Navigate the ins and out of planning a wedding away from home with this helpful guide.
Photography: Collin Hughes1 of 18
Before you start packing your bags for the trip of a lifetime, be sure to consult our etiquette cheat sheet on how to plan a destination wedding that will make you—and your guests—happy.
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Do Pick a Location Thoughtfully
It is your dream day. If you have envisioned it taking place at a specific far-flung locale, there is always a way to make it work. But if you are open-minded about your options, make it easier for everyone involved by factoring in a few considerations before selecting your destination. If budget may be a concern among the group, choose dates that don’t fall within prime travel times, such as spring break, so everyone can get there without higher costs than usual. On the other hand, you don’t want to pick dates during which attendees might find inexpensive flights because there are other concerns, such as hurricane season.
Inviting a less than adventurous group? Ask yourself if guests can get there via one convenient direct flight, or will they have to arrange connections or also travel by boat or bus that may be more than some can handle. Would a foreign language intimidate anyone? You know your group best, so you can cater to their needs and also meet your own before narrowing in on a spot for your I do’s.
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Don’t Book It Sight Unseen
Your wedding should be a time of good surprises. Manage bad ones by getting a lay of land before your nuptials. Set aside time well before the big day to visit your location, your venue, your hotel, and any hotels you may be recommending to your guests. Afterall, you’d hate for people to arrive, only to find out the photo on the website didn’t show the big construction site next door or the to-die-for infinity pool was indefinitely out of commission.
Photography: Collin Hughes4 of 18
Do Guarantee VIPs Can Attend Before You Post Your Invites
Just as you have a dream destination in mind, so might you have your dream guest list for the celebration. Avoid disappointment for you and your parents, close relatives, and besties by checking in with them prior to ordering up and mailing the invitations. If they give you the thumbs-up, you are all set to put the wheels in motion.
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Send your save-the-dates at least six months in advance to help everyone plan properly for the trip. This way guests have enough time to get the best fares. Many airlines also advertise event-travel discounts for blocks of 10 seats or more.
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Your wedding website is your guests’ link to the locale. Include information on your site about lodging options, along with a list of rental-car companies (if a car is necessary) and public-transit schedules. Also include dress-code information and a roster of things they won—t want to leave home without, such as sneakers or snow boots (if you have any hikes or nature walks planned), sunscreen (if the hotel doesn’t provide it), and a shawl (if you’re jetting off to a steamy location that’s cool at night). It’s a nice and organized way to lend a helping hand while giving them a sneak peek at the events you’re planning.
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Don’t Pressure Your Guests to Attend
No destination, day, or time will ever be perfect for everyone. With destination affairs, about 50 percent of people invited say yes. Plan accordingly and be understanding of those who can’t attend, letting them know that you absolutely understand. After all, you don’t want anyone to feel obligated to attend, especially since it’s likely that they’ll have to spend much more than they would if you were getting married locally.
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Do Give Guests Several Options for Accommodations
Offer hotel choices and everyone’s comfort levels—and budgets—are taken into account. Make the options clear on your website, and be sure everyone feels included no matter where they are, by arranging activities and transportation at each location.
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Don’t Feel Obligated to Invite Children
But be sure to let guests know it’s fine if they bring their kids along for the ride—a lot of invitees, after all, will want to piggyback a family vacation onto your big day. To help them, coordinate babysitting services beforehand (your planner, hotel concierge, or venue manager should have a list of qualified locals). Address your invites for the ceremony and reception to the adults only, then note on your wedding website that “babysitting can be arranged for your convenience.”
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Do Consider Hiring a Local Wedding Planner
If you’re willing to put in the legwork tracking down venues, caterers, florists, and musicians all by yourself, then yes, going sans planner saves some money. But if you haven’t spent much time in the town where you’re marrying, then securing reputable and reliable vendors that will make sure the bash goes off without a hitch might best be left to a local pro. She will know the lay of the land, have experience with nearby vendors, and help you—and your guests—navigate possible cross-cultural decorum, such as tipping practices and other matters that will concern everyone attending the event.
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Photography: Corbin Gurkin11 of 18
Don’t Cut It Close
To prevent your nearest and dearest from being no-shows on one of the biggest days of your life, every member of the wedding party should allow plenty of time for travel. Unexpected transportation glitches are common, especially in tropical locales. If you do end up with a missing link, it’s better to leave him or her out completely rather than scramble to find a substitute. No one wants to be a second choice. A photo clause in your wedding insurance may help you reassemble everyone at a later date for pics.
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Do Provide Transportation for Your Wedding Guests
Arrange for a van or limo to pick up your guests from the airport and shuttle them to their hotels. If possible, hire a guide who knows a lot about the area for a special touch. Guests will be able to ask questions, get a free history lesson, and sightsee as they make their way to their lodgings. For extra credit, hang a welcome sign in the van’s window—it’s sure to elicit smiles from plane-weary travelers.
Photography: Natalie Watson Photography13 of 18
Don’t Overlook a Warm—or Refreshing—Welcome
Have the front desk greet guests at check-in with a beverage: hot cocoa or mulled cider in a chilly locale, sparkling cider (or, what the heck, a glass of Champagne) in a city, and an Arnold Palmer or chilled cucumber water at the beach. To satisfy the littlest (and likely the grumpiest) travelers, instruct welcomers to make the drinks extra special for kids. Just have them embellish the glasses with a bendy straw, colorful umbrella, skewer of tropical fruit, handful of tiny marshmallows, or dollop of whipped cream.
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You don’t have to go overboard, but gifting a few bottles of water and a handful of snacks that satisfy guests’ sweet and salty cravings is a thoughtful touch. A map, notebook and pen, or a small guidebook are also fun and thoughtful presents.
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Don’t Act Like a Cruise Director
You absolutely can provide something for your guests to do every day, but it’s really a matter of your own preference. At the minimum, have some sort of welcome dinner on the first night so everyone can get acquainted, and provide information about the destination on your website so guests can plan their own activities. A personalized top-10 list of things to do in the area is also a nice touch. Another good idea: Designate a central meeting place, such as a breakfast buffet, where people can find each other every day.
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Do Be Social
They have traveled to be with you, so do meet up with your attendees. Remember: You’ll have plenty of alone time on your honeymoon. If you are concerned about feeling required to hang out with any guests who have decided to stick around for a longer vacation, consider honeymooning somewhere else entirely.
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Don’t Hold Back on Celebrating
Planning a larger reception once you return home? Include a note with the wedding invitations announcing the party. That way, those who can’t attend will know right off the bat that they’ll be able to celebrate with you later on.
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Where there’s a wedding, there are people who want to give gifts. Just keep in mind that many guests are shelling out big bucks for a plane ticket, so fill your wish list with affordable ideas from a range of stores (think Tiffany and Target). Furthermore, due to the distance, there will be friends and family who can’t make the trip but will surely want to buy you something special. So register away!