The dual sides of destination wedding etiquette
A scuba diving couple kisses during an underwater wedding ceremony in the Andaman Sea, near Thailand. (Reuters)
There is any number of reasons for having a destination wedding.
Maybe you’ve always dreamt of getting married on an Indonesian beach or in a French chateau. Maybe you want to keep your wedding small and get your honeymoon started early. Or maybe a significant chunk of your family lives abroad. Whether your reasons are romantic or logistic, throwing a destination wedding comes with an etiquette all its own. To help avoid any social faux pas, we scoured the internet for answers to some of the most common questions about destination weddings – from the perspective of both those hosting and those attending.
Tips for the happy couple:
Who pays for what?
The travel agency and website DestinationWeddings.com points out that guests should not be expected to pay for any events they are invited to as part of the wedding – the ceremony, the reception, group activities, rehearsal dinners, etc. Everything else is their responsibility – airfare, accommodations, salon appointments, etc. To cut down on guests’ costs, search for group travel deals and offer options for vacation rentals, such as beach houses and villas that sleep multiple people.
When should we send invitations and what do they need to include?
Try to announce the date of your destination wedding as far in advance as possible – at least eight months before, advises the wedding planning website The Knot. Online “save-the-dates” and invitations are becoming more commonplace, as are wedding websites, which can include information about the ceremony, reception and any other events you invite your guests to.
Can we invite folks to local, pre-wedding events who we can’t invite to the wedding?
If you are not inviting certain people to the wedding, it is bad form to invite them to you engagement/bachelor/bachelorette parties or bridal shower, said Elise Mac Adam, author of the book Something New: Wedding Etiquette for Rule Breakers, Traditionalists, and Everyone in Between. “The exceptions to this policy are very specific, for instance, office bridal showers where co-workers aren’t going to be invited to the wedding,” she told About.com.
What about friends and family who can’t attend?
Some couples who throw destination weddings are surprised when very close friends or family members are unable to attend. Be prepared for this and do not let your feelings get hurt. Instead, Brides Magazine suggests hosting a hometown reception after the main event to accommodate anyone who cannot make it to the wedding. Consider keeping your destination wedding small, allowing room in your budget to make a second celebration feasible. If you do this, Mac Adam stresses the importance of making two separate guest lists, even if there is overlap between them, to ensure that neither event becomes massive (and massively expensive).
What about registering for gifts?
Martha Stewart Weddings declares that it is not tacky to register for gifts when having a destination wedding, as long as your registry includes low-priced items. But also don’t forget how much money your guests are already spending to come to your wedding – “[T]hat’s a huge gift in itself”, wedding planner Brenda Babcock said.
After the wedding festivities are over, how do we gently let guests know that our honeymoon has started?
While it is generally understood that the newly married couple needs some time alone after the wedding events have concluded, you can also expect that some guests may wish to stay in town to enjoy the rest of their vacation. So Brides Magazine recommends taking this opportunity to explore a new part of the country or city that you are in. If you had been taking advantage of a resort package, Brides points out that some hotel chains will give you the same deals for any of their locations. Otherwise, you can choose to stay somewhere cheaper, saving yourself some money after the big day.
Tips for guests:
How to save yourself some dollars
Going to a destination wedding is expensive. You often have to take off work, buy a plane ticket and book a hotel room, not to mention any additional money you may need to spend on a suit, dress or gift. If the wedding you are attending is being held at a resort or hotel, do not feel obligated to stay there. You can usually find cheaper accommodations elsewhere – especially if you split rooms with friends. Also, as per usual, check sites like Kayak, Priceline, and Hipmunk for deals on airfare and hotels (and for packages that let you book both together for lower rates).
How to get a vacation out of it
The key to making a destination wedding worth your while is to pair it with a vacation. Luckily, most weddings take place over the weekend, so even if you have limited time off, you can have a few days to yourself. Do not feel obligated to attend every wedding-related event you are invited to. If you would rather use the days before the wedding to travel, do that.
What to wear
If the wedding invitation or website does not specify, the lifestyle network TLC says, men can never go wrong with “a tailored shirt, tie, slacks and a sport coat”, and women can never go wrong with a suit or “a dress that hits somewhere between mid-calf and six or so inches above the knee”. Generally speaking, TLC adds, an outdoor wedding in hot weather tends to indicate less dressy attire. If the ceremony or reception is very formal (think black tie) or very casual (think flip flops), the invitation should make a note of that.
Travelwise is a BBC Travel column that goes behind the travel stories to answer common questions, satisfy uncommon curiosities and uncover some of the mystery surrounding travel. If you have a burning travel question, contact Travelwise.