Rethinking Travel For A Sustainable Destination Wedding

If you haven’t thought about weddings and sustainability in the same sentence, it’s time to start thinking about it.

Because climate change is real!

I’m sure you’ve experienced extreme weather and hotter summers wherever you live.

And as we’re forced to plan for climate change, we also need to plan for sustainability.

Because we both can and need to be a part of the change!

Sustainable weddings are no longer a choice, but a necessity.

And it’s time we start talking about it in a bigger way.

We began the conversation around sustainable weddings in our last blog and as we mentioned, climate change is a complex subject. And a confusing one at that!

And planning a sustainable wedding is unfortunately not always easy.

Particularly if you’re having a destination wedding.

Because let’s be honest, those two things are at odds with each other.

But there are things you can do to help bring them closer together.

So, we’re going to start the conversation about how to plan a sustainable destination wedding and what you need to think about.

And the first piece we’re going to tackle is travel.

The Climate Cost of Destination Wedding Travel

While there are many things that differentiate a destination wedding from a hometown wedding, travel is the biggest piece.

Because at its core, travel is what makes a destination wedding, a destination wedding.

But travel is not great for climate change.

If you read the climate research, transportation accounts for about 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US. And transportation is the largest sector (or second largest depending on the source) of US emissions.

Within that, cars definitely have the highest percentage, which is why hybrids and electric cars have become so important.

But let’s not forget airplane travel which accounts for about 3-4% of the total US greenhouse gas emissions (or about 9% within transportation).

Now that sounds small in comparison, but you also have to think about the per person and per mile cost, which is much higher for a flight than a car.

For example it’s about 0.82 lbs of carbon emitted per passenger per mile for a plane vs. 0.68 lbs for a gas car.

So if you’re traveling 300 miles round trip, that’s 246 lbs of carbon for a flight and 204 lbs of carbon for a car. And those numbers can go up if you’re flying in first class vs. economy or drive an SUV. Or they can go down if you take a more direct flight or have 2 people in a car.

But regardless, think about that amount and multiply it by the number of guests you have.

If your eyes are starting to glaze over with all the numbers, the point is that travel contributes a lot to climate change.

Until we have sustainable fuel and fully sustainable energy sources, we’re contributing to the problem.

And when you have a destination wedding where people are traveling, that really adds up.

All of the research and recommendations in the sustainability space talks about ways to eliminate the emissions. Because if you don’t create the emission at all, you don’t have to worry about how to counteract it.

But eliminating destination weddings is not the answer either.

Destination weddings are great for so many reasons – building memories and community and gaining an appreciation for a location, culture, land and people.

And destination weddings aren’t going to go away just like travel isn’t going away.

The question is… what can we do to make it more sustainable? To reduce that cost to the environment?

How to Approach Making Your Destination Wedding Sustainable

Before we dive into solutions and what you can do now, I want to acknowledge that thinking about this can feel overwhelming.

And depressing if we’re being honest.

It’s a lot. And simultaneously, we can feel really small in the grand scheme.

And you’re probably asking yourself how you can make a difference without also giving up everything you want.

The truth is that it can be hard to make every decision for your wedding a fully sustainable one, especially without the resources.

And change overnight is difficult.

But it’s about cumulative and collective change.

And starting somewhere!

So start by making one decision that’s more sustainable.

And as you approach your planning, if you keep sustainability at the back of your mind, your sustainable decisions will grow. Because you’re just more aware.

And what if you could make two or three or five or ten or twenty decisions that are more sustainable? That adds up!

And just think if every couple made as many sustainable wedding decisions that they could… All of that collective change makes a big difference!

It’s really just about all of us doing our part.

So this isn’t about not having a wedding. Because this is an important life choice to celebrate.

And this isn’t about not planning your wedding, your way. Celebrating who you are and your values is important. Including taking care of the planet and our future (because I know you care about that).

And this isn’t about being perfect and getting everything right.

It’s about doing what you can and being conscious of your decisions.

Because let’s not forget that you also have purchasing power!

Your money can be used to support sustainable efforts or not, just depending on your decisions.

But resources also help us to make those decisions.

Like having water refill stations at airports so you don’t have to buy bottled water. Or utilizing reusable silicone bags instead of one time use plastic bags.

Change in general isn’t always easy, but sometimes the change can be easier than you think if you were just presented with the option. Like using wool balls in your dryer instead of throw away dryer sheets.

Knowledge is power!

And every change makes a difference.

My hope is that the information and tips (in this blog and future ones) will help you to more easily make sustainable decisions for your wedding.

Travel Solutions for a Sustainable Destination Wedding

Mini hot air balloon decoration for a destination wedding in Hawaii
(Photo credit: Christie Pham Photography)

Ok, so let’s start with the elephant in the room… A 100% sustainable destination wedding is not possible.

Not yet anyway.

This will change over time and I’m excited for that change! But for now, it’s not possible.

You can of course choose not to have a destination wedding and do a hometown wedding instead.

And that is definitely the more sustainable option!

Because not traveling at all means you’ll eliminate all those travel emissions.

So, if you’re able and willing, that’s definitely the way to go.

But don’t forget that to be really sustainable, a hometown wedding requires all your guests to live in the area too.

And for many, that’s just not the reality.

Many of us have friends and family scattered all over the country, if not the world.

So some travel will be required.

And while a 100% sustainable destination wedding may not be possible, we can still do a lot to reduce the impact of our travel.

#1 – Start with your wedding destination location

Beach wedding ceremony setup for a destination wedding in Anguilla
(Photo credit: Savanah Willow)

So one of the biggest decisions you can make to have a more sustainable destination wedding is with your wedding location.

Because where you choose to get married will have so many other implications not just for your planning, but your wedding climate impact.

What you ideally want to do is choose a destination with the least amount of travel required.

And you want to think about this collectively.

Looking at your guest list, you want to choose a destination where the majority won’t have to travel far to get to.

So that might mean doing it in your hometown if most of your guests live there (and even if you don’t).

That might mean choosing an area that’s easy to get to given where most of your guests are located. Where they only need to make a short drive or a can take a direct flight.

This also means eliminating locations that require multiple stops, transportation switches or long haul flights.

Because even if you do nothing else, by choosing the right location you can reduce the travel required as a group.

And that will automatically reduce your emissions!

And the bonus is that your guests won’t have to travel as far, which makes it easier for them too.

But wait… there’s more! (yes, I just pulled an infomercial out on you!)

It’s also beneficial to think about the destination location itself outside of travel.

Think about the resources in that destination location and if they support sustainability.

Are there lots of good and professional vendors nearby so they won’t have to travel far or require you to bring vendors in? A bigger town or city is better for this.

What’s the public transportation like? If your guests are flying in, could they get around with needing a car? Or if they’re driving there, are there charging stations? You’ll have more of these options in a bigger metropolitan area.

Is this country/state/city/area recycling and composting friendly? Are they working as a location to be more sustainable? The more forward thinking and bluer states and cities will have more options.

If it’s a more remote location, does the potential venue you’re considering have everything you need? (we’ll talk more about venues in an upcoming post)

Having planned destination weddings in many different locations all over the world, I can tell you the answers to these questions really affect the planning and how sustainable (or not) your destination wedding can be.

Because if you’re not careful about the location you choose, even if the travel portion is more sustainable, the rest of your decisions might not be.

You ideally want to choose a destination location where travel is minimized for your particular guest list AND with the resources to make planning your wedding more sustainable.

And if you think about it, by choosing a destination that is already more sustainable, your dollars will help support them and their efforts. And that feels good too!

#2 – Reduce flight emissions

Airplane wing flying over mountains for a wedding by destination wedding planner Mango Muse Events

Chances are high that if you’re having a destination wedding it’s because you like to travel and because you have friends and family all over the place.

That also means that even by making a sustainable destination location choice, chances are high that at least some people will need to get on a plane.

And while you can’t control which flights they take, you can encourage them to travel more sustainably.

One simple way to do that is to recommend they use Google flights to search for their flight. Google flights lists carbon emissions so you can easily choose a flight that has lower emissions.

Because not all guests realize that’s an option.

Sharing that knowledge (because knowledge is power!) encourages your guest to think sustainably too.

Another simple way is to encourage them to take a direct flight, which also has lower emissions. This is also why choosing the right destination location will have a big impact on how your guests get there and their emissions.

Two other small ways to reduce flight emissions is by choosing to sit in economy and packing lighter. Both help reduce emissions and can be easy choices for guests.

While this section is about reducing flight emissions, I do want to mention the option of travel by train.

While train travel is much easier in Europe (and a great option there!), taking the train is also an option in the US especially if the distance isn’t too far.

It’s a different and slower way of traveling, but can really add to the experience as well.

Doing some research and suggesting that option puts it out there. Not everyone will choose it, but once again, having that knowledge only helps.

#3 – Choose a sustainable hotel

(Photo credit: Jerry Yoon Photographers)

No matter how many people are traveling for your destination wedding, whether it’s just you, half your group or everyone, selecting the right hotel makes a difference.

Most destination weddings will have at least one room block to help guide guests on where to stay.

Or if not a room block, a list of hotel suggestions.

If you’re not having the wedding at the hotel, choose a hotel that’s close by. Ideally if you can, within walking distance.

That will eliminate any emissions to get to the venue.

But you also want to choose a hotel that’s taken steps to be more sustainable themselves.

For example, employing energy efficient lighting/heating/cooling, utilizing their energy from a sustainable source, offering the option of no towel service, eliminating single use toiletries, having water refill stations, and providing easy recycling options.

Hotels working towards achieving net zero are already making steps to be more sustainable.

And that means by staying there you’re not only supporting their efforts, but it makes it easier for your guests to be sustainable too.

Like choosing a more sustainable location, by choosing a more sustainable hotel, your purchasing power is being used to support those already doing good work.

#4 – Be smart about getting around

Bride and groom walking hand in hand at their Sonoma wedding by Destination wedding planner Mango Muse Events
(Photo credit: Chrisman Studios)

As I mentioned before, transportation is a huge contributor of greenhouse gas emissions and cars are a big part of that.

So anything you can do to help reduce those transportation emissions for your wedding is beneficial.

Start by thinking about the transportation to get to the area.

If you can organize shuttles or provide easy public transportation options, that will reduce emissions.

If cars are required, encourage guests to rent electric or hybrid cars or to carpool with other guests.

And when it comes to the wedding itself, the less guests have to travel, the better.

Walking is the best option if that’s feasible. But if not, providing shuttles is also a good idea.

Not only is it safer (so guests can drink without worrying), but it reduces emissions as well.

#5 – Prune the guest list

Guests having a good time at a wedding reception in Stanley Idaho
(Photo credit: Christine Marie Photo)

While your guest list isn’t technically travel-related, the number of guests you have will inevitably affect all of the above travel emissions.

Because the more guests you have traveling, the higher those emissions across the board.

There is a big difference between an destination wedding of 30 and a destination wedding of 150.

So without pruning your guest list in a sad way, think hard about each person on your list and your relationship.

And then create your guest list to be more a intimate, intentional group of people.

Maybe that ends up being just a small group and you have a bigger reception with everyone else in your hometown (where they don’t have to travel).

Maybe you end up eloping instead.

Or maybe that 150 group becomes 100 or 70 instead.

The bonus of this is that you’ll end up with a list of people who you are truly close to, which will be much more meaningful too.

And wherever you end up, reducing the guest list will also automatically reduce your travel emissions (and waste too!).

The other bonus is you’ll save money because less guests always helps with the budget.

So this can definitely be many wins all around.

Now I know that thinking about sustainability within the context of a destination wedding is a tricky thing. Because there are inherently a lot of contradictions especially around travel.

But every step we take is a good thing. And the more steps we can take, the better.

And as travel is such a big contributor to climate change, every bit we can do helps.

Thinking through these considerations and making sustainable choices will not only benefit your wedding, but the planet too.

Want help to create your sustainable destination wedding? We’d be honored to help. Please reach out here and let’s talk more.

P.S. If you’re wondering about carbon offsets as a travel solution, while they can have merits with other steps taken, I think it’s important to think about reducing first. We will be talking about offsets in a future post as well.

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