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A destination wedding may seem like the next iteration in the extravagant trend that ushered in mega-weddings, but most couples cite their desire for an intimate and informal affair as a reason to marry afar. Travel costs whittle down the invite list, making a destination wedding less expensive than a hometown affair, especially for couples from big cities, where venue and vendor rates have soared. Because guests are expected to pay for their travel and lodging (in addition to gifts, bridesmaid dresses and so forth), "will attends" are more likely to include only the most committed family members and friends. Some couples try to ease the financial burden by offering paid hotel rooms or frequent-flyer miles to those who might otherwise be unable to come.
David and Jennifer Hammer figured a wedding at home in Houston would be a logistical nightmare. Between siblings and stepsiblings, the wedding party would balloon to 15 people, the full wedding to 300--and the event, they estimated, would set them back $30,000 or more. The Hammers chose instead to wed barefoot on Smathers Beach in Key West, Fla., in front of 72 close friends and family members, for one-third the cost. "No matter where we had a wedding, half my family would have had to travel," says David, 28. "Why not have everyone take off for a week to somewhere truly beautiful and fun?"
For others, maxed out on the black-tie, hotel or banquet-hall reception, a "been there, done that" attitude informs their decision. And couples who marry later in life, or for a second time, may be especially eager to have an experience different from the myriad other weddings they have attended or participated in. For Roger Wendt, 53, and Eva Conti, 41, musicians from Rivervale, N.J., their January wedding in the Bahamas was a conscious departure from his previous two marriages and her first. "Eva and I are adults who have both been married before and have lived together," Wendt explains. "We wanted to get married, but we certainly didn't want the big traditional ceremony again."
Avoiding a hometown wedding can make the event less about other people--Mom's business partners, Dad's second cousin--and more about the bride and groom. Choosing neutral territory can also mitigate family conflicts. Marta Lowe, 32, who lives in Maryland, got married on a farm in Vermont rather than in her hometown, Olympia, Wash., where she feared her estranged divorced parents would spoil the atmosphere. "If I got married where I grew up, people would have come just to glare at each other," Lowe says. With rehearsal dinner and postwedding brunch the new norm, brides and grooms today spend as long as four days with their guests, says Millie Martini Bratten, editor in chief of Bride's magazine. "People live such busy lives that to have a wedding where everyone flies in from across the country and arrives at 4 p.m., only to leave by midnight, doesn't make sense," explains Mary Ellen Murphy, a destination-wedding planner based in Yountville, Calif. "If you tack on a few extra days and make it a vacation for everyone, you can actually spend time together. You may not get that opportunity again."