Destination weddings are all the rage these days, and why not? Who wouldn’t want the most important day of their life to be celebrated amid exotic scenery, an idyllic climate, and a memorable locale, all the while being surrounded by family, friends, and a lifetime of memories?
Still, destination weddings present a unique set of challenges—some thrilling, and some cautionary—that you should consider when planning a wedding far from home, be it within the United States or in an exotic foreign locale. While some of these factors have been cited and debated elsewhere, now is a great time to reexamine in detail the many joys and practical considerations that will either make or detract from the most exciting day of your life.
Destination weddings have many advantages: control, cost-efficiency, a fresh, non-traditional setting, and less family drama. They are also a great way to reconnect with far-flung friends and family. Once you have decided on a destination wedding, there are three main areas that will require careful planning, commitment, and consideration. These areas are: You, your guests, and your budget.
Never, ever forget that this day is yours! And when I say yours, I mean both you and your spouse. You are the one who is committing to a lifetime of love and devotion; you are the one who will be the focus of all your family and friends; you are the one who will make most, if not all, of the financial decisions that will impact your life in both the near and far future.
The word “destination” means exactly that! A special place where you and your loved ones will travel to celebrate your special day. When deciding on exactly where this destination will be, it is crucial that you consider several things. First and foremost, select a locale that is special to you. Maybe it is a place where you grew up, or where you shared special moments, or an imaginary idyllic setting perfected in your dreams. Regardless, it is vital that you consider such things as availability of accommodations, local décor possibilities, and seasonal weather trends. If possible, visit your destination in advance; this will not only give you a real-world feel for your chosen location, but allow you to make important vendor contacts while eliminating surprises. With such information in hand, you may be able to tailor your weddings dress and the attire of your bridesmaids along local styles and traditions, thereby saving money and emphasizing individuality.
Your guests will not only be close family and friends, but many people from your spouse’s family who may be new to you. Timing, accommodations and expenses, special needs and destination wedding etiquette are all practical considerations that need to be carefully considered. Let’s break them down one by one.
Timing: With destination weddings, it is essential that you start early. Forget the old rule of six to eight weeks’ notice for traditional weddings; you will need to inform your guests of your plans at least four, and preferably six months in advance, with frequent reminders and information updates (without being a pest!) along the way. And, remember to consider the season! Wind, rain, tides, and sun can make or break the most carefully conceived event. If you are traveling to the Far East, do not schedule your wedding during monsoon season! Likewise, consider how both “up” and “down” seasons will impact you and your guests’ costs. As with any large endeavor, research, planning, and communication among families and guests will be key.
Accommodations and Expenses: If there is a downside to destination weddings, it can be the cost of travel and accommodations. However, one of the upsides is that most “exotic” locales provide all-inclusive packages (some including airfare, rooms, meals and beverages), on-site expertise, and local planners. Likewise, local flowers, styles, and practices can be utilized to lower expenses for the bridal party. If the cost of accommodations is too high for some in your party, try to provide or recommend lower cost lodging and/or group rates within the same vicinity (preferably no more than fifteen to twenty minutes away). It is important to remember that not all guests will possess the same financial means, so use honesty and tact while trying not to make anyone feel obligated to spend beyond their means.
Special Needs: It is possible that some of your guests will require wheelchairs, transportation assistance, pharmaceuticals, or baby-sitting services. These should be researched and addressed well ahead of the event. Be sure to offer such thoughtful amenities as maps, lists of local attractions and activities, itineraries, and “guest bags” containing water, snacks, and some welcome hygienic needs.
Destination Wedding Etiquette: There are no hard and fast rules here, as every situation is unique. Generally speaking, guests pay for their transportation to and from the destination, hotel rooms, and meals, activities, and special needs outside of “official” wedding events. Wedding party participants are usually paid for by the bride and her family, whereas groomsmen are the responsibility of the groom’s family. Like all “rules” these can all be amended, altered, or customized to suit the destination and your guests and families’ situation.
Destination weddings can be expensive, certainly, but they can also be surprisingly affordable! Unlike traditional weddings, which rely on a variety of vendors, coordinators, and conflicting family advice, a destination wedding can take advantage of many all-inclusive packages and local professionals who specialize in such events on a near daily basis.
Naturally, destinations within the United States will vary in cost as compared to foreign locales. If planning a foreign destination, be sure to consider such things as local marriage requirements, passports, and language issues. Also, regardless of where you are traveling to, be sure to bring your wedding dress as carry-on luggage, as the last thing you want is a missing luggage crisis! Finally, if you are truly in love with your selected destination, you might also consider the possibility of combing your wedding with an accompanying honeymoon!
As you can see, a destination wedding requires a great deal of forethought, preparation, and commitment to both honesty and constant communication. In short, it can be a challenge for all involved! On the other hand, a destination wedding, set amidst the locale of your dreams, can be an unforgettable, once in a lifetime experience not only for you, but for the loved ones who will share the rest of your marriage and life together.