Here’s a little secret: There are actually dozens of reasons to wed away, from seeing jaw-dropping locales to spending real bonding time with your nearest and dearest. It’s a trend one in four couples is now boarding (A plane! A boat! A helicopter!). Find out why destination weddings win everything.
Fancy a barefoot bash over a buttoned-up affair? You’re not alone. The 2013 Mintel U.S. weddings report found that 58 percent of brides want their wedding to be remembered as a fun and casual party, rather than a formal event. No wonder so many couples are hitting the road for their nuptials. After all, when was the last time you saw stilettos on the beach or tuxes in a barn? “Destination weddings are especially accommodating for couples steering away from the traditional black-tie wedding,” says Susie Papadin of Alison Events. “The majority take place in leisure locations, which are far more conducive to a casual feel.”
Dreaming of an overwater bungalow in Tahiti or a dude ranch in Wyoming? Set your party there. Whether it’s a rooftop in New York or a castle in Ireland, the locale should fit your personalities. Carolyn Chen of The Special Day says one of her recent adventure-loving couples wed in a rainforest in Costa Rica, where howler monkeys were among the witnesses. Think outside the chapel, says Chen. “It can be in the mountains, the African savannah — glamping has become a very popular choice.”
The scenery around your local banquet hall can be pretty limiting. But open the options to, say, the Italian countryside, and you’ve got the makings of some epic shots. Steal this idea: “While on your scouting trip, do engagement photos to use for save-the-dates,” says Irene Alvarez, director of catering and events at La Concha Resort in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The average number of guests at a traditional wedding is 140. The average number of guests at a destination wedding? A mere 48. Outsourcing your event to Mexico, Maui or even Miami gives you an automatic excuse for a smaller affair. Mark Bearak, a New York City architect, planned his celebration in Puerto Rico. “It was a great way to filter out colleagues and acquaintances,” he says. “If we’d stayed in town, we’d have been more inclined to invite certain people out of obligation.”
Wish you could skip the 45-minute ceremony and the standard-issue chicken-or-fish dinner? Getting out of town gives you the opportunity to try something fresh, says Papadin. “The modern bride is embracing the fact that she can customize as she wants, and a destination wedding takes that into account.” From Native American wedding vases to a Maya shaman, virtually every destination has a local custom that will infuse a bit of cultural flavor into your day.
A wedding away doesn’t need to replace your honeymoon — in fact, many couples head to a different location for their ‘moon. Stay a few extra days near your wedding locale for a minimoon (you’ve already paid the travel expenses to get there), or plan a separate trip a few months to a year later, so you’ll have a new adventure to look forward to together.
Far-flung weddings are usually intimate, meaning less obligatory invites and more must-have loved ones. Friends and family who make the cut “often know that the list was limited, and they love feeling important to the couple,” says Antonia Christianson of Antonia Christianson Events.
What should a couple do when her family is from Argentina, his is from the East Coast, and the couple lives in Seattle? Meet in the middle. Destination weddings are the great geographical equalizer because they take place in a neutral spot. And since the location is largely new to everybody, your big day will be every bit as exciting for your guests as it is for you. “We saw it as a chance to integrate all of our friends and families and make sure they have a really good time,” says Bearak.
Yes, it’s your wedding — but it’s also your vacation, so leave the details to onsite experts. Just ask Marsha-Ann Brown, Sandals Resorts‘ director of romance, who leads a team of pre-travel planners ready to take charge of the to-do list. “Unlike your traditional couple who may have to speak to a florist, an entertainer and a photographer, we make it a one-stop shop,” she explains. Instead of stressing about centerpieces and marriage licenses, you can focus on more important things, like your guests (or your tan).
Winter weddings are lovely, but huddling under heat lamps and sparring for the groomsmen’s jackets hardly make for a fairy-tale affair. Unsurprisingly, research shows destination couples are opting to chase the sun for their big day, heading mostly to the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, Florida and Costa Rica. Aside from cost, weather is the most important factor when choosing a locale. Idyllic locations almost ensure outdoor wedding perfection, especially in places with high average days of sunshine.
We’ve all been to those weddings where the couple ends the night hungry and exhausted from making the rounds to greet and thank every guest. According to the 2013 Mintel U.S. weddings report, “One reason destination weddings are popular is because they allow the bride and groom more opportunity to truly interact with their guests over a longer event.” Indeed, quality time is a lot more doable — especially when everybody stays at the same resort.
Can Grandpa Joe and Cousin Bri make conversation? Don’t stress. “The events leading up to the wedding have brought everyone closer,” Manna Ferrell says. Rather than a one-day event where you’re racing to greet everyone, you’ll have days of unrushed bonding time, as more than three-quarters of destination weddings last three nights or more.
Couples who wed away get good at making quick decisions — after all, when your DJ is in the Dominican Republic, meeting time is at a premium. Many details can be hashed out virtually, but navigating a different language, culture and customs from afar could compel you to relinquish control. A wedding planner can handle everything from vendor contracts to scheduling group excursions. “We help with room blocks, transportation … we play the travel concierge,” says planner Marisa Manna Ferrell of So Eventful.
That said, destination doesn’t have to mean exotic. If you live in San Diego, think Sonoma instead of Santorini. You can still get that wedding-away feel without having to venture too far from home. Consider locales just a two-hour drive away, suggests Chen, who defines a destination wedding as anything that requires more than half of the guests to need accommodations. You’ll save on travel costs, which means you can lavish more of your budget on the bash.
Across the board, destination weddings are more affordable when compared with their hometown counterparts. The average couple saves more than $2,200 when they choose to travel for their big day. Why? Resorts in top destinations are vying for your business, offering gratis planners and perks like room upgrades and complimentary anniversary stays. And the scenery means you won’t need much decor. Save even more by booking during low season.