This is part of Say Yes to the Mess, a pop-up Slate series on the unsettled state of the American wedding in 2023.
“At least one-third of Americans think your destination wedding is selfish,” Travel + Leisure headlined a 2019 blog post presenting the results of an Allianz Global Assistance survey. Though this language probably overstates the case, and I’d argue that part of the point of weddings is to have one day to be “selfish,” it seems clear that people don’t like destination weddings. I get it: Why complicate the already massively involved process of wedding planning by throwing in the curveball of planning your ceremony in a different state or country? Why not just make things easy and do it in your own backyard (literally)?
Weddings are expensive; destination weddings can be ridiculously expensive for the couples putting them on, as well as irritating for their guests. According to the Knot, American couples spent an average of $35,600 on their destination weddings last year, compared with an average of $29,000 for hometown weddings. That $35,600 figure represented a 9 percent increase from the year prior. And it takes into account the fact that most destination weddings occur within the continental U.S. (The numbers here come from a survey Slate has had some doubts about in the past, so—a small grain of salt.) Guests, for their part, will inevitably have to take more leave from work to attend the event, since they are basically going on a vacation, as opposed to having a night out. And if they have children or other dependents, they may have to arrange coverage to watch them, which is annoying and costly.
All this may be true, but hear me out: Destination weddings, properly handled, have many upsides.
The most practical of them? Consolidation of costs for the engaged couple and their wedding party. As someone currently in the age group in which my friends and their friends are all getting married, I have heard countless complaints regarding the mixed feelings that can accompany an invitation to be in someone’s wedding party. Friends report being at once touched by an invitation to be a bridesmaid or groomsman, and worried about the cost and labor involved in the role. There’s the bachelorette/bachelor party, which can often take the form of a boys’ or girls’ trip to another location. Then, some couples have an additional bridal or wedding shower, which requires even more planning and work. And there’s the rehearsal dinner. The price tag and hassle of attending all this comes in addition to the actual cost of being in the wedding: the bridesmaids’ dresses and groomsmen’s suits, makeup, hair, accessories … the list can be endless.
For a destination wedding, you can (and should!) plan a more consolidated list of wedding events that can happen in rapid succession—and they can all take place somewhere beautiful. Many people putting together destination weddings plan about two or three days of programming, which can include the bachelorette or bachelor parties on the first day, a rest day or rehearsal dinner on the second, and the wedding and reception on the third. Boom. Easy peasy. This saves the wedding party and future spouses money, time, and labor. Plenty of hotels offer wedding-planning services for the engaged couple to use, lessening the burden on everyone’s shoulders. Financially, the limitations of paying more to attend the wedding ensure a smaller, more manageable number of guests. Not many would pay hundreds to thousands of dollars to attend a wedding if they didn’t really want to go—it’s a natural weeding-out process that gives the bride and groom an excuse to keep the wedding smaller. (The future spouses asking for attendance at a destination wedding need to make it clear to invitees that they don’t have to come—but that conversation should be easy, since you’re inviting only people you’re close to. Right?)
More than that, destination weddings are fun! They’re a group vacation with all of your favorite people in the world. And if there’s limited wedding programming (you’re limiting the programming, right?), guests can extend their trip beyond those few days to plan their own vacation at the destination. After three days at your rustic Italian wedding, they can scoot over to the Italian countryside for more wine and pasta, or explore the cobblestoned streets of Barcelona. They can tack on some ski days at the chateau or surf days at the beach. Everything is usually already thought out and handled for you: lodging, transportation to any venues, most meals. A destination wedding also gives a couple a great reason to mandate that the event be child-free. As someone who loves children but doesn’t want to think about them when planning a wedding, that’s a definite plus. If you do want to allow kids to come, you and the parents could figure out how to arrange for on-site babysitting or child care services.
With the absence of children and the forced slimming of the guest list, destination weddings could be considered inherently exclusionary. Plenty of people find it difficult to travel, not only because of funds, but also on a basic level of physical capability. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t workarounds. The couple can always host two parties: a destination wedding and a much smaller, cheaper local celebration with family and friends who can’t travel. And a couple considering a destination wedding and giving attendees a lot of lead time to plan and organize (you’re giving attendees a lot of lead time, right?) may end up with a longer engagement, something I think people should consider more often. For those who can’t attend, there’s also the option to have a gift registry. This brings me to another plus for guests at destination weddings: They shouldn’t be expected to bother with gifts; the only expectations of them should be to RSVP and show up.
One more thing. No one ever talks about the fact that destination weddings can be inclusive. People who criticize destination weddings are overlooking a reality that is rarely discussed but oh-so-common: What if you had no choice? Children of immigrants and people of mixed cultures will recognize what I’m talking about: Destination weddings mean something different to a family of mixed residency, in which some members permanently live overseas and must stay there for various reasons, whether those be financial, legal, or physical, or a simple matter of border restrictions. For some in these kinds of families—and I am one of them—even their nuclear family members live in a different country. Without those key members, who would be there to walk them down the aisle or pair up with them for their first dance?
Realistically for these people, the notion of practicality regarding wedding location immediately goes out the window. For those who have mixed families that have immigrated to multiple different countries, a large percentage of their family was going to have to travel to attend the wedding anyway, so why not bring it to them? Or why not make everyone travel to somewhere the happy couple would really love, as the background to the happiest day of their lives?
This is a treat not just for the couple but also for the guests. Though it sounds cheesy to say this, destination weddings can spread cultural appreciation, awareness, and knowledge. My earliest experience with henna and Indian wedding traditions was at my cousin’s wedding in Jamaica, which beautifully showcased the long-standing blend of Indo-Jamaican culture. It is one thing to be from many different places; it is another to share that multicultural background with everyone who loves you, and whom you love, on your special day.
Like it or not, destination weddings are on the rise. According to the Business Research Company, a market research group, the size of the global destination-wedding market ballooned from $23.31 billion in 2022 to $28.31 billion in 2023. And though there’s a lot of speculation as to why—social media? Millennials being millennials?—I think more people should be asking “Why not?” The next time you set out to decry destination weddings as a concept, think again. And the next time you get to attend a destination wedding, be grateful someone loved you enough to invite you to the most exclusive party they will ever throw.