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Destination Wedding Etiquette

Destination weddings can be adventurous, exotic, memorable, and also potentially problematic. For the uninitiated, destination weddings present a challenge in planning, logistics and most importantly, etiquette. Different rules apply when travel is involved, and it's important to get your bearings before beginning the wedding planning process. We've gathered all our favorite destination wedding etiquette advice, as well as a bunch of helpful tips and tricks for avoiding destination wedding faux pas. Looking for an all-inclusive guide to destination wedding etiquette? Look no further!

Don't Forget the Save-the-Date!

When planning a destination wedding, you may find yourself excitedly finalizing details long before you've even invited your guests. While it's tempting to convey every little detail and send out your destination wedding invitation suites ASAP, the more courteous thing to do is to get those save the dates in the mail. It's far more practical to flood your guests with details once they have a hard date and location in mind. Follow these simple steps to make sure your destination wedding save the dates are etiquette-appropriate:

  • Send save the dates 6-8 months before the wedding. The courteous thing to do is to send out save the dates as soon as you have a date and general location finalized. Even if you're still working out venue details, it's helpful to give your guests as much warning as possible so they can request time of work, arrange for childcare, or start saving for airfare.
  • Include all important information. This may be a given, but it's crucial to include as much information as possible on a destination wedding save the date. Instead of including an invitation to "Join us in March 2015 in Mexico," inform your guests your special day will be "On the weekend of March 25th, 2015 in Punta Mita, Mexico."
  • Be as detailed as possible. If you have information on a local post-wedding reception, room blocks, or a wedding website ready to share, include it on your custom save the date! Choose a design with customizable details, or include a personalized enclosure card for the extras.
travel themed save the date with suitcase, save the date with airplane, save the date with hot air balloon

Destination Wedding Invites: the Details

As plans are finalized and the date draws nearer, destination wedding celebrants will surely find themselves flooded with questions from traveling guests. Avoid the confusion by sticking to proper destination wedding invitation etiquette. Remember:

  • Formal invitations should be sent at least 10 weeks before date. The formal wedding invite should include all logistics and details on matching enclosure cards or point guests to your wedding website where you've included all relevant information on transportation, accommodation, event plans, dress code, gift registries and local attractions.
  • Be clear about RSVP's. Chances are you already have a vague idea of who'll be attending your destination wedding, but in any case the invitation is the place to request formal RSVP's. Customize your response cards with a clear reply date. It's courteous to allow your guests a few weeks to finalize their RSVP, as times, budgets, airfares and work schedules need to be accommodated.
  • The save the date rule still applies. Even if you've heard that certain guests can't attend, the same rule applies: everyone who received a save the date must receive a formal invitation.
calendar themed photo save the date magnet with circled save the date and save the date with airplane

Are Gifts Expected for Destination Weddings?

In a word, yes. It is standard for couples to register for wedding gifts whether the wedding is a destination or not. If you're planning a destination wedding and the idea of asking your guests for gifts seems awkward, mention on your wedding website or on an enclosure card that you don't have a wedding registry, and that your guests' presence is gift enough. If you are creating a registry, make sure to register for gifts in a range of price points. Here a few more ideas for gift-giving for guests at destination weddings:

  1. Give the gift of experience.
    Instead of registering for home goods and flatware, create a website or fund (sometimes called "honey funds" where friends and family can make a donation towards the honeymoon of your dreams. This route is a little non-traditional, but could be appropriate for couples who lived together before their marriage and don't need traditional housewarming gifts. If the couple doesn't have a honey fund option and you'd rather avoid the registry, choose something personal or even handmade.
  2. Skip the registry entirely.
    If you're inviting very few guests to your wedding or if you're celebrating your second marriage, it may be wise to skip the registry and opt for no gifts. Inviting very few guests may put undue pressure on your attendees, and traditional wedding etiquette suggests omitting registries for second or third marriages.
  3. Gift in reverse
    Show your guests you appreciate their commitment with a welcome gift or basket upon arrival! You may not be able to greet every guest personally, and you might need a way to convey further details about the weekend itinerary. Welcome gifts can be as simple or elaborate as you choose, from an all-inclusive DIY extravaganza to a small note thanking them for coming.

Destination Wedding Showers, Parties and Weekend Events: What's Appropriate?

Pre-wedding showers and parties are a great way to celebrate with family and friends who may not be able to travel. However, the cardinal rule still applies: anyone who receives an engagement party invite or bridal shower invitation should also be invited to the actual wedding, even if they've indicated they can't attend. We've assembled a few foolproof rules of etiquette on destination wedding showers, parties, and weekend events. Read on!

  1. Who hosts the engagement party?
    Traditionally, engagement parties and bridal/couple's showers are hosted by a close friend or family member. This standard can get tricky with destination weddings, as showers and parties should be held by someone definitely attending the wedding. Communication is key: confer with your closest friends and family on how to host a fun and inclusive engagement party and/or bridal shower.
  2. Everyone at the engagement party gets an invite.
    Here's the save the date rule again: if you're thinking of having an engagement party, pay close attention to the guest list. Only invite friends and family you're prepared to invite to your destination! If someone's throwing an engagement party in your honor, work closely with them on the guest list to avoid any hard feelings.
  3. Make a few wedding weekend plans.
    When folks travel to attend your big day, it's courteous to include everyone in any and every celebration. Rehearsals or welcome dinners, meals, happy hours, or group excursions planned by you and including all your guests are nice and welcoming gestures. Don't feel the pressure to plan every minute of every day, but make sure your wedding guests don't feel too adrift.
  4. Have a reception.
    It's courtesy to hold a reception or post-wedding celebration for those who traveled to attend your destination ceremony. The reception doesn't need to be formal sit-down event, as half the fun of a destination is enjoying the location after the ceremony, but should include some time for you to catch up with your guests and celebrate your special day in their company.
  5. When in doubt, host a post-wedding celebration.
    It's very likely to miss a few friends or family members at your destination wedding, so a post-destination wedding reception definitely won't go amiss. Use the same wedding invite list (or even invite guests to RSVP to this event in your original invitation suite), but don't make a separate registry or even expect many gifts at this post-wedding bash.
destination wedding ceremony on beach overlooking water

Destination Wedding Tips, Tricks and Advice

  1. Handle with care. Don't entrust your attire to the baggage claim, carry your dress in a garment bag with you on the plane. There's usually hanging space in first class, otherwise make sure to chat with the gate agent or flight attendant about securing some overhead space in coach.
  2. Be clear with your bridal party. When it comes to your bridal party's travel expenses, be as clear as possible. Every wedding is different, as is every individual's situation. You're not obliged to take care of bridal party's every expense, but you should offer to cover their hotel stays as a courtesy if possible. Also be sure to offer a few options for airfare, accommodation, attire, meals, or eliminate the gift-giving pressure by letting your bridesmaids know that “your involvement is absolutely your wedding gift to us.”
  3. Be courteous about finances. Be aware that some guests will decline for financial reasons. If you're planning a destination wedding, consider a few pre-planning options that could lighten the load. A few of our favorite suggestions include:
    1. Research airline group rates (often based on availability, so check early).
    2. Secure hotel room blocks.
    3. Choose the off-season if possible.
    4. Point out great travel options in your chosen area to show guests they can turn trip into great vacation.
    5. If you can't imagine getting married without a certain group of people present, consider knocking your invite list from 50 to 10 and take care of airfare or hotels for your loved ones. A post-wedding reception could be the answer for anyone left out.
  4. Just the two of us. Particularly if everyone's planning on staying at your destination for a few days after the ceremony, you may want to make reservations for you and your new spouse for one meal at a separate restaurant for a little post-wedding alone-time.
  5. Troubleshoot for travel issues. Travel glitches may occur, so try not to have important events scheduled too tightly around travel times. If you're traveling internationally, distribute local contact information beforehand so guests know how to get in touch should any issues arise.
  6. Plan for guests with gifts in hand. If gifts arrive with guests at your destination locale, enlist your planner or a family member to help accommodate the items. Accept any and all gifts that arrive with gratitude, even if they're inconvenient to handle at your location.
  7. How to handle unexpected plus 1's: Do your best be clear on your original invitation exactly who is invited. If a guest shows up at your destination with a date, grin and bear it. It's too late to make a fuss; at this point it's the more the merrier!
bridesmaids in yellow dresses, groomsmen with yellow ties, bride and groom interlocking arms walking down the beach

Destination Wedding Images by Hanna D. Photography

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