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Planning a Destination Wedding: Do’s and Don’ts

Planning a destination wedding can be stressful. Therefore, it’s important to know your travel and lodging needs before you start booking anything. The first thing is to decide on the location of your event, then find out if the location has an available airport that will service the area for guests coming from overseas.

Destination weddings can be a great way to spend time with family and friends, but they also come with a lot of stress.

Planning a destination wedding can be daunting, but there are some things you should consider before you start.

For example: what will the weather be like? What time of year is your wedding date? Will it be easy to get around without a car? Is your hotel within walking distance from the ceremony site and reception location? These are just a few questions that need to find answers before booking anything!

Once you have a general idea of where you’re going, it’s time to plan transportation options for all your guests so they can get there easily and comfortably.

Destination weddings are a great way to have an intimate, personalised wedding. You can choose the location that means something to you and your partner. However, it’s hard to know which option is best for you with so many destinations out there.

This blog post will give you some helpful tips on how to plan the perfect destination wedding from start to finish.

1. Destination wedding etiquette for the Bride and Groom

Do Pick a Location Thoughtfully

It is your dream day. If you have envisioned it taking place at a specific far-flung locale, there is always a way to make it work. But if you are open-minded about your options, make it easier for everyone involved by factoring in a few considerations before selecting your destination.

One of the advantages of planning a destination wedding is that often the location is so gorgeous that you don’t even need decorations. So don’t overdo it in the décor department; just let the location’s natural setting and beauty shine through.

If budget may be a concern among the group, choose dates that don’t fall within prime travel times, such as spring break, so that everyone can get there without higher costs than usual.

On the other hand, you don’t want to pick dates during which attendees might find inexpensive flights because of other concerns, such as hurricane season.

Keep the weather in mind when choosing a hairstyle and dress. If you’re tying the knot at the beach or somewhere windy, a loose hairstyle isn’t a good idea.

If the weather is warm, choose an appropriate dress fabric, not just for yourself but also for your bridesmaids. Chiffon is a great option for outdoor weddings because it’s flowy and will keep everyone cool.

Inviting a less than an adventurous group? Ask yourself if guests can get there via one convenient direct flight, or will they have to arrange connections or travel by boat or bus that may be more than some can handle. Would a foreign language intimidate anyone?

You know your group best to cater to their needs and meet your own before narrowing in on the spot for your I do’s.

Don’t Book It Sight Unseen

If you were getting married at home, you wouldn’t even think of booking a venue and spending thousands of dollars on a location you’ve never set foot in….so why would you do it when planning a destination wedding?

We get it, sometimes it’s hard to carve out that extra travel expense. But if you can afford to make some room in your budget, you’ll discover that it will be worth every dime!

Your wedding should be a time of good surprises. Manage bad ones by getting a lay of the land before your nuptials. Set aside time well before the big day to visit your location, your venue, hotel, and any hotels you may recommend to your guests.

After all, you’d hate for people to arrive, only to find out the photo on the website didn’t show the big construction site next door or the to-die-for infinity pool was indefinitely out of commission.

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Who pays for what?

Most of the time, guests to a destination wedding are expected to pay for their own airfare and accommodations. However, an exception can always be made for important guests who might not make it without some financial help.

Everything else is usually up to the bride and groom, and this includes costs associated with the wedding ceremony, reception, food, drinks and other activities.

Typically, the bride and groom also pay for any extras, like goody bags, which can be filled with customised wedding knickknacks. Sometimes too, the bride and groom’s family will take on some or all of the expenses.

Tip: If you’re planning a destination wedding and staying at a hotel or resort, it’s a good idea to state within your booking that you’ll be travelling with a group. This will make it possible for you to negotiate a discounted rate for your party. In addition, some airlines also offer group discount rates.

Stick to your budget

It’s very easy to stray from your original budget and overspend without even noticing it. However, the smallest expenses will creep up on you and add up to big bucks in the end if you’re not careful. That’s why you must account for every last dime.

And always pad your budget because it’s better to have money left over than not have enough.  Unexpected expenses can creep up at the last minute, especially when you’re planning a destination wedding.

Negotiate

You might cringe at the thought, but unless you have money to burn, remember that everything is negotiable. And negotiating is not always about getting goods or services for the price you want. Instead, it’s about getting the most for your money.

You might not be able to lowball in some areas (i.e. photographer), but you can score freebies (extra prints) or upgrades (an extra hour). Don’t forget to be flexible, too – maybe you can save big bucks by substituting the flowers in your centrepieces for a similar flower that’s in season or not as pricey.

Maybe you serve steak instead of filet Mignon or shrimp instead of lobster. Ask the venue if you can bring your own liquor.

Manage your guest list

There are two scenarios in life that allow you to get to know a person on a whole new level; living with them and travelling with them. Don’t let your destination wedding be the reason for fallouts with friends or family; keep the guest list short.

Invite only the people who absolutely need to be there, that you would regret not having around to share the special moment. You can always arrange a reception later for everyone else once you’re back at home.

Do Guarantee VIPs Can Attend Before You Post Your Invites

Just as you have a dream destination in mind, so might you have your dream guest list for the celebration.

Avoid disappointment for you and your parents, close relatives, and besties by checking in with them before ordering up and mailing the invitations. If they give you the thumbs-up, you are all set to put the wheels in motion.

Don’t Pressure Your Guests to Attend

No destination, day, or time will ever be perfect for everyone. However, with destination affairs, about 50 per cent of people invited say yes.

Please plan accordingly and understand those who can’t attend, letting them know that you absolutely understand.

After all, you don’t want anyone to feel obligated to attend, especially since it’s likely that they’ll have to spend much more than they would if you were getting married locally.

Give guests time to plan

Though a decision to have a destination wedding can sometimes be spontaneous, it is important to allow enough time for your guests to plan their own travel and other arrangements.

Ideally, with a destination wedding, you’ll want to send out save-the-date cards about 8 to 10 months ahead of the wedding and mail out invites a minimum of three months before. This gives guests plenty of time to plan and RSVP.

Send your save-the-dates at least six months in advance to help everyone plan properly for the trip. This way, guests have enough time to get the best fares. Many airlines also advertise event-travel discounts for blocks of 10 seats or more.

Do Give Guests Several Options for Accommodations

Offer hotel choices, and everyone’s comfort levels—and budgets—are taken into account. Make the options clear on your website, and be sure everyone feels included no matter where they are by arranging activities and transportation at each location.

Make your guests feel welcome at the destination

You’ll have to play host during your destination wedding, no matter how helpful wedding planners are at your resort (if you have one). A good idea is to have a small welcome party once everyone arrives.

If you’re in a warm location, like the Caribbean, you can have a welcome bag filled with beach goodies, which will enhance guests’ experience. You may even want to create a group on Whatsapp or another platform where you can share useful information (weather, outfit suggestions, etc.) or have someone else manage for you.

Don’t Overlook a Warm—or Refreshing—Welcome

Have the front desk greet guests at check-in with a beverage: hot cocoa or mulled cider in a chilly locale, sparkling cider (or, what the heck, a glass of Champagne) in a city, and an Arnold Palmer or chilled cucumber water at the beach.

Instruct welcomers to make the drinks extra special for kids to satisfy the littlest (and likely the grumpiest) travellers. Just have them embellish the glasses with a bendy straw, colourful umbrella, skewer of tropical fruit, a handful of tiny marshmallows, or dollops of whipped cream.

Don’t Cut It Close

To prevent your nearest and dearest from being no-shows on one of the biggest days of your life, every member of the wedding party should allow plenty of time for travel.

Unexpected transportation glitches are common, especially in tropical locales. If you do end up with a missing link, it’s better to leave him or her out completely rather than scramble to find a substitute.

No one wants to be a second choice. A photo clause in your wedding insurance may help you reassemble everyone at a later date for pics.

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Make gift giving easy for your guests

Gift giving for a destination wedding is a bit of a blurred area, especially considering the amount of money your guests will be paying to get there. As a result, some people forgo the gifts and let their guests know that their presence is all that matters.

Others make a point of keeping it simple and virtual, so guests are not burdened with bringing along heavy packages.

To manage your luggage, you can also state within your registry that you will be accepting gift cards only if you decide to go along with gift-giving for your destination wedding. You can also make a note for guests to contribute to experiences during the wedding period.

Do Register for Gifts

Where there’s a wedding, there are people who want to give gifts. Just keep in mind that many guests are shelling out big bucks for a plane ticket, so fill your wish list with affordable ideas from a range of stores (think Tiffany and Target).

Furthermore, there will be friends and family who can’t make the trip due to the distance but will surely want to buy you something special. So register away!

Don’t Feel Obligated to Invite Children

But be sure to let guests know it’s fine if they bring their kids along for the ride—a lot of invitees, after all, will want to piggyback a family vacation onto your big day.

To help them, coordinate babysitting services beforehand (your planner, hotel concierge, or venue manager should have a list of qualified locals).

Address your invites for the ceremony and reception to the adults-only, then note on your wedding website that “babysitting can be arranged for your convenience.”

If you want privacy after the reception, plan for it

Some couples choose to claim their post-wedding privacy by booking a suite at a completely different resort.

While this can be a good idea, it may not be the most convenient. All-inclusive resorts like Sandals are created especially for couples, so you can find more secluded rooms, while the family can stay at a nearby Beaches resort.

This way, you can enjoy Sandals adults-only setting after the wedding, while the family and kids have fun at one of the Beaches resorts with a water park. Maybe even stay in one room category ahead of your wedding, and switch to a honeymoon suite afterwards – your guests will surely get the message.

Incorporating local traditions and cultures

Ahead of the ceremony, ask your wedding coordinator how best you can incorporate cultural traditions (if you choose to) into your wedding. Get all the information you can, so you’re informed about what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Keep guests up to speed

You’ll definitely want to keep guests informed throughout the ceremony; this includes the weekend’s schedule, transportation details, emergency contact information, and other logistics. Some people set up a small wedding website to share all the important information.

Do Provide Transportation for Your Wedding Guests

Please arrange for a van or limo to pick up your guests from the airport and shuttle them to their hotels. If possible, hire a guide who knows a lot about the area for a special touch.

Guests will be able to ask questions, get a free history lesson, and sightsee as they make their way to their lodgings. For extra credit, hang a welcome sign in the van’s window—it’s sure to elicit smiles from plane-weary travellers.

Do Stock Guests’ Rooms

You don’t have to go overboard, but gifting a few bottles of water and a handful of snacks that satisfy guests’ sweet and salty cravings is a thoughtful touch. A map, notebook and pen, or a small guidebook are also fun and thoughtful presents.

Don’t Hold Back on Celebrating

Planning a larger reception once you return home? Include a note with the wedding invitations announcing the party. That way, those who can’t attend will know right off the bat that they’ll be able to celebrate with you later on.

Don’t ship anything important

If you’re planning a destination wedding in another country, don’t mail your dress or anything else that you would absolutely need on your wedding day. You will be taking a very big risk that your package gets held up in customs for weeks, lost in transit or stolen.

Leave room for socialising

Icebreakers are a good idea, especially if your guests are unfamiliar with each other. If you’re inviting people from diverse groups, allowing a plus one can be a good idea. Aside from the initial welcome party, schedule excursions, including boat cruises and sightseeing tours.

They have travelled to be with you, so do meet up with your attendees. Remember: You’ll have plenty of alone time on your honeymoon.

If you are concerned about feeling required to hang out with any guests who have decided to stick around for a longer vacation, consider honeymooning somewhere else entirely.

Don’t Stress about RSVP’s

Nearly every bride planning a destination wedding stresses about the same thing – will anyone show? When will they finally book their flight/hotel?  If that sounds like you, please stop.

No matter how much you stress, you cannot control who will go or when they’ll book. But, hopefully, the people you care about the most will be there.

But trust us (and nearly every destination bride before you) when we tell you that the day of your wedding, you will be so caught up in the moment and will be having so much fun that you won’t care about who didn’t make it. You will forget about them altogether.

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Do Treat Your Wedding Website Like a Mini Guidebook

Your wedding website is your guests’ link to the locale. Include information on your site about lodging options, along with a list of rental-car companies (if a car is necessary) and public-transit schedules.

Also, include dress-code information and a roster of things they won’t want to leave home without, such as sneakers or snow boots (if you have any hikes or nature walks planned), sunscreen (if the hotel doesn’t provide it), and a shawl (if you’re jetting off to a steamy location that’s cool at night).

It’s a nice and organised way to lend a helping hand while giving them a sneak peek at the events you’re planning.

Do Consider Hiring a Local Wedding Planner

If you’re willing to put in the legwork tracking down venues, caterers, florists, and musicians all by yourself, then yes, going sans planner saves some money.

But if you haven’t spent much time in the town where you’re marrying, then securing reputable and reliable vendors that will make sure the bash goes off without a hitch might best be left to a local pro.

She will know the lay of the land, have experience with nearby vendors, and help you—and your guests—navigate possible cross-cultural decorum, such as tipping practices and other matters that will concern everyone attending the event.

Don’t Act Like a Cruise Director

You absolutely can provide something for your guests to do every day, but it’s really a matter of your own preference.

At the minimum, have some welcome dinner on the first night so everyone can get acquainted and provide information about the destination on your website so guests can plan their own activities.

A personalised top-10 list of things to do in the area is also a nice touch. Another good idea is to designate a central meeting place, such as a breakfast buffet, where people can find each other every day.

Have a hair/makeup trial

Your hair and makeup will be immortalised in photos forever. But, we can’t begin to tell you the disasters we’ve witnessed because brides experimented with hair/makeup the very day they were getting married.

Your wedding day is not the time to experiment with hair/makeup artists in a foreign country whom you’ve never met. However, if you can afford a site visit before your big day, make sure you include a hair/makeup trial in your schedule.

If not, do it a few days before you wed. It doesn’t matter when you do it; do it.

Don’t Skimp on Photography

When it’s all said and done, your photos will capture the memories in a way nothing else can.  Pictures will be the only thing you have to forever remember the day by.

Do you want to look back at photos and reminisce about how beautiful and amazing your destination wedding was, how much fun your family and friends were having, how much love was in the air?

Or do you want to look back and regret not having the best pictures you could possibly afford?  When planning a destination wedding, you should find other ways to cut corners but prioritise your photographer, or you will regret it.

2. Destination wedding etiquette for the guests

Ask before inviting a plus one

Don’t assume that because you’re invited means you’re automatically entitled to bringing someone else along. Please speak with the couple about it before, so you don’t cause any further expenses they haven’t accounted for.

Pack accordingly

Pay attention to the schedule of the wedding activities, and pack clothing suitable for each day and event. Consider the climate of the destination and the theme of the wedding as well when selecting outfits and other things to pack.

Don’t overspend on a gift

You must consider the money you spent getting there to see whether you can afford to get a gift and, if you can afford it, at what cost. Be realistic.

If you decide to get a gift, make it travel friendly, like a gift card, or ship it to the couple in advance. It’s a bit more difficult to bring home a whole bunch of kitchen equipment after a wedding in Jamaica!

It’ll be a fun ride!

Whether you’re the one getting married, or part of the wedding party, destination weddings require careful planning.  If it’s your turn at the altar, these destination wedding etiquettes should help you flawlessly execute your wedding, and if you’re a guest, you’ll know just how to navigate this exciting and once-in-a-lifetime affair!

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