Erica Seetner had no idea where she was going for her bachelorette party. Her friends told her what to pack, then drove her to the airport for what turned out to be a five-day trip to Paris. They treated the 27-year-old Torontonian to wine tastings, food tours and a cabaret show, and scheduled enough downtime to manage their jet-lag.
“It was a perfect itinerary,” says Ms. Seetner, a teacher. “I had an amazing time.”
Her husband, Nathan Elias, rented a nine-bedroom mansion on Lake Erie for a weekend for his bachelor party. For about $400 each, his guests had the run of a property that the 33-year-old software consultant described as “an estate.” The money also covered paintball and a “ridiculous amount” of beer and food.
“It was kind of important for me… to go away on a weekend,” Mr. Elias says. He wanted his closest friends to be together and develop a rapport before the wedding.
The pre-wedding parties of the past – usually celebrated through pub crawls or spa days – appear to be fading away. Instead, the betrothed and their friends are overwhelmingly choosing extended trips to novel locations. The shift is due in part to people getting married later in life and looking for new experiences, now that they have more disposable income. It’s also a good excuse to convince friends to go away on a dream vacation.
Mr. Elias and Ms. Seetner have also participated in their share of elaborate pre-wedding parties for others. “The last six or seven [bachelor parties] I’ve been to have all been out of town,” Mr. Elias says. “Being a little bit older, your idea of what’s fun changes a bit.”
While the ages of grooms, and their financial means, are increasing, one bachelor staple hasn’t gone out of style: strippers.
“Everyone does the same thing, more or less: nightclubs, restaurants, and strip clubs. It’s just in degrees of how extravagant and high-end it gets,” says Oren Bornstein, whose company Connected Montreal plans destination bachelor parties.
Mr. Bornstein says his company can plan a party weekend for a “couple hundred” dollars per person, but specializes in more high-end affairs. This year, one group from Texas arrived on a private jet and spent between $60,000 and $70,000 for 15 people, including $5,000 bottles of wine, a limousine, personalized menus at top restaurants and a rented mansion. Another client, a professional athlete from the U.S., arranged a game of “stripper basketball.”
The increased focus on getaways is often inspired by what people see on social media, Mr. Bornstein says. A steady rotation of vacation shots on Instagram, for instance, is fuelling the urge to travel among millennials. “Travel is a much bigger part of the culture,” he says. “Experiences are valued more than goods.”
Melissa Haggerty, an event planner with Toronto’s SpectacularSpectacular, says most of the brides she has worked with recently have gone away for their bachelorette parties instead of having more traditional parties at home.
“Not only are they getting married, they’re going to four or five weddings each year. How can people afford this?" says Ms. Haggerty, who has planned about 350 weddings over the past 15 years. "In addition to these bachelorettes, people are expected to buy gifts and dresses and shoes if they’re in the wedding party. These are expensive friendships.”
A recent Credit Karma survey conducted in the U.S. shows 35 per cent of millennial respondents have gone into debt to attend a bachelor or bachelorette party. Nearly half (46 per cent) of all respondents who went into debt to attend a pre-wedding party said they felt “obligated” to fork over the money for the event. The survey also says 30 per cent of millennials have gone into debt to attend a wedding, with about 42 per cent of all respondents who went into debt saying it was a “novel/once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
University of British Columbia economist Marina Adshade, author of the book, Dollars and Sex: How Economics Influences Sex and Love, says the destination pre-wedding or wedding party could put pressure on people getting married to choose bridesmaids and groomsmen who are able to afford travel.
She says spending a few hundred dollars on a pre-nuptial party or a wedding might not be much for people with a job and no kids. “For your sister in first-year university, it’s an undue hardship,” Ms. Adshade says. “It shouldn’t be tied to income to have that role in someone's wedding.”
Mr. Elias and Ms. Seetner say they wouldn’t have taken declined invitations personally. Mr. Elias’s group pro-rated the cost of the affair, so people could come for a shorter time and pay less.
Ms. Seetner accommodated people who couldn’t come to Paris by having a second – more traditional – bachelorette in Toronto. She says a friend of hers came up with the two-party system and several people in their group have followed suit since.
“It seems excessive,” she says, “but it’s nice to include everyone.”