How to Make Out-of-Town Wedding Guests Feel at Home
For a significant number of your friends and family members, showing up for your nuptial celebration may mean hopping on a plane to cross state lines. These out-of-towners will go to a lot of effort and expense to share in your momentous occasion, so it's your job to welcome them, help them get around, and keep them entertained. With that in mind, here's how to put them at ease.
One of the simplest, yet probably most useful, things you could do for your guests is to provide a wedding itinerary. After sending out your invitations, mail guests an additional clever, elegant, or interesting communique with a complete rundown of the events leading up to and following your walk down the aisle. In addition, create a wedding web page for an easily referenced one-stop-shop for guests to check up on everything you have planned. In both cases, include key times, locations, who is hosting, what to wear, and so on for each activity. Tell your visitors about any free time they'll have, and provide suggestions for how to fill it. There may be events you have in mind (such as a brunch the morning after the wedding) that travelers should know about in advance so they can schedule their trips around them.
Be aware that since many of your guests are taking to the skies, they may be turning your nuptial event into a weekend getaway or part of a vacation. Also, remember that some of your guests may never have visited the area before. You may wish to add in "travel guide" bits of information to your prewedding itinerary to get guests excited about the journey. For example, if there are some great sights to see or points of interest to visit, tell your guests in case they'd like to do some exploring. Do some research and investigate which museums will have amazing exhibits showing, whether or not the local sports team is playing a home game, and what musical or other cultural performances will be happening.
Shelter & Travel
Though footing the bill for travelers' overnight accommodations and flights isn't your responsibility, you and your fiance should offer suggestions for how to find both (and tips on how to score good deals will no doubt be appreciated by guests). Be sure to put important details for airlines and hotels (website and street addresses, phone numbers, directions, and cost information) on an insert sent out with your invitations, or post it separately on your wedding itinerary or web page so guests can book their flights and rooms early and know how to get around once they arrive.
Recommend different places for guests to stay. Look for locations near your ceremony and reception sites, and start calling around about six months beforehand to check on large-scale availability for the days surrounding your wedding, and to inquire about special group rates. To get the best deal for your guests, reserve blocks of rooms at a couple of hotels. Keep your guest's probable budget range in mind, and recommend both fancy fare for those flush with cash and a less expensive alternative for the budget-minded. For the best airfares, try getting in touch with the airlines directly. Inquire about frequent-flyer deals, special discounts, and group rates for those who may all be flying in from the same place.
Some out-of-towners will choose to rent cars (be sure to provide car rental info with your hotel and airline details), but for those who don't, you'll have to figure out how they'll get to and from the wedding. Cover all the bases: organize a fleet of relatives that will act as chauffeurs, talk to the hotel manager to arrange for a hotel shuttle, hire a car or limo service, or rent a few vans or a bus.
It's also a kind gesture to have someone pick up nondrivers from the airport -- especially if they're new to the area or get nervous traveling. Recruit volunteers for this: parents, next of kin, and friends are likely targets. Put together a roster of arrival times, and have trekkers greeted at the gate with signs bearing their names (be sure to let guests know you've arranged this, and clue them in on who to look for).
Comfort the jet-lagged and travel-weary with a little something left in their hotel rooms. Imagine their delight -- walking into their temporary living quarters and discovering a basket of fresh fruit, a bouquet of flowers, a tin of local chocolates, or a bottle of chilled bubbly. What you choose to give depends on your resources, and can be as lavish as a free massage at the hotel spa or as simple as a plate of homemade chocolate-chip cookies. The purpose is to let guests know you appreciate their effort to join you for your special day.
Create welcome packets of relevant information (phone numbers of the families of the bride and groom, the names of the other guests staying at the hotel, nearby hot spots to check out) to leave in guests' rooms with another copy of your wedding itinerary, plus local brochures and sightseeing maps. Enlist the aid of your wedding crew to assemble and distribute all these treats. Finally, add that finishing touch and pen a personal note thanking each guest for coming to celebrate with you.
Leading up to the main event, you may have plenty to fuss over, but out-of-town guests may not. Don't leave them in the lurch with nothing to do. If many guests are showing up the night before the ceremony, suggest ways they can stay amused while you hold the rehearsal dinner. Ask a friend or relative to host a gathering like a backyard barbecue or pizza party to help guests get to know one another. Or arrange to have everyone meet together at a restaurant or bar. Better yet, create a more casual rehearsal dinner, and open up the invite list to include everyone who might be around. For guests who like to entertain themselves, be sure to supply a roster of your favorite restaurants, shops, and local movie theaters as a thoughtful gesture.
Though recommended, sometimes it's not possible to have your reception immediately follow your ceremony. If there will be a lengthy break between your "I dos" and the party, or your ceremony is late in the day, try to come up with a game plan. During a lull, some people won't mind going back to the hotel and kicking back. But others may be interested in touring your stomping grounds. If guests will have the morning free, suggest a game of golf or a visit to a museum. With lots of spare time between the main events, you could organize an excursion, such as taking a group of guests to visit nearby attractions or to see a movie.
Remember the reason that these intrepid travelers have come is to see you, so make sure they do. Pull them aside amid all the revelry for some one-on-one attention, or make it a point to tell them at the receiving line how much seeing them means to you. Raise your glass during toasting time to acknowledge those who have come from afar, and consider setting up something special for journeyers, such as a brunch the morning after the ceremony (if you aren't already off to a magnificent honeymoon).