Everything You Need To Know About the Honeymoon Tradition

It's not as lovey-dovey as you might think

Couple on Honeymoon

 Oleh_Slobodeniuk / Getty Images

Whether a honeymoon is something you and your spouse plan on partaking in or not, it's a tradition and a privilege that many couples take advantage of if they have the opportunity. And, if you have the means, it's easy to understand why. A honeymoon is a time to bond, relax, celebrate as a couple, reflect on your relationship, and look ahead at what's to come.

Honeymoons don't always mean lying out on a beach with your loved one, which we'll get into later. But as you consider integrating this post-wedding tradition into your itinerary, questions will likely arise: Do we have to go right after our wedding? How long should the trip be? What's the average cost? And what, exactly, do people do? Read on to learn more about this storied tradition and for answers to every honeymoon question you can think of.

Meet the Expert

Susan Waggoner is a wedding historian and author.

The History and Meaning of the Honeymoon

Unsurprisingly, honeymoons have a gloomy history, just like many wedding traditions. Wedding historian Susan Waggoner says the honeymoon "dates from the days of marriage by capture when, after snatching his bride, the groom swept her away to a secret location, safe from discovery by her angry kin." And there he would keep her until "the family would either give up the search or the bride would become pregnant, making all questions of her return moot." If you need to stop reading right now, top off your coffee, and ponder some things about existence, you certainly have permission.

After marriage-by-capture ceased to exist, "the honeymoon abduction was practiced in ritual form," Waggoner explains. So, now, the groom was taking the bride away with her family’s consent, "both sides knowing full well a handsome price would be offered and accepted once the deed was done." Waggoner writes, "Later, it became customary for the groom to pay the father a bride price beforehand and to have a public ceremony before completing the 'abduction.'"

The word "honeymoon" itself is derived from the Scandinavian practice of drinking mead, or fermented honey, during the first month of the marriage (measured by one moon cycle) in order to improve the likelihood of conception. The word also showed up in the 1500s "as a term to warn newlyweds about waning love." The message was clear: "As the moon wanes, so shall your love."

So, modern-day romantic honeymoons only became possible with two bits of social progress. First, marriage became less transactional and more about love, and second, industrial progress enabled travel for pleasure. Today, it’s common for couples to incorporate a bit of decompression time after the wedding.

Honeymoon FAQs

Do we have to go right after the wedding?

Definitely not. There's no need to jet off as soon as you're done partying and, in fact, you'll appreciate some time to rest between your actual wedding and your getaway. Some people plan to take a trip later in the year or on their first wedding anniversary, and some other couples even go away prior to the wedding.

How long should the trip be?

There is no standard length of time for a honeymoon. They can range from a night to over a month long. Some things you should consider, though, are your budget, how much time it takes to travel to and from your destination, and how much time you can realistically take off from work.

What are some popular honeymoon spots?

Some of the usual suspects include the Amalfi Coast in Italy and Bali, Indonesia. Then again, not everybody considers a cocktail on the beach a good time, so Austin, Texas, or Tokyo might be more up some couple's alleys. For a good mix of options, we've rounded up the best honeymoon hotspots.

What do people do on honeymoons?

Well, that depends on the couple and what kind of honeymoon you're looking for. Some opt for an adventure-heavy trip, which can include everything from hiking to scuba diving. While others want to lean into rest and relaxation and opt for a wellness-centric honeymoon filled with healing me-time, togetherness, and lots of couples massages.

Erika Swift, a wedding planner in Phoenix, offers a bit of wisdom: "Get naked a lot. Eat at all the tourist hot spots. Do all the hotel sex you can. Leave your phone on silent. Upload pictures after you get home. Enjoy each other!"

How much will it cost?

Again, this depends on the kind of trip you want. The average honeymoon cost in 2019 was around $5,000, but this can fluctuate. Just like your big day, organizing it involves a plan and a budget. We have some tips here.

What's the best time of the year to go?

We hate to sound like a broken record, but this, again, comes down to where you're planning to go. You'll want to avoid certain tropical spots during hurricane season, and you probably don't want to go to certain places during super touristy times either. Lucky for you we've already broken down the best honeymoon destinations by month.

When should we plan it?

The ideal timeframe is six to eight months prior to your travel dates, especially if you're thinking about European honeymoon destinations that coincide with the summer travel season. If you have your sights set on some seriously far-flung adventure destinations, you might want to look at planning your honeymoon as far as a year in advance.

Honeymoon Alternatives

Some couples might opt to forgo the honeymoon and, instead, put that money toward a down payment on a house or another big purchase. Others might choose to have a "mini-moon" and travel somewhere local for a weekend.

As we mentioned before, taking a longer trip months after the wedding is an option. This way, you can extend the celebration. And having your honeymoon prior to the wedding is a special way to prepare for marriage.

Other couples choose to package their weddings and honeymoons into one by having destination weddings, which was often a necessity for many same-sex couples before the legalization of same-sex marriage. Tailor the tradition to suit you.

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