of a wedding while a bride — any bride — walks down the aisle. I love weddings. I love love! I want to attend weddings, whether they’re for a friend from college, my family or a total stranger.

But I don’t want to buy wedding gifts.

Traveling to a wedding isn’t cheap. For the last wedding I attended, I was lucky to save some money by borrowing my brother’s car and wearing an old outfit. But I still had to buy a cross-country flight ($484.60), a night at a motel ($86.91), California gasoline ($1 million, basically), plus Uber or Lyft rides to and from the airport.

8 ways to find free or subsidized travel in 2022

It’s going to be a big year for weddings. Thanks to a backlog of pandemic cancellations, there are more weddings projected for 2022 than there have been since 1984, said Sara Margulis, the founder and CEO of honeymoon and cash registry Honeyfund. “Our traffic is up like 65 percent over last year,” she said.

I have four weddings on the books this year. (First one is in Napa, peak season. Then Massachusetts, Maine and Mexico.) It could be worse, financially speaking. Angelica Gianchandani, a communications expert and practitioner in residence at the University of New Haven, said she “was going to about 12 weddings a year.”

I have a closet of seven bridesmaid dresses, and they’re hideous,” Gianchandani said. “Those dresses cost a lot of money. The airfare costs a lot of money. You’ve got to give a shower gift. It becomes very expensive.”

We’re supposed to buy couples a KitchenAid stand mixer on top of these travel costs?

As Emily Forrest, director of communications for the wedding registry site Zola, reminded me, gifting at weddings has been a standard practice pretty much as long as weddings have existed.

“In the olden days, you’d give a cow, you’d give a sheep,” Gianchandani said. “Then it was all of a sudden Macy’s comes up in the 1900s and they start a bridal registry [that] spins off into a marketing monster … now they’re persuading you that you need a butter dish.”

But most couples already have plates and pots; they don’t need me to stock their kitchen. While I think it’s nice to contribute toward a honeymoon, is it mandatory if you’re already paying for wedding travel. If you can afford to be generous, by all means, gift to your heart’s desire. But is it horrible to skip the gift in exchange for my attendance and a card written from the heart?

You asked: Do I have to travel to every wedding this year?

I felt validated when Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist who contributes to The Washington Post, agreed that traveling to support the couple is a gift in itself. “The ultimate gift is being present,” she said.

But she’s not on Team No Gift.

“To not give anything denies an opportunity for honoring the meaning of the occasion and your relationship,” she says. “I think that’s what could be hurtful.”

Wedding planner Jasmine Galloway agreed that it would be offensive not to give anything at all — even a card would work. Many couples have invested a ton of money and time into planning their wedding, a wedding they invited you to where you’ll be eating, drinking and dancing.

“They are expecting at least a card,” she says. “Whether or not there is something in that card is completely up to the guest.”

If you’re concerned about the financial toll of attending, Forrest said, she recommends creating a budget. You can take into account costs such as travel and lodging, bachelor or bachelorette trips, wedding showers; then you can decide how much you would like to spend on a gift.

What 4 health experts say about travel after covid-19 recovery

Forrest said while she believes a gift is a must, the value of a gift is not equal to a dollar amount. What you spend depends on your own financial situation and your relationship to the couple.

Bonior said she suggests finding a handmade item in your price range — framing a photo you took at the rehearsal dinner or a poem that was read at the wedding. The most memorable gift doesn’t have to be expensive.

For Forrest, “my most favorite gift that my husband and I received was a frame for our ketubah [a Jewish marriage contract],” she said in an email.

Gianchandani recommended offering to cook the couple a meal next time you see them. “What we’ve learned through covid is relationships are priceless,” she said. “Just to be connected to people that care about you is so much more valuable than any gift.”

Of course, if the math really doesn’t work out, you don’t have to go to the wedding at all.

“If you feel like attending the wedding is truly outside of your budget, decline gracefully and spend a good amount on the gift instead,” Margulis said.

Have a travel dilemma for By The Way Concierge? Submit it here.