How to Choose Destination Wedding Guests

Few wedding planning tasks are more grueling than tackling the wedding guest list and who gets an invitation. It seems like for every “absolute must” invite there are a dozen people in that grey area of “if we invite him/her we have to invite him/her, and if we invite him/her then we’ll have to invite him/her.” And on and on…

For destination weddings, this can get even trickier. There really are no rules that govern the invitation process at all, such as whether to invite co-workers, children, second cousins, etc., so we put together a few guidelines to help you navigate this process a little more smoothly.

Size Matters

  • Elopement – you and your partner, hop on a plane, fly to a great location, and get married without inviting anyone. Many couples prefer to have a super private ceremony.
  • Intimate (10 – 25 guests) – Pretty easy to choose your guest list when it’s this small. You might expect this to be the most common destination wedding, but it’s not.
  • Friends and Family (40 – 100 guests) – This is the most common type of destination wedding, with an average of 60 guests. The size is still workable in differing venues such as a boutique hotel or private casa.
  • Come one, Come all (100 + guests) – As the name suggests, this is where you invite everyone from co-workers to hairdressers. This style of wedding requires two things – a large budget and a wedding planner.

The most obvious starting place is the type and size of wedding you choose. Everyone you know will offer their opinion on this topic, but at the end of the day, it comes down to your personal preferences. Here are the four most common type of destination weddings:

Begin with Budget for your Wedding Guest List

As noted, the greater the number of guests you choose to invite, the larger the budget will have to be. Many couples make the number of guest choice without first setting up the appropriate budget, and end up racking up credit card debt – the last way you want to start off your new life together.

So, assuming your budget number calls for you to invite fewer people right from the start, will any of your friends/family be offended they didn’t get an invite? Most people are actually fairly understanding when it comes to destination weddings as opposed to local celebrations. They tend to assume the destination event is for close family and friends anyways and don’t always expect an invite. If you do feel the loss of having more people, you can throw a small celebration when you get back.

How Many will Show Up?

Knowing how many people you can afford to have at your wedding is one thing, but that is only half the equation. You have to know how many people in your wedding guest list will show up as well. How tragic would it be to plan the ceremony, dinner, and reception for a hundred people without taking into account how many will decline your invitation.

In fact, about half the people you invite will turn down your invitation. Some will not be able to manage the costs, and others will have logistical issues. This is where you will learn the art of smart invitation lists, as in an “A” list and a “B” list. As your A-listers decline, you can pull from your B list – which you will have set up in the descending order of most desirable to least.

So, you have a well thought out budget, have determined your personal wedding style preference as a couple and can navigate the A and B invite list. Here are a few tips:

  • As your hotel for group rates that can help lower the cost for your guests, or, if your guest numbers allow, consider renting a large casa that everyone can chip in for, a wedding planner can help with this, as well as advice on which hotels work best with your potential choices.
  • Ensure your invitations go out at least six months before the wedding, with an early RSVP date.
  • If you are still struggling with who to invite, use this measure – have you had dinner with them in the last six months? If not, don’t bother sending an invite.

Launching the Wedding Guest List

  1. Make your preliminary dream guest list with your partner, before involving your family. Start with your immediate families, then add those close to the family members you really want there. Next, move on to your closest friends, the ones you couldn’t imagine getting married without. This will give you a good starting point and take care of those must-haves your parents will be expecting. Don’t share this list just yet, you need to refer back to it as you continue.
  2. You are now heading into turbulent waters – extended family invitations. First cousins, second cousins once removed, they are all out there, often in droves. A general rule of thumb here is this: if one uncle gets an invitation, all uncles get an invitation and so on. For small families, this is pretty straightforward, but for large families, this can be the majority of your guest list. Starting with your closest relative first, work your way out from there, leaving room for friends as well.
  3. Once your families have been sorted on the invite list, decide how many extra spots you have left and divide them equally between your families. Then, you can offer a set number of seats to your parents to use as they wish, advising them there are no more seats available. This way your mom can invite her bestie, and your father in law can include his business partner.
  4. You need to make the KID CALL. This can be worrisome if your close family includes little ones, but if you prefer to have an adults-only celebration, but you will need to make this “no children” call. You will need to be firm here, and allow no exceptions that will most certainly alienate others. Most caterers consider “children” to be guests under the age of twelve. If you have close family with little ones that can’t be left at home, many hotels have babysitting services that could be used during all wedding-related events.
  5. What are the rules of wedding invitation reciprocity? If a friend invited you to her wedding five years ago, do you need to invite her to yours? Not unless she makes your list for other reasons. If, on the other hand, you attended a wedding in the past eighteen months, and especially if your partner was in the wedding party, that couple should be on your guest list.

You and your beloved will most certainly navigate this invite list puzzle perfectly, albeit with a little elbow grease. Our last piece of advice, don’t procrastinate on this wedding planning chore, just think how good you will feel once it is done!





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