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Transcript: Wednesday, Oct. 7 at noon ET

On Love: Destination Weddings

Budget Travel's Beth Collins
Budget Travel's Beth Collins ( )

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Beth Collins
Associate Editor, Budget Travel
Wednesday, October 7, 2009; 12:00 PM

Planning a ceremony in an exotic location? Budget Travel's Beth Collins offers tips and advice on destination weddings. From cheap flights to hotel packages and everything in-between, if you've got a question, she's here to help.

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For more tips and to see how other couples have said "I do," visit our new OnLove section.

The transcript follows.

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Beth Collins: Hi everyone! Beth from Budget Travel here. Destination weddings are a fun topic, so I'm thrilled to have the chance to answer any questions you might have. Fire away!

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Minneapolis, Minn.: My fiance and I are actually trying to plan a destination wedding in D.C., where we met and went to school together. Do you have any tips for planning a "destination wedding" in that area that are not necessarily considered a "destination wedding" destination?

Beth Collins: It can actually work to your advantage to go with a place that's not typically thought of as a destination wedding spot. Destination spots often know that they have a "captive" audience, and the prices reflect that. DC is a particularly good spot because hotel rates are almost always cheaper during the weekends (weekdays book up quickly because so many come to town on government business). This means you'll be able to take advantage of low rates at very nice, well-located hotels. Another great thing about DC is that there are loads of actvities - most of them family-friendly, and free - so you won't have the pressure of planning out every last minute for your guests. Just put together a list of 10 or 15 of the fun thins to do - the zoo, the museums, etc. - and let your guests decide for themselves how they'd like to spend their time.

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Reading, Penn.: Isn't "budget destination weddng" an oxymoron? My husband and I looked into various Caribbean sites, but once it struck us that almost none of our family and friends would be able to attend, we had a great cookout at a nearby state park and a good time was had by all!

Beth Collins: The cookout sounds terrific! It's true that destination weddings can get expensive very quickly, but there are ways to keep costs down. Start by checking with hotels in the area to find out what kind of group rates they'll offer if a certain number of guests book rooms. Also, encourage your guests to share expenses like car rentals (there's no sense in every couple at the wedding renting their own car, especially since there's often very little driving involved in destination weddings).

If you plan a destination wedding in beautiful setting, you can also save on expenses like flowers. Who needs fancy floral arrangements when there's an azure blue beach and swaying palms in the background?!

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Beth. We're planning to be married next June, probably in the Virgin Islands, and are wondering whether we should start booking airfare, facilities, etc., now? In other words, do you expect prices to rise or fall in the next few months? I know you'll say you probably can't tell, but any advice would be appreciated.

Beth Collins: You'll definitely want to book the facilities as soon as possible - you don't want to risk someone else getting them before you. For the airfare, I'd recommend going to farecast.com and plugging in your dates and destination. The site uses loads of data to determine whether a fare is likely to rise or fall, and it will tell you to either buy now or wait.

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Alexandria, Va.: What's your position on wedding gifts for destination weddings?Sometimes forking over the dough to be there can be hard to afford. Is it better not to go and send a nice gift? Or go and give something pretty modest?

Beth Collins: I say go to the wedding. If a couple has invited you to their wedding, it's because they want you there - not your gift! Many couples hosting a destination wedding will make it clear that they don't want gifts, which I always think is a gracious move. If they don't say this and you feel like you'd like to give a gift, there are some clever ways to do so without feeling like you need to dip into your savings. One of my favorite ideas is to get a a few small kitchen items from their registry, and then include a few of your favorite recipes (you could put them on cute little recipe cards, or buy one of those blank books with a nice cover, and use your recipes as a "start" in the hopes that they'll add their own later.

Another idea is to donate some money to the couple's favorite charity in their name, and ask for a certificate from the charity to include in your wedding card. This is a nice gesture, but also discreet, since you don't have to disclose exactly how much you donated.

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Jamaica: What is the proper etiquette on guests bringing guests? We want to keep our wedding intimate with only close friends and family. However, some of our single friends would like to bring a date. Thanks!

Beth Collins: This is one of those things where you get to make the call. Once upon a time, it was expected that every guest get a "plus one." But those days are over. If you want to keep it to close friends and family, that's great, just make sure you make it clear in the invitations and on your website, if you have one.

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Anonymous: Given the economy right now, for those who are seriously considering a destination wedding (and I'm not talking within the next couple of states) what financial planning tips do you have? Should one wait at least or year or two before the actual ceremony?

Beth Collins: I hate the idea of the economy determining when and where people get married! If you want to have a destination wedding, and you want to do it this year, go for it - just be ready to be flexible, and to spend a good amount of time on the internet...

If you're not set on a place yet, use that to your advantage. Browse various travel sites to get a sense of where the deals are, and hone in on those places. For example, right now, destinations that depend heavily on tourism are struggling, so they've dropped their rates dramatically. Hawaii, for example, had a huge drop in their tourism numbers this year, and as a result, many of the big-name resorts are offering incredible deals. Same goes for Baja Mexico, a traditionally pricey destination.

I mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating: always ask hotels for a group discount. In fact, don't stop with hotels. We've entered an era where bargaining is completely acceptable - even expected - so don't be afraid to ask everyone, from car rental companies to your flower vendor, if they can cut you a deal. They might say no, but if you don't ask, you'll never know!

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Elkridge, Md.: We like the idea of a destination wedding, say to an island paradise. However, we each have lots of family where we live, and few if any of them would be able to travel with us. How do we best include them in our plans?

Beth Collins: A big trend lately has been to have a very small ceremony at a destination, and then throw a party when you get back home so all your friends and family can celebrate with you. The party doesn't have to be anything fancy - as long as there's plenty of food, beverages, and music, people are bound to have a good time.

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Houston, Tex.: Thoughts on using a travel agent? I have contacted an agency that specializes in destination weddings. While she was great in helping to decide between a few locations, I am not sure if it's worth it. She seems to be pushing us towards all-inclusive (my small, family only (incluidng seven small children) wedding may not need this option) and the quotes she gave me are more than what I can find online by myself. I contacted her thinking she could save me time and money, but now I am annoyed becuase I feel like I could just do it myself and save money! What do you think?

Beth Collins: The main advantage to using a travel agent is that you have someone to do all the work for you. If you're willing to do the research yourself (and once you get started, it can actually be really fun, I promise!), there's really no need to put the trip in someone else's hands - especially if that someone else is taking a commission. While it's true that travel agents sometimes have access to great rates and packages, they also often have ties to certain companies, vendors, etc., and will tend to go with them rather than do the digging to find you exactly what you want.

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Washington, D.C.: Can you reccomend a budget wedding destination that is stateside, but still has that beachy Caribbean feel?

Beth Collins: My first suggestion would be the Florida Keys - just make sure you avoid hurricane season (June through October). You could also try other states along the Gulf Coast, like Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. They're more under-the-radar in terms of beachy destinations, but the water is warm, the weather is beautiful, and the prices are great!

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Washington, D.C.: How do you travel with a bridal gown? I do NOT want to check it in. I've heard that you have to buy an extra seat on the plane if you want to carry it on.

Beth Collins: Absolutely do not check it in! We've all seen our bags get tossed around by the airlines - you certainly don't want your dress to go through the same treatment. I've never heard of anyone having to buy a seat for her dress. Just bring it as a carry-on, and ask the airline to hang it up for you (all but the smallest commuter planes have full-height closets). If you're apprehensive about it, call the airline in advance to make sure they'll have a safe place to store the dress on board.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Hello again. Thanks for your first answer! Very helpful. I was also wondering, more specifically, if you knew of any good resources for planning a wedding in D.C., if you're not local. I'd like to avoid hiring a wedding planner, so do you have any advice for finding a venue or other services that will be good at anticipating what we'll need?

Beth Collins: You could start with Brides.com - it has great listings for local vendors (here's their DC info: http://www.brides.com/local/washington_dc/).

Also, I'm a big fan of online wedding boards, where you can connect to locals in a specific destination. This way, you'll get insider info on which places/vendors are truly great, and which ones you should bypass.

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Beth Collins: Thanks to everyone for your questions. If you're looking for destinations or honeymoon ideas, don't forget to go to budgettravel.com for ideas.

For those of you planning weddings, best of luck, and congratulations!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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