My Siblings Crashed My Italian Honeymoon

"While a family honeymoon might not be for everyone, it was easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made."

collection of instant film travel photos from Italy

Gary Yeowell / Getty Images

When you picture your honeymoon, visions of exotic lands, lots of Champagne, and plenty of alone time with your partner are likely what dance in your head. When my now-husband and I went on our post-wedding Christmas trip to Italy, however, we completely flipped the script by inviting our family along. It might sound bizarre, but our siblings crashing our honeymoon was the best thing that could have ever happened to our happily ever after. 

You see, when I prepared to say “I do” five years ago, I couldn’t have been more confident in my decision. My husband is my absolute favorite person in the world, and I felt all the things you’re supposed to feel before getting married: giddy, devoted, and totally in love. Mixed with the confidence of my spousal choice and the joy (and okay, a little stress) surrounding planning a wedding, though, I found myself feeling sad. Guilty, even. Because I knew that getting married meant starting my own family. On the one hand, I was excited to form new traditions with my husband and make him my emergency contact. But at the same time, it also felt like I was preparing to say goodbye to my family. To leave the immediate family I was born into to form my own.

Of course, I’d still see them and spend time with them—and call my mom over the slightest inconvenience—but my last name would change, and so would my immediate family. The idea left me feeling shaken and sad. Things only got more complicated when we planned an October wedding and settled on an Italian holiday honeymoon. I’m lucky that my freelance schedule makes travel pretty easy to coordinate, but for my husband—like for most people—it’s not as simple. Conveniently, his company gives their employees an extra week off of work during Christmas, so combined with some accumulated vacation days, we were looking at two full weeks of pizza, pasta, and prosecco. 

Going into our first holiday season married, we knew it would be time to change how we celebrated. Previously we each went to our own parents’ houses solo, but we figured getting married would mean splitting the time between our parents—never an easy feat but a part of the package. When the Christmas season looked to be the best time to take our newlywed trip, though, it quickly dawned on me that we’d be spending our first married holiday completely alone. 

Here I was planning my wedding, my honeymoon, and my life with the person of my dreams, and yet I couldn’t ignore this deep sorrow that burrowed in my soul.

Even though our parents were supportive, I just couldn’t shake the sadness and the strangeness of not sharing the holiday with the people who’d been central to my life for the past 26 years. Here I was planning my wedding, my honeymoon, and my life with the person of my dreams, and yet I couldn’t ignore this deep sorrow that burrowed in my soul. However, the good news is that these feelings are a completely normal—albeit not often talked about—part of the marriage process.

“Marriage is a huge life transition. It’s natural to feel as though you are grieving the loss of your family as the unit you knew it to be,” clinical therapist and social worker Ashley Starwood, LCSW, explains. “Feelings of guilt and sadness are normal because even though you’re entering a new and beautiful life, you still have to say ‘goodbye’ to the life you used to live.”

The more I started planning our honeymoon, the sadder I got, and as the weeks went by, I grappled with whether or not the trip was worth it at all. Then one day, my therapist suggested that our siblings go on our honeymoon with us. Simple. Just invite them along. At first, I thought she was joking, but as we talked over the idea I felt a wave of peace wash over me. Her advice was to spend the first half of our honeymoon, including Christmas, in the traditional fashion—just us two. Then for the second half of the trip, we’d invite our siblings to fly out and ring in the New Year all together in Rome

While it might seem like a strange solution, Starwood says finding ways to collaborate and compromise to ease the sadness and guilt surrounding major life changes is essential. “This trip allowed the couples to spend time alone, but it was also a creative way to incorporate their siblings into their new family,” she explains. “Helping the most important in your life feel included can help everyone transition during this joyous time.”

We spent the first half of our honeymoon traipsing around Rome: getting massages, throwing coins in the Trevvi fountain, drinking a bottle of wine at lunch, and finding any chance to say “my husband” and “my wife.” And after a quick stop in Tuscany, we headed to Venice for our first Christmas just us two. It was weird to be six hours ahead of my family, but we called our parents at midnight outside of St Mark's Basilica, holding our phones up to the ringing bells as they sat down to dinner.

collage of Rachel Varina and her husband in italy

Courtesy of Rachel Varina

Before falling asleep, we talked about what we’d normally be doing on Christmas. It was a nostalgic night, beautiful and bittersweet, as the entire marriage process truly is. “Give yourself the opportunity to grieve the loss of your ‘old’ life,” urges Starwood. “This is a new and exciting time, but that doesn't erase the life you lived prior to marriage. You're allowed to be sad about ‘leaving’ your family to join your spouse in a new union.” And we did feel sad, but hearing that our siblings were excitedly packing, and my mom offering to stuff some Christmas cookies in my brother’s carry-on, eased some of that tightness. They still loved us. They still cared. They were still there. 

When our siblings finally arrived the day before New Year’s Eve—all having flown in together from Miami—we raced out into the streets of Trastevere to greet them. They were talking over each other eagerly, telling us how they got to try sausage in Norway during their layover and showing us the selfies they took on their flight. My brother pulled out a tin of cookies from my mom, and my new sister-in-law revealed Christmas cards from their grandparents, festively placing them around the rental apartment. Looking around as they munched and laughed in the kitchen together, debating which restaurant we should visit on our first night together, I no longer felt guilt. I simply felt joy. 

Spending the next week with my husband and our siblings in Italy was one of the best experiences of my life, and now whenever we get together and reminisce, we all agree on how perfect it was. As Starwood explains, it gave us the chance to honor our past and celebrate our future, blended family together. Instead of the wedding being the transition, this trip was. We had a week of stress-free bonding and forming connections that helped lay the foundation of our married life as a couple and a family altogether

Rachel Varina and her siblings on her honeymoon

Courtesy of Rachel Varina

When planning your own wedding and coming to terms with what the future holds, Starwood says it’s important to give yourself “grace, patience, and understanding.” While you’re likely feeling excited (and maybe a touch overwhelmed), remember that sadness and guilt are two very normal emotions as well. “You need to give your new reality the time and space to grow, but finding ways to incorporate what you had before will make the transition easier,” she explains. Whether that means having a scheduled dinner every few weeks, planning a staycation campout, or inviting your family on your honeymoon, Starwood says now more than ever it’s acceptable to “throw away the traditional rulebook” and do whatever feels best for you.

As I’m getting ready to celebrate my fourth wedding anniversary this year, my feelings of sadness over “leaving” my family is nowhere in sight. It didn’t happen overnight, but having that trip as a transition made the process easier and way more fun. Experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime vacation with my husband was special, but getting to share it with our siblings as well? That made it epic. 

While a family honeymoon might not be for everyone, it was easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. By accepting my feelings and finding a solution, I was able to move past that wedding guilt and instead, embrace la dolce vita on the other side of our “I dos.” All that Italian wine probably didn’t hurt, either. 10/10 recommend. 

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