I attended my friend's amber-list wedding abroad – should she have expected me to pay for my testing?

·6-min read
Instead of keeping things small, local and lockdown-compliant, Tosan and Aisha went for the big fat Greek option instead - Seyi Aleshe
Instead of keeping things small, local and lockdown-compliant, Tosan and Aisha went for the big fat Greek option instead - Seyi Aleshe

I am currently on day eight of a 10-day quarantine, holed up in my south London home. No, I didn’t get pinged by Test and Trace, nor have I had any symptoms. What happened was I attended a wedding – abroad.

My friends Tosan, 26, and Aisha, 24, were getting married. After meeting through the church that they attended at the time, in 2017, they got engaged in November 2019 and, pandemic or no pandemic, were determined to go ahead with their wedding this summer. But instead of keeping it small, local and lockdown-compliant, they went for the big fat Greek option instead.

Opinions are divided on destination weddings at the best of times. To some, they represent a welcome and exciting adventure; to others, they are a selfish exercise in reducing costs for the happy couple while increasing them for all the guests (who, as well as paying for flights, must use up their annual leave).

Let’s be honest: these are not the best of times. Greece is on the Government’s “amber” list, meaning Britons can only travel there if they quarantine for 10 days upon their return. And so here I am, eight days later, waiting to be released.

If you’d told me two years ago that leaving my home after a friend’s wedding would be a crime for which I could be fined up to £10,000, I’d have laughed. But in 2021, although it is far from ideal, it doesn’t actually feel that strange.

My friends had planned to marry abroad before the pandemic hit. Like many couples before them, they had worked out that it was much cheaper. In Britain, they struggled to find venues for under £10,000 (before food, drinks and decor were even included), while venues abroad already factored these things into a flat fee. In some mainland European countries, 50, 60 or 70 euros per person could cover the costs of the venue, food, drinks and sometimes decor, too. Marrying in Athens allowed Tosan and Aisha not only to save about £20,000, but to have a unique wedding experience they wouldn’t have had back home.

Which, you might think, is all well and good for them but what about the 200 invited guests? Not only could the expense be higher for us, but we would also have to complete a Covid test before flying out (costing £129), and PCR tests on days two and eight of our quarantine (another £98 in total), with a “test to release” option on day five. All of which doubled the cost I had initially budgeted for the trip. There was added paperwork, too, as we had to fill out passenger locator forms upon arrival and departure. In the circumstances, even the couple’s own parents needed some convincing that a wedding abroad was the way to go.

'The couple had done wonders with the decor, and as we stood in the soft summer breeze it all felt close to perfect' - Nikos Tselios
'The couple had done wonders with the decor, and as we stood in the soft summer breeze it all felt close to perfect' - Nikos Tselios

I have been friends with Tosan and Aisha for almost four years, having met them through my previous church. I wanted to celebrate their wedding with them. Luckily, I am also able to do my job from home while in quarantine, even if others are not.

But shortly before I set off, a sense of travel anxiety began to creep in. At 26, I was yet to receive my first Covid vaccination and was worried about mixing with so many people. Booking the test appointments was also stressful as availability was limited. It didn’t help, either, that there seemed to be mixed information about what actually constitutes “essential travel”, and whether visiting countries on the amber list was even allowed.

The groom’s parents were persuaded of the wisdom of all this more easily than the bride’s. Aisha’s mother in particular, was worried that important family members who live in Brussels and Congo wouldn’t be able to make the special day.

She wasn’t the only one with concerns. A number of guests, especially teachers, had to pull out because their job wouldn’t allow them to quarantine for 10 days afterwards. I suspect others may have doubted they would really be able to pull off a Covid wedding abroad at all.

And in truth it wasn’t easy. Organising a destination wedding and finding suppliers is always tricky, due to language barriers and physical distance. But with all the Covid restrictions – and the additional costs of flying the make-up artist, hairdresser, DJ, videographer and photographer out from the UK to Greece – the challenge was even greater.

Tosan and Aisha had to change their wedding venue on two separate occasions, tripling the costs and meaning they only saw the final place for the first time the day before the ceremony.

Given all the stressors above, were they right to do it? I would argue yes. The couple never wanted anyone to feel pressured to travel if they were uncomfortable or had other financial commitments. They made sure the wedding ceremony was live-streamed for guests who were unable to attend. They also kept friends and family at the forefront of the entire process, with all the logistics clearly explained from the start.

My own stress and anxiety melted away the second I landed in Greece, and later stepped into the family-owned wedding venue, a magical grove called Alsos Nimfon with spectacular views across Lake Marathon. The couple had done wonders with the decor, and as we stood in the soft summer breeze it all felt close to perfect.

'It was like a movie' - Nikos Tselios
'It was like a movie' - Nikos Tselios

On the tables were candles, green leaves, white flowers – and bottles of hand sanitiser (that essential new wedding favour).

Even the mother of the bride was happy in the end. Aisha had managed to persuade her by showing her a series of luxurious destination wedding videos on YouTube to give her a taster. And when she scheduled the ceremony for half-term, her family realised they could turn it into a holiday.

I am left with nothing but joyous memories of the day. Despite the cost and the fact I am still in quarantine, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I hadn’t been abroad since before the pandemic, and had my friends not married in Greece I doubt I’d have braved the current travel restrictions. Having a reason to do so turned out to be just what I needed: a holiday in the sun and the chance to be with a big group of friends again, at a special event for two people I love.

I think the other guests felt the same. Not once did I hear any of the 140 friends and family members who attended in the end complain about having to be there. All had chosen to fly out because they wanted to.

“It was like a movie,” said Tosan afterwards. “Lots of our guests said the same.”

They, and he, were right.

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