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Destination Wedding Etiquette 101

Chairs set up for beach wedding.

Wedding season is in full swing, and for those of us in the “older millennial” group like me, that means it’s also the season to empty your wallet and put all your pennies toward bachelor/bachelorette parties, showers, dresses, tuxes, and wedding gifts. Or, maybe you’re the one getting married, and your checking account isn’t exactly thriving these days either.

Weddings have never been cheap, but with destination weddings now accounting for 25% of ceremonies, there is an added layer of confusion for guests and couples alike: Who pays for what? Do I have to invite my whole family? Is it OK if I decline?

Whether you’re planning a destination wedding (defined as taking place 200 or more miles from where the couple lives) or attending one, we’ve put together a quick etiquette guide covering everything from finances to wardrobe choices.


Do we have to invite everyone?

It’s your day, and you can invite whoever you want. For many, the beauty of a destination wedding is that they can cut costs because fewer guests will attend. But, even if you think someone won’t come, be polite and invite them anyway – given that it’s someone you want there.

How far in advance should we send invitations?

Give guests as much notice as possible, as they will likely need to request extra days off work and may need to make arrangements regarding child and/or pet care. Plus, the earlier they book travel, the more they can generally save. No need to send formal invitations a year in advance. A simple online save the date will give people a head’s up that they have a big trip to plan for.

Speaking of kids – do we have to invite them?

It’s perfectly acceptable to want an adults-only get-together, but if you’re planning a celebration at a resort, it’s good to look into whether the resort offers on-site child care. That way, guests still have the option of bringing their children on a family vacation.

Do we have to have a rehearsal dinner?

Yes, plan as many “extracurricular” activities as you can to keep guests occupied. They are going out of their way to celebrate your big day, and will really appreciate any free entertainment, food, and drink. It doesn’t have to be a fancy, four-course meal. One of the best rehearsal “dinners” I ever went to was at a Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville at a destination wedding in Las Vegas.

Do we have to cover guest accommodations?

Yes and no. You are certainly not expected to pay for everyone’s stay, but booking several hotel options at a variety of price points means you can get a discount rate for your guests, and reduce their guesswork in planning their trip. Some generous couples will pay for accommodations for their bridal party, with many modern couples opting to rent out a home via Airbnb. Think about your budget and what works for you, just make sure your guests know that you’ve thought about them, too.


Do I still have to bring a gift?

Let’s be honest – after spending our hard-earned money on airfare, hotel, and everything else involved in attending a destination wedding, this is the top question on most guests’ minds. According to good old Emily Post, a destination wedding still requires a gift, but it is acceptable to spend less than you normally would, as you are spending more to get to the affair.

Should I give cash?

Up to you. While a monetary gift is usually welcomed by most couples, you can also send them something from the registry prior to the wedding. Do not show up at an exotic destination with a bulky box from Bed Bath & Beyond for the couple to bring on the flight home.

What do I wear?

It depends on the setting. Is the wedding in a chateau in Paris, or a Caribbean resort? Google the destination beforehand and see if you can find photos of previous events there. If you’re bringing a fancy dress or suit and don’t want to ruin it by stuffing it in your luggage, most airlines will allow you to bring it on the flight as a personal item. Make sure to check in with the airline beforehand. Or, if you prefer to travel lightly, companies such as Rent the Runway will ship an outfit for you to wear and return while you’re at your destination, depending on where in the world it is.

What should I bring with me?

If you’re staying in an international resort, chances are the prices of essentials such as sunscreen and bug spray will be double once you land at the airport. Bring travel-size bottles of everything you’ll need to avoid buying anything while you’re at your destination.

Most importantly, have fun, be safe and enjoy the day. Cheers!

Did you know: Service Credit Union lets you order foreign currency at any U.S. branch, so you can save time and money before you go? Learn more.