Are Destination Weddings Selfish?

Piña coladas on the beach…barefoot vows in the sand…as you brainstorm your destination wedding, you’re probably envisioning the splendor of sharing your ideal vacation with your closest friends and family. (While, technically, a destination wedding is any nuptial celebration that takes place over 100 miles from the bride’s home, the phrase usually conjures thoughts of Caribbean villas and mountaintop retreats.)

It’s easy to get carried away planning the ultimate wedding on top of a Buddhist monastery in Nepal or in the depths of the Amazonian rainforest. Who wouldn’t want to get married in an exotic paradise, after all?

There’s only one problem: How, exactly, are your friends and family getting to this remote paradise? Actually, two problems: What if your guests have a different idea of paradise altogether? However much you and your beloved idealize the idea of a destination wedding, it’s inevitable that at least some of your guests will see it as a selfish act on your part.

By choosing a faraway location, you could be sending the message that you don’t care if the “important” people in your life can’t come to your wedding.

Of course, if you are footing the bill for all of your guests it’s a different story. But you also have to take into account the financial toll they’re shouldering by attending a wedding that can demand a minimum commitment of a week or more.

Freelancers can be devastated by missing important clients and projects, while traditional employees are forced to sacrifice their vacation time if they want to witness your vows. Even an all-expenses-paid trip isn’t quite a blessing if you can’t afford to take the time off in the first place.

If you’re asking your guests to pay their own ways to reach your idea of paradise, don’t expect additional wedding gifts. Airfare to exotic locales can easily reach over $1,000 each–a tremendous burden on a family with children.

(In fact, many parents decline destination weddings on sheer principle to avoid the stress and expense of disrupting school schedules and traveling with small kids.)

Your wealthy guests may still shower you with presents, but for less fortunate wedding guests, you’ve already blown their special occasion budgets for the year.

Destination weddings are hard on couples as well as families. What happens if only one half of the couple can afford to go to your wedding? The more barriers to entry you set up for attending your nuptials, the more you burden your loved ones with hard decisions.

Be kind to your wedding party. Before asking your nearest and dearest to be bridesmaids or groomsmen, let them know that the ceremony is taking place in Bermuda. Otherwise, they could accept the role out of love for you and end up in a gut-wrenching situation where they have to choose between letting you down and ransacking their retirement fund.

Many brides and grooms shrug off negative comments with the thought, “No one has to come just because they’re invited.” It’s true that an invitation to a wedding isn’t a demand to attend.

However, invitations often carry heavy obligations; family members, especially, may not be in a position to afford the wedding or decline. Don’t set up a relative to be shunned because he chose his own extravagance (such as a new car or school tuition) over yours.

Be careful of sending invitations to friends who aren’t very close to you, such as coworkers or old high school friends. Invitations to faraway destination weddings are slightly different than traditional wedding invitations. While most guests who observe proper etiquette are usually willing to send a gift along with a decline, the circumstances change when the wedding is being held in an inaccessible location.

When a guest can’t reasonably be expected to attend, it starts to look like the invitation was just a grab for more presents. That doesn’t reflect well on you and increases your chances of being perceived as selfish.

It’s true that the wedding is, ultimately, about the wishes of the couple being married. The location and the details of the ceremony are fully their decisions. However, when they impose a mandatory “vacation” upon their guests, they set themselves up for being seen as rude. How can a couple avoid this?

If you’re concerned about being an imposition on your guests, you don’t have to give up your dreams of being married on the black sands of Hawaii entirely. Elope with your partner and say your vows in private. Then come back home and throw a party so all of your loved ones can celebrate with you.

Another alternative to a destination wedding is to have the ceremony in an accessible location near where the majority of your guests live, and then head off to an island for your honeymoon. Your guests get to witness and celebrate your nuptials, and you get the vacation you always wanted.

The third alternative is when there is truly no location convenient to the majority of your guests. If your friends and family are spread throughout the world and would have to undertake a major trip to witness your vows anyway, then it makes sense to hold the wedding in a location you love. Just be prepared to visit all of the loved ones who couldn’t attend within your first few years of marriage.

Finally, you can have a destination wedding that isn’t at all inconvenient (and, in fact, is quite considerate) if you and your partner live in a different part of the world than the majority of your invitees. In that case, you can plan your wedding for an exotic location (to you) that is also a familiar location (to them).

Even if it’s not a destination that makes the top list of paradise retreats, such as a cornfield in Iowa, you and your partner can have fun with the theme and find things to love about the region. At least it’s a vacation from the ho-hum of everyday life.

No one is going to tell you that you can’t have a faraway destination wedding. If that’s truly your dream, go for it. After all, your wedding day is a momentous event and it is, at its heart, a celebration of you and your partner.

But unless you want to risk looking rude to the guests who can’t come, it’s important to schedule your wedding festivities so they can take part.

At the very least, hold a send-off or welcome-home party so your loved ones know that they’re as important to you as the idea of saying your vows in paradise.