A destination wedding is a memorable experience for both the couple getting married, but also those making the trip. But it can have its logistical challenges, as well. The goal is to run a smooth process so everyone can enjoy their time and focus on the celebrating! To help, we’ve put together your definitive guide to how to prepare and participate in a destination wedding that’s focused on enjoying your time.
We break this down for you in two parts: before the wedding and on the wedding day.
Before the wedding:
RSVP on time
The is probably the number one advice to head: pay attention to and honor the RSVP date on the invitation or wedding website please! There’s a lot of planning that goes into creating the perfect day, not just for the couple but also for you as guests! Having an accurate count allows everyone to best prepare so the day runs smoothly. Of course things can happen and plans can change last minute, so make sure you have an open line of communication with the couple and let them know of any major changes. But do try to RSVP your attendance as soon as you can honestly commit to going.
booking your travel and accommodations
Book your travel and accommodations early — we can’t stress this enough! Check the airfare and pick your seats so you know you’re all set. Couples will usually provide information on accommodations for their wedding day including local hotels, block room rates, etc. and post these on the wedding website. Have a look and book them as soon as you can. This helps both the couple on their RSVPs as well as the hotel, plus take one more thing off your own To Do list!
arrival and departure
Destination weddings offer a wonderful opportunity for you to celebrate with your friends and family, but also to have an adventure! Give yourself extra time arriving in and departing after the wedding. This helps cover you with potential complications like flight delays and cancelations and gives you time to acclimate to the new time zone. This is especially important if you’re close family, a member of the bridal party, or a performer coming in for the wedding. It also gives you some time to relax, rest, and enjoy exploring a bit. This is also a vacation, after all!
the wedding website
Definitely make sure you engage and familiarize yourself with the couple’s wedding website. More and more, it’s frankly the easiest and best way for couples to update their guests on all of the things happening with their wedding as quickly and timely as possible. Bookmark it on your phone as well so you have easy access to any information you need. If you have any questions, make sure you check the wedding website first — it often has the answers you need!
The couple will give all the relevant info you need and some advice to help you plan and prepare for the wedding day. But you can make sure you have everything you specifically need not just for that day, but for your trip as a whole:
- converters or adapters for your electronics and appliances
- the right footwear: outdoor ceremonies? any activities planned for outdoors like horse riding, fishing, hiking? shoes you can walk in as you site-see on your trip? do you need to bring rain boots or waterproof shoes? pro tip: if the ceremony is outdoors, bring a small bag with you and wear flats at the ceremony then change into heels for the reception!
- outerwear: need a coat or rain jacket? does my coat match my wedding day outfit? shawl or sweater in case its an outdoor ceremony?
- what kind of activities do you plan to do on your trip?
- what kind of site-seeing?
- if you take medication or have allergies to specific medication, ask your doctor to give you the names in the country you’ll be traveling to — sometimes different countries will call it something else (ex. paracetamol = acetaminophen) and you’ll want to be prepared just in case
- run through the wedding website carefully and see if you need to prepare different outfits for outings or get togethers the couple are offering to participate in
Take it a step further and do a little internet research in case you forget something. It’s a great idea to see ahead of time the nearest pharmacy, clothing store, makeup, shoes, malls just in case you do forget something and need to pop in for a replacement. The couple won’t necessarily know this nor have the time to look for you. If you find you need something on the day, reach out to a wedding planner for help!
figuring out your expenses
Wedding etiquette dictates that the couple is not obligated to pay for your accommodations, airfare, travel, rental car, gas, or expenses related to your travel to their destination wedding. They will offer you some suggested accommodations – often offered with a discounted block rate, and often will organize transportation on the day of the wedding to get you to/from the ceremony/reception. They will offer food and drink on the wedding day as well. Many destination weddings couples will also organize activities or events leading up to or after their wedding day (dinners, fun activities in town, group site-seeing, after wedding BBQs etc.). There’s no obligation for them to pay for all of these events; it’s totally up to each individual couple. They should communicate what events they have planned and are offering, and what they plan to treat their guests to.
We recommend the couple list the events on their wedding website along with any costs associated. For example, touring a museum can have the museum location, opening hours, meeting point time, and cost of admission. This indicates each guest will be responsible to purchase their own ticket. Using language like “join us as our guests at Irish Pub 6 pm Dublin to celebrate making it to Ireland! First two rounds on us!” clearly indicates the couple will cover some but not all of the costs of that event.
If you’re confused, feel free to reach out to the couple and ask so you can be best prepare on what you feel comfortable participating in.
which events do you attend?
There can be some confusion on what events apart from the wedding ceremony and reception that guests are invited or obligated to attend when it’s a destination wedding. Many couples will plan a welcome dinner, after wedding BBQ next day, spa days, and more in the days leading up to and after their wedding day. They should clearly communicate what events are open to all of the guests, and which are reserved more so for the bridal party. For example, traditionally only the bridal party and those directly involved in the ceremony will attend the rehearsal and dinner afterwards, versus a welcome dinner that is open to everyone who wants to attend.
The trick here is for the couple to be clear in what events they are planning and who is invited to which. And for guests to understand and make a choice on what they plan to attend or not, and clearly communicate that to the couple. There’s not requirement for guests to attend a welcome dinner for example. Nor, an obligation for the couple to host one. Don’t take offense if a couple doesn’t offer something other than the wedding day itself either. Take the opportunity to explore on your own!
The couple will indicate if children are welcome to attend the wedding and reception at the time of sending out invitations. This can get a little tricky when it comes to destination weddings. Some families don’t feel comfortable staying that long away from their children, can’t secure proper childcare at home in order to travel on their own, or simply may want to bring the kids along so they can make a vacation out of it. Totally acceptable – and Ireland is a very kid-friendly country … they’ll have a blast! But do note if they’re not invited to the wedding day (or corresponding events), you’ll need to make arrangements for childcare during these times. Don’t just show up with them.
It’s not the couple’s obligation to arrange or pay for these services. Many couples who end up inviting children will offer some babysitting services onsite during the reception, but that’s not required to do. Many hotels’ concierge services can arrange for babysitting services during your stay with reputable and licensed sitters. Also consider traveling with a nanny or family member to help out. Wedding planners can also recommend babysitting services, so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask!
On the wedding day:
give the couple space to enjoy their day
Don’t call the bride or groom on their wedding day if you have a question. Check their wedding website first, ask a family member or a wedding planner team member. Honestly we’ll probably know the answer faster than the bride and groom anyway!
Put the phone away
Couples are almost unanimous that they want their guests to be present and enjoying their wedding day, from beginning to end. They’ve made the right choice in getting an outstanding professional photographer to document the day – they’d truly rather you sit back and enjoy than snapping photos, especially during the ceremony! An overwhelming majority of photographers complain this is their #1 pet peeve, especially at the ceremony. Make sure your phones are silent, don’t text/answer emails even leading up to the start. Take the time to breathe in the atmosphere and gorgeous location, and submerge yourself into the moment. When it’s time for the reception and time to party, snap away!
posting on social media
This one can be tricky. Everyone is excited and well-intentioned on the day, especially if you’re excited to share photos of your outfit and gorgeous landscapes and venues when you’re abroad. But interestingly, many couples interviewed after their weddings confess they’re not keen when their guests start sharing snaps of their wedding day before they get a chance to see or experience it themselves. Take all the photos you like of the ceremony and flowers, even the cake! But just hold off a day or two until the couple can have a chance to digest everything before sharing those kinds of shot. Fire away on your outfits, looks, and scenic shots, however! And if the couple encourage sharing with wedding# and Instagram handles, take your cue from them and fire away!
Don’t bring a physical gift with you. Consider ordering directly from the couple’s wedding registry or mail your gift directly to their home before the traveling for the wedding. Contributing to a honeymoon fund is another great way to support the couple. Destination wedding etiquette does not require a physical gift to be brought on the day, so don’t overburden yourself (or the couple!) with packing and traveling with more than you have to! Also, avoid giving cash to the couple at the wedding — unless they specifically allow it or have someone designated to receive it — again, it’s one more thing to get potentially lost both on your travels and during the celebration.
what to wear
Pay close attention if the wedding invitation asks for a specific formality level. If the ceremony is in a church, make sure your outfit is church appropriate. If the ceremony is outdoors, make sure you have the proper footwear and a coat or shawl in case it gets windy or cold (often the case in Ireland, even in the summer!). There is a trend for couples to ask their guests to dress along certain color lines – this is for aesthetics and planning to take pictures with their guests, and creating a cohesive look is important for them. (In fairness it does photograph beautifully). To help both couples and guests, here’s the definitive guideline on wedding attire per Emily Post:
- casual: comfortable, clean, professional; sundress, nice jeans or shorts, polo shirt, button down shirt, khakis, loafers, nice clean sneakers (not athletic), nice clean sandals; no holes, no cut off anything, no slogans on t-shirts. Appropriate for: bbqs, picnics, welcome dinner, site-seeing, informal outings like whiskey or wine tastings, pubs, activities outdoors
- dressy casual: slightly dressier than casual; nicer skirts or dresses, dressier slacks and tops, nice jeans with dressier top or sweater, slacks, sports or tweed blazer, button down shirt with or without tie, nicer shoes; no athletic clothing. Appropriate for: later evening outings, bars/restaurants, shows, more formal wedding events before/after, more casual rehearsal dinner
- semi-formal: dressier style appropriate for 6 pm onward; cocktail dress, pantsuit, dressier black pants w/ fancy top or blazer, “little black dress,” maxi-dress in dressier material like chiffon/velvet/satin, nice suit with our without a tie and dressier shoes, usually a darker color for suits
- black tie: formal attire suitable for evenings only; floor length evening gowns, dressy cocktail dresses with fancier materials like satin/velvet/sequins, fine jewelry, formally styled hair, black tuxedo with white shirt and black ties, cufflinks
- black tie optional: formal attire suitable for evenings only; floor length evening gowns, dressy cocktail dresses with fancier materials like satin/velvet/sequins, black evening suits, heels, fine jewelry, formally styled hair, black tuxedos, very dark suits with black ties, suit and tuxedo shoes (polished ideally), tuxedo jackets ok, velvet jacket, black or white dress shirts, cufflinks
- white tie: “full evening dress,” the most formal; floor-length gowns, gloves, fine jewelry, black dress tuxedo with pant stripe and tailcoat jacket, white tie & vest, patent polished shoes
plan services ahead of time
The bridal party isn’t the only one who can hire professional hair and makeup services for a wedding day. If you are interested in having your hair and makeup done by a professional, start looking into options that are close to your hotel. Many larger hotels especially in larger cities like Dublin have many they can recommend, while other hotels even have such services on site. Don’t ask the bride or groom to organize it for you, and don’t plan to pop in the morning of the wedding for a quick last minute addition! If you need help, wedding planners have plenty of recommendations they can pass along to you.
Some couples will arrange transportation on the day for their guests to get to/from their hotels to the ceremony/reception. They’re not obligated to, but often extend this courtesy to their guests. There will be specific pickup/drop off points in the city – make sure you know what those are and get yourselves there on time so the transportation can take you. If that’s not feasible for you or you’d rather have more flexibility, arrange your own car service. Uber and Lyft are hard to come by in Ireland, so try working directly with your hotel for recommendations. Or, reach out to wedding planners and we’re happy to help!
This is a party after all, so come with a great attitude and ready to celebrate! Make sure you eat the morning of the wedding – a traditional Irish breakfast will do the trick! And drink plenty of water – you’ll be surprised how dehydrated you can get from the traveling. Don’t over imbibe. Don’t request songs from the musicians or DJ unless you know it’s something both of them would love or has some kind of sentimental value. Don’t call the couple or pull them aside on the wedding day to ask them questions or complain about something — if your drink was bad or your steak undercooked, find a venue staff or wedding planner and we’re happy to help you! Be social, introduce yourselves and be friendly to the other guests. If the couple put out things like guest books, photo ops, polaroid cameras, displays… make sure you participate!
The couple have worked so hard to plan a great event and want to see you enjoying yourselves!
enjoy their day
Many couples have meticulously planned their dream wedding day to perfectly reflect themselves and their unique story. This may not include some common wedding traditions, or they may pass on something in order to be sensitive to someone’s feelings. Don’t ask them why they didn’t do something or if they’re going to do something like a bouquet toss or why they chose not to have a wedding cake.. just sit back and relax and enjoy the incredible day they planned for you to also enjoy!