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The Dos and Don'ts of Destination Wedding Etiquette

What’s better than planning a wedding? How about planning one at a spectacular destination, and inviting the people you love to join you? Whether you’re heading to a white sand beach or a centuries-old European city, a destination wedding is hard to beat. But of course, planning a far-flung wedding comes with its own list of logistical problems and questions.

We’ve rounded up the most common destination wedding etiquette questions to help you navigate the choppy waters and turn your celebration into smooth sailing.

Can we have an intimate destination wedding, then celebrate with a crowd when we get back?

Absolutely! When you’re planning a wedding abroad, you’ll most likely end up with a smaller guest list, whether it’s due to the size of your venue or how much your guests feel comfortable spending. So if that beach ceremony will only be with a dozen or so guests, you can definitely invite the rest of your family and friends to join you for a reception once you’re home. You could go full throttle with a traditional wedding reception (white dress, live band, and cake included), or keep it more casual with a cocktail celebration or backyard barbecue.

What do we need to include on the invitation?

Unlike traditional a wedding invitation, destination wedding etiquette states that you need to give your guests a lot of information when you’re asking them to join you out of town. In addition to your actual invitation, you’ll want an information card outlining any events you’ve planned (so guests know how long to be in town). The weekend itinerary should include the date, time, and location of each event. You’ll also want to print a card with lodging details—whether that’s a huge house you’ve reserved for the group or the local hotels where you have room blocks.

The wording should read something like this: "We have arranged for discounted room rates at The Beachcomber (moderate, 888-888-8888) and The White Sands Hotel (deluxe, 777-777-7777). Please mention the Nelson/Miller wedding when making your reservation."

Your RSVP card should include all of the planned events so guests can let you know what they’ll be in town for. And of course, a wedding websites is a great idea! This will allow you to put everything in one place, as well as include details about transportation and local activities.

When should we send our save the dates?

If you’re going to ask guests to book flights (and even bust out their passports) for your wedding, make sure to give them ample time to make travel plans. Instead of the four month lead time for a local wedding, you’ll want to send destination save the dates at least six months in advance—and should have all the travel details outlined on your wedding website before you send invitations at the 12-week mark.

What’s the best way to travel with my wedding dress?

This might be one of the trickier parts of planning a destination wedding. The easiest option (especially if your dress has a slim silhouette instead of a full skirt) is to carry it in a garment bag as your carry-on. Ask to hang the dress in the hanging space for first class or, if the plane doesn’t have a closet, wait until all of the rolling bags have been stowed, then lay your dress on top of the suitcases. If the fabric isn’t prone to wrinkling, you could also carefully fold the dress and tuck it into your own carry-on suitcase. For a dress with a full skirt or lots of delicate details, you may be better off buying the seat next to you on the plane, then letting your dress have some breathing room. Either way, remove your dress from the bag and hang it up as soon as you arrive, and ask the front desk to bring you a steamer.

Do we have to pay for our wedding party’s travel and accommodations?

Here’s some good news: You are not obligated to foot the bill for any of your wedding party’s travel expenses. That being said, you should try to hook them up as much as possible. Offer reasonably-priced lodging options, or consider renting a house instead of hotel rooms so everyone can crash together (at a much more reasonable price). Let them know about your plans ASAP so they can start shopping around for deals on airfare, too.

Do we have to pay for our guests' other meals, aside from at our reception?

While the only food you must pay for is what’s served during the festivities (rehearsal dinner, wedding day meals for the wedding party, the reception dinner, and morning-after brunch), if you’re asking your guests to join you for more than three days, it’s a kind gesture to pick up the tab at least one other time, such as a welcome dinner or lunch on the beach. If you can afford it, paying for one meal a day for your wedding party (such as daily breakfast) will help offset their expenses.

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