Whether it's at European castle, a tropical beach, or a mountaintop escape, a destination wedding is one of the most epic ways to start the next chapter of your love story. "There is no doubt that destination weddings are the most magical and emotional experience for not only the couple, but often for the guests as well," explains celebrity wedding planner David Tutera. "Celebrating such a beautiful milestone with your favorite people, at a place that is different from the obvious options, sets the couple apart."
While the idea of a destination wedding is exciting, there's no denying that they can be stressful to plan: The physical distance (and any time or language barriers) makes coordinating with your venue and vendors tricky. And since you're asking guests to travel for your special day, there are a number of special hosting considerations you should take before, during, and after the celebration.
Meet the Expert
To help ensure you're the ultimate destination wedding host or hostess, we’ve asked two highly-rated and experienced wedding planners to outline the top etiquette rules every couple needs to know. Keep them in mind and you're guaranteed a flawless, memorable event that your guests will remember.
Hosting Etiquette 101
While you might think a destination wedding only constitutes as a celebration on sandy shores, that's actually not the case. Any location that's different from where you and your guests live, and typically requires a flight or multi-day drive, is considered a destination wedding locale. "Planning requires meticulous attention to detail, as all events do, but when it comes to destination weddings, there are a whole different set of factors that you have to take into consideration," Tutera explains. From plus-ones to additional events, here's everything you need to know.
Hire a Travel Expert and Wedding Planner
Tutera's top piece of advice? Bring on a travel expert who can help your guests with all of the nitty gritty: They can organize flights, shuttles, layovers, and backup plans for guests, and they'll be available to troubleshoot in real time in the event of any unforeseen hurdles like canceled or missed connections.
Tutera also says that hiring an experienced wedding planner is crucial for most weddings, but especially destination weddings. "You have to legitimately trust your planner and be comfortable knowing they’re set with what they are doing," he notes. "It only works if the planner is decreasing your stress, continuing to add to your excitement, and constantly informing you of the details leading up to your wedding."
Since these nuptials are a bit more complicated than hometown affairs, Tutera stresses that it's crucial to hire a planner that has experience planning these types of events. “Ask your [potential] planner to provide examples of past destination weddings they’ve worked on, and what their benchmark of success is,” he suggests. “Ask how they made it an enjoyable experience for their client and guests.”
Host Multiple Events
Unlike home turf weddings, destination nuptials typically involve more events and activities. “In my experience, when couples plan a destination wedding, it's usually three to five days in length,” explains Bellamy. In fact, Bellamy says it’s the concept of an extended celebration that sells the idea of hosting a destination wedding in the first place. According to the expert planner, most destination soirées involve a rehearsal dinner, welcome reception, the main event (ceremony and reception), and a farewell brunch, as well as local activities. Most couples plan at least one event per day, but some prefer two, with the choice of one local activity coupled with a relaxing daytime option.
“This could mean chartering a catamaran to Dunn's River Falls in Jamaica or learning to make focaccia brick oven pizza from a pro in Florence,” Bellamy explains. In addition to planned activities, Bellamy advises scheduling plenty of downtime for everyone to relax, explore, and indulge independently.
Be Mindful of Event Invites
As you're planning your wedding events, it's important to keep in mind that your guests should be invited to all dinners, excursions, and parties. The only exception to this rule, Bellamy notes, is the rehearsal dinner. "This is more intimate and is for the guests in the wedding, as well as immediate family," she shares. "The welcome reception will typically follow the rehearsal so other guests don't feel left out."
It's also okay if you plan to do a few activities with only your wedding party, future spouse, or immediate family. Just be sure to coordinate with everyone separately, rather than placing that information on the master schedule.
Provide an Exact Timeline of Dates
Travel is a huge component when it comes to destination weddings, and communicating the appropriate timeline to your guests is of the utmost importance. "Typically, the first and last days [of destination weddings] are used for independent activities and/or relaxation," Bellamy explains. This allows guests to travel without worrying about potentially missing any scheduled events.
It's also important to pay attention to any timezone changes when sharing your wedding dates. If you're looking at major time differences—in general, five or more hours—you should recommend that guests arrive a day to two earlier, which will help them better acclimate to their surroundings.
Book an Accessible Location
That remote beach you love might be beautiful, but part of being a good host or hostess is considering what the journey to the destination will be like for your guests. Bellamy says that couples should really consider how accessible a location is before putting down a deposit, given all of the travel logistics. Expensive locations that involve multiple connections, long layovers, or few flight options could deter people from attending or hinder guests from arriving on time should any issues arise.
If you do have your heart set on a specific, hard-to-get-to destination, be transparent from the beginning so everyone is able to make an informed decision as to whether they can attend or not.
Cover a Few Group Expenses
With all the extra events and excursions, the next question you may be asking is: What am I expected to cover financially for my guests? For events like the welcome party, rehearsal dinner, reception, farewell brunch, and any other scheduled get-togethers, the hosts should cover the cost of the meals. While full open bars are nice, if offering unlimited booze all weekend just doesn't fit within your budget, consider an open bar just for the wedding reception; for all other events, it's nice to offer a selection of beer and wine, or else an open bar for an hour or so that can then be followed by a cash bar.
As for excursions, it's a nice gesture to cover a few of those expenses for your guests. It's a nice way to show that you understand and appreciate what they've spent to be part of your day. However, if you aren't able to make the numbers work, Tutera says that the price of all excursions should be made explicitly clear to your family and friends; you should also highlight when guests will be responsible for covering their own entertainment and meals. This may seem like an "in-your-face" approach, but it can play a major factor for guests when deciding whether or not the trip is within their budget.
Provide a Welcome Gift
One of the simplest ways to solidify yourself as a great host or hostess? By providing a welcome package or gift for guests upon their arrival, Tutera says. "It will set the tone for a happy and successful series of events while making your guests feel appreciated for traveling to celebrate your special day."
When creating your welcome gifts, you'll want to at least include a note, local snacks, a few water bottles, a list of dining suggestions, and contact numbers such as the hotel, someone from the wedding party, and even the U.S. Embassy. Beyond that, get creative! A bottle of wine from the area, craft beer, baked goods, drink vouchers for the hotel, and ibuprofen will all be thoroughly appreciated.
Stick to an Intimate Guest List
In general, since destination weddings are typically pricier, the experts agree that keeping your guest list to a minimum is ideal. As with all weddings, start with your closest friends and family members and work your way out.
While you also might be tempted to invite everyone you know, Bellamy highly advises against it. In her experience, destination weddings have a 90% acceptance rate since many guests are eager to experience a new location. That being said, be prepared—mentally, financially, and logistically—for the vast majority of "attending" RSVP confirmations.
Consider Offering Plus-Ones
According to Bellamy, deciding who gets a plus-one—and who doesn't—really depends on the situation. "Most of our clients typically allow for a plus-one if the guest has a partner that they're aware of," she explains. But with a destination wedding, especially one that involves long-haul travel, offering a plus-one to any guest who isn't close with any other attendees, regardless of relationship status, is a kind gesture. They'll have a travel companion and someone they can enjoy related events with.
Be Clear With Your Child Policy
If you want an adults-only event, Bellamy says it's perfectly acceptable to have a no-kid policy at a destination wedding. The caveat is that you need to make those parameters explicitly clear, as early as possible. Since travel plans are made months in advance, your guests absolutely need to know whether or not they can bring their children in order to determine if they're able to attend.
That said, for guests who are only able to travel with their children, or if you’re okay with children attending some events so families can vacation together, ask your planner to help you secure an on-site babysitter for the adults-only components of your celebration.
Create a Wedding Website
Destination weddings have a lot of moving parts, and the best way to clearly share all of the important information with your loved ones is through a wedding website, Tutera explains. "The wedding website should include information about the destination's weather, culture, the overall itinerary for the events, a fashion guide, COVID protocols, and any other useful information to make sure your guests feel as though it is a seamless experience."
Be sure to include the URL on your save-the-dates so your guests can access it well in advance; it's also a good idea to provide a point of contact who can answer any questions. Whether that's your wedding planner, your maid of honor, or you and your partner, your guests will need someone to contact should they run into problems booking rooms or figuring out what to pack.
Additional Destination Wedding Etiquette and Tips
- Secure a few different hotel blocks. While the host hotel is where most of the activities will likely take place, providing at least two other block options (all with varying rates) will allow guests to choose the best location for their budgets, Tutera says.
- Be well aware of COVID travel restrictions and inform your guests of test requirements, in addition to information on testing stations in the destination country.
- Bellamy advises couples to consider currency and exchange rates. This will help determine what you and your guests can and can’t afford. It’s also helpful to outline some places guests can exchange money on your website, and even post the exchange rates there as well.