Weddings are already incredibly luxurious events, but when you decide to host your nuptial celebration far from home, in a gorgeous, glamorous vacation destination, you are ensuring that your event is the most deluxe. Destinations weddings are undeniably stunning — but they can also be quite confusing for brides- and grooms-to-be, who aren’t always familiar with the etiquette associated with these types of affairs.

Etiquette is important for every formal event, but when attendance is limited by cost, size and other factors, you need to know how you can be the most respectful to your guests and your destination. Here’s a rundown of the typical rules for destination weddings, from the first save-the-date to the start of the honeymoon.

Save-the-dates and Invitations

Save-the-dates help out-of-town guests make appropriate travel plans well in advance of the important date — and when you have a destination wedding, everyone is an out-of-town guest. Plus, flights and accommodations at your destination might be harder to find, and costs are almost certain to be higher. You need to know when to send save-the-dates and what to include on your invitations, so your guests are fully prepared for your event.

The typical timeline for sending save-the-dates is about four months in advance of your Big Day, but for destination weddings, you should double or triple that. With 12 months’ notice, your guests can plan their year around your event, so they will have enough vacation days and airline miles saved up to celebrate with you.

Wedding invitations, at the bare minimum, need to include your names, the date and the address of the ceremony and/or reception. Because your guests are less likely to be familiar with your destination, you need to offer even more info on your invites to ensure guests don’t get lost or confused. Some essential elements include:

  • A week or weekend itinerary, detailing all events associated with the wedding
  • Lodging details, like which hotels have room blocks available or which neighborhoods are best for visitors
  • Suggestions for activities, including local restaurants or cultural tours worth seeing
  • Information about the destination, especially if precautions should be taken for health and safety

You might include this extra information on a separate card as part of your invitation suite, or you can type it up on your wedding website.

Guest List

If you want to host an extravagant wedding with more than 200 guests, you probably shouldn’t go the destination route. Destination weddings tend to be intimate affairs with guest lists limited to family and close friends. Not only does this keep your costs low, but it also reduces the headache of managing your guests when your wedding week(end) begins.

Attendance tends to be low for destination weddings anyway. Many people simply aren’t willing to spend significant sums or devote precious PTO days to attend a wedding in some distant locale. You should expect roughly a 50 percent attendance rate unless you limit your guest list to only your closest and most caring loved ones.

You shouldn’t feel bad about not inviting Aunt Sarah if you haven’t seen her since you were 10 or your work colleagues if you aren’t willing to share your deepest secrets with them. However, if you do anticipate that some friends or family will be upset about missing your nuptials, you can invite them to pre-marriage showers or a second reception held at home. Additionally, you can send out marriage announcements with a picture of you and your new spouse — which might encourage non-guests to send gifts.

Accommodations and Meals

Weddings are expensive, and destination weddings are even more so. Still, you aren’t on the hook for your guests’ travel expenses, to include plane tickets, accommodations, meals or non-wedding-related experiences. You only pay for the events you host, like the rehearsal dinner, all events on the Big Day and the next-day brunch. It is kind to comp at least one meal per day for your guests — like offering a complementary breakfast — and help guests cut costs as much as possible, like finding hotels that offer bulk pricing deals. Even so, this isn’t mandatory, and your guests probably won’t expect it of you.

Gifts and Registry

Your guests don’t want to check their bags just to lug a toaster to the Caribbean, and you don’t want to pay to send boxes of china back home. Because destination weddings are expensive for everyone, it might be wise to forego wedding gifts entirely, asking your guests only for their presence at your event. Alternatively, you might request gifts of cash (or checks) or for all gifts to be sent directly to your home before or after the wedding. As gift-giving etiquette is changing for all weddings, guests should be amenable to whatever requests you make.

A luxurious destination wedding will certainly be an event to remember — and if you get the etiquette right, every guest will look back on your event fondly. The more planning that goes into a destination wedding, the better, so if you want to get married overseas, you need to start researching and informing guests pronto.


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