Don't make these faux pas when planning your out-of-town wedding

There are some amazingly romantic places to get married and not all of them are next door. A lot of questions arise when planning a destination wedding, and finding the answers can be time-consuming. We’ve collected the best information available to the most frequently asked questions to make planning the big event easier on you.

Invitations

When do I send the invitations? For a destination wedding this is usually done in two stages. A 'save-the-date' announcement and an actual invitation.

 

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Save-the-Date

Send as soon as possible. If you are working with a travel agent specializing in destination weddings, the agent will assist you in selecting a destination, a resort and securing quotes. Quotes will guarantee an 'all in' price for your attendees. Guests are typically required to make a non-refundable deposit (though some are transferable) within 30 to 40 days of signing your destination wedding contract. As a result, you will want to give guests a head's up so they can find a way to cough up a quick $200 to $300 deposit. 

Ideally save-the-date announcements provide details about the location so you will need to have made some decisions about exactly where you plan to wed. If your guests will be required to stay one or more nights, include information about transportation and other possible costs. Most guests will expect to pay their own airfare, but don’t be afraid to mention it. If you will be booking all the rooms and asking for a reimbursement, say that so your guests don’t double-book. Save-the-dates are a great place to print a link to a custom wedding page. Guests will need some information on the trip cost in order to gauge whether they can afford to attend it. A website is a great way to communicate those details and will save you from answering many of the same questions over and over again.

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Invitations

Invitations can be sent up to three months in advance of the wedding and should be a traditional invitation rather than looking like a travel brochure. If you have planned group events, include a separate card with check boxes that allow guests to RSVP to individual events. This will help you when providing guest numbers to external organizations.


Can I send an electronic (email) invitation?
No. But what you can do is create a website that has the details of your wedding, information about the location, and links to nearby attractions. The invitations should be traditional but your online page is more dynamic and is meant to be a source of information for your guests.

Treat your web page as an extension of your wedding planning and stay classy. Provide space for guests to interact at their leisure and don’t bombard people with constant updates. Keep your page private and monitor it frequently to answer any questions your guests might have. Limit membership to only guests that have been invited to the wedding to avoid bad feelings.

Add a detailed section for guests that rarely travel that includes normal weather at your destination, any necessary plug adapters and required travel documents. If your destination has customs that guests need to know, put those here as well.

A web page is a good place to put information about specific attire. Is your wedding formal? On the beach? In the snow? Guests won’t be able to run home and change so be clear about what you want guests to wear (you can also include this with the invitation if you don’t have a website.)

Who do I invite?  Unless the location limits the number of guests, invite anyone you want. Some won’t be able to attend, but this is true for all weddings, not just those at a particular destination. Another thing to consider is that not all wedding packages include a private dinner/reception. Many resorts will cordon off a section of their restaurants just for your party, but if this doesn't jive with your vision of the event, you should inquire further about catering costs. While there will typically be a per-plate cost, it will be significantly lower than the $100+ per guest costs seen in North America. This added expense may contribute to how many guests you consider inviting. 

Should I have a bridal shower? Well, maybe not. Out of consideration, you would be limited to only guests that have been invited to the wedding, and you are already asking them to pay for that experience. If a friend throws you a shower,have a blastbut don’t throw your own.

What about an engagement party? It's up to you. Your wedding may be planned a year after the proposal. Having an engagement party to recognize your new fiancé status is a great way to toast to love. Furthermore, it is inevitable that some wedding guests will not be able to make it due to cost and hosting a large party is a great way to include them in a more casual celebration of your union. However, hosting an engagement party may cause awkwardness if you're not inviting certain people to the wedding. If there are politics involved, it might be easier to skip the entire thing. 

What about friends that I didn’t invite? If anyone feels slighted, let them know that the wedding is small and although you wish everyone could be there, it just isn’t possible. It’s a difficult conversation and honesty will help you both get through it. Also, there’s nothing stopping you from having a fabulous reception when you get back. If you have video of the ceremony you can play that or just treat the whole event as a celebration of coming home as a married couple.

Two of my family members can't stand one another, how do I manage that? Just leave it to your travel agent to coordinate the two offending members be placed in rooms that are in separate wings or floors of the resort property. 

Help! My parents want to invite their wacky friends/coworkers, I don't even know them! You might get some surprise requests from your parents when putting together your guest list, especially if they are paying. Your parents' long-time friends and colleagues have heard a lot about you while you were growing up, so while it might seem strange because you don't know them, your parents might feel strongly about inviting them. Alternatively, while you're playing beach volleyball with the bridesmaids and groomsmen, you parents may certainly enjoy the company of their demographic. Don't forget this is a holiday for them too! Unless it is offensive or a cost burden, try not to get too fussed about these fringe guests (especially if they are paying their own way.)

 

Costs

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Does the bride’s family pay for the wedding? You shouldn’t expect money from anyone when planning a destination wedding. The couple getting married typically pays for the ceremony, reception, entertainment and the catering. However, most parents traditionally contribute to the cost of a wedding and they may be delighted in the costs savings. Destination weddings usually cost 1/5 the price of a traditional wedding in Canada or the USA. 

Do guests pay for their own accommodations? Yes... or no. If guests can select from a number of places to stay then yes, they can choose something within their own budget. If you’ll be getting married on top of a mountain, for example, and the ski lodge is the only option, you might want to work with the facility to get a good rate by paying in advance. It’s perfectly fine to ask guests to reimburse you for all or part of the expense, and this gives you the ability to have some attendees stay as your guestssuch as your parents.

If you are planning a destination wedding in a tropical, sunny destination, your guests will typically be paying their own way. However, there are some things you can do to alleviate the cost burden.

Working with a travel agent that specializes in destination wedding planning has its perks. Often they are able to negotiate incentives on your behalf. Usually incentives are something along the lines of 'one person free for every 15  guests booked.' If the cost is $1,500 per person and you have 30 people book, then you earn a $3,000 credit. While you are perfectly welcome to use the credit towards the wedding costs or for your own travel arrangements, it is also possible to divvy the cash back to attendees who struggled to pay for the trip. Furthermore, a good travel agent will be able to accommodate guests who have travel vouchers or points to redeem. Guests will have to book flights themselves but the agent can handle accommodation and all ground transfers from the airport to resort.

Whatever the financial arrangements are, be very clear about them to your guests so no one is caught short when it’s time to check out.

Do guests pay for excursions? A general rule of thumb is, if you invited them, you payand this includes planned outings. You aren’t responsible for things like tips for tour guides, however. 

How can I encourage more people to come? You probably have a vision of your wedding and what it will look like. But a five-star venue will come with a five-star price. Consider a four or four-and-a-half star property with a lower quoted trip price but offers options for discerning guests to upgrade to a premium room or floor. 

What if someone can’t afford to come, but I really want them there? How you handle this is entirely up to you, but if you decide to foot the bill for one person it must be done discreetly. The last thing you want to do is have bad feelings at your wedding.

Can we exclude children? Yes, it’s your wedding. If your location is quite distant, however, you might want to consider a compromise of allowing children at the destination, but not the actual wedding. Whatever your decision, choose your wording carefully: “We want to give you time to find a sitter” sounds much better than “No children, please.” If you do expect kids to be around, take the extra time to find kid-friendly resorts and introduce guests with same-age children to each other.

Gifts

Should we have a registry? Creating a wedding registry is fun and is often helpful for friends that don’t know what to give you. When planning a destination wedding, however, keep a few points in mind. Guests who are coming to the wedding shouldn’t feel obligated to bring anything, and if they do want to give you a gift, it’s OK to wait until you’re home. Your aunt doesn’t really want to pack a food processor in her luggage and you don’t really want to haul it home. Your registry should also include lower-cost gifts as a consideration to those that are spending money to travel to your destination.

Can we ask for money? This varies by personal tradition and culture, but is not uncommon. If you would prefer money to gifts, pose the request graciously by letting people know there’s a 'honeymoon fund' that they can donate to. You can also have a donation box at the reception if people want to gift a bit anonymously. Don’t overdo it, howeveryour guests aren’t meant to pay for your wedding, you are.

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Should we give our guests gifts? Yes, and they should be specific to the location. If you are getting married abroad, you may not be able to greet each guest as they arrive. It is common for attendees to find a welcome bag in their room upon check-in. A beach wedding might include sunscreen and some sunglasses while an event at an agritourism destination could have samples of the local fare. Print off a general itinerary of the week's events which lists group activities and key contacts in the bridal party. (You likely won't want to be the point of contact for everything; delegate out.) If your party is renting an entire venue, on the first day ask to have a snack buffet set up with some complimentary wine so arriving guests can relax before seeking out a restaurant. It’s also a pleasant way for people to get to know each other before the wedding.

Do we need to have a rehearsal dinner? If your wedding is formal and includes several attendees, then a rehearsal dinner is nice, but it doesn’t need to be a formal affair. There’s nothing wrong with a quick run-through followed by a clambake or barbecue. Generally, any dinner will include all your guests, not just the wedding party.

 

General

Most of the family-related wedding expectations still apply. Remember to thank your parents, attendants and guests for coming. Take special notice of anyone who you feel deserves additional laud and try to spend time with everyone who has attended.

Plan down time for yourselves and your guests. This is a stressful few days and you’re all thrown together in a strange placedon’t make it worse by over-planning and expecting everyone to get along. Instead, offer some suggestions about what people might do with their free afternoon and then spend some time alone with your fiancé. This is all about you, remember?