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Destination Weddings: Are They Selfish?

Trip Savvy reports that 25% of all weddings are destination weddings, which is a huge number. An April 2019 report said that 56% of surveyed wedding guests believe it’s in poor taste for a couple to plan a ceremony where guests must incur all travel expenses to attend. This has many of us wondering, as we plan our own weddings: Are destination weddings selfish?

No, a destination wedding is not objectively selfish. A couple has the right to choose when and where they would like to be married. However, it is deemed selfish to shame guests, or to make them feel bad, for not being able to afford to attend one’s destination wedding.

This seems to be the consensus as I scour wedding forums and ask my friends and family. So we walk a fine line in planning our destination weddings and must be prepared to compromise, and let go, knowing that not everyone we love will definitely be able to make it to our wedding abroad. And we have to be okay with this.

Related post: Are Destination Weddings Actually Cheaper?

Guests as well should be happy for the couple and recognize that it’s totally their decision to have a destination wedding. If we can’t attend due to money or work, that’s just how it is. It’s not the end of the world.

Why Destination Weddings Aren’t Selfish or Rude (Unless We Make Them To Be)

If you’re covering the guidelines discussed in this section, then your destination wedding definitely isn’t selfish or rude and you can relax!

The only way your destination wedding would be selfish and rude is if you (the couple getting married) were being brats. By this, I mean that you are insisting that everyone attend regardless of their financial situation. If you’re making guests feel bad for not being able to attend, then yes, you’re being selfish and rude by having a destination wedding!

But if you approach your destination wedding in the way I lay out here in this section, then you are perfectly in your rights and shouldn’t worry about disgruntled guests.

You might just have to accept that some guests will be disgruntled, because they would accept nothing less than you getting married down the street. There’s nothing we can do about this but be polite and move on!

It’s not selfish if you’re paying for the wedding!

We have to remember that, in the culture I’m writing from at least, we’ve gotten to a point where the couple having the wedding are in charge of the decision-making for their big day. Everyone else should be happy to see you happy and happy to carry out your wishes, within reason!

This is even more true if the couple is paying for their own wedding. They are spending the money and so they really should have control over the decisions being made. If they want to pay for a destination wedding, then they should be free to make that decision.

Where this becomes muddier is when the couple is expecting their parents or others to pay for the wedding or a large chunk of the wedding. In that case, there are generally some strings attached, such as allowing these lovely “donors” to have a say as to whether or not you get that dream destination wedding after all.

If you have people helping you to pay for your wedding and you want a destination wedding, make sure to communicate this desire very early on in the planning and get on the same page as those people who are making contributions. If you’ve talked it though and are seeing eye-to-eye, then you’re covered!

It’s not rude if you’re communicating with guests!

For a destination wedding, more than any other wedding, you have to have a very good line of communication open with your guests. Before sending any invitations, it’s a really good idea to put out your feelers.

Write to all of your guests individually or call them. Yes, this seems like a lot of work but these people are important to you! And if you really want them at your wedding or to at least make an effort to come, you won’t skip this step. Just tell them what you have in mind and that it will be low pressure for them to attend.

Tell them that you understand if they won’t be able to make it but that you’d love to have them there. Get a feel for how many of your guests might actually be able to come before you start putting the plan in motion.

Can your closest family and friends make it? if a significant number of people are going to struggle to come to your wedding, you may have to rethink your plans.

That doesn’t mean you have to give up your dream wedding in Paris or Hawaii, but you may have to go alone as a couple on your trip, and then have a wedding “blessing” and party afterward with your family and friends (see the very last section of this post for more information on that).

Once you’ve chatted with all your potential guests about your intentions, send them invitations and follow up with them to ensure that they know you aren’t expecting them to break the bank to come. Stay in touch with them often and leave the communication channel open.

It’s not selfish if you give guests lots of notice and you’re flexible!

Give your guests plenty of time, ideally 1.5 – 2 years notice to be able to save up money and vacation time for your wedding. This is especially true of your immediate family and close friends.

And then be flexible. If someone can’t make it because life plans changed, you have to be ready to accept that. It doesn’t mean they don’t care about you, but that jobs and babies and other life commitments sometimes get in the way of dream wedding vacations! It’s gonna be okay.

Why Many Guests Think Destination Weddings Are Selfish and Rude

Can we really blame guests for having this immediate gut reaction of “HOW RUDE!”?

As I mentioned earlier, 56% of guests think destination weddings that they have to pay for are in poor taste. And it’s absolutely true that destination weddings are expensive for guests.

Even if the couple manages to save some money on their big day, their guests are often buying their own plane tickets, hotel rooms, wedding attire, and a gift on top of that!

Imagine if there’s a wedding party and you’re in it – then you’re also paying for your bridesmaid dress, the bachelorette party, and other little expenses.

Some guests don’t have passports and have to either go through the process of buying one or they can’t join. Some guests that are older simply don’t or can’t travel. My own grandmother, for example, doesn’t go further than the next town over, ever!

So we do have to keep these guest anxieties and expenses in mind when we’re approaching our guests to tell them about the wedding, and to invite them. We should be understanding of their fears as much as we can.

They only want to participate in our wedding and feel like they are part of the experience, and when we say DESTINATION WEDDING, some of them have a knee-jerk reaction because they feel left out.

In your approach, tell them that you know how they feel. Explain that it’s simply your dream to have a destination wedding, but that you’re not trying to make it impossible for them to attend. This will be sensitive depending on your relationships with certain people, so try to remain calm, be open-hearted, and stick to your guns.

How to Deal with Family and Friends Who Think Your Destination Wedding is Selfish

Despite your best efforts, some of your guests will still think you’re being rude and selfish for having a destination wedding. You may not even know about it because they’ll be saying it behind your back most likely. So you can only take preventative measures (unless word comes back to you, and then you can deal with the issue head-on).

You can also reduce the possibility of disgruntled guests who think you’re being selfish by reducing the guest list. Only invite very close friends and family who you can manage to stay in close touch with, either via text or phone call, during the planning of the wedding.

Again, assure your guests that it’s okay if they can’t make it due to expenses or other commitments.

If you’re communicating your intentions and giving them a way out, and you STILL hear that they think you’re being selfish, try to speak with them in person. Be aware that they’re lashing out out of a place of fear. They love you and are feeling left out and sad.

Tell them again that you understand they may not be able to attend. If this is an important relationship to you: Offer to do something special with them before the event, such as a night out or in, to let them know that you value their friendship.

You may not be able to spend your wedding day together in the end, but ultimately it’s just one day out of your entire friendship or relationship. ONE DAY! It’s not worth losing a good relationship or friendship over, in my opinion.

How to Deal with the Couple as a Guest Who Can’t Afford to Attend a Destination Wedding

If a couple is shaming you or pressuring you to come to their wedding abroad, and you can’t afford it, you can deal with the situation without ruining your friendship.

Calmly let the couple know you can’t make it and that you’re really sorry. Explain the reason, whether it be financial or because it’s hard for you to get vacation time from work. Be honest, whatever the reason is. Try to do this over the phone if you can, but if not, send a message.

You can send a gift if you’d like but I don’t think you should feel obliged. Mostly because I kind of think wedding gifts are dumb. We’re grown ups with salaries… do we really have to buy each other gifts? (Sorry, I digress!)

if the couple is still being rude to you or making you feel sad, bad, or uncomfortable for not attending their wedding, tell them how you feel (calmly) and then let it go. You did what you could and how they react isn’t your responsibility.

Compromises to Make for Those Who Think Destination Weddings are Selfish

So what can you do if you’ve announced your plans to have a destination wedding and many of your close friends and family tell you that it just won’t be feasible? You probably shouldn’t just push forward, insisting that they figure out how to make it… that would be the worst course of action, and you’d be being selfish.

Instead, think about how you can compromise:

Maybe you and your partner can take a trip to the destination you want to go to, get married in a small, intimate ceremony somewhere on the beach, and then come home and have a big celebration with family and friends. That would honestly be the best of both worlds for many people.

You can get your dream trip, and you don’t have to deal with disgruntled or annoyed guests who didn’t want to go on vacation with you for your wedding.

Another alternative would be to just take your parents, or a couple of close friends with you on vacation. Because it’s such a small group, you could pay for their travels, and then you’re in a beautiful location with just the 2-4 people closest to you in the world, and you’ve done them the gracious favor of giving them a free vacation!

Final Thoughts: The Selfishness of Destination Weddings

I want to end by encouraging you to have a destination wedding if that’s what you’ve been dreaming about, and that’s what you want to spend your money on. As long as you handle the process well, it’s not selfish at all.

If others around you that you’re close to are angry about it, don’t force them to come, or make them feel bad for not coming.

Instead, change tactics. Be willing to go alone as a couple or to pay for a small group (maybe 2-4) guests to go with you. Everyone else will have to respect your decisions.

You can calmly and respectfully let everyone know what you’ve chosen to do, and go from there! 🙂


Brittany is a writer and teacher in Vancouver, Canada. She started the website Wayfaring Weddings as a way to share her research on affordable, eco-friendly, and less stressful approaches to wedding planning.