Your Destination Wedding Etiquette Questions Answered
Think of this as your round-trip ticket to a turbulence-free affair, with solutions to common conundrums other couples have confronted when planning a celebration away from home.
Is it okay to host a wedding far away from most of our friends and families?
Of course! But make sure your VIPs can attend before you post your invites. Once you’ve set a date (preferably at least six months or more in advance to allow guests time to get the best fares), locate hotels that offer group rates. Many airlines also advertise event-travel discounts for blocks of 10 seats or more. Enclose lodging options in the invitation suite, along with a list of rental-car companies (if a car is necessary) and public-transit schedules, or post the info on your website. Think about renting a big house in the area for your immediate family to help cut costs, and sweeten the pot by organizing get-togethers and printing a guide to area attractions.
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 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.
My grandparents aren’t very mobile and won’t be able to attend my destination wedding. How can I make them feel included, even from afar?
Any gesture you extend to family or friends who can’t be there is sure to be appreciated. One thoughtful idea: Prewedding, mail them a care package (or “Postage Toastage”) that contains special details included in your day, like a ceremony program, mini bottle of bubbly, sparklers or noisemakers, and a favor. Also, consider setting up a way for your grandparents to experience your wedding in real time. If they have Internet access and a computer or smartphone, they can view your vows with the rest of your guests through a company like BridalStream or My Streaming Wedding. You can rent equipment from either to broadcast your event (or they’ll dispatch a videographer to do it for you).
Similarly, planner Heather Hoesch, of LVL Weddings & Events in Costa Mesa, California, recommends a platform called PartiBot, which “looks like an iPad on a Segway and lets the absent loved one move around a reception with ease, conversing with the people who are there.” Or, ask a friend with a smartphone (and a steady hand) to live-stream the service using a subscription site, such as UStream, or an app like FaceTime or Skype. If that’s all too techy for Nana and Papa, bring home a DVD of the day and make a date to get together for a viewing.
My aunt’s annoyed that we’re asking everyone to go abroad for our wedding. 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.
Can I invite people to my shower if I’m not inviting them to the destination wedding?
If your wedding is intimate and only close family members are invited, you can get away with inviting friends and coworkers to your shower and not the wedding. If you’ve asked some friends and not others, however, inviting both groups to the shower could create awkward moments for everyone. Instead, have a guests-only shower and host a reception for everyone else after the honeymoon.
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 fiancé and I aren’t sure if we want children at our destination wedding, but we don’t know how to get around it. Thoughts?
How about a happy medium? 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. Just be clear that the main event is for the grown-ups and coordinate babysitting services beforehand (your planner, hotel concierge, or venue manager should have a list of qualified local sitters). 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.”
What does wedding insurance cover? And when is it a good idea?
Here’s a little 101: If you cancel because a sudden illness or bad weather prevents someone crucial (like the groom) from traveling, or a busted pipe floods your venue, basic insurance will reimburse the costs of your site and vendors won’t. There are also other types you can easily and inexpensively add on, including loss-of-deposit coverage, in case a vendor goes belly-up with your cash or doesn’t show; reimbursement for special attire that was lost or damaged before the event; and photography insurance, which actually pays to reassemble everyone, plus flowers and cake, for new shots if your original photographer doesn’t deliver.
Absolutely get coverage if you’re paying big deposits early on, if lots of core people have to travel, or if one of you has an unpredictable job (like military). Weather problems can crop up anywhere, but if your region is known for volatility, sign up. That said, premiums are so inexpensive—think $200 for $7,500 coverage—that everyone should consider it. Buy it early and don’t buy too little, because you can’t add on when things go wrong.
Is it crazy to forgo hiring a wedding planner for our nuptials abroad?
The question is whether that glory of planning your own wedding (and the money saved) is worth the time and uncertainty that accompanies such an undertaking. 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 might best be left to a local planner or event designer. A pro knows the lay of the land and has experience with nearby vendors. She will also help you navigate possible cross-cultural pitfalls like unfair pricing, and advise you on tipping practices and other matters of social decorum.
What’s the best way to get my wedding dress overseas?
Bottom line: Carry it on. Most airlines allow you to do so, but triple-check beforehand to avoid surprises at the airport. Shop for a breathable, non-plastic garment bag designed specifically for this job. Hang the gown up using the attached ribbons, zip it, and fold it in half before packing it into its own suitcase or box, which should be about one-third the length of your dress. Stow it in the plane’s overhead bin, or ask to put it in an onboard closet.
A do-it-all kit is another option for getting your gown out of town. The Original Destination Wedding Kit, sold by the Association of Wedding Gown Specialists, includes acid-free papers, packing instructions, a stain stick, and a dress box that fits into an overhead bin. You can, of course, ship your dress ahead to your destination (you’ll be able to track and insure it), but your safest bet is to travel alongside it.
Are my fiancé and I required to book and pay for the flights and hotel rooms for everyone in our wedding party?
“According to traditional etiquette, it’s the party’s responsibility to get themselves to the wedding, destination or not,” says international wedding planner and chief executive officer of DestinationBride.com, Lisa Light. That said, if you know someone won’t be able to afford the trip, “it’s wonderful to offer to help out,” says Light. If you are both discreet about it, it isn’t necessary to extend that offer to anyone else. 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 do’s, 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.
Though some etiquette sources say the couple pays for attendants’ lodging, this is seldom followed. So if you book the rooms to save them the effort, be clear about who will pay.
Am I expected to provide something for my guests to do every day?
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.
Are my fiancé and I obligated to spend all our time with our guests? We want to be able to have some time to ourselves.
No, especially if you don’t fill every moment of every day with mandatory group activities. That said, you’ll have plenty of alone time on your honeymoon. In other words, you don’t have to act like a cruise director, but you shouldn’t be antisocial, either—there will be time for that once everyone’s gone home. If it’s possible, you may want to consider honeymooning somewhere else entirely. That way, you won’t feel required to spend time with any guests who have decided to stick around for a longer vacation.
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.
The resort where we’re getting married sleeps fewer people than the number we’re inviting. How do we decide who stays where without hurting anyone’s feelings?
Give priority to members of the wedding party and immediate family to stay with you at the resort. Book their rooms in advance and give the remaining guests two options: the place you’re staying and another hotel. That way, everyone’s comfort levels—and budgets—are taken into account. Make the options clear on your website, and let your guests know that the wedding location has limited availability and requires early booking. To make sure everyone feels included no matter where they are, arrange for activities and transportation at both hotels.
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, try this: 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 workspace and a wholesaler—shipping flora from abroad isn’t legal in some countries. If logistics are tough, try 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.
Is registering for gifts for a destination wedding asking too much? And for those who don’t buy us anything, is it appropriate to send a thank-you note for coming?
Not in the least. 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. (With destination affairs, you can expect a lower acceptance rate—about 50 percent say yes—than a local wedding.) So register away!
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.
How can we discourage guests from bringing gifts to the wedding? We don’t want to have to ship anything home or cram extra boxes into our luggage.
There will always be a few guests who will come to your wedding bearing gifts, even if it took them three plane rides and a helicopter trip to get there. Planning ahead is your best strategy. First, be sure to register at stores that give guests the option to ship gifts directly to your home address. For those guests who do end up bringing gifts to the wedding, designate either your wedding planner or a family member to collect and transport the gifts home for you. If the wedding is outside the U.S., you may not need to strategize much at all. Most guests will likely be discouraged by customs restrictions. The bottom line: No matter how much it inconveniences you, a gift is a gift and should always be appreciated. Accept it with love and gratitude.
What if one of my bridesmaids misses her flight and can’t make it to the ceremony? Are we expected to postpone it?
Unfortunately, the show must go on. It would be too expensive—and emotionally draining—to hold up the entire wedding for just one person (assuming, of course, that it’s not the bride or groom who’s delayed). To prevent your nearest and dearest from being no-shows on the biggest day of your life, every member of the wedding party should allow plenty of time for travel (that means arriving at the wedding location at least a day ahead of time).
Unexpected travel glitches are common, though, 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.
One of our guests showed up with a date, but he wasn’t invited with one. What’s the best way to handle that?
If ever there was a time to use the phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” this is it. When you’re hosting an event, the comfort of your guests (yes, even the unexpected plus-one) should come before yours—even on your wedding day. Your response, no matter how perturbed you are, should be to smile, say you’re glad he or she could make it, and ask the wedding planner or caterer to add a place setting.
We’re only inviting close relatives to our destination wedding, but my fiancé 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.
As for your wedding dress, you’re probably better off not wearing it again—at least from a practical standpoint. Dry-cleaning a wedding dress is expensive, and you’ll have to do it twice. More than an actual wedding reception, this second celebration should be a big, fun party. If you think of it that way, you’ll feel less pressure to wear your dress, have a first dance, and cut the cake.
One of our guests damaged the rental property where the wedding took place, and we’ve lost our deposit as a result. Should they be expected to pay us back?
Ideally, the person who caused the damage should have fessed up and offered to pay for it right away. But they didn’t, so now you’ve got to take action. First, let the guest know exactly what happened. Then ask, “Do you have any suggestions on how we should handle this?” It’s a great, subtle way to put the ball in their court without being rude. Hopefully your guest will do the right thing.
Unfortunately, though, responsibility ultimately lies with the person who signed the contract, which is most likely you, the groom, or the parent. Therefore, it’s wise to purchase wedding liability insurance. It can cover weather, damage to the gown, the need to postpone the event, and yes, damage done by unruly guests. Research well before signing anything.