Destination Wedding Etiquette Q and A

Martha Stewart Weddings, Special Issue 2011

With your big day away on the horizon, think of this Q&A as your ticket to a turbulence-free affair. Read on to learn how to navigate all the common bumps.

When should I let single friends and family members know they can bring a date to my destination wedding?
Travel plans for two are twice as complex, so give guests a heads-up about their "plus one" on the save-the-date (vital for destination events). Simply address the envelope with "and guest." Send these out six months in advance, more if your location is popular and hotel rooms fill up quickly. That said, only commit to extras this early if you're absolutely sure you'll have room for them. you can always add more people later, but you can't ever uninvite someone. If you need more time to decide, reserve this information for the invitations, which should hit the mail 8 to 10 weeks out.

My dad insists that we have to cover guests' travel and lodging. What are we really responsible for?
When it comes to who pays for what, a wedding in Fiji is no different than one in your own backyard. Airfare, lodging, and meals (except for the reception, of course) are your guests' responsibility.

Pitch in wherever you can to help minimize their expenses, though. If your venue is a pricey resort, for instance, research nearby accommodations in at least two lower price points, suggests Matthew Robbins, a Martha Stewart Weddings contributing editor and co-owner of Matthew Robbins Design in New York City. Or, if there's a moment where you can spend a little to save your loved ones a lot, just pick up the tab. One example: If everyone will need to rent a car to get to the hotel, consider arranging for an airport shuttle to transport them instead.

Can I have my out-of-town wedding on a holiday weekend?
As long as it's not a biggie like Christmas or Passover, says Martha Stewart Weddings contributing editor Claudia Hanlin, owner of the Wedding Library in New York City. Less high-profile ones such as Labor Day and Independence Day, though, are fair game, since the extra vacation day means people won't have to take time off work. And let's be real -- who wouldn't gladly give up Memorial Day sales in exchange for some time in the tropics?

Holidays aside, no day or time will ever be perfect for everyone. Check with people you can't imagine not being there before booking your venue, and no matter when you opt to tie the knot, be understanding of those who can't attend.

We're only inviting close relatives to our wedding in Hawaii, but my fiance and I want to have a much bigger celebration later at home. How can we pull this off without hurting anyone's feelings?
Throwing an in-town bash to commemorate far-away nuptials is a totally acceptable move, and most people will be thrilled to attend. It's all about how you word the invitation. To make it ambiguity-free, clearly state that this event is "to honor the new Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Jones" (if you're taking his name) or is "in honor of the marriage of Matthew Jones and Jenna White" (if you're not). Also, only ceremony invitees are expected to give presents, so recruit a few pals to let everyone else know that they don't have to bring a gift to the party.

Something else to keep in mind: When it comes to auxiliary get-togethers like showers, traditionally only those who have been asked to the vow exchange are invited. But if a few of your best girlfriends insist on organizing a bachelorette outing, you can enthusiastically accept.

I'd hoped to make my friend a bridesmaid, but she can't afford the travel expenses. Is there anything I can do?
First of all, if you can pay her way (and want to), go ahead and do it, but keep the exchange quiet. Otherwise, your other friends may feel like you're playing favorites.

If that's not feasible, remember that she's probably disappointed too and may be worried that her decision will hurt your friendship. In the months leading up to your I dos, try not to let planning push a wedge between you (this will require you to refrain from nonstop wedding chatter around her). And when the day arrives, reach out to her via phone or Skype so she can feel like part of the event.

My friends and family are already spending a ton to travel to Israel for our wedding. Is it rude to register for gifts? And for those who don't buy us anything, is it appropriate to send a thank-you note for coming?
It's true that destination weddings do require your nearest and dearest to ante up more cash. However, most of them will still want to get you a little something and will look to your registry for guidance. Select several items in lower price ranges, but don't avoid big-ticket options completely, because some people prefer going in on things together.

As for thank-you notes, only write them for guests who gave you a present. Your heart is in the right place, but a letter mailed after the fact could come off as a passive- aggressive gift request. Instead, express your gratitude in advance by leaving a handwritten welcome on each guest's pillow at the start of the wedding weekend.

I really like the idea of a honeymoon registry, but what do guests think?
Some people will jump at the chance to contribute to your adventure; others may view the trip as a luxury they shouldn't be asked to pay for (even if they'd spend the same amount buying you a blender). Travel-registry sites are becoming increasingly popular, but to keep everyone happy, go for one that lets guests earmark their money for a cool activity (which feels more like a traditional gift than it does a cash grab). Honeyfund (honeyfund.com) and HoneyLuna (honeyluna.com) are two great options. Your loved ones will come away thinking, "I just bought the newlyweds a snorkeling excursion," rather than being annoyed that their contribution was lost in a slush fund. As always, put registry information on your wedding website -- never your save-the-dates or invitations.

Our planner sent me a link to the website of the florist she always works with, and to be honest, I didn't really like what I saw. Should I insist she find someone else to do the flowers?
Remember that their site doesn't show everything they can do. Before you drop them completely, Robbins suggests a test: Email them images that illustrate the look you're going for, and have them create a trial centerpiece. If their work is still substandard, ask your planner to dig up a few other possibilities. After all, you're signing the checks and should be 100 percent confident in the abilities of your vendors.

Another option is to bring along someone you trust from your own city (you'll have to cover their travel expenses). Have your planner set them up with a work space and a wholesaler -- shipping flora from abroad isn't legal in some countries. If logistics are tough, Hanlin suggests tapping your planner's florist to provide the basics -- flowers, containers, and refrigeration -- and paying your hometown florist the design fee. This will probably run you more, but the final result will be well worth it.

We're hosting several meals and activities during our three-day stay in Colorado. Can we send out one invitation and call it a "wedding weekend"?
Assuming you're not footing every bill, like hotel rooms and all meals, that wording is a little too vague. To nix confusion, dedicate your main invite to the wedding itself, and include another card that details the events you'll be paying for -- the welcome dinner, for example, or a round of golf or Sunday brunch -- in the same envelope. Be specific about times and dates, so your guests can plan their schedules.

Children aren't invited to our wedding, but some people are bringing their kids along for the trip. Do I need to find babysitters for them?
You don't have to, but it's a nice gesture -- especially since you're the one with contacts in the area. Reach out to your venue manager, hotel concierge, or wedding planner to help put a list of qualified pros together. It's likely they've been asked this before and have the names of potentials at the ready. Once you've got a few good suggestions, parents should take over, dealing with specific arrangements and payments themselves.

And while it's absolutely not necessary, Mom and Dad would certainly appreciate if you arrange an activity for the little ones to take place during the ceremony or reception. Robbins suggests setting kids up in a hotel room with games, movies, popcorn, and a couple of babysitters on hand.

My aunt's annoyed that we're asking everyone to fly to Ireland. What can I say to get her to ease up?
Most people are fully on board with the idea of a destination celebration once they grasp your connection to the place where you're marrying. When you talk to your aunt, emphasize the emotional reasons you chose this spot, or play up the fact that the group will depart with some amazing shared memories. She probably won't react well if you tell her a destination wedding is cheaper (not for her!) or if you're having one just because you want your wedding to be different. Ultimately, the decision to wed away from home is your own, and she doesn't have a say (unless she happens to be paying for it). If she doesn't back off, tell her that you understand if she can't make it, but you'd really love for her to be there.

Our wedding will be on a lawn. How do I let the women know they should wear flats instead of heels?
Dress-code requirements like "black tie" normally go in the lower-right corner of the invite. But one-off tips like "lawn-friendly shoes" really require more explanation. Create a light-hearted section dedicated to proper attire on your website. If you're worried that people are missing it, shoot off a group email, too.

Good to Know

Your wedding website is your guests' link to the locale, so treat it like a mini guidebook. Add pages on hotel and dining picks, weather forecasts, and more.

Save images you love to a digital inspiration board like Pinterest (pinterest.com) to share your vision for your day with faraway vendors.

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