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In Defense of Destination Weddings

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When I got married, nearly 11 years ago now, my husband and I had a destination wedding. Thus, understandably​, my feathers get ruffled by articles with titles like “They Didn’t Really Want You at Their Destination Wedding” and “Screw You and Your Destination Wedding: An Open Letter.” What gives?

If, like me, you’ve been living under a rock (or blissed out on love?), and are as surprised as I was by the level of hate for destination weddings, here are the main complaints:

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  1. “They’re selfish!”
  2. “They’re a pain to get to!”
  3. “They’re expensive!”

If these complaints viscerally resonate with you, here are my suggestions: Don’t have a destination wedding. Turn down all invitations to destination weddings—graciously. And then let go of any anger or resentment about destination weddings and move on—no one needs to hang on to that level of hate for anything, and especially not for weddings.

Photo by James Ransom

Assuming you don’t get RAGEY about the idea of destination weddings, here’s why the complaints are (mostly) bunk and why destination weddings can be a good thing:

Complaint #1: Destination weddings are selfish

No more so than some of the other choices made at other weddings. Making the choice to have a child-free wedding or not automatically giving out +1s to singles could be argued as selfish moves too. Besides, it’s THEIR WEDDING DAY. If things go well, it’s the only one they get, so whether they want to get married with their toes in the sand (I did) or on top of an iceberg or where they met or some other sentimentally significant spot, this is their chance for them to declare their love wherever they damn well please. Honestly, how often do we get to think almost entirely about ourselves and what we want?

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And almost is a key word here. The couple getting married is absolutely still thinking about you, the guest. First, just by inviting you, they’re honoring their relationship with you and saying that they want you there for this milestone event. Contrary to the previously mentioned article’s claim, if they didn’t want you at their wedding, they would have eloped. Second, they’re absolutely keeping you in mind as they plan all of the details: reserving hotel blocks, picking out multiple dinner options for you to choose between, and selecting a mix of music to help make sure different generations are happy hitting the dance floor.

Every couple makes different choices for their wedding based on their preferences and their budget, and no matter what those choices are and how considerate the happy couple is, someone probably won’t approve of something. It’s okay.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Complaint #2: Destination weddings are a pain to get to

Sometimes they are, yup. But, again, not necessarily more so than for other weddings. Unless you and your partner are both from the same place, still live in that same place, and both parties’ families and friends are still in the same place, someone is going to be traveling somewhere.

What if one person is from America and the other is from India? Maybe the best choice is to have a wedding in Europe to split the travel distance. Or what if one person is from Canada, the other's from England, and there are only a few family members in Canada, but dozens in England? A “destination” wedding in England might make sense.

This is not to say that I think it’s a good idea to arbitrarily choose a tiny island that requires three plane flights and a boat ride to get to. But having a wedding in a “local” location, whether that means the couple’s current location, one of their hometowns, or some neutral third location, doesn’t rule out that it’s still going to require some level of effort for people to get to, and it by no means guarantees that you’re exempt from someone you really wanted to be there not being able to make it.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Complaint #3: Destination weddings are expensive

This is closely linked with #2, and yes, they can be. (Though anyone who has ever paid for a wedding, planned a wedding, or just been in a wedding party knows any type of wedding can be expensive.) Any reasonable couple will be aware that it might take extra money (and time and use of limited vacation days!) to get to a destination wedding and be very appreciative of you making the effort to be there. And they will accept that even people who love them very much might make the choice not to spend that extra money or use those vacation days for your wedding instead of a real vacation of their choosing. (Reasonable couples will also not convince themselves that they are “giving” their guests a vacation, unless they're footing their guests' bills. They will appreciate that guests are coming to that location for their wedding, not because they chose it.)

Honestly, a lot of the vitriol seems misplaced at destination weddings themselves, when really most stories are of bride- or groomzillas who (hopefully temporarily) lost their heads and all sense of reason, and tried to guilt trip friends and family members into taking vacation days they didn’t have or spending money they weren’t comfortable spending all in the name of Their. Perfect. Day. That’s selfish.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

As touched on above, couples choose destination weddings for all sorts of reasons, so the benefits will vary too. In my case, my husband and I got married on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. My family is fairly spread out, so knowing that a big family vacation was in the works and a large portion of my family was already planning on being together made the location a very compelling choice, which ties into our first benefit:

Pro #1: The couple gets to spend more quality time with their guests

How many weddings have you been to where the happy couple barely had time to eat because they spent the majority of the evening moving from table to table, saying, “Oh it’s so nice to see you, thank you for coming” over and over again without having a chance to really talk to most of them? A lot, right?

Destination weddings tend to avoid this, because often you’re all spending a few days to a week together, meaning they have more time to have meaningful conversations with their guests.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Pro #2: It can be a more relaxed experience for everyone

Again, this can vary a lot, but in our case, the vast majority of people arrived well before our wedding day, so guests were already around and weren’t scrambling to get to the ceremony.

And they can be more relaxed for the couple, too. Yes, it can be harder to figure out details from afar, but I think that helps make it easier to let go of things too. If we had gotten married in town, I think I would have been more likely to get hung up on the minutiae (what color napkins?! what font for the programs?! how many photo locations can we fit in between the wedding and the reception?!), in a way that I just couldn't and didn’t deal with from across the country.

That doesn’t mean that everything went perfectly, far from it: It threatened to rain, chairs were moved indoors, it started to clear up, everything was moved back out to the beach; I had visions of tulle cascading down the sides of our bamboo chuppah-esque structure (like this), but it ended up being wrapped around the top like you'd wrap limbs with Ace bandages; I neglected to ask to read the best man's speech ahead of time and was answering awkward questions from family members the rest of the evening—just to name a few. But having less of a death-grip on the details from the beginning made it far easier to roll with the punches. And, if the destination wedding is at a resort, there might even be less for the couple to worry about, as it is often all wrapped up in a package deal, so there isn’t much coordination required.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Pro #3: It’s easier to limit the guest list

This isn’t a pro for everyone; in fact, it would certainly be a con for many people—if the couple wants a blow-out bash with hundreds of people, they shouldn't do a destination wedding. But, if they’d like a smaller wedding, this is one way to control the size. It might have been easy to fit 300 guests in the local hall, but that is likely going to be harder to do with many destination venues.

​BUT, and these are big buts (control your inner 7-year-old): this should not be the main reason for having a destination wedding, this does not mean it’s acceptable to use it as a way to artificially cull the guest list (meaning, it’s not okay to invite people banking on the fact that they won’t come—that’s immature and makes it look like the couple is just fishing for more gifts), and this does not excuse the couple from having tough conversations with people about the guest list. If you’re grown up enough to get married, you’re adult enough to handle (admittedly rude) questions from people as to why they weren’t invited.

Photo by James Ransom

Tell us: How do you feel about destination weddings?

Tags: wedding week, destination wedding, wedding planning