So you’ve decided to have a destination wedding. Saying your vows in a new, exotic setting can be romantic not only for the two of you, but for everyone invited and it makes honeymooning even easier, since you’re already away from home. Destination weddings can be memorable, adventurous, and, yes, potentially problematic.

When it comes to destination weddings, the planning, logistics, and, most of all, the etiquette are all brand new issues for the modern couple. Who pays for the flights? Do I still throw a bachelorette or bachelor party? What if my grandmother can’t make it?

Different rules apply when the wedding is far from home, and it’s important to be prepared so you’re not the one committing a destination wedding faux pas. Here are the most commonly asked questions (and our best answers) that most planners want to know:

When Should Save-the-Dates Go Out?

Save-the-dates should go out as soon as possible. Nine to 12 months is ideal, giving guests enough time to book flights, schedule hotels, and take necessary time off of work (and arrange childcare if necessary). The more info you can give your guests, the better (i.e. exact location, airport to fly into, hotel arrangements, etc.).

When Should Formal Invitations Go Out?

For a destination wedding, formal invites should go out two to three months ahead of time, in contrast to a typical wedding which is six to eight weeks out. And don’t feel like you need to make it a travel brochure — it’s still a wedding invitation. Send them to your wedding website if you want to include pictures of the resort and travel details. It’s also easy to confuse an invitation with an announcement. If you want to let distant family and friends who are not invited to the wedding know about the upcoming nuptials, send them an announcement instead.

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Who Pays for What?

This is one of the most commonly asked questions for guests. After all, they didn’t choose to do the wedding on a secluded beach somewhere on the Caribbean. But technically, the bride and groom are only expected to pay for the ceremony and reception. If they choose to do a rehearsal dinner, welcome party, or farewell brunch, that is also their responsibility. But otherwise, they are off the hook for paying for their guests’ hotels, flights, and even bridal party attire. However, there are definitely things the bride and groom can do to help minimize expenses for their guests:

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1. Research airline group rates. The sooner you do this the better, since group rates are usually based on availability.

2. Travel during the off-season, if possible, to help with costs.

3. Book hotel rooms in blocks. Guests will then be able to stay near each other and the bride and groom, hopefully at a discount. *Tip: If you plan to have your wedding at the hotel you’re staying at, they’ll often give you a deeper discount.

4. Make it a vacation. If you have a wedding website (a great idea for a destination wedding), include some fun things to do or see in the area so the guest can double the trip as a vacation.

5. Be generous. After all, people are paying a lot of money to attend your wedding. Paying for a group tour, getting a shuttle to take them to and from the airport (or renting a van and having a family member take them) or even paying for the hotel if you can swing it will make your guests feel like their time was really worth it.

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Should There Be a Bachelorette or Bachelor Party?

If you are in the destination wedding bridal party, especially the maid-of-honor, you should still throw a bachelorette party, but do not need to do that at your new destination. If there are friends who cannot attend the destination wedding, it can be a fun way for them to feel involved.

Side note: I attended one of my best friend’s weddings in Los Angeles last year. We were all from different states, and I planned a bachelorette dinner party the night before the wedding so we would get a chance to see and talk to her before the big day. It doesn’t have to be a wild, drunk affair (especially not the day before the wedding)! But something, whether it’s at home before or at the destination will give you a chance to talk, in case you don’t get much alone time with them on the wedding day.

What’s the Word on Gift Bags and Party Favors?

It’s up to the couple. But after a long journey, it’s nice for guests to have a little gift waiting for them in their hotel room or at the front desk. A jar full of candies or nuts is sufficient, or you could do a beach bag with sunscreen, local snacks, or a scented candle. Regardless, plan on arriving a couple days early to prepare and include an itinerary for the guests. As for party favors at the wedding itself, the same rules apply as at home — they’re not expected, but appreciated. Most likely you have a smaller group for your destination wedding, making it easier to afford extras like gifts and favors.

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Should the Couple Still Register for Gifts? Do Guests Still Need to Give a Gift?

Gift giving etiquette for a destination wedding is pretty much the same for a normal wedding.

Ready to start planning your wedding? Head to our Q&A with wedding planning expert Amanda Killian for our top tips and tricks!

The couple can and should register for gifts, but don’t expect to get them at the wedding. Guests will likely mail them to you before or after the wedding to avoid carting them in their suitcase (and you having to cart them home in yours)! Making a note of this on the wedding website can help prevent you from paying exorbitant fees to get your new vacuum home from Bermuda.

Many people, however, will assume that their presence is your present, which is fine. Destination weddings can be very expensive. The best thing to do is to be as gracious as possible when giving and receiving.

What if People Can’t Come?

Unfortunately, this is the biggest risk with hosting a destination wedding. But that doesn’t mean that having one is not a good decision. If someone very important to you cannot afford to attend, consider helping them with their airfare or hotel to make it possible. Hosting a post-wedding celebration is also a great way to make those who cannot logistically or financially afford to attend.

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In the end though, the two of you are the most important people in attendance and keeping that perspective will save you from any disappointments you might feel in planning.

Have any of you attended or hosted a destination wedding? Share your tips, tricks, and hard-won wisdom in the comments below!

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About The Author

Mandy Voisin

Hey I'm Mandy. Writer, traveler, wife, mother, author, woman, over-sharer. I like to talk about the grit of travel, the beautiful, and the people that I meet. Oh yeah - and traveling with kids.