In Defense of Destination Weddings

June 14, 2016

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:

  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?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Mark Myers
    Mark Myers
  • 702551
  • Betsey
  • AntoniaJames
  • booglix
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


Mark M. July 24, 2017
Maybe in certain circumstances destination weddings are selfish (like the hypothetical tiny island with 3 plane trips and a boat ride to get to), but I don’t think they are necessarily so. These days when a couple is having a wedding, it’s highly likely at least 50% (but probably more) of the guests are going to have to travel to the wedding. Gone are the days that most people stayed close to their place of birth all their lives and married someone from their hometown. It’s not uncommon at all for, say, the groom to have grown up the Northeast, the bride to have grown up on the West Coast, and they met when they both ended up living in Texas for work. If they do the “traditional” thing and have the wedding at the bride’s hometown on the West Coast, then the man’s family is all going to have to travel all the way across the continent, and the couple’s good friends in Texas are going to have to travel halfway across the continent to be there. A flight to a destination wedding in, say, Jamaica, isn’t necessarily going to cost the groom’s parents any more than a flight to the West Coast would have. Ditto the hotel.
Heck, my wife and I did NOT have a destination wedding, we had a wedding in the beach town in Texas where my parents have had a vacation home since the early 80s, which is an hour to an hour and a half by car from the city I grew up in and where my wife and I lived and still live (and where my parents live). But plenty of people had to travel for our wedding. My wife’s mother and stepfather had to take an hour plane ride, rent a car, and take that hour and a half drive down. My good college friends who still live in our college city had to make that same trip. Since my parents moved to Texas after college, all my aunts and uncles and cousins had to travel from the West Coast, the Northeast, the Midwest. My wife’s father and stepmother had to come from Florida. My younger brother had to come from New York. I’ve had to travel all over the country for weddings, that’s just the nature of life in 21st Century America.
Lindsay-Jean H. July 25, 2017
Thanks Mark :)
702551 August 22, 2017
The local newspaper has an interesting article about this topic based on data from Zillow (the real estate website & service).

The article specifically calls out Texas as a relatively inexpensive place for these types of activities.
702551 June 15, 2016
Actually, reflecting back on this, I would say that many people who are renting are doing so because they attend destination weddings rather than RSVP-ing "Sorry, trying to save up for a down payment on a house, let's catch up when you return. So happy for your special day."

For some, it's a choice between memories and equity.

I certainly will not be one to advise people here what the best choice is.
Betsey June 15, 2016
While I really enjoyed the wedding I attended in Cancun in January, $1500 for four days was a HUGE ask and it was very hard on my bank account. But how could I have missed it? It sucks.
AntoniaJames June 14, 2016
Here's a crazy suggestion for having a wedding exactly the way you want it and where you want it, while minimizing stress: have a small wedding wherever, whenever, and with only close family and close friends. Then let each of the newlyweds' families throw their own parties for the couple, on their own, whenever, inviting whoever they want, wherever they want. The hosting family can invite as many friends and relatives as they want, choosing the menu, flowers and decorations, absolutely everything. It's the parents' party, so let them see to all the details - the newlyweds arrive as guests. As many members of the other newlywed's family who want to come can be invited. Special events can be planned (think rehearsal dinner equivalent) to get more members of the two families together. Everyone is happy. Trust me. All those relatives and friends who can't or don't want to fly to another city for the wedding will be thrilled to come to the "in honor of" party. (It's what T and I did, and I truly hope that my sons will consider doing it that way, too.) ;o)
AntoniaJames June 15, 2016
For the record, our "destination" was Murray Hill (5 days after my corporate tax law exam - trust me, if you can manage corporate tax, pulling off a wedding 5 days later is a snap) and the rehearsal dinner was at one of those (do they still have them?) word of mouth only restaurants in Chinatown, downstairs with no sign on the door, always packed, outstanding food, seated around enormous tables with lazy Susans laden with about 12 dishes each. The dinner was arranged and "menu" items were chosen by the NYC-raised Chinese-American girlfriend, now wife, of a close friend. Such fun. Really "off road," and quite an experience, but an interesting and unforgettable one, especially for the family members from out of town. ;o)
Courtney C. September 20, 2016
This is exactly what we are thinking of doing. We spoke to all of our family and close friends first to see if they would be open to it. I'm glad to hear yours was successful! It gives me hope! Thanks for the advice.
booglix June 14, 2016
I think the most compelling criticism of destination weddings is that some people who would like to attend the wedding - for whom attending the wedding would be meaningful and fun - are not able to because of the cost (and, perhaps, timing). So even if you don't pressure them to come and they gracefully decline, they'll feel left out and sad to be unable to take part in this important event. If everyone you know is wealthy and has ample vacation time, that's a moot point of course - but I doubt many people are in that situation. Sure, some people have to travel to non-destination weddings, but "destination weddings" usually cost a lot more, for a lot more people. Plus, if you're close enough to the couple, it's very difficult to decline (because you want to support them and it would really suck not to be there and you can manage to pay for it), so you go, and probably have a great time, although you'd much rather have been able to attend a lovely celebration less far away and spend your hundreds or thousands of dollars on something else.
AntoniaJames June 14, 2016
Excellent points, every one of them, booglix. ;o)
702551 June 14, 2016
I went to a fine destination wedding of a family member in a place very far away. What this essentially did was wipe out all the children attendees (plus weed out the people who couldn't afford international flights). It was basically an adult-only event.

I like the basic notion of Antonia James' idea, although it forces the couple + key people to travel to three events instead of just one.

Booglix is right. The financial strain on many younger wedding attendees is significant. If you are spending a couple grand on "destination wedding" travel, well, that's a couple grand that's not available as a down payment on a house.

One of my family members had a fabulous destination wedding, but ended up in a very acrimonious divorce a few years later. No one talks about that wedding. I think there's a CD of scanned photos and a DVD somewhere in a closet. I also have a few trinkets from that particular trip.

Yeah, yeah, feel free to call me a killjoy, but the divorce statistics for this country aren't something I make up.

If the Food52 editorial staff want to feed the Beast that is the Wedding Industry Machine, go right ahead.

(Disclaimer: I have never been married. I have no problems with the institution or concept of marriage, but I'm definitely not going to blog about it.)

But anyhow, go ahead and throw your destination wedding if you want.