What is a Destination Wedding?

Story Amour
Written by Story Amour · Posted in Destination Weddings Last Updated March 25, 2023 · minute read
In This Article

    What can be better than tying the knot we hear you say? How about getting hitched far away from home in an exotic location? Or choosing a place that holds significance to your whole family? What about somewhere you’ve never visited before but always wanted to?

    With travel looking a little more stable recently and people looking to have a good time at every opportunity there’s arguably never been a better time to plan a destination wedding.

    In our opinion, a destination wedding is a great way to push the boundaries and traditions of what a wedding can be into something new and exciting. At the same time, it’s a great opportunity to create an experience that will live long in the minds of not only you and your partner but also any guests who are lucky enough to come along for the ride.

    In this article, we’ll go through some of the advantages and disadvantages of destination weddings, explore some of the popular locations around the world as well as cover some of the frequently asked questions that we know you’ll be dying to find out.

    You’ll leave this article with all the knowledge you could ever want to help you decide whether a destination wedding is a right choice for you and your big day.

    couple poses during a destination wedding in colorado

    What is a Destination Wedding?

    What qualifies as a destination wedding?

    So you’ve heard about destination weddings but aren’t 100% sure what they are? To put it simply they are any wedding that takes place in a location that’s different from where you live. However, it’s a little more nuanced than that! Let us explain.

    In the past, they’ve been seen exclusively as a wedding that takes place abroad from the country you reside. For example, maybe you live in New York and want to travel to Lake Como in Italy to tie the knot.

    However, particularly due to travel restrictions in the last few years they’ve become a little more local. Say you live in San Diego for example but have always dreamt of getting hitched in the Colorado mountains, well yeah, this is also a destination wedding in our opinion.

    How far do you need to travel to call it a destination wedding?

    We think anywhere that your guests have got to travel over 100 miles and possibly require accommodation qualifies as a destination wedding.

    Destination weddings are quite popular as well, according to The Knot’s Real Weddings study in 2022, roughly 2 in 10 couples in the U.S. opted for a destination wedding [1].Interestingly they also found that 91% of those destination weddings took place domestically.

    Keeping it domestic can mean you can celebrate with a lot more of your family and friends and at the same time they can be back at work on Monday morning (if the hangover allows).

    Welcome to the new definition of what a destination wedding can actually be and we think it’s a trend that is here to stay. As we’ve already mentioned, asking your guests to travel abroad can really affect how many people will attend and explains why this figure is so high. At the same time, it’s not like the U.S. is short of magical and exotic locations where couples can create a unique experience for their big day.

    A destination wedding is ultimately unique for each couple. For some it’ll be about getting away from America, perhaps finding a gorgeous little town in Italy to create the perfect memories. Whilst for others a quick hop to another state might do the job of completely changing up their environment.

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    How do we know about destination weddings?

    We’ve shot hundreds of destination weddings back in the days when our bodies were a little more agile (airplane seats should come with a health warning). Zooming all over the world we’ve captured couples on their magical days in India, Europe and China as well as domestic weddings here across the whole of the U.S. New York, Colorado, and Florida to name just a few.

    We found that there was something truly magical and exciting about capturing couples in unfamiliar surroundings. Whether that was at an outdoor wedding on the grounds of a French Chateau or experiencing the calming silence on top of a mountain in Colorado. The experiences we gained are something we’d love to share with you.

    Advantages & Disadvantages of a destination wedding

    Why are destination weddings so popular?

    There’s a reason you probably hear more about destination weddings around the office than a super local event. Ultimately they create a unique experience for everyone involved that they will no doubt remember for years to come.

    Here are some of the advantages that we believe a destination wedding has to offer over a traditional wedding.

    Advantages

    • You can think about combining the wedding with your honeymoon: It’s rarely the case that the couple will turn up just for the wedding day and then leave, particularly if the wedding is abroad. Instead, a couple can make a holiday of the event and take a few days on either side of the actual celebration.
    • Relaxation and pre-wedding bonding with guests: Depending on your location you could go hiking, sightseeing, the bridal party could go for a spa day whilst the groomsmen sample the local beverages…(we mean hit the gym)
    • Allows guests to combine the event into a holiday with friends: Everyones looking for the perfect excuse to get away, especially with the last couple of years we’ve all experienced.
    • Control the size of your invite list: If you’ve never liked the idea of a big lavish wedding with 300 guests it can be a great way to control attendance.
    • They can be cheaper than a wedding at home: As we’ve mentioned in another article the price of a wedding has a lot to do with guest size. By having a destination wedding you can keep the number of people who attend in check.
    • Epic scenery: You can choose somewhere that is completely different from your every day. Maybe you’re a city gal through and through but want something completely unique by the beach for you and your guests to experience.
    • Awesome wedding pics to look back on: Who doesn’t want instagrammable pics from the best day of their lives? As you’re part of just 20% of people having a destination wedding your pics will stand out when you show your friends and colleagues in the office.

    More than anything we believe that a destination wedding will provide you and your guests with unique stories and memories that will last a lifetime. They are a great chance to break the mold and do something completely unexpected.

    What are some of the problems with destination weddings?

    As we’ve already mentioned we’ve shot hundreds of destination weddings over the years. We’ve seen it all from quiet elopements on the Portuguese island of Madeira to a huge week-long vibrant celebration in India.

    We absolutely loved every minute of it and had a hard time seeing any negatives. However, if you look at it from the perspective of guests and couples there are inevitably some disadvantages to consider when having a destination wedding.

    Disadvantages

    • The costs can soon add up for guests: hotels, flights, taxis, eating out, activities, a destination wedding can definitely be expensive for a couple but also their guests. These aren’t things that they would necessarily need to purchase if you were getting married in your hometown.
    • Smaller party so less of a vibe: If you’re after a large guest list for your event a destination wedding can definitely have an impact. Destination weddings are usually smaller affairs because not everyone will be able to make it. Whether that’s because of financial reasons, finding childcare, or not being able to get the time off work.
    • Language barriers: Say you’re getting married in a rural french town you can’t expect all of your suppliers to speak your language. For this reason, there may be issues and miscommunication that otherwise wouldn’t occur.

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    By arranging a destination wedding you’re going against the norm. Therefore it’s expected that it will bring its challenges to the logistics and planning of your event. If you approach it knowing this and you’re prepared it can make the whole experience a lot easier.

    FAQs about destination weddings

    So what are some of the frequently asked questions when it comes to destination weddings?

    Do you pay for guests at a destination wedding?

    This question can be a bone of contention and can even cause rifts when planning a destination wedding.

    Just imagine, you’ve been invited to your best friend’s wedding and you’ve even been made the maid of honor. However, it’s going to cost you around $3000 for your flights, accommodation, food, etc. The costs can soon add up, particularly if your destination wedding is abroad rather than domestically.

    The couple isn’t ordinarily expected to cover these costs for all their guests. However, you do need to be mindful of other people’s financial situations. If they can’t afford it you could offer to contribute or cover their costs.

    Equally, if they say they simply can’t afford it and you’re unwilling to cover their costs you also can’t get angry or blame them. As we’ve already mentioned your guest list is likely to be smaller as a result of your choice to have a destination wedding.

    It can be a nice idea to provide suggested places to stay or try to negotiate a price with a hotel for booking lots of rooms.

    Who Pays For a Destination Wedding?

    A couple and their family will usually foot the bill for the wedding ceremony and reception. This will typically include a three course meal for each guest and some couples even provide a free bar for their party.

    It is standard practice for guests to pay for their own travel and accommodation but as we’ve already mentioned don’t be offended if they don’t attend your celebration because they can’t afford it.

    How much does a destination wedding cost?

    According to a study by WeddingForward, last updated in 2022, the average cost of a local destination wedding was $28372, whereas an international destination wedding was $27277 [2]. This figure obviously doesn’t consider the cost to your guests though. Whilst a destination wedding might be slightly cheaper for you as a couple there could be a financial burden on your guests to get there.

    As we’ve already touched on, your guest list can be a large determining factor in how much a destination wedding costs. If you have a local destination wedding your guest list is likely to be much larger than if you travel internationally.

    Budgeting Factors

    • The location you choose: generally speaking the further you go the more it’s going to cost for you and your guests.
    • How many guests you invite: a large guest list will increase your catering bill if you have a wedding reception meal.
    • Whether you book a package or go bespoke: A wedding package can often be cheaper but means you might not get the unique experience you crave.
    • Whether you source everything locally or bring it with you: Will you bring things like suits, wedding cakes, stationery with you or have it organized to collect from local suppliers?
    • Activities outside the wedding day itself: If you go snorkeling or have a spa treatment with your bridal party it can all add to your costs.
    • How long do you want your celebration to last? One day? Three days? A week? Or do you want to combine it into a month-long holiday for you and your newly married partner?
    • Are you hiring a local photographer and videographer or flying them in?: A local photographer might not be as good or in keeping with your style as someone from your home country. They’ll likely charge for travel on top of their normal fee.
    • The time of year that you travel: Expect to pay more if you want to attempt to guarantee sunshine by choosing summer to get married.

    A destination wedding is no different to any other wedding in regards to the budget. You should decide on a figure that you’re happy with and stick to it. The costs associated with a destination wedding can spiral out of control if you let them so you should be stringent.

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    Are you legally married at a destination wedding?

    Each country has its own protocols when it comes to marriage that must be followed for your destination wedding to be legal.

    Up until a few years ago in the U.K. you had to get married under a roof for it to be legal! How crazy is that? That meant even if a wedding took place outside the couple had to stand underneath an approved and partially enclosed structure to be legal. That rule was only relaxed in 2021 [5] so it’s best to check the rules that apply where you intend to get married.

    Equally, whilst in places like Las Vegas it might be commonplace to walk down the aisle having had one too many Martinis like Ross & Rachel from friends in other cultures it will be frowned upon. Heck priests in Mississippi can even refuse you a marriage license if you turn up intoxicated on your wedding day [6].

    A popular decision that many couples make however is to get married officially at their local registry office. This is usually a fuss free affair with a few guests just to act as witnesses. This takes care of the legalities allowing the destination wedding to have a much more chilled and personal vibe.

    Is it rude to have a destination wedding?

    As long as you don’t pressure people to attend if they can’t afford the expense then in our opinion, it isn’t rude.

    Be mindful that destination weddings will generally have fewer guests because of the various complexities around cost, time off work as well as people’s financial situations. Some people may see this as an inconvenience especially if you’re asking them to travel halfway across the world.

    We think communication and understanding are key to keeping all parties happy. Make sure to give your guests plenty of notice so they can either put money aside, book time off work, or make childcare arrangements.

    Good To Know About Destination Weddings

    Post Covid Boom and Prices

    With everyone being cooped up in their own homes for years and unable to travel, people are still looking for the perfect excuse for a holiday. A destination wedding definitely provides this for both the couple getting married and any guests they’ve invited to share the experience.

    Because of this boom and with a backlog of people who couldn’t get married at the time because of the big C word it’s still important to contact venues early to guarantee your dream location.

    Consider Your Guests

    Be mindful that your guests probably aren’t as invested in your big day as you are. We don’t mean that to sound harsh but just help them along the way with the research you’ve already carried out.

    Hit them up with a list of suggested places to stay, things to do whilst they are there and ways that they can keep the costs down. Get them pumped for the experience so there’s no doubt in their mind that they’re coming to your wedding.

    RSVP rates may be less powerful

    This is something that we can’t stress enough. By choosing to have a destination wedding you can’t expect all the guests you invite to attend.

    This can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it will keep costs down compared to a local wedding. On the other hand, you won’t be able to celebrate the most special day of your life with everyone you hold dear.

    This is something you really need to think about and assess what you want to prioritize the most.

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    Book for the off season

    Weddings have seasons that are more popular than others with summer typically being when most people want to get married.

    That being said, a destination wedding changes the goalposts somewhat. It might be snowing where you live but blazing sun where you want to get married.

    If you choose to get married in the off season there are savings to be made. For example, travel and accommodation costs are usually much higher when children are on school holidays. Equally a vendor such as a wedding photographer may offer a reduced rate for a weekday wedding compared to a weekend wedding.

    More than likely less guests overall

    As we mentioned earlier, not all of your guests will be able to attend your destination wedding. Acknowledging and accepting this will help you decide who to invite when creating your guest list.

    Hiring a local wedding planner

    We can’t advocate for this enough having experienced couples who have hired a wedding planner and those who chose not to. The weddings of the couples who worked with a planner always ran much smoother than those without.

    A local wedding planner sees weddings at the location you’ve chosen week in week out. They will know the local language if you choose an international wedding and will take care of things you wouldn’t even think about. They’ll know all about the local customs and probably have a list of trusted suppliers who are delivering the best service to couples.

    A wedding planner will also have experience with past weddings and know ultimately how much they cost. For this reason alone they are worth their weight in gold as they can help you keep tabs on your budget and ensure you don’t overspend.

    Failing to plan is planning to fail

    So much of what makes a successful wedding is in the planning and that’s especially true for destination weddings.

    We think you should be looking at anywhere between 1 and 2 years out of your wedding date to start planning. This means you can get your invites out nice and early to your guests. By doing this you’re going to increase the chances that everyone you invite to celebrate with you can attend. They can make arrangements at work to get the time off and also start saving if they also have time to plan.

    Planning well and early helps to guarantee the venue and vendors of your dreams and ultimately helps the whole experience to run much more smoothly.

    Popular locations for a destination wedding

    Whether you choose to have an elopement in Madeira, Portugal, and persuade your wedding photographers to be your sole witnesses (yes that happened to us) or you choose to invite 300 guests to your wedding in India and have people fly in from all over the world (yes that also happened), there really is something for everyone when it comes to destination weddings.

    Warm climates such as Mexico or Hawaii always prove to be popular locations with lots of couples but there’s equally an appetite for colder climes such as Iceland, Norway, or the Scottish Highlands.

    The latter tend to appeal more to couples wanting elopements though who are mindful of their guests not freezing to death. At the same time, it’s easy to see why a wedding in Hawaii might attract a larger invitation response.

    There are so many great places to get married around the world but here are just some of our favorites.

    The U.K.

    How about flying across the pond to the U.K.?

    What you’ve got there are four countries within a country to choose from (we know it’s complicated) There’s Scotland with its dramatic landscapes, England with its quaint little towns and London, Wales with its beaches and dragons and Ireland with its rural charm and Giants Causeway. There really is something for everyone and a destination wedding is a great excuse to see it all.

    You can’t really rely on the weather to be warm or sunny but you’ll be sure to have a memorable experience non the less and there is a plethora of great venues throughout to choose from.

    Mexico

    A very popular choice with North Americans and it’s not really hard to see why. A super convenient way of experiencing a different and rich culture. At the same time, it can prove to be cost effective for the people lucky enough to be invited.

    Mexico really is the ideal choice if you’re looking for sun, sun, and more sun, and of course, beaches that will take your breath away. Don’t forget to bring your hat and plenty of sunscreen!

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    Caribbean Islands

    The Caribbean is a popular choice for destination weddings with us Americans. It’ll feel like you’re somewhere completely different without venturing too far from home, especially if you’re based somewhere like Florida.

    The tropical climate and crystal clear waters make it one of our top picks for those beach wedding vibes. We probably don’t need to tell you but some of the best places to look at are The Bahamas, Jamaica, and The Dominican Republic. Who knows you might have some photo bombers in the form of the swimming pigs!

    Hawaii

    Hawaii is like no place on earth and will provide your guests with an experience that they’ll remember for a lifetime. Maybe it’s just us but we’ve been in love with Hawaii ever since binge watching Lost back in the day (wow we’re probably really showing our age now)

    The chilled vibes can relax even the most stressed out of people and your guests won’t be able to refuse your invitation.

    You’ll be surrounded by scenery that will make your wedding photographer’s heart sing and sunsets that will bring out the photographer in anyone. Kauai, O’ahu, and Maui are some of the popular options for those looking to get married in Hawaii.

    couple poses on mountain during destination wedding in europe

    Visit Europe for your destination wedding

    Europe

    Europe has some of the best locations for weddings on the planet. Each country on this continent has its own distinctive culture and vibe that you’ll be sure to fall in love with one that appeals to you.

    Places in Europe are steeped in history and really do provide the best contrast to a traditional American wedding. Everywhere you look there are stunning buildings, gorgeous scenery, and exquisite fine dining.

    Some of the most popular choices for weddings in Europe are Chateau weddings in France, outdoor weddings along Lake Como in Italy or gorgeous beach weddings in Greece. We really don’t mind saying that there really is something for everyone.

    Staying home isn’t so bad

    As we’ve already mentioned in this article you don’t have to do an international flight to have a destination wedding. There are so many great places to get married right here in the U.S. that will allow you to mix it up. If you’ve lived in New York all your life maybe you fancy a wedding at The Breakers Palm Beach in Florida [3]. Equally, if you hail from California a glitzy New York wedding at The Plaza might do the trick [4] followed by epic photos around Central Park and amongst the hustle and bustle of city life.

    How to choose a destination wedding location

    When deciding on where to hold your destination wedding there are four key elements that we believe you should consider.

    Choosing somewhere without considering these key elements could spell wedding disaster and mean you remember your big day for all the wrong reasons.

    Budget

    Arguably one of the biggest barriers when organizing any wedding, not just a destination one, is the budget. This will determine where you can realistically get married, how many people you can invite, and the experience you’ll be able to create for you and your guests.

    Factor in things like flights, accommodation, taxis, food, and whether or not you’ll be contributing to any of your guests’ expenses.

    Weather

    We wish we had a crystal ball but we all know how unpredictable the weather can be particularly if you choose somewhere you’re not familiar with.

    If you’re getting married outside make sure you choose a venue that also has the possibility to offer an indoor alternative. Other than that you can always bring umbrellas for you and your guests, let’s just cross our fingers that it’s not windy as well!

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    Guest Experience

    One of your main priorities should be to ensure everyone has a great time. This can start early doors with the research you’ve done around your chosen location.

    Offer your guests suggestions on where to stay and activities they can take part in whilst also enjoying your wedding.

    You want your guests to see this adventure as a holiday and make sure that it’s an experience that they never forget.

    Legal Requirements

    It sounds a little boring, doesn’t it? but make sure that you’re not breaking any laws with your destination wedding. Each country will have its own specific way of doing things so make sure you do your due diligence.

    Our advice would be to have a small and no fuss legal ceremony at a registry office at home. That way you will already be legally married and will be able to enjoy your nuptials without the worry of your wedding not being legally binding.

    Equally, as long as you do your research into all the requirements you shouldn’t have any issues provided you tick all the boxes.

    Conclusion

    Wherever you decide to marry your partner make sure to surround yourself with your nearest and dearest. Whether that’s a few individuals on a mountaintop in the Scottish Highlands or a group of you staying in a French Chateau we’re sure it will be an experience of a lifetime.

    We hope our guide has helped you to understand what a destination wedding is and decide whether it is the right fit for you and your big day.

    Weddings can be stressful events to organize and a destination wedding can be particularly tricky. As you will know from reading our article, planning is the key to success.

    So what are you waiting for?! If you think a destination wedding is for you it’s time to start planning it. We’re so excited for you!

    Sources

    [1] – https://www.theknot.com/content/wedding-data-insights/real-weddings-study

    [2] – https://www.weddingforward.com/average-price-of-destination-wedding/

    [3] – https://www.thebreakers.com/events/weddings-celebrations/

    [4] – https://www.fairmont.com/the-plaza-new-york/weddings/

    [5] – https://www.hitched.co.uk/wedding-planning/ceremony-and-reception/

    [6] – https://wedition.co.uk/blog/2019-07-18-strange-marriage-laws-from-around-the-world