Learning to shoot lights manually can literally save you hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Spend your hard earned $$$ on optics. Most OEM brand flashes are bloated with unnecessary features so that they can charge you more when really all that you need is a quality flash of light. Yes, TTL metering can be convenient at weddings and events but with practice you'll find that you have significantly more control shooting manually.
The Yongnuo YN-560 version II's are about $55 each and have the same guide number (flash power) as the $550 Canon 600EX-RT. They are also brilliantly compatible with Canon, Nikon, and Sony cameras. The YN-560 version III's sell for about $71 and have a built in wireless trigger (RF-603).
I have been shooting weddings with several of these for some time and have found them very durable and reliable. They feel substantial in the hand while still remaining quite light. The flash head moves smoothly but into distinctive positions and easily stays where you place it. The Yongnuo YN-560's are definitely well designed right down to the details and even the battery door functions and feels just right. I have no complaints and they have held up to a lot of use! These flashes are not weather sealed, but if you're regularly shooting in the rain you're probably looking at higher end flashes anyways.
To avoid the need for extra triggers Yongnuo also offers the YN560-TX Wireless Manual Flash Controller (seen above) for about $50. If you're constantly putting your flash above reaching level this will allow you to make power adjustments quickly and with less hassle.
In conclusion, you really don't need to spend thousands of dollars to get into flash photography. You can save $400+ dollars per flash and when you're buying 2-3 that adds up quite quickly. Pocket wizards are also extremely expensive and there are significantly cheaper options that are just as reliable. Photography is about thinking outside of the box and sheer price doesn't always equate to value.
A flash of light from a $500 flash is indistinguishable from that of a $50 flash, but it is easy to see the improvement that good lenses can make in your photography. Invest your money in gorgeous optics.