If there's one thing we're certain about this year, it's that couples and guests alike are itching to travel. You've likely already received a tempting faraway wedding invite this year; destination weddings have nearly tripled post-pandemic. "It seems everyone wants to take their nuptials on the road and bring friends and family together," says Jack Ezon, founder of luxury travel company EMBARK Beyond. "There seems to be an endless thirst as growth continues to compound."
Meet the Expert
- EMBARK Beyond is a travel advisory that creates thoughtfully designed experiences, including for destination weddings and group travel. Jack Ezon is the company’s founder and managing partner, and Laura Worth is a luxury travel advisor.
- Maya George is the CEO and founder of Our Black Passports, a boutique luxury travel agency specializing in group travel for the diaspora, inviting travelers to discover themselves through unique experiences.
- Renée Strauss is the CEO of Wedaways, a luxury travel agency that specializes in property buyouts, room blocks, and honeymoons for the clients of wedding planners.
In fact, in a recent survey of more than 2,500 people attending weddings this year, registry resource Zola found that nearly 40 percent of wedding guests are hitting events that require plane travel. Two-thirds of them are taking time off work, and one-third are extending the trip into a vacation. That's a plan we can get on board with—literally. "Guests are traveling by plane and train many times this year, on average attending weddings in three different cities," says Emily Forrest, director of communications for Zola. "One factor that has really changed the way we attend weddings is the way that we work. The rise of the hybrid working-from-home model for some people has made it easier to turn a faraway wedding into an extended vacation." The survey found that many people are taking at least two days off of work to attend a wedding—and some are taking five or more days off.
"In addition to some people having more ability to work from anywhere, 2022 is a year where emotions are running high," Forrest says. "For many guests, this is the first time they will get to celebrate with all of their friends and family members in the same place. For others, it may be the first time they've taken a real vacation in two years, or felt comfortable traveling."
So, if you’re considering turning a friend’s wedding into a vacation for yourself, this is your sign to go for it.
Tips for Turning a Destination Wedding Into a Vacation
Need help turning that wedding invite into a vacation? Follow these 11 tips to make the most of your time (and save a little money where you can).
Lean on the Wedding Website
Your first stop should always be the couple's wedding website. It's common for couples to put together sites with accommodation and travel details (plus adorable how-we-met stories and a gallery of pictures). For destination weddings, these websites are often even more comprehensive. Look for travel recommendations like the best time to book flights—the couple may have even pegged a wedding travel agent for help navigating location-specific logistics.
It's a good idea to check to the wedding website before booking major details like transportation. The couple may have already secured a service for guests to utilize to and from the airport. And, for planning days other than the wedding day, the site will likely offer recommendations for restaurants and attractions nearby.
Do Your Research
Once you know what the couple has planned, you can then do your own digging. "Research the destination extensively," suggests Maya George, CEO and founder of Our Black Passports. Especially if it's a new destination for you, "you want to understand travel time, transportation, nightlife, community, dos and don’ts, and activities."
Look into what the area is known for. If it's remote, what destinations are close by or more easily accessible than they'd be if you were traveling from home? Staying somewhat local is your best bet. "If you've never been to that destination, get the full experience while you’re already there,” suggests Laura Worth, a travel advisor at EMBARK Beyond. "Often there is not much time during a destination wedding to explore—with so many planned activities and events—so immerse yourself while there." If you do plan to venture further, "select destinations in the region of the wedding,” advises Wedaways CEO Renée Strauss. “Invited to a wedding in Portugal? Always wanted to visit Spain? Here's a great opportunity."
Plan Your Itinerary
You’ll want to attend the wedding either at the very start or very end of your trip—not cram it in the middle—as this will leave you with the maximum amount of time for other uninterrupted travel. Both timelines have their advantages, but the majority of experts suggest beginning your trip with the wedding. "Get the wedding festivities out of the way, then enjoy the destination as you see fit," advises George. "Wedding festivities will usually include some pre-wedding events like bachelor or bachelorette parties, dinners, meet-and-greet brunches, and so on. Remember the wedding is the most important part of the trip, so you don't want to jeopardize your attendance or appearance by turning up too much before the event."
Inquire About Group Rate Extensions
"If you plan to stay in the same hotel as you have been at for the wedding, it is worth asking if group rates can be extended following the event," Worth says. "Sometimes it's not possible, but always worth asking!" Otherwise, you can stay one night—the wedding night, of course—in the hotel with everyone, and then find a cozy Airbnb to mix up the experience and potentially save some money.
Get Creative With Planning
Consider what you love to do, then see what’s available in the area. "If the guests love to drive and the wedding is just about anywhere in Italy, for example, why not rent an awesome car and hit the road? Italy is a driver's dream," says Strauss. "Explore the winding landscape of Tuscany. Wedding in France? The countryside is outstanding." If rest and relaxation is what you’re looking for, start your trip with the wedding then head to a wellness resort for spa services and lounging before heading back to reality.
Soak Up Time With Loved Ones
"Chances are, close friends and family will also be attending the wedding," says Forrest. "This is a great way to kill two birds with one stone and plan that family or friends vacation you've been trying to do for years but haven’t been able to pull off, either because of everyone’s different schedules or because plans were derailed from the pandemic."
Consider Shipping Your Luggage
Depending how long you plan to stay, and what the wedding attire is, shipping your luggage could be frugal idea. It's doubtful you’ll need a black-tie look any day beside the wedding day, for example. "If you have a 'capsule wardrobe' for the wedding events, you don't have to carry around extra baggage the rest of your trip," Worth says. “There are some amazing services now that make it seamless."
Don't Forget a Few Must-Pack Items
In addition to clothing, there are a few things experts recommend having on-hand for an international trip. Strauss suggests a credit card that doesn't charge any extra percentage for international purchases, a long-distance phone plan if applicable, Google Translate downloaded onto your phone, and a copy of your passport to keep on hand while the original is locked in the safe. "We suggest every person bring along their own COVID tests for safety," she adds. That way if you have to test before getting back on the plane, you're not rushed to find a testing site (just be sure to check each country’s rules before you go—some require doctor-administered testing!). Finally, “we advise all our clients to 'pack their patience,'" Strauss says. "Airport and flight delays, bumped accommodations in hotels and resorts, and extreme traffic is not unusual these days."
Work With a Travel Advisor
If travel—especially international travel—is foreign to you, have someone help. Travel agents and advisors typically work on commission from airlines and hotels, so there’s often little or no cost to the customer. “They know best how to pair destinations and navigate between locations, and can assist in getting on-the-ground partners to make it smooth and seamless so you can actually have a great vacation,” Worth says.
Opt for Travel Insurance
The most unanimous tip we received from experts? Travel insurance is more important than ever before. "Travel protection is always a must, especially post pandemic," George says. "Travel is still at a high level of uncertainty. And, nowadays weddings aren't definite. Just in case plans or love changes, your pre-planning and insurance will come in handy."
While you're there, indulge in food and activities that best showcase the local flavor. Come with a plan in mind, but be flexible in case you get a great recommendation from another guest at the wedding. "Locals are the best destination experts," adds George. "Ask hotel staff about things to do and places to eat, to immerse yourself in the culture and community of the destination."
How to Do It on a Budget
Though Zola's report found that guests are spending on average $1,314 to attend a destination wedding—and that's just attending, not including the vacation you're planning to take, too—a trip like this doesn't have to break the bank. Here are a few tips to consider.
The earlier you book, the more you’ll save on things like airfare and accommodations. Refer back to the wedding website, which might offer suggested times to book your travel. If your travel dates are flexible—for example, if you're open to traveling before or after the wedding—use apps like Hopper to track and set alerts for the most affordable times to buy and fly.
Remember, "the entire wedding party and guests will be traveling at the same time to the same destination," George says. "Plan ahead to secure a room with upgrades, the best excursions, and activities." And, it isn't just about your travel itinerary. "Planning ahead also means not leaving trip details to the last minute. Schedule your beauty treatments in advance and do all your shopping—including the wedding gift—at least a month in advance. Leave the last-minute running around in 2021."
Prioritize Your Plans
"For budgets on trips before or after a wedding, think ahead about what is most important to you," suggests Worth. "If you're a big foodie, maybe stay in hotels with a lower price point. If your idea of a perfect vacation is a luxurious room, pick a hotel with lots of amenities and experiential elements woven in. Weigh your options, and pick places that don’t have a 'high cost of living' so you can really relax and immerse yourself."
Find Local Hangouts
Ask around at the wedding: What are the locals' favorite spots? "You can make a full meal out of a local Florence wine-bar happy-hour with all the snacks or chicchetti they bring out!" Worth says.
Zola reported that 52% of guests are planning to purchase at least one or two new outfits, and another 29% are planning to purchase three to five new outfits. You can rewear the wedding-guest dress on vacation (and to other weddings!). Wardrobe rental subscriptions are another great way to save.
Buy a Gift on Sale
All this, and you still have to buy the couple a wedding gift? It's a lot. There's no shame in searching for sales. Sites like Zola often offer and keep track of registry-item sales. "Also, going in on a gift with some friends is a great way to save some money but still give something special," Forrest suggests.
Take Advantage of the Amenities
Of course, it's not always realistic to take a week off of work for a wedding. But, fear not—you can still make it feel like a vacation. If you can't extend your travel, take advantage of the hotel amenities before and after the big day. A spa treatment is a vacation in and of itself, after all. Or, hit the beach for a morning jog or some pre-wedding sunbathing to get a nice glow for the event. Make the most of what’s around you in the time you do have.
Finally, Decline If You Need To
Chances are, you're invited to more than one wedding—even more than one destination wedding—this year that will require travel. It's not realistic to do it all, and couples understand. "Guests are attending on average four weddings and seven wedding events this year," Forrest says. "The sheer business of the calendar is driving up total spend. Remember that it is okay to politely decline a wedding invitation if it truly does not fit into your budget." She adds: "Most couples who are planning weddings far away do not expect for everyone on their guest list to RSVP yes."