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Destination Wedding Etiquette: How to Be a Dream Guest

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Destination weddings: Love 'em or hate 'em? For some people, they're a welcome opportunity to travel and celebrate with their nearest and dearest. For others, they're an expensive and painful obligation. Whichever camp you fall in, it's your job to follow destination wedding etiquette and be the best guest you can be. Here's how.

1. Attend a destination wedding gladly or not at all.

Destination wedding etiquette requires you to go only if you really want to. If you feel like attending will be a major strain on your finances or an annoying ordeal, you can politely decline. Many people do: wedding designer and author Joyce Scardina Becker estimates 30 to 40 percent of guests invited to a destination wedding will send their regrets.1

Reasonable brides and grooms understand that not everyone can manage to take a week's vacation to attend their wedding in Belize. Of course, weddings have a way of making people unreasonable. If the bride and groom pressure you, you may choose to explain your reasons for declining. If you say you can't afford it, the couple might offer to help pay for some of your costs — but it's up to you if you want to accept.

2. Don't expect the bride and groom to pay for your travel arrangements.

A Brides magazine study revealed the average cost of a destination wedding was $23,800, compared to nearly $27,000 for a traditional wedding.2 But for guests, attending a wedding overseas is going to require a significant outlay of cash for the flight, rental car and hotel. While some generous couples may help pay their guests' way, don't expect it. However, destination wedding etiquette says the bride and groom should cover "any meal that's part of the festivities," according to Brides magazine, including a welcome dinner and brunch the morning after the wedding.3

3. If you say you'll attend a destination wedding, you'd better show up.

Failing to attend a regular wedding is a faux pas, but forgiveable. At worst, you've left the couple with an empty seat and an uneaten plate of chicken. Backing out of a destination wedding, however, is a serious breach of etiquette. You're costing the bride and groom space on a limited guest list, room reservations and a pricey resort dinner.

Of course, emergencies do happen. That's why it's essential to have travel insurance for destination weddings. Allianz Global Assistance names 26 covered reasons for trip cancellation, such as the serious covered illness of a family member or travel companion, being laid off from a job you've had more than a year, jury duty or military duty. If you have to cancel your trip for a covered reason, your nonrefundable travel costs may be reimbursed.

4. Resist critiquing the plans.

When your niece says she's chosen Paradise Island in the Bahamas for her destination wedding, you roll your eyes. Couldn't she have chosen a less touristy location? Even if you think your travel experience can help the bride with her planning, destination wedding etiquette requires that you refrain from criticizing. The one exception is if you have firsthand knowledge of problems at the chosen resort or location, and it's not too late for the couple to alter their plans.

5. Help out where you can.

Planning a destination wedding can be high-stress, because everything has to be done at the last minute. Ask the bride, or the resort wedding planner, what you can do to be useful. Help arrange flowers, light candles or shoo away seagulls and you'll become the bride and groom's favorite person.

6. Do buy a gift, but don't bring it to the destination wedding.

Don't burden the couple with a breadmaker, or anything large they'll have to ship home. Instead, bring a lovely card and have your gift sent to the newlyweds' home. There's no need to be extravagant; destination wedding etiquette says a modest gift is fine, considering guests have spent money to attend the event.4 In lieu of a material gift, the couple may appreciate a contribution to their honeymoon fund.

7. Treat a destination wedding like a vacation...

The bride and groom want you to have fun, but they don't have time to schedule SCUBA lessons for you. Take the initiative and plan some fun adventures for your stay. If you linger a few days longer after the wedding, be sure to give the bride and groom some space. They're on their honeymoon now, and they'll want a little time to reconnect after the stress of planning a wedding.

8. ...But don't have too much fun.

Destination wedding etiquette requires the same standard of behavior as for any other wedding. That means:

  • Drinking only in moderation, even if the bar offers unlimited piña coladas
  • Dressing appropriately — no Señor Frog T-shirts at the reception, please
  • Being cordial to all the other guests, including ex-wives and -husbands

9. Make the best of it when things go wrong.

A hurricane could blow in. You could get sick from eating some bad conch chowder. The beach could be closed because of an infestation of sea nettles. When something goes awry (as it does at most weddings, destination or otherwise), try not to blame the bride and groom. They're feeling bad enough already. Even if the couple purchased wedding insurance, that typically reimburses them for mishaps like no-show caterers and damaged dresses.5 Wedding insurance doesn't protect guests' travel investment.

Whatever may happen, do your best to enjoy yourself, and protect yourself with your own travel insurance. Travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance includes not only trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage, but also emergency medical and dental coverage, emergency medical transportation benefits, lost luggage, trip delays and more. Safe travels, and here's to the happy couple!

May 28, 2015