Destination Wedding Etiquette: What You Need to Know As a Guest

Top tips from a wedding planner on how to be a gracious guest (and traveller) for that ceremony on a beach.


How to be a dream guest at a destination wedding. Photo courtesy of

There’s hardly a more exciting coming-together than attending your best friend’s wedding on the French Riviera. Destination weddings make some of the best travel memories between friends, but they require the same type of planning for guests as any other trip in order to run as smoothly as possible. To help navigate proper protocol for all attending guests, we spoke with pro wedding planner Crystal Adair-Benning from Distinct Occasions. Here, she shares her expert tips on being the perfect out-of-town wedding guest.

1. Find Out About Costs

“For most destination weddings the couple will be paying for the wedding itself — end-stop,” says Adair-Benning, which means that any additional excursions, off-site events, personal travel preferences, or that round of mimosas you bought the bridal party at brunch, are up to the guest’s discretion. This should all be outlined early on when planning travel arrangements. “The couple may opt to pay for an excursion with guests and should let guests know in advance if it’s their treat or a guest-optional event.” (This usually means that guests are expected to pay for should they wish to attend.)

2. Think of It As a Vacation, Financially Speaking.

Plan for the same expenses you would when booking a trip: think travel (plane/train/car rentals), accommodations, meals and activities. “Out-of-town weddings are expensive for guests,” warns Adair-Benning. “Guests should be prepared to cover those expenses and attend typically one to three wedding events — welcome party, rehearsal dinner, wedding, post-wedding brunch or excursion.”

3. But Don’t Feel Obligated to Attend Every Wedding-Related Activity.

Attending a group yoga session at sunrise may seem daunting after the extended wine tour from the evening before, but don’t stress about showing face at both. “I always leave the itinerary simplified,” says Adair-Benning. “You don’t want to overwhelm.” Make sure to let the couple know your preference to attend certain events — and then RVSP on time. “People should be allowed to partake or not at their own discretion, couples need to remember that while their guests are there to celebrate with them — this is their guests’ vacation too!”

4. If Bringing a Gift, Decide on The Best Way to Give it Beforehand.

When travelling to an out-of-town wedding, guests aren’t required to bring a gift, says Adair-Benning. “If the guest does decide to give a gift they should consider the practicality of bringing it on destination.” The same way that you don’t want to pack that blender, the newlyweds won’t want to lug it home afterward. With bigger-ticket items, Adair-Benning says to deliver them to the couple either before you leave or once everyone has returned home. Or consider giving travel-friendly gift certificates for the honeymoon. “Think private dinners, spa days, excursions or even just covering part of their bill,” she adds. Of course, cash or a simple handwritten note work, too.

5.  Pack How You Would For Any Other Vacation.

Take whatever you need with you to get you ready for the trip — and of course, the wedding day itself. “It’s pretty common for couples to provide a welcome bag but what’s in it, completely depends on the couple,” she says, listing welcome-bag staples such as water bottles, snacks, an itinerary for the events, and map that guests usually will find in their room when they arrive. “Others have included alcohol, aspirin — you know, for after the alcohol — and sunscreen. This isn’t a given though, so guests should pack as they regularly would for a vacation.” (Pro packer tip: make sure to roll all clothing items before tucking them into your luggage.)

6. Let Your Hosts Know of Any Dietary Restriction When Booking.

While most wedding ceremonies will have at least one Celiac vegetarian guest in the house, this doesn’t mean there will be gluten-free wedding cake to accommodate (sorry). “The hosts are not responsible for guests’ dietary restrictions on-site any more than they would be at home,” says Adair-Benning. But good news, there will be options: “Couples often choose a location for the wedding and that location has restaurants and food services provided to guests. At a resort this could mean as many as 12 to 15 food options.” Take it upon yourself to research beforehand and let the hotel staff know of any specific requests. “As food restrictions and allergies are more prevalent, most places and people are equipped and prepared to deal with this. If the couple knows of a dietary restriction, they should attempt to accommodate for the wedding and any scheduled meals they are arranging and paying for on the guest’s behalf.” But pack a few extra Larabars, just to be safe.

7. Have Fun — You’re on Vacation!

Bottom line: you’re sipping mojitos on a beach in Mexico or staying at a villa in Tuscany, life is good. “Guests should come prepared to have fun, to connect with old friends and family and meet new ones,” says Adair-Benning. “It’s meant to be a coming together of two people’s lives and they should enjoy that.” Everyone else attending should be able to participate freely in events or opt out for room-service breakfast instead. But when it comes time to exchange vows, “Enjoy it like you would any other wedding, she says. “Just in a more beautiful locale.”

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