What to Know as a Destination Wedding Guest, According to a Travel Expert

From booking tips to budgeting advice.

five female wedding guests laughing and wearing colorful dresses

PHOTO BY ZSANETT KOVACS

A destination wedding can be a lot of fun. Getting invited to one is a great excuse for a vacation, as these events are often held in exotic or beautiful locations you might not visit otherwise, and they also present a great opportunity to get to know the marrying couple (and their family and friends) even more than you did before. Consider it like a big, exciting group trip.

But destination weddings can also be stressful. You have to worry about all the logistics you would for a regular trip—booking flights and hotels, taking time off work, budgeting for a getaway—while also doing what is required of a wedding guest like buying a gift and making sure you have the correct attire.

To help you navigate it all, we turned to Jen Avey, vice president of marketing for the Destination Weddings Travel Group. Ahead, she shares tips on how to plan, budget, and cherish a destination wedding as a guest.

Meet the Expert

Jen Avey is vice president of marketing for Destination Weddings Travel Group, a team of travel and wedding specialists who help couples and guests navigate destination weddings.

When to Book Travel and Accommodations

Like any vacation, attending a destination wedding takes planning, organization, and time. You have to figure out how you are going to get to the location, where you are going to stay, how you are going to get around once you are there, and more. Avey recommends giving yourself plenty of time to arrange the logistics. "Destination wedding guests should book their travel arrangements as soon as possible," she advises. "On average, destination wedding save-the-dates should get sent to guests anywhere from eight to 12 months in advance, so guests should expect to book their travel arrangements soon after that."

Planning ahead will help alleviate any stress you might feel about logistics. It might also help save you money, reveals Avey: "Oftentimes the biggest savings can be found the earlier you book. Resorts may call these Early Booking Bonus rates, for example."

Planning ahead is also helpful and considerate to the couple. The more set their wedding guest count is, the more they can finalize their budget and logistics for the big day. "It helps the couple gauge the number of rooms they'll have in their group, and depending on the contract they signed, they'll need to hit a minimum number in order to receive certain amenities," says Avey.

Gift Etiquette

If you are spending a significant amount of money flying to a destination wedding and staying in a hotel you might be wondering if you still need to give a gift. In other words, is your presence their present? Avey says in some cases this sentiment is true. "Destination wedding couples like to show their appreciation to their guests for traveling so far to celebrate with them, so guests shouldn't feel [pressured] to buy a traditional wedding gift," she explains. "Many destination wedding couples decide to not build a traditional registry for their guests to buy gifts from."

However, if a couple does have a registry, you might consider buying something small from it, since technically that's what wedding etiquette dictates. "It really just depends on what the couple offers," Avey adds. "Honeymoon funds are a popular option, where couples ask guests to donate any dollar amount they're comfortable with to put toward certain amenities or activities, such as a room upgrade, first-class air ticket, honeymoon excursion, etc."

If you are spending a lot of money attending a wedding, you can also consider making a handmade present for the couple like a scrapbook of your memories together or a hand-knitted blanket for their new home. There are many types of presents that don't involve ample funds, so get creative!

Budgeting Advice

Vacations of any kind can be hard on the wallet. Expenses can add up from the flight to the rental car to the hotel. And that doesn't even take into account excursions, meals, and some shopping. Destination weddings can be even more expensive than regular vacations because you aren't choosing the destination or the hotel, and the couple might opt for a pricier destination than you would. You also have to spend money on particular clothes and a wedding gift, if you wish to give one.

If you're feeling stretched financially, definitely book early. "Guests can save money when attending a destination wedding by booking early and working with an expert to help secure the best travel rates from them." You can also save money by flying on a weekday, sharing a hotel room with friends, or booking an Airbnb rather than staying in the official wedding hotel or resort. If you don't know anyone else attending the wedding, ask the couple if they know of any other guests looking to share a hotel room or rental property.

Alternatives to Attending a Destination Wedding

There are many reasons you might not be able to attend a destination wedding. You might have a conflict or it's a bad time to take off work. You might not have the money or you might be saving your money for other trips or projects that are more of a priority. Don't fret, reminds Avey: "There are certainly ways for loved ones to show support for the couple if they ultimately can't attend the destination wedding."

Live streaming is now a common practice at weddings, so you can join the ceremony or the party virtually if the couple offers. You can also show your support by attending a pre-wedding festivity such as a bachelor or bachelorette party or a bridal shower. Consider taking the couple out to dinner before or after their big day to wish them well and celebrate with them. "Another nice gesture is to call the resort or venue ahead of time and surprise the couple with a welcome basket and gift when they check in," says Avey. "You could even splurge a bit more and gift the couple with a room upgrade, spa treatment, beach dinner, etc."

Related Stories